The January 10, 1972 speech by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on the occasion of his return to independent Bangladesh, is one of his historic speeches. While the March 7, 1971 speech was heralded as the declaration of the ‘struggle for emancipation’ and the ‘struggle for independence’, the 10 January speech drew up guidelines for the new nation on how to realize the spirit of those struggles with courage and patriotism. The March 7 speech has been translated into English and many other languages, but there was no acceptable English translation of the January 10 speech till now. However, commissioned by the National Implementation Committee for the Birth Centenary Celebration of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I translated the January 10 speech into English:
At first I remember the students, the labourers, the peasants, the intellectuals, soldiers, the police, the people, the Hindu and the Muslim of my Bangladesh who were killed. I, wishing for their souls and paying tribute to them, would like to say a few words to you.
My Bangladesh has been independent today, my life’s desire has been fulfilled today, the people of my Bengal have been liberated today. My Bengal will remain free. Today I won’t be able to make a speech. The way the sons of Bengal, the mothers of Bengal, the peasants of Bengal, the labourers of Bengal, the intellectuals of Bengal did struggle---I was imprisoned, was ready and waiting to go to the gallows. But I knew that they could not suppress my Bangalees. The people of my Bengal would be liberated. I pay tribute to those of my brothers who made the supreme sacrifice, suffered martyrdom, I give them my regards, seek forgiveness of their souls.
Today, in percentage terms, I am reliably informed, nearly 30 lakh people have been killed in Bengal. In the Second World War and also in the First World War, such a number of people, such a number of common citizen did not die, were not martyred, which happened in my 7-crore people’s Bangladesh.
I did not know I would return to you. I told just one thing, I have no objection if you kill me. Please return my dead body to my Bangalees, this is my only request to you.
I congratulate the Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi, I congratulate the people of India, I congratulate the armed forces of India, I congratulate the people of Russia, I congratulate the governments and people of Britain, Germany, France and those who have supported us.
I congratulate the people of America, I congratulate the oppressed of the world who have supported this liberation struggle of mine.
I am to say, one crore people from Bangladesh took refuge in India leaving the homestead. The people of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi gave them food, shelter, I cannot but congratulate them. I am to congratulate others who too helped us.
However, we should keep in mind, Bangladesh is an independent and sovereign state. Bangladesh shall remain independent. None can suppress Bangladesh. There is nothing to be gained by conspiring against Bangladesh. Before I left, I said, Oh, Bangalees! Your struggle this time is a struggle for independence, your struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation. You’ve done it. I said, build fortresses at every house. You struggled by building fortresses at every house.
I congratulate my colleagues. Many of my brothers, many activists, many mothers and sisters are no more in this world, I shall not see them. Today I saw the people of Bangladesh, saw the land of Bangladesh, saw the sky of Bangladesh, felt the weather of Bangladesh, I greet Bengal with salaam. My Bengal of gold I love you so much, this is perhaps the reason why I have been called back.
I hope, I appeal to all the states in the world, I have no roads, I have no ghat, my people have no food, my people are homeless-helpless, my people are street beggars. You help my people, I want help from you for the sake of humanity. I want help from all the states in the world. Please recognize my Bangladesh. Give relief from the United Nations, you have to give, no way you must give. I, we won’t admit defeat, We don’t know how to admit defeat. Kabiguru, Kabiguri Rabindranath said, “You have made seven crore Bangalees, Oh Mother Bengal, remain as Bangalees, you haven’t made them humans.”
Kabiguru’s words have proved wrong. My Bangalees are now humans. My Bangalees have shown in the history of the world, in the history of the world, that no such numbers of people have made self-sacrifices, no such numbers of people have laid down their lives. That’s why I say you could not suppress me.
From today my request, from today my command, from today my order, as a brother—not as a leader, nor as the president or as the prime minister, I am your brother, you are my brothers. This independence of mine will be futile—if the people of my Bengal are not fully fed on rice, this independence of mine will not be fulfilled—if the mothers and sisters of Bengal do not get clothes, this independence of mine will not be fulfilled—if the mothers and sisters of this country do not get clothes for the protection of their modesty, this independence of mine will not be fulfilled—if the people of this country, the youth of mine, do not find employment or do not get jobs.
I congratulate you-- the freedom fighters, the student community, activists. You became guerillas, you gave blood, blood won’t go in vain, blood didn’t go in vain.
