China twist in Teesta challenge

  • IASbaba
  • August 21, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
  • India and its neighborhood- relations

China twist in Teesta challenge

Context: Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river.

About Teesta River

  • Teesta river is a tributary of the Brahmaputra (known as Jamuna in Bangladesh)
  • It originates in the Himalayas in Sikkim and flows to the south through West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, where it merges with Brahmaputra
  • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta.
  • The two countries were on the verge of signing a water-sharing pact in September 2011, when PM Manmohan Singh was going to visit Bangladesh. But, West Bengal CM objected to it, and the deal was scuttled.
  • Bangladesh has sought an “equitable” distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996 (an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border), but to no avail.

How has India’s relationship with Bangladesh played out over the years?

  • New Delhi has had a robust relationship with Dhaka, carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the Sheikh Hasina government
  • Security Cooperation: India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and Northeast states.
  • Economic and development partnership: Bilateral trade has grown steadily over the last decade: India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion, and imports from Bangladesh at $1.04 billion.
  • People to People ties: India grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work, and just entertainment. 

What are the irritants in Indo-Bangladesh Relations?

  • NRC and CAA: Bangladesh had cancelled visits by ministers, and PM Hasina has expressed reservations about Citizenship Amendment Act.
  • Trade Imbalance: Bangladesh has trade deficit ($8.20 billion in 2018019) with India which it wants to reduce.
  • Growing China: Bangladesh has courted Chinese investments for its infrastructural projects. Despite India’s pressure, Bangladesh attended the Belt & Road Forum hosted by Chinese President Xi

How have relations between Bangladesh and China been developing?

  • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports. 
  • In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the imports from China commanded the lion’s share.
  • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries. 
  • This move has been widely welcomed in Bangladesh, with the expectation that Bangladesh exports to China will increase.
  • China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh.
  • China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh and it has been a legacy issue — after the liberation, officers of Pakistan Army — who were well-versed with Chinese arms — joined Bangladesh Army and that’s how they preferred Chinese weapons

Cause of Concern about recent move on Teesta

  • The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
  • It has come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.
  • This shows that China is making major inroads into India’s dominant and strategic space in the subcontinent (Nepal raising Kalapani issue and Pakistan releasing new map)

Way Ahead

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due 2021.
  • In the meantime, Delhi can address other issues of concern like
    • Implementation of announced projects in a timely manner
    • Bangladesh sought return of the Tablighi Jamaat members impacted by the lockdown in India, which can be looked into
    • Reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, which helps many Bangladeshi patients to visit India for medical check-ups.
    • Reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.
    • Collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, 

Connecting the dots:

  • BCIM Corridor
  • Microfinance Model by Muhammad Yunus

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