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OP-ED: The Chinese dilemma

  • Published at 01:58 am January 19th, 2021
Xi Jinping Abdul Hamid
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Bangladesh President Md Abdul Hamid at Bangabhaban PID

Bangladesh and China have not always enjoyed a favourable relationship

The Chinese were desperate for a kind of “wolf-warrior” diplomacy to take diplomatic and economic ties with Bangladesh to a new height during the post-Mujib era. In subsequent years, China emerged as the major economic partner in mega-infrastructure development projects in Bangladesh.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told her officials that Bangladesh should give a second thought regarding any multi-billion dollar development projects offered by China. 

Not very long ago, she reassured the Indian journalists that India is an “organic” friend of Bangladesh; they jointly shed blood during the brutal birth of Bangladesh, and China is a development partner -- there is no conflict of interest with the two countries.

Recently, the PM reiterated that marauding Pakistani troops must make an apology for committing war crimes during Bangladesh independence. Pakistan had received unlimited military supply and political support from China to suppress the people in Bangladesh. The brass-coated “Made in China” bullets were responsible for several million martyrs -- for a crime to dream of an independent Bangladesh.

The architect of Bangladesh’s independence, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took charge of a war-ravaged nation with a promise to feed the hungry people and the task to rehabilitate the millions of refugees that slowly trickled back home from India. However, even after the return of Bangabandhu from Pakistan’s prison, China continued to politically and diplomatically harass the newly independent nation.

The trouble started when Bangladesh sought membership in the United Nations in 1972. China vetoed Bangladesh’s membership at the UN when the country desperately needed international aid for rehabilitation of the returnees from India. 

To withstand China, Sheikh Mujib, to add diplomatic clout, joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Commonwealth, and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which helped strengthen Bangladesh’s image.

Even after diplomatic recognition by Pakistan under the duress of Islamic nations’ leaders in 1974, China continued to intimidate the government of Sheikh Mujib.

Overtly, the pro-Beijing communist parties in the country received political blessings from CCP. Why? Because the left parties opposed the Liberation War and expressed dissent on the government of Sheikh Mujib, blaming him to be a “stooge of Indian expansionist ideas.”

Mujib, as he stated in his book Amar Dekha Naya Chin (New China As I Saw) had visited China twice. First, in 1952 and the second visit in 1957. During his visit, he met the founder of New China, Mao Zedong, along with Zhou Enlai and other key figures of CCP. 

He was confident that the Chinese leaders would listen to his request to recognize Bangladesh.

Sheikh Mujib opened diplomatic channels to win the hearts of CCP. Pakistan’s veteran envoy to Beijing (1969-1972), Ambassador Khwaja Mohammad Kaiser was Mujib’s special emissary to Chinese leaders. Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai confided to Ambassador Kaiser that he should understand his difficulties. Kaiser, however, returned to Beijing, as Bangladesh Ambassador in 1984 for two years.

Mujib also dispatched journalist and poet Faiz Ahmed to Beijing. Faiz had friends in high places among CCP leadership when he was working in Radio Peking (now Beijing) Bangla Service in the 1960s. Faiz, despite being a radical left, was Mujib’s play-card partner in prison during 1966-1969. Unfortunately, he too returned home with an empty hand and the mission reached a dead end.

China was among the last few countries to recognize Bangladesh on August 31, 1975. Well, not to an elected government of Sheikh Mujib, but after his brutal assassination in mid-August 1975. China, unfortunately, recognized an illegal regime headed by the assassins of Bangabandhu.

China should admit certain responsibility for the genocide perpetrated by Pakistan’s military hawks in Bangladesh due to CCP’s policy for providing military aid to Pakistan during the Liberation War. CCP should also regret intimidating Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government.

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected]; [email protected]