Just a word—from today, from today, let there be no theft and robbery in Bengal. Let there be no plundering in Bengal. The other sections of the population who are in Bengal, the people of other countries, the people of West Pakistan, who do not speak Bengali. I’m still saying, become Bangalees. And I am saying to my brothers, do not raise your hand to them. We are humans, we love humans.
But those who have collaborated, those who have killed my people entering their rooms, will be brought to justice and punished. Leave it with the government, in the hands of the independent government of Bangladesh. None would be spared. However, I want, in the independent country, like the independent citizens, in the independent court, they would be tried and punished. You, I want to show the world that peaceful Bengalis know how to give blood and peaceful Bengalis know how to keep peace. You have received me. I have come. I did not know I was sentenced to death by hanging. A grave was dug for me beside my cell. I prepared myself, I said I’m a Bangalee, I’m a man, I’m a Muslim—who dies once not twice. I said, if death comes to me, I’ll die laughing. I will not die dishonouring my Bengali nation, I’ll not beg your pardon. And will shout out while dying, Joy Bangla, Free Bangla, Bengali is my nation, Bangla is my language, the land of Bangla is my place.
My brothers, you know, we have a lot of work to do. I want all my people to begin work on the construction of the roads where broken. I want you all to go back to the field and cultivate paddy.
I want to tell the employees, do not take bribes, not even a single person. Remember, it was not an opportune moment then, but now I will not forgive bribes.
My brothers! As I was being taken away under arrest, Tajuddin, Nazrul and others went towards me. I told, ‘let me die with seven crore Bangalees. I bless you.’ Tajuddin and others were crying. I said, ‘you go away. Struggle on. I have faith in you. I want to die at this house. This will be the place of Bangladesh, I want to breathe my last in this house. In no way, I can bow my head to them.’
Brothers mine, they have interrogated Dr. Kamal there for three months so as to make him testify against Mujib. Some Bangalees have given their testimonies against me, and we all know and recognize them. They will be brought to trial.
You, today, I am not in a position to make a speech. You understand, “Take the salute my beautiful mother, motherland, the banks of the Ganges, the gentle breeze have soothed my life.” (Recites a poem by Tagore).
Today, when I landed in Dhaka, I couldn’t hold back my tears, because never did I think I would be back to the land, the people, the nation and the country, Bangladesh, that I love so much. Today, I have returned to Bangladesh. I have come back to my mothers, my sisters, my brothers. My Bengal is now independent, and my people of Bengal are independent today.
I tell the brothers of West Pakistan, you stay happy. We bear you no grudge. We will try our best to show respect to you. Things that your military men have done-- raped my sisters and mothers and killed my three lakh people. Go away and be happy. You stay happy. We are no longer with you. It’s over. You remain free. I, too, remain independent.
As a citizen of an independent country, I can make friends with you, otherwise there can be no friendship. However, adequate action will be taken for those who have wronged.
I apologize to you. I will make a speech another day, after a few days when I’ll get a bit well.
You see I’m not that Mujibur Rahman any longer. When I look at my Bengal, you see, places have been flattened, villages after villages have been burned down. There’s hardly any family left where my people haven’t been killed. What a howling cowardice that, the military men killed innocent civilians in this way! And what they claim! ‘We are the Muslim military in Pakistan.’ They should be hated. They should have known that Bangladesh is the second Muslim country in the world after Indonesia. The Muslim are large in number – second position. And India is in the third position. And West Pakistan is in the fourth position. We are Muslims, do the Muslim rape mothers and sisters? We are Muslims. In my state, in this Bangladesh, there will be a socialist system. There will be democracy in this Bangladesh. Bangladesh will be a secular state.
I want to tell them who are eager to know. On my way home, I had a discussion with Mrs. Indira Gandhi in Delhi. I can tell you it since I know her very well. I hold her in high regard. She is the daughter of Pundit Nehru. She is the daughter of Motilal Nehru’s son. They were involved in politics, they did sacrifice. They became prime ministers of India. The day I ask, Indian army will leave the soil of Bangladesh, and she is withdrawing little by little.
However, the help she extended to us, I, on behalf of the seven crore sad Bangalees, congratulate Mrs. Indira Gandhi, her government and the people of India, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
There’s hardly any head of the state to whom she did not request personally to secure Sheikh Mujib’s release. She personally told all the states in the world, “you ask Yahya Khan to release Sheikh Mujib, to find a political solution".
