Roundtable Seminar

Published:  01:18 AM, 06 March 2023 Last Update: 02:44 AM, 06 March 2023

Debt Trap Diplomacy: A Robust Threat and Corruption Institutionalized

Debt Trap Diplomacy: A Robust Threat and Corruption Institutionalized
The Asian Age organized a roundtable seminar at its office on 2 March 2023 titled “Debt Trap Diplomacy: A Robust Threat and Corruption Institutionalized” with the participation of academic scholars, economists, media personalities and civil society members.

It was presided over by Chairman of The Asian Age Shoeb Chowdhury. Editor-in-Charge of The Asian Age Selim Omrao Khan gave the welcome speech. Advisory Editor of The Asian Age AKM Shameem Chowdhuri made concluding remarks.

American intellectual and geopolitical expert Dr. Richard Benkin presented the keynote paper at the seminar. Dr. Richard Benkin said that Bangladesh is strategically located on an important geographical spot. Pakistan has turned into a failed state as a result of taking Chinese loans, Dr. Richard Benkin further said. Pakistan also cracks down hard on its religious minorities, Dr. Richard Benkin stated.

Dr. Richard Benkin conveyed the greetings of two US Congressmen to the seminar who are Roger Krishnamurti and Mike Gallagher.

Moreover, Dr. Richard Benkin referred to Sri Lanka as another country that has been plunged into insurmountable woes because of getting cobwebbed with Chinese financial deals. He commented that China pays big sums of loans to developing and least developed countries to make these countries dependent on China. Djibouti, Maldives and Montenegro are also victims of China’s debt trap diplomacy, Dr. Richard Benkin said while presenting his keynote paper.

Other speakers talked about the syndicated corruption that has been taking place in various countries through Chinese financial schemes. Not just that, China supports religious extremists and supplies arms and ammunitions to separatist groups in many countries, the discussants remarked. Financial vices like money laundering have put on a monstrous shape in many countries as a result of getting involved in Chinese debts and Chinese projects. 

The discussants recalled that China opposed Bangladesh during the Liberation War of 1971. Three million martyrs of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were killed with Chinese weapons, the participants of the seminar recollected. They called upon Bangladesh government not to fall into Chinese financial traps. They expressed gratitude to India for standing by Bangladesh in 1971.

The USA also opposed Bangladesh during 1971 but the American people comprehensively supported Bangladesh back then. The Concert for Bangladesh organized by George Harrison and Bob Dylan and some other singers and musicians were remembered during the seminar.

The seminar was attended by former Secretary Mostafizur Rahman, former Secretary Kamal Uddin Talukder, UN Disability Rights Champion Abdus Sattar Dulal, former director of ISPR Shaheenul Islam, Professor Mohammed Nuruzzaman of North South University, Professor Dr. Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Dhaka University, Nirmol Rozario and President of Bangladesh Christian Association and advocate Saikat Paul.

Shoeb Chowdhury, Chairman, Editorial Board of The Asian Age

We are going through a very restless time because of the adverse economic impact of Covid 19 pandemic which has been all the more intensified by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War. Today we gathered at this place to talk about debt trap diplomacy, its threat to the economy of developing countries and the corruption caused by it.

China has been exercising debt trap diplomacy in various parts of the world. South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan have been shattered by Chinese debt traps. We should take lessons from it. History shows that China opposed Bangladesh during the glorious Liberation War of 1971. Three million martyrs of the war were killed with Chinese weapons. China recognized Bangladesh after the assassination of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

However, Bangabandhu’s capable daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a competent leader. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will not allow anything detrimental to happen to Bangladesh I believe. Bangladesh exports most of its products to the United States of America and the European Union. On the other hand, China exports goods of around 12 billion dollars to Bangladesh every year while Bangladesh’s exports to China annually is less than 1 billion dollars. It shows Bangladesh’s huge trade deficit with China. Financial fraudsters launder money to overseas locations taking advantage of this trade imbalance.

Geopolitical experts have remarked that China backed up Myanmar in instigating the influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh. China has been building up special economic zones in the Rakhine province of Myanmar wherefrom the Rohingyas were driven away. Myanmar also violated Bangladesh’s air space a number of times. Myanmar is showing this audacity because they are supported by China.

