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India elbows out China from river conservation project in Bangladesh

Notwithstanding the growing clamour in Bangladesh to boycott India, 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.
Last Updated : 22 June 2024, 18:18 IST

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New Delhi: India has pledged its support to a river conservation project in Bangladesh and thus dissuaded the neighbouring nation from taking help from China.

Notwithstanding the growing clamour in Bangladesh to boycott India, 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 succeeded in persuading Dhaka to keep Beijing out of the project for the conservation and comprehensive management of the river Teesta. A technical team from India would soon visit Bangladesh to discuss the project. According to a joint statement issued after the Modi-Hasina meeting, India committed to provide assistance to Bangladesh to implement the project.

India’s pledge for financial support is likely to persuade Bangladesh to reject China’s offer of a $ 1 billion soft loan for the project.

The two sides also agreed on constituting a joint Technical Committee to initiate discussions for the renewal of the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty of 1996.

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 China’s bid to drag Bangladesh into its orbit of geopolitical influence, including through support for development projects and 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.

Dhaka offered India two Special Economic Zones in Bangladesh – Mongla and Mirsharai.

One of the MoUs the officials of the two neighbouring nations signed during the Modi-Hasina meeting would expand rail connectivity between the two nations.

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.

Hasina visited New Delhi ahead of her 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 earlier conveyed to Dhaka its concerns over China’s role in a project so close to Bangladesh’s border with India.

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Published 22 June 2024, 18:18 IST

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