A crore of people have moved to a country leaving their motherland. There are many countries having ten lakh, fifteen lakh, twenty lakh, thirty lakh, forty lakh, fifty lakh population. Sixty percent states have population below one crore. Whereas one crore people from my Bengal took refuse in India leaving the lure of the motherland. Many of them died there sick, many suffered the agony of starvation. Many houses were burned down by this gang of beasts.
Forgive me, my brothers, forgive me. Today, I have no desire for vengeance on anyone. Don’t tell anything to anybody. I will punish them who did wrong. Don’t take the law into your own hands. The youth of the liberation forces, take my salam. The student community, take my salam. The working community, take my salam. The peasantry, take my salam. You take, the luckless Hindus and Muslims take my salam.
And those of the employees who received bullet injuries shot from machine guns and those who fled for fear of life leaving behind their mothers and sisters, their young wives captured and thrown into Pakistani camp at Kurmitola, I salute you all and offer my best regards.
Together we will build a new and prosperous Bengal. The people of Bengal will cheer up again, live life merrily and breathe freely in an open atmosphere. The people of Bengal will have two squire meals a day. All my endeavors are aimed at achieving this goal. In fact, establishing the country on a firm financial footing is the motto of my life. With these words I would like to take leave of you. I wish I could die with the solace that the woes of my people are over. I seek your wishes and blessings to this end. With these words I would like to take leave of you. I express my sincerest thanks to my colleagues who stood by me at the hour of need, who obeyed the orders l gave, they proved through their deeds that they were equal to the challenge and spared no pains to translate into action the orders of their Mujib bhai: fight to the last, liberate the country, sacrifice your lives and emancipate the people. Don't worry about me. Let me go. I doubt whether I would be able to come back here. But Allah is helper of the helpless. That's why, I've been able to get back to you again with His blessings.
My dear colleagues, I congratulate you wholeheartedly on your snatching victory. I know well the severe pain you have taken. You know I was detained in prison. For nine months I was kept out of touch with any newspaper. It is true that at the moment of my departure Mr. Bhutto said: Sheikh Shaheb, please make an effort to maintain a semblance of unity between the two wings. I said I had not made up my mind about it yet. Even I was unsure of my whereabouts then. I said I would speak my mind as I returned home. Today, I say in no uncertain terms that the knot has been undone for ever. It's time to part our ways.
And if you're entering a secret deal with any superpower and attempting to sabotage our independence, then mark it, Sheikh Mujib would be in the commander's position this time. He would rather die than let our independence slip.
My dear brothers, four lakh of our Bangalees are languishing in West Pakistan. I would put in a request, of course with your approval, my dear colleagues, to the international bodies like the UN or International Court of Justice to institute an enquiry as to the brutal atrocities committed and the colossal massacre perpetrated by the Pakistani army, the truth must be revealed to the international community. I would urge the UN that Bangladesh be granted membership immediately and institute an enquiry.
Dear brothers, if you attempt at any foul play, the consequences would be dire. I know the cycle of conspiracy hasn't ended. Bangalees, beware of conspiracies being hatched against us. Once I gave a clarion call to my people: turn each of your houses into a fortress, didn't I? And fight with whatever you have, didn't I? I said our struggle this time is a struggle for freedom and emancipation. I said it standing on this ground on 7 March. Today, I urge: be fair and stay united and don't listen to the words of the mischief makers.
Since we have been independent we’ll remain independent if Allah wills. The struggle shall continue as long as a single living soul exists in this Bangladesh.
Today, I can't continue my speech any longer. I wish to speak to you again after I get a bit better. Please do forgive me. Pray for me. You will keep me in your prayer. Please put up your hands with me in supplication to Allah for His mercy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has delivered his annual New Year Address to all Chinese compatriots and people around the world, reviewing achievements in 2019 and extending New Year wishes for 2020.
Here is the full text of the speech.
Comrades, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
The year 2020 is arriving. From China's capital Beijing, I'd like to extend my New Year wishes to you all!
