PM Hasina to visit Beijing after Delhi

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaks with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India, 9 June 2024.Reuters

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi will be her first bilateral visit since she came to power for the fourth term and Dhaka had convened this message to New Delhi ahead and after the 7 January parliamentary election. Though China had a great deal of interest centering PM’s visit itinerary, it had been more or less fixed that no visit to Beijing would take place before New Delhi.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina went to New Delhi last week to attend the swearing-in ceremony of her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, promoting speculation that the pre-scheduled visit to India may not happen in June and she would first visit China. Finally, she is going to India this month on a two-day visit as planned.

Diplomatic sources at Dhaka and New Delhi told Prothom Alo on Friday morning that prime minister Sheikh Hasina will arrive in India on 21 June and the bilateral meeting between the two prime ministers is scheduled to be held at the Hyderabad House in Delhi on the next day.

Prime minister Sheikh Hsian last had a bilateral meeting with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at Delhi in September 2022.

Reiterating political commitment

Several sources involved in the visit preparation said this time the bilateral visit of prime minister Sheikh Hasina will be brief and it will be for two days as she is supposed to be in Dhaka on 23 June to attend the programmes on the occasion of the 75th founding anniversary of Awami League. Diplomatic sources said no prime minister of Bangladesh visited India twice in such a short time in the recent past. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina joined the oath-taking ceremony of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi on 9 June. These two top leaders had a brief conversation after the ceremony and they invited each other to visit their respective countries.

Speculations had run rife that the Hasina-Modi summit may not take place in June. Several members of prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s entourage had said that the New Delhi visit would take place after the Beijing visit. Many people even came to a conclusion that Narendra Modi last visited Dhaka in 2021 while Sheikh Hasina went to India on a bilateral visit in 2022 and again at a special invitation to attend the G20 Summit in 2023. So, this time Indian prime minister Narendra Modi will visit Dhaka first. But, many people started to forget that Indian foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra came to Dhaka last May to discuss the preparation for prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi.

Diplomatic sources at Dhaka said political commitment will be reiterated at the bilateral meeting of two prime ministers to further strengthen the friendly relations between the two countries in continuation of the past 15 years. No significant announcement of any new decision, signing of agreements and memorandum and opening of any project is likely to take during this visit. Mainly, they will hold a formal meeting for the first time on the bilateral relations after the elections in both countries.

Sources said preparation is underway on both sides regarding the agenda of the visit. Several agreements and memorandum of understanding (MoU) are likely to be signed between both countries during this visit, and that include the signing of agreements on a new outline to speed up the implementation of India’s line of credit, as well as the signing of MoU to ensure supply of essentials to Bangladesh in any circumstance. Besides, various issues including economic operation, trade, connectivity, the Teesta deal, fuel, border killings, defence and new technology may be discussed at the bilateral meeting, although the number of deals and MoUs can be stalled moments before the visit.

Diplomatic sources in Dhaka said the concern of India over Beijing’s growing influence in this region is no longer a secret following the Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka in 2016. Even then Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla made a sudden visit to Dhaka amid the Covid restrictions in 2020 after talks on China’s proposal to restore the transboundary Teesta river started making rounds in Dhaka. India has witnessed growing tension along its borders with neighbouring China, as well as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives over the past four years. Amid this circumstance, China has added a new dimension to India’s relations with the neighbouring countries. So, this time prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India and China can be seen as a visit to maintain a balance, which is why she plans to go to Beijing after wrapping up her first bilateral visit to Delhi following the elections.

A senior official of the foreign ministry told Prothom Alo prime minister Sheikh Hasina may visit Beijing on 8 July and she will hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese premier Li Qiang and meet Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Geopolitics overshadows bilateral relations

The issue of China has been coming up in various talks on the Bangladesh-India relationship in recent years, which is why Bangladesh often has to move forward with the challenge of maintaining a balance. Bangladesh’s first defence exercise with China was scheduled to take place in May. The Chinese defence ministry made an official announcement in April, but various sources said the joint exercise did not take place because of Bangladesh.

Again, both Bangladesh and China expressed interest in the much-talked-about Teesta river, but Bangladesh has gone a little bit silent on the Teesta restoration project in recent months considering the growing concerns from India.

Meanwhile, Indian media reports India wants to build a terminal at the Mongla port to create the opportunity to conduct their activities at the port like they currently enjoy at Chabahar Port in Iran and Sittwe Port in Myanmar. India has mainly become interested in Mongla port because of several Chinese projects underway surrounding the port.

Asked, former foreign minister Md Touhid Hossin told Prothom Alo this visit of two prime ministers after the elections in both countries is the outcome of the continuation of the relationship that has been strengthened over the past 15 years. As a result, there will be a direction on how the relationship with India will continue in light of the past relationship, and it seems nothing new and important will yield during this visit, he added.