Envoy: China serious about implementing Teesta project

The Teesta River Comprehensive Management Project is under serious assessment by the government agencies in Beijing, says the envoy

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming on Thursday said his country is serious about implementing the Teesta River Comprehensive Management Project noting that it should be taken very positively for the benefit of the people of Bangladesh. 

He said China considers the project to be significant after Bangladesh formally proposed it but also has a sense of reluctance due to the sensitivities it contains.

"But I would have to be frank that the Chinese side is a bit reluctant about the project. The reason, of course, is that there are some sensitivities – that we sensed and observed," Li Jiming said at the seminar "National Image of China in Bangladesh," organised by the Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS) at a Dhaka hotel. 

The ambassador said the Bangladesh government officially asked them to do something about one year ago.

After an assessment done by the embassy, he said, they decided that this is a very important project and they would report back to Beijing.  

"Now the Teesta River Comprehensive Management Project is under serious assessment by the government agencies in Beijing," the envoy added.

Ambassador Jiming said he is personally worried thinking if the Bangladesh government will swing from its current position later on with or without outside pressure.

"I am not sure. If we decided to do so, if someone came out and says – well this is again another case of Chinese debt trap – there are some particular geo-political sensitivities and so we should not do it," he said, adding that then the Bangladesh government says "sorry China – we cannot just go on. That will put me in a very awkward position."

He said though his recent visit was part of visiting Chinese projects in different parts of Bangladesh he got extremely positive feedback from the local people and the local government. "It gives me great confidence to say more to my colleagues in Beijing to build their confidence."

On October 9, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming visited Rangpur division and talked to local people at the Teesta Barrage.

On October 10, the ambassador visited the bridge project under construction by CSCEC over the River Teesta in Gaibandha district of Rangpur division.

“Fortunately, all the messages that I got from that trip are extremely positive,” he said.

The ambassador said he will send a message to his colleagues in Beijing that people were eager about the project – something that will help build confidence among the Chinese officials.

In July 2020, the Ministry of Water Resources sought a $983 million loan from China to implement the project, in a letter to Bangladesh’s Economic Relations Division. The Bangladesh government would be bearing 15% of the total project cost (about $130 million).

The project involves dredging the Teesta river for navigability, building strong embankments, townships, industries on the two sides of the river, water reservoir and irrigation.

Responding to a question on the possible engagement of China in a Teesta-related project, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen recently said they have not received any such proposal officially yet.

He, however, mentioned a French experts group’s visit (1988-89) who worked on a comprehensive study (including Teesta) on how floods can be controlled in Bangladesh.

The project could not be taken at that time due to a lack of required funds but recently, he said, they have heard about funding for the old project.

Momen encouraged reporters to ask the relevant ministry, saying they might know at what stage it is now.

On the issues of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Jiming said there have been narratives and news “cooked up by western countries”.

He said China is not suppressing any certain minority, namely the Uyghur, which is one of 56 ethnic groups in China.

“Chinese authorities imprisoned the separatists and terrorists as per the national law,” Jiming said. CGS Director Prof Imtiaz Ahmed presented a keynote. Former ambassadors Nasim Firdaus, Munshi Faiz Ahmad, Dhaka University Professors MM Akash and Dr Delwar Hossain also spoke.