In 2019, we sweated and we toiled as we pressed ahead with concrete efforts for achievements. Thanks to our steady pursuit of high-quality development, China's GDP is expected to edge close to 100 trillion yuan with per capita figure reaching the level of 10,000 US dollars. Significant breakthroughs have been achieved in three tough battles. Coordinated regional development accelerated further including in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region, the Yangtze River Economic Belt, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and the Yangtze River Delta. Ecological protection and high-quality development in the Yellow River basin have become national strategies. About 340 impoverished counties and more than 10 million people have been lifted out of poverty. Our lunar probe Chang'e-4, for the first time in human history, landed on the far side of the moon; the Long March-5 Y3 rocket was successfully launched; the Xuelong 2 icebreaker set sail on its maiden voyage for the Antarctic; the construction of the global network of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System is sprinting towards the finish line; the commercial application of 5G technology is accelerating; the Beijing Daxing International Airport "phoenix spreads its wings"…all these achievements are the result of the efforts and sweat of those who strive in the new era, and they demonstrate the extraordinary Chinese splendor and Chinese strength.
Over the past year, Reform and Opening-up has continuously generated vigor for development. The reform of Party and government institutions has been successfully completed. We've set up another batch of pilot Free Trade Zones, and expanded the one in Shanghai. The Science and Technology Innovation Board was launched smoothly. We've cut taxes and fees by more than 2 trillion yuan, and raised the individual income tax threshold. Many types of commonly-used medicines have seen their prices drop. Cheaper and faster internet connection has enabled faster flow of information. Garbage sorting is leading the new trend of a low-carbon lifestyle. This year we've also streamlined the work of officials at the grassroots level. New changes are taking place everywhere and the country is taking on a fresh look.
Over the past year, we have steadily pushed forward reforms in our national defense and military systems. The armed forces have taken on a new look of a strong army in the new era. We held a grand military parade on National Day, celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Navy and the Air Force, and also hosted the 7th Military World Games. The country's first self-developed aircraft carrier was commissioned. The people's army will always serve as a great wall of steel that guards our country. Let's salute those loyal soldiers who safeguard our home.
The most memorable moment of 2019 was the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. We cheered for the glorious achievements China has made over the past 70 years, and were overwhelmed by the sheer force of patriotism. The formations during the military parade were powerful, and the mass pageant thrilling. Tian'anmen Square was turned into a sea of happiness. All of China was arrayed in red with proud smiles on all faces as the song "My Motherland and I" played throughout the streets and alleys. Patriotism feelings brought tears to our eyes, and patriotism spirit forms the backbone of the Chinese nation. All these merge into a surging current that sings an ode to New China and inspires us to work harder in the new era, filling us with boundless energy.
Over the past year, I have visited many places. Construction of Xiong'an New Area is progressing, Tianjin Port is booming, Beijing's sub-center is thriving, grasslands in Inner Mongolia are splendid, the Hexi Corridor, after thousands of years, is teeming with new life. Along the winding and magnificent Yellow River, the sky is high and the waters are wide; on both banks of the Huangpu River, there is plenty and prosperity, and ribbons of light shine in the night. Everything is flourishing across our motherland. I traced the routes of China's revolution to remain true to my original mission. From Yudu in Jiangxi Province where the Red Army gathered for their Long March, to the Revolution Museum in Xinxian County in Henan Province, the former capital of the Hubei-Henan-Anhui revolutionary base, from the Monument to the West Route Army in Gaotai, Gansu Province, to the revolutionary memorial site in the Fragrant Hills in Beijing, all these places aroused many feelings and thoughts in my mind. Our original aspiration and mission are our inexhaustible source of motivation during our Long March of the new era.
As usual, no matter how busy I was, I spent time visiting people in the countryside. They shared many of their innermost thoughts with me; I always keep them in mind. I've also received letters from villagers of the Dulong ethnic group in Gongshan, Yunnan Province; residents of Xiadang township, Shouning County in Fujian Province; soldiers of the Wang Jie Squad; the graduate students of the Class of Champions at Beijing Sport University; and children and senior volunteers from Macao. In my reply letters, I applauded the achievements they've made and sent my best wishes.
Over the past year, many people and their stories touched us deeply. Zhang Fuqing has kept a low profile and stayed true to his original heart despite the great contributions he's made to the nation; Huang Wenxiu dedicated her youth and life to poverty alleviation; 31 fire fighters sacrificed their lives in the line of duty in Muli, Sichuan Province; Du Fuguo sacrificed himself to protect his teammates; and China's Women's National Volleyball Team won the World Cup in an eleven-match winning streak. They are dedicated unsung heroes, with no complaints or regrets. They are ordinary people living extraordinary lives.