Allegations show that China has instigated corruption in many countries through over-valued projects. Chinese projects are not transparent. Bangladesh has meanwhile borrowed 4.7 billion dollars from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deal with economic shortfalls. We are alarmed to see the rise of radical Islamic groups in Bangladesh in recent years. China supplies arms and ammunitions to separatist groups and terrorists in many countries. Thus China unsettles peace and stability across the globe. We should be highly careful about the Chinese financial deals with Bangladesh so that we do not turn out to be another Sri Lanka or Pakistan.

Chinese financial schemes in Sri Lanka and Pakistan have not only devastated these countries in economic terms. Moreover, Chinese involvement in the economic affairs of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe etcetera have jeopardized these countries politically too and have destabilized these countries’ ruling authorities.

Selim Omrao Khan, Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age

I warmly welcome all of you to this afternoon’s roundtable seminar titled “Debt Trap Diplomacy: A Robust Threat and Corruption Institutionalized”.

Renowned American scholar and geopolitical expert Dr. Richard Benkin will present the keynote paper. Afterwards all other participants will put forward their opinions, thoughts and views. I am thankful to Mr. Shoeb Chowdhury, Chairman, Editorial Board of The Asian Age for organizing this seminar.

I thank everyone for coming to join us. I hope everyone’s ideas will help us to better understand the topic on which today’s seminar is based.

AKM Shameem Chowdhuri, Advisory Editor, The Asian Age

Debt traps have turned out to be death traps in some countries. Bangladesh government is highly cautious to avoid getting endangered with Chinese debt traps. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has in the meantime asked the authorities concerned to take up unnecessary and expensive mega projects. Our constitution states “Friendship to all, malice to none”. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formulated our foreign policy with these words. In the present world no country is our enemy. Russia, USA, China—all these countries have friendship with us according to our constitution. China and USA opposed us during the Liberation War of 1971 but the American people supported Bangladesh in 1971 in a comprehensive way. We still remember the Concert for Bangladesh organized in the United States by George Harrison, Bob Dylan and some other singers and musicians to extend their support to Bangladesh during that crucial time.

Historically we were part of India during the reign of Maurya dynasty, during the reign of Muslim Sultanate, the Mughals and the British Empire. I have full confidence on Bangabandhu’s efficient daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has transformed Bangladesh into a development role model. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has become Mother of Humanity by sheltering over one million Rohingya refugees on the soil of Bangladesh.

There is no permanent ally or enemy in diplomacy. China and America opposed us in 1971 but both these countries are at present our development partners. China is also being deplored by human rights groups for repression and persecution on the Uyghur minorities. Bangladesh strategically holds an important position. We people are very resilient and withstanding. We won a war in 1971. We can defeat any enemy. Ordinary people of Bangladesh defeated the Pakistan Army in 1971 which was at that time the most well-organized military force in the world.

Islam says to Muslims, “Minorities are at your disposal”. We should uphold democracy and meritocracy. Historically we coexisted peacefully with Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists for hundreds of years.

Dr. Richard L Benkin, American Scholar and Geopolitical Expert (Keynote Speaker)

First I would like to extend my thanks to The Asian Age authority for inviting me to this seminar. Two American Congressmen Roger Krishnamurti and Mike Gallagher have conveyed their greetings to the participants in this program. China’s expanding influence on developing countries through financial deals is a big concern in the present world. Bangladesh holds an important geopolitical location. For this reason China intends to tie up with Bangladesh to achieve financial and geostrategic gains.

Pakistan has become a failed state because of getting embroiled in Chinese financial gambits. However, China keeps pumping big sums of money into Pakistan. Pakistan cracks down hard on religious minorities. Sri Lanka is another victim of China’s debt trap diplomacy. Sri Lanka had to hand over Hambantota Port to China failing to pay back Chinese loans. Chinese development programs in developing countries aim to make these countries dependent on China. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Djibouti, Maldives, Montenegro and some other countries’ economy has been broadly damaged by Chinese financial stratagems.

China also triggers communal uprising. The United States of America provided to Bangladesh the highest number of Covid 19 vaccines. China pays loans to under developed countries on very tough terms and conditions. In most of the cases the countries who take Chinese debts cannot pay back Chinese loans and their economy suffer badly. Bangladesh should train up its local people and indigenous clans to work for the country instead of being dependent on foreign countries. 

