Speakers at a conference on Sunday emphasized negotiation with China about opportunities of Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) since it is very important for economic ties.

The suggestion came at an international conference on BRI organized by CPD at a Dhaka hotel.

Addressing the conference as a distinguished guest, Economist and Chairman of CPD Prof Rehman Sobhan said the concept of BRI has a much wider global significance.

“BRI is a global initiative to construct a new international order based on enhancing development and ending poverty across the South within the framework of a more equitable world order. The scope of BRI thus extends to agendas for comprehensive, deeper economic cooperation across the world.”

He said Bangladesh should initiate a series of talks and negotiations with China to promote and preserve its interests in BRI.

Industries Minister Nurul Majid Humayun said there is a good relation between Bangladesh and China. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also visited China.

“BRI is very important for south Asian countries,” he said, adding that a developed economic tie will be established with China through BRI.

Foreign Ministry Senior Secretary Md Shahidul Haque said,

“We are not going to confine ourselves within BRI. We should be a party to all initiatives as long as it serves our national interest.”

“We’re in a key position of the belt. We’ve to negotiate about its opportunities,” he said.

Former caretaker government advisor Syed Manzur Elahi presided over the function while Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of CPD, read out the keynote papers.

Elahi, also CPD’s trustee board member, suggested that government policymakers should discuss business interests with stakeholders while being part of any initiatives like BRI.

“BRI is an opportunity for us, but the reality is most economies associated with BRI are competitive. It has to be BRI plus Europe, because, at the end of the day, we need to export our products to developed countries,” he said.

In her keynote presentation, Executive Director of CPD, Dr Fahmida Khatun outlined the whole perspectives of BRI, its challenges and opportunities, and what it means to Bangladesh.

“There are mixed reactions over BRI because some countries have joined while some are still observing it,” she mentioned.

Professor Dr Sachin Chaturvedi, director general of Institute for Bangladesh System for Developing Countries, New Delhi; Prof Cheng Min, Institute for Bangladesh Studies, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences Kunming; and Mahbub Uz Zaman, Bangladesh Ambassador-designate to China also spoke at the first session.

‘An instrument of cooperation’

CPD Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan said China’s financial capacity to underwrite the BRI program is backed by the availability of sizeable surplus capacity in its capital goods, engineering and construction industries.

“Its global expansion has stimulated growth across the Asian region. As a result, today Asia is the fasted growing region in the global system. Over the next 25 years, it will account for over 50% of global growth.”

He also found allegations of China’s “debt trap” to be overstated.

“China has little to gain from driving weaker partners into debt, thereby reducing their capacity to trade. China has indeed helped out many of its borrowers through debt relief extended to more than 80 projects around the world between 2000 and 2017. But the risks of over-indebtedness remain inherent in the circumstances of some of the weaker economies which have been prone to overdependence on external loans well before the BRI entered the global discourse.”

He remarked, “We must recognize that the BRI as it is conceived by President Xi Jinping in its totality is much more than just a program to use Chinese capital to construct infrastructure projects across the world. The BRI is, indeed, a global initiative to construct a new international order based on enhancing development and ending poverty across the South within the framework of a more equitable world order.”