In the year of 2019, China continued to open its arms wide to embrace the world. We hosted the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the International Horticultural Exhibition, the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations, and the second China International Import Expo, showcasing a civilized, open and inclusive China to the rest of the world. I held meetings with many heads of state and government, sharing with them China's proposals, promoting friendship and deepening consensus. A few countries established diplomatic ties with China, increasing the number of countries that have official ties with us to 180. We have friends in every corner of the world.
2020 will be a year of milestone significance. We will finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realize the first centenary goal. 2020 will also be a year of decisive victory for the elimination of poverty. The bugle has sounded. We shall "add oil" all of one heart. The greater the difficulties, the further we advance, strengthening our weak links even more and laying a more solid foundation to win the hard battle with determination against poverty, to lift all impoverished rural residents and counties out of poverty by current standards as scheduled.
Several days ago, I attended the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of Macao's return to the motherland and felt heartened for the prosperity and stability in Macao. The successful practice of Macao indicates that the principle of One Country, Two Systems is fully applicable, achievable, and popular. In recent months, our hearts have been concerned about the situation in Hong Kong. Without a harmonious and stable environment, how can people live in peace and enjoy their work! I sincerely wish Hong Kong well and our Hong Kong compatriots well. Hong Kong's prosperity and stability is the wish of Hong Kong compatriots and the expectation of our motherland.
Human history, like a river, runs forever, witnessing both peaceful moments and great disturbances. We are not afraid of storms and dangers and barriers. China is determined to walk along the road of peaceful development and will resolutely safeguard world peace and promote common development. We are willing to join hands with people of all countries in the world to build together the "Belt and Road Initiative", and push forward the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, and make unremitting efforts for the creation of a beautiful future.
At this moment, many of you are at your posts, many of you are safeguarding peace and security, and many of you are working tirelessly. Your hard work is greatly appreciated.
Let's seize the day and live it to the full, and greet the arrival of the year 2020 together.
I wish you all a happy new year!
Abed has left. But it is not possible to bid farewell to him. He remains with us as our companion forever. Since the Liberation War, he is in the very grain of our society.
There is no layer and sub-layer of our societal make-up which has not been touched by Abed’s work. He is the principal architect of the massive transformation that has taken place in Bangladesh society since the liberation.
Abed made skillful steps to walk through every dilapidated gully, every sink-hole, and overturn strange beliefs and norms set by an age of ignorance, re-worked patiently with talent and creativity to undo the past and lay a solid foundation of the future. He helped Bangladesh change forever.
It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that there is hardly anyone among the 170 million people of Bangladesh who do not benefit in some way from Abed’s programmes or enjoy products and services provided by his organisations. If she is a poor person or a village woman, then she is in contact with Abed’s activities at every step of her life -- in education, health, income generation, self-awareness and many more.
How can we say goodbye to Abed, who had quietly, even without us realising it, became such an inseparable part of our daily life.
Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus
Abed was an extraordinary craftsman of the social and economic emancipation of the poor of Bangladesh. He liberated the common Bangladeshi from economic misery.
He carried out his variety of enormous and widespread activities quietly. He did not wait for anyone’s response to his examples; he marched forward alone, undeterred and focused, taking the responsibility of doing the entire task on his own shoulders, without complaint.
Abed changed the concept of 'NGO' for the whole world. He provided the example of an NGO that does not shy away from national scale responsibility for every single social and economic issue, with a mission of completing the task, not just create islands of success. Abed gave NGO a new identity – one that works nationwide, even globally and multi-dimensionally, without falling victim to its own bureaucracy.
Abed perfected the management of multi-dimensional and nationwide NGOs into a new science. For this alone he shall be remembered for ever.
Economists and researchers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal always pose a question to me. “How is it that in Bangladesh whatever starts in one location is soon scaled up as a nationwide program? Why does it not happen in our country?”
I give them a standard answer - “Because an Abed is yet to be born in your country.”
Abed has left behind a self-confident Bangladesh. The story of his immense courage, vision and creativity will continue to empower all generations to come. Abed will remain the image of Bangladesh that inspires them.
Abed, it will be easy for the coming generations to take on the responsibility of building the Bangladesh of their dreams, on the foundation that you have built.
Abed, the nation will remain indebted to you forever.
Too often, when we speak of migrants, we find ourselves having to speak about moments of extreme hardship, caught up in a narrative of crisis. Those who find themselves in detention in Libya, trafficked in the back of trucks, having sought new lives away from failing states, conflict and disaster.
