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India, Bangladesh ink pact to boost ties in maritime sphere, blue economy

New Delhi has been concerned over Dhaka’s growing ties with Beijing, including in the areas of defence cooperation. Bangladesh bought two submarines from China in 2016. China is also building a submarine base at Pekua in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, much to the unease for the security establishment of India.
Last Updated : 22 June 2024, 09:46 IST

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New Delhi: Notwithstanding the growing clamour to boycott India in Bangladesh, the prime ministers of the two nations, Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina, on Saturday decided to start negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and witnessed the signing of pacts for rail connectivity as well as for maritime and space cooperation.

New Delhi also subtly nudged Dhaka to keep Beijing out of the project for the comprehensive management of the river Teesta. A technical team from India would soon visit Bangladesh to discuss the project. The team will explore the scope for India to provide financial support to Bangladesh to implement the project. The move is intended to dissuade Bangladesh from seeking a soft loan from China.

Hasina was on a state visit to New Delhi on Thursday and Friday. She was the first foreign leader to embark on a state visit to New Delhi after Modi commenced his third term as the prime minister of India on June 9. Apart from meeting her counterpart, she also called on President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar.

This was the second visit by the prime minister of Bangladesh to India this month. She earlier visited New Delhi to witness the swearing-in ceremony of Modi at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, along with the leaders of other nations in the South Asian and Indian Ocean neighbourhood of India.

“The two sides agreed to start talks on the CEPA to take forward economic ties,” Modi told journalists after his meeting with Hasina. He said that the two sides had discussed ways to step up defence cooperation, including in the areas of defence production and modernisation of the armed forces. “We welcome Bangladesh's decision to join the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative.”

New Delhi has been concerned over Dhaka’s growing ties with Beijing, including in the areas of defence cooperation. Bangladesh bought two submarines from China in 2016.

China is also building a submarine base at Pekua in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, much to the unease for the security establishment of India.

“Today, our two sides had very productive meetings where we discussed politics and security, trade and connectivity, the sharing of water from common rivers, power, and energy, and regional and multilateral cooperation, among other issues of mutual interest,” said Hasina.

One of the MoUs the officials of the two neighbouring nations signed during the Modi-Hasina meeting would expand rail connectivity, including transit from India’s mainland to its northeastern states through Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s opposition parties have been protesting against the proposed MoU for rail connectivity with India, arguing that it would undermine the sovereignty of the tiny nation.

Hasina also joined Modi in endorsing vision documents on the Digital Partnership and Green Partnership between the two neighbouring nations, ignoring the ‘India Out’ campaign launched in Bangladesh by her political opponents.

Dhaka is seeking a soft loan of $1 billion from Beijing to implement the project. It is likely to be on the agenda of Hasina’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during her forthcoming visit to Beijing. China is expected to offer Bangladesh financial support of $5 billion in soft loans for several development projects.

New Delhi has been subtly warning Hasina’s Awami League government in Dhaka to be cautious and avoid getting into the debt traps of China.

Teesta is a river that originates in Sikkim and flows through West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh. A move by New Delhi and Dhaka to clinch a water-sharing deal remained stalled for the past several years as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refrained from giving her consent, stating that such a pact would result in water scarcity in the northern region of the state and hit the farmers hard.

New Delhi has conveyed to Dhaka its concerns over China’s role in a project so close to Bangladesh’s border with India.

The visit of the technical team from India to Bangladesh, as agreed upon by Modi and Hasina on Saturday, is likely to be the first step towards bilateral cooperation on the project.

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Published 22 June 2024, 09:46 IST

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