Mostafizur Rahman, former Secretary, Bangladesh government

Thanks for inviting me to this seminar. Debt trap diplomacy is an international phenomenon. Chinese authorities spearhead debt trap diplomacy to gain political leverage over certain countries. Once upon a time, a senior diplomat of the USA termed Bangladesh, “bottomless basket”.

However, at present USA is Bangladesh’s development partner. Pakistan took away all assets of Bangladesh from 1947 to 1971 which led to Bangladesh’s destitution. The US government has imposed embargoes on some senior police officers and Director General of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). The USA has also withdrawn GSP facility. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a competent and fair leader. Bangladesh government has decided not to take further Chinese loans until repayment of old Chinese debts.

Professor Dr. Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, Department of Public Administration, Dhaka University

There is a potential danger of receiving loans from China. China is a one-party country. There is no practice of democracy in China. Freedom of speech in China is restricted.

Ethnic minorities in China are tormented and cornered. China supplies arms to Myanmar and insurgent groups in many other countries. China is the catalyst of Rohingya predicament in Bangladesh.

Chinese workers in Bangladesh all belong to the People’s Liberation Army of China. China also supplies weapons to the military forces of Bangladesh. China has become a big factor in today’s world.

Md. Kamal Uddin Talukder, former Secretary, Bangladesh government

I hope Bangladesh government will be able to retain the range of socio-economic development the country has attained during last several years under the firm leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government stands on high alert so that nothing goes wrong with Bangladesh’s economic foothold. The government is aware of the pros and cons of Chinese loans. So, I believe Bangladesh will not face any adverse situation because of Chinese financial deals.

Professor Mohammed Nuruzzaman, Department of International Relations, North South University

Indian author Brahma Chellaney wrote an article on debt trap diplomacy which was published by Project Syndicate. Sri Lanka’s economy was plagued with domestic mismanagement and corruption. IMF and World Bank pay loans to developing countries on harsh terms and conditions. Bangladesh has built up Padma Bridge on a self-finance basis. Bangladesh keeps up a balanced relationship with India and China.

Foreign debts account for 15% of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP). Chinese loans occupy only 5% of Bangladesh’s GDP. Chinese institutions do not disburse loans transparently. The USA stands by Bangladesh over the Rohingya issue for which we are thankful to USA.=

Abdus Sattar Dulal, UN Disability Rights Champion

The Asian Age has organized an interesting and well-timed event. I appreciate The Asian Age for organizing the program. Most of the business enterprises in our country are running with debts. It impacts disabled people. Development initiatives are not all-inclusive. World and IMF do not care how buildings are designed. All buildings should be designed as such so that disabled people can reach any floor of the buildings without difficulties. It is very important to pay back loans to the countries from whom the debts were borrowed.

Md. Shaheenul Islam, former Director, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR)

Every country should deal with China’s debt trap diplomacy very carefully. IMF and World Bank pay loans to different countries on certain terms and conditions. Loan borrowers in the third world are always in an abject position. Least developed countries (LDC) and developing countries take loans from rich countries to mitigate their financial crisis. Countries should learn from their own mistakes. All shops in the United States are filled with Chinese goods.

Nirmol Rozario, President, Bangladesh Christian Association

China is a major economic power in the world. China exerts economic influence on other countries. In our country we always want communal harmony to prevail. Extremist groups always work against religious minorities. Uyghur minorities are tormented by China. In Bangladesh, there have been a number of attacks on religious minorities. The government should take up strong measures to protect religious minorities from assaults by fundamentalist groups.

Advocate Saikat Paul, Lawyer, Supreme Court

The banking and financial sectors in Bangladesh are at present inflicted with corruption and irregularities. The power plant in Bashkhali is jointly being Constructed by a private company and Chinese government.

Hefazat-E-Islam carried out violent demonstrations in some parts of Bangladesh and burned some government offices when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh in 2021. Fanatical Islamic groups are backed by China. Religious fanaticism is a big threat to peace and stability. It should be identified wherefrom religious extremists get financial support and severe actions should be taken against them.

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