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Chinese Involvement in Teesta River

  • 21 Aug 2020
  • 7 min read

Why in News

Bangladesh is likely to receive an almost USD 1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river.

Teesta River

  • It is a tributary of the Brahmaputra (known as Jamuna in Bangladesh), flowing through India and Bangladesh.
  • Origin: In the Himalayas near Chunthang, Sikkim and flows to the south through West Bengal before entering Bangladesh.
  • Drainage: It covers nearly the entire floodplains of Sikkim while draining 2,800 sq km of Bangladesh. For West Bengal, it is the lifeline of half-a-dozen districts in North Bengal.
  • Latest Development: In March 2020, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) opened a 360 feet long bailey suspension bridge over Teesta river in Munshithang, Sikkim.

Key Points

  • About the Project: The management and restoration project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods and tackling the water crisis in Bangladesh in summers.
  • India-Bangladesh Teesta Dispute:
    • Bangladesh sought a fair and equitable distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty 1996.
      • The treaty is an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border.
    • In 2015, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka generated expectations to take forward the issue but it still remains unresolved.
      • In India, individual states have significant influence over transboundary agreements, impeding the policymaking process.
      • West Bengal is one of the key stakeholders of the Teesta agreement and is yet to endorse the deal.

Bangladesh-China Relations

  • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports with the trade heavily favouring China.
    • In 2019, the trade between the two countries was USD 18 billion.
  • China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh recently and the move has been widely welcomed in Bangladesh.
    • The concession comes from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the least developed countries.
  • China has promised around USD 30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh.
  • China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh which has been a matter of legacy, strengthening the defence ties.
    • After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, officers of the Pakistan Army joined the Bangladesh Army and preferred Chinese weapons because they were well-versed with them.
    • As a result, Bangladesh forces are equipped with Chinese arms including tanks, missile launchers, fighter aircraft and several weapons systems.

India-Bangladesh Relations

  • Both countries enjoy a robust relationship with each other carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the Sheikh Hasina government.
  • Bangladesh’s crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and Northeast states.
  • Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia and the economic and development partnership has benefitted it.
    • In 2018-19, India’s exports and imports with Bangladesh stood at USD 9.21 billion and USD 1.04 billion respectively.
  • India also grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work and just entertainment.
  • India has provided developmental assistance worth USD 10 billion, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of India’s total of USD 30 billion aid globally.
  • For India, Bangladesh has been a key partner in the Neighbourhood First Policy.
  • Both have cooperated on pandemic-related moves and India has provided medical aid to Bangladesh.
    • Bangladesh supported India’s call for a regional (SAARC) emergency fund for fighting Covid-19 and declared a contribution of USD 1.5 million in March 2020.
    • Bangladesh is ready to collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial and looks forward to the early and affordable availability of the vaccine.
  • The first trial run for trans-shipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh to Northeast states under a pact on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports took place in July 2020.
  • However, the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 have irritated the relations.
    • Bangladesh has expressed reservations about CAA and has held it unnecessary.
  • Bangladesh has expressed concerns at the rise in killings at the Indo-Bangladesh border by the Border Security Force (BSF).
  • Indian Foreign Secretary has recently visited Dhaka to discuss “security-related issues of mutual interest” while trying to address the potential irritant issues.
    • There was an agreement on timely implementation of projects and greater attention to development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
    • Bangladesh has requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.

Way Forward

  • In the wake of the Ladakh standoff, India needs to become even more sensitive to Chinese defence inroads into Bangladesh.
  • The Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, so it is crucial to solve it as soon as possible.
  • India has to implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner otherwise the latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh threatens to damage the friendly ties.

Source: IE

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