Today is International Migrants Day, a day to remember these individuals and reiterate the need to respect the rights and dignity of all. It is a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize the estimated 272 million migrants that are integral members of all our societies today.
But it is also a day to recognize the generosity and warmth of the host communities that have embraced newcomers arriving with little or nothing to their names. In Colombia, in Germany and across the globe, we have seen examples of communities that have shared their homes and lives with those less fortunate. Many of the communities into which migrants arrive already are fragile, limited in resources and struggling to flourish.
This year on International Migrants Day, IOM has chosen to focus on social cohesion, in recognition not just of migrants, but of the communities in which they can and do flourish. Our societies are not static; our networks of community are constantly fracturing and rebuilding when faced with change, whether due to economic recession, aging populations or the tensions of different political world views.
Too often, when we speak of migration, we debate whether it is good or bad, costs too much or pays out too little and the precise contributions that migrants make to our lives. But to view migration as an accounting practice is to reduce it to a fraction of its whole. It is an evolving –often challenging—yet integral part of our societies, enriching them in multiple, intangible ways.
Too often, we forget that migrants are quietly already part of our lives, their contributions woven into our daily interactions. Some are scholars studying to acquire new skills. Others are workers seeking to leverage their expertise for better pay or a wider range of opportunities. Some are family members who have joined loved ones, to care for them and start new chapters in their own lives.
Many migrants have crossed a nearby border for opportunities in countries not very different from their own. Indeed, more and more, we see workers routinely crossing borders, living in one country, working in another. Others cross continents or oceans, taking giant steps—and giant risks—to join new societies with different languages, religious practices, foods and cultural norms. They risk a great deal to succeed among us.
Migrants need to change to cope with the challenges of adapting to a new social and cultural environment and respect the values – gender equality, for example – of the communities which they have joined. Mutual respect for diverse beliefs is a cornerstone of a social cohesion that works for the benefit of all.
The communities that thrive are those that embrace change and adjust to it. Migrants are an integral and welcome element of that change. Migrants can also become -- often surprising -- champions of resilience when times are tough, when a community experiences unexpected shocks, including environmental change and disaster, unemployment, and political turmoil.
But communities cannot adapt alone. They need support from governments and organizations such as IOM, to ensure adequate provision of public services, orientation and language support, human capital investment, and broader strengthening of community infrastructure.
Today’s political climate is challenging; oftentimes migrants make for an easy scapegoat for all the ills of society, rather than one element of a cure. Thus, on this day, we need to constantly remind the international community of the reality -- both historic and contemporary – that when well managed migration works, closed societies can become open, and political tensions fade away.
Whether we are living, working, loving or building, we do so together.
António Vitorino is Director General at International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) has been a trending word that frequents news headlines all around the globe, even more so in Bangladesh as it is one of the first South Asian countries to join the initiative. We highly appreciate that Bangladesh along with many other countries have showed great support toward BRI for their good faith in China and the benefits the initiative has already delivered to their people.
However, with it also came up suspicions and speculations over China’s true intention by proposing the biggest public good the world has ever seen so far. And in spite of repeated efforts of China in explaining the nature of the BRI, there is a curious obstinacy from some quarters that rejects the Chinese narrative and insists on making unsubstantiated allegations against the initiative. One of the latest was reportedly made by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall G Schriver during his recent visit to Bangladesh, where he claimed that the BRI didn’t support free and open regional development nor ensure the protection of nations’ sovereignty and international law. The claim is rather groundless given where China is standing today in issues concerning global interest and international governance, in stark contrast with how the US has behaved in the past few years. More than anything else, such malicious slander and irresponsible claim are certainly not the least helpful for any kind of peace and development in this region.
Nonetheless, seeing there is still an inadequacy of understanding on what BRI really represents as a whole, especially in certain developed countries who falsely interpret the initiative as a threat to the existing international order, I feel obliged to provide a more comprehensive explanation on what the BRI really is and the true spirit it embodies: openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefits.
What is BRI?
The Belt and Road initiative is proposed for building forms of connectivity among the continents and countries around the globe in order to facilitate closer cooperation in development and beyond. It could find its root long back into history in the ancient Silk Road, a collection of trade routes that spanned across the Eurasian continent about 2000 years ago that enabled the trade of silk, porcelain wares, spices, wines and other commodities among countries along the routes. At that time, China was the starting point in the east for merchants to start their quest. Today, China once again served as the initiator of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and it is meant for the world to share. The BRI connects different countries and regions, different stages of development, different historical traditions, different cultures and religions, and different customs and lifestyles. It is an initiative for open, inclusive, shared and peaceful development, as well as a way to build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind, which is essentially the Chinese way of saying a better world for each and every one.
