The forum was launched at the National Press Club on Saturday and will serve as a ‘coordinating body for promoting cooperation with China and other member countries’, said its chairman Dilip Barua, also the general secretary of Bangladesh Samyabadi Dal.
BNP’s standing committee member Abdul Moyeen Khan, Awami League’s advisory council member Mozaffar Hossain Paltu, JaSod’s Hasanul Haque Inu and Sharif Nurul Ambia and columnist Syed Abul Maksud are among the vice-chairmen.
The Communist Party of Bangladesh and the Workers Party expressed their solidarity with the initiative during the programme and were allotted two vice-chairmen posts in the forum.
Journalist Shahiduzzaman Khan of Financial Express is the member secretary of the 49-member executive board in which Dr Wahedul Islam, Bimal Biswas, Prof Delwar Hossain, and Dr Mostaq Hussain of JaSod will serve as members, among others.
The full committee will be formed soon, said Inu while announcing the names of the chairman, seven vice-chairmen, one secretary general, two joint secretary generals one treasurer, publicity secretary, office secretary and 20 members.
Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi and Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Zhang Zuo also attended the ceremony and lauded the move as a “timely” initiative.
Bangladesh joined the BRI during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka in 2016. The initiative aims to rebuild the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond through massive infrastructural spending.
However, the initiative has been the subject of controversy in many western capitals, particularly Washington, which views it as merely a means to spread Chinese influence abroad and trap countries into debt through “nontransparent” projects.
India did not join the BRI, citing concerns over China’s projects with Pakistan. Some analysts say India is not comfortable with Bangladesh’s participation in the initiative.
“This is the time,” Rizvi said about the new Forum, adding that the government does not see any conflict in the relations with India and China.
“Our support and participation in BRI does not exclude us from participation in other initiatives such as Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said as India is one of the key partners of the strategy pursued by the United States.
“We in Bangladesh do not see any conflict between the two. Both these have their own reasons and purposes. Both of them will advance our goal and prosperity,” he said.
“What is also very important that Indo-China relations over the last 10 years have improved phenomenally. India is one of the largest trading partners of China. Their relations are improving. So we need not to worry that one is at the cost of the other.
“This is not a zero-sum game. It’s a positive-sum game. We get benefit with all these initiatives and we should place ourselves into these.”
Ambassador Zhang Zuo said the Bangladesh-China Silk Road Forum is being established “at the right moment when there is a lot to be achieved”.
“Bangladesh’s diplomatic policy of “friend to all, malice to none” and President Xi Jinping’s ‘Thought of diplomacy’, both have provided new opportunities for win-win cooperation for our two countries,” he said.
“Bangladeshi people’s dream of a strong and wealthy nation, manifested in the dream of Sonar Bangla, and the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation pursued by the Chinese people, are interconnected.”
Zuo hoped that this forum “could pay attention to telling good stories about China-Bangladesh friendship, passing on the voices in the communication and exchanges between our two countries, and building this forum into an important bridge for China-Bangladesh connectivity.”
Next year, Bangladesh and China will mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties. “We need to work together to create a congenial atmosphere for cooperation and deepen our policy connectivity and people-to-people bond, so as to bring more benefits to both our peoples, and push the China-Bangladesh relations into a better new era.”
BNP’s Moyeen Khan congratulated Dilip Barua to take the initiative and said China’s BRI is important for balancing the world order.
“Purely western domination cannot bring good to total population,” he said. “There needs some kind of balance in the world.”
“As it [BRI] unifies the world through the process of development, the BRI in fact is a global project,” he said.
“We’ll move in the sense of a competition, not conflict which has become an apparent trend in the western world.”
Columnist Abul Maksud described Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina “pragmatic” for maintaining balanced relations with both India and China.
CPB Presidium member Abdullah Al Kafi Ratan expressed “solidarity” of his party with this new Forum.
Hasanul Haq Inu, who was the information minister of Hasina’s last cabinet, said this forum will act as a bridge between the regional and sub-regional forums.
The BRI will increase connectivity, increase the tourism industry, increase economic development and trade, he said. “It’ll be a great boost for the economic development of Asia,” he said, urging all in Bangladesh irrespective of political parties to support the BRI.
They also adopted a ‘manifesto and stature’ outlining the activities of the forum.