Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is likely to seek Chinese funding to build a deep sea port in the Bay of Bengal when she visits Beijing later this week, officials said on Wednesday.
The proposed port on Sonadia Island off Bangladesh’s southeast coast would cost billions of dollars, but Bangladeshi newspapers have reported that Hasina hopes Beijing will pay part of the bill if a Chinese firm wins the contract.
The country’s foreign ministry said the port would feature in the bilateral discussions when Hasina travels to China on Friday on a six-day visit.
“During the tour the two nations may discuss Chinese assistance for the Sonadia Deep Sea Port,” Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali told journalists on Wednesday at a briefing two days ahead of Hasina’s departure for Beijing.
Another senior official in the prime minister’s office confirmed that the port project was expected to feature in discussions although he wouldn’t say whether any kind of deal would be signed.
The country’s largest circulation Bengali daily, Prothom Alo, has reported that state-owned China Harbour is in line to build the port.
It said an announcement to this effect would be made after the meeting between Hasina and her Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on June 9.
A framework agreement, proposed by China, to construct the port could be signed during the tour, it said.
Hasina was keen to award the project to Chinese firms in 2009-14 when she led a coalition government, but held back for fear of upsetting India, a major ally of her government.
If a Chinese company were to be awarded the contract, Sonadia would become the fourth port to be constructed by a Chinese firm in the Bay of Bengal, deepening Beijing’s footprint on one of the important sea routes of the world.
Chinese companies have previously built ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar.
Bangladeshi experts said the country badly needs a deep sea port after years of double-digit expansion of its foreign trade. Dhaka’s economy has grown six percent a year for more than a decade.
Dhaka’s annual trade through its two sea ports currently stands at around US$60 billion.
The trip to Beijing will be Hasina’s second major overseas trip since she retained power in a January general election which was marred by widespread fraud and an opposition boycott. Last month she visited Japan.
Source : Channel News Asia | June 5, 2014