Based on the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the BRI pursues a path for shared development and prosperity through cooperation in five major areas -- policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and closer people-to-people ties. Big infrastructure projects and active economic activities focusing on trade and investment are undoubtedly the most tangible part of the BRI, but it has much more to offer in other areas of connectivity such as cultural exchanges, technology transfer and people-to-people contacts. The yearly “Happy Chinese New Year” gala, convened by the Chinese Embassy in Bangladesh in cooperation with local organizations, has become an annual cultural carnival for a wide range of Bangladeshi audiences over the past 6 consecutive years. The number of Bangladeshi people travelling to China for the purposes of tourism, education or training is growing at a stunning rate. Chinese think tanks, scholars and experts are flooding into Bangladesh for experience sharing and academic exchanges. All of these are also a fundamental part of the BRI.
Up to today, more than 150 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation documents with China. From 2013 to 2018, the trade volume between China and other B&R countries surpassed 6 trillion USD, and China's investment in B&R countries exceeds 90 billion USD, with more than 244,000 jobs being created for the locals. The idea of a Community of Shared Future for Mankind has also been written into relevant documents of various international organizations including the UN and the G20. It is increasingly evident that BRI has become an important contributor to global peace and development, and thus it is gaining more and more popularity and recognition around the world. And this is why the BRI is being accepted by more nations and organizations as an important channel to move forward together.
As an early and strategically important partner of the BRI, Bangladesh is well-positioned to reap the benefits. In 2018, the amount of our bilateral trade reached 18.7 billion USD, up by 16.8% over the last year. And the country is well projected to become the 2nd largest trading partner with China in South Asia this year. Bangladesh is now the leading cooperation partner to China in G-to-G projects as well as a major destination of Chinese investment. The construction of the Padma Bridge, the dream bridge of Bangladeshi people, is under full swing by the Chinese contractor China Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group. Various projects funded by Chinese grants, including Bangladesh China Friendship Bridge 1 to Bridge 8, Bangladesh China Friendship Exhibition Centre and Bangladesh (Bangabandhu) International Conference Centre, are sprouting up all over Bangladesh, with more to come in the pipeline. The ever-strong momentum of China-Bangladesh cooperation, especially after the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the country in 2016, continues to speak of the true strength of BRI cooperation.
Is BRI A Debt Trap?
A commonly seen allegation against the BRI is that it creates heavy debt burdens on some countries as China provides loans beyond their ability to repay in order to gain control of certain key projects, or the so-called “debt trap” as cooked up by certain western media. It has been repeatedly debunked by China as well as officials from the relevant recipient countries.
A typical example would be Sri Lanka. According to a report published by the central bank of Sri Lanka, its China-related debt accounts for merely 10.6% of the total, 61% of which is at an interest rate far below that of the international market. Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Parliament and Head of the opposition party all have mentioned that the bigger part of Sri Lanka’s current debt burden comes from multilateral lending institutions, not China. Rather, to cooperate with China will help them walk out of the debt crisis. Similar case is found in Pakistan where the Chinese loans make up only 10% or so of the total.
Bangladesh already has strong institutional arrangements in place with a healthy debt to GDP ratio well below 30%, as the Governor of Bangladesh Bank once pointed out, so there’s even less ground to be concerned about the make-believe “debt trap”. In addition, in order to increase financial security for BRI projects, China and its partners have formulated the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the Belt and Road and published the Debt Sustainability Framework for Participating Countries of the Belt and Road Initiative to provide guidance for BRI financing cooperation.
As a matter of fact, the BRI wouldn’t pose any form of risk to its partners, which has been well proved in the practice and implementation of the BRI in the past 6 years. BRI is open, Inclusive and beneficial for all. Moving into the future, China will seek to build a more dynamic and inclusive BRI by engaging in bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation with all participants, an open, green and clean BRI that is transparent and free of corruption, and a higher standard BRI that aims to improve people’s lives in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UN 2030 Agenda, as stated by President Xi Jinping of China at the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2019. China always stands by its words to welcome all countries to join the BRI in a common effort to make our world a better place.
Li Jiming is Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Bangladesh