Sonadia deep-sea port may be off the table
12:00 AM, October 11, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:38 AM, October 11, 2016

Chinese President's Visit: Sonadia deep-sea port may not be on table

The longstanding issue of building a deep-sea port at Sonadia in Chittagong may not be discussed during Chinese President Xi Jinping's two-day state visit starting Friday.

When Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh as vice president in 2010, China proposed to give assistance to Bangladesh for building a deep-sea port in Chittagong, and expressed interest for the same several times since.

On Sunday, a top government policymaker told The Daily Star that Beijing wanted to bring up the issue again during Xi's visit, but Dhaka did not include it in the agenda.

When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited China in 2014, the two sides agreed to sign a framework agreement on the deep-sea port for an estimated cost of $14 billion, but the signing did not eventually take place as Bangladesh backtracked on it at the last moment, said a foreign ministry official.

In 2014, after the official talks of the two prime ministers, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told reporters that the issue of constructing Sonadia deep-sea port figured prominently in the talks, and the two sides agreed to continue the discussions.

In the current fiscal year, however, Sonadia deep-sea port is listed in the separate budget for government's fast-track mega projects.

Due to geopolitical reasons, the government is not willing to build the port with any one country's assistance, the foreign ministry official said, adding the government had been giving the highest priority on building a port at Payra instead of at Sonadia.

There will be several components of the Payra seaport, and Dhaka and Beijing may discuss implementing any component with China's assistance.

In March, Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Ma Mingqiang told a discussion organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents' Association of Bangladesh that China expressed its willingness to cooperate with other countries in helping Bangladesh build its first deep-sea port at any location.

After Xi Jinping's Dhaka visit in 2010, China also proposed to install Bangladesh's first space satellite named Bangabandhu Satellite. 

But the government has already awarded the work to a French company after competitive bidding among companies of four countries, including China.

During Xi's 2010 visit, Beijing also agreed to quick disbursement of its assistance for Pagla Water Treatment Plant and Shahjalal Fertiliser Factory.

In 2012, a Tk 4,874 crore project with 88 percent financing by China was taken up for the Shahjalal Fertiliser Factory, which was scheduled to be completed by June 2017. Till March, some 95 percent work of the project has been done.

On the other hand, one-third work of Pagla Water Treatment Plant has been completed. 

An economic cooperation agreement was signed between Dhaka and Beijing during Jinping's visit under which China would give a grant of 40 million RMB (appx $6 million) to Bangladesh.

The agreement was materialised, said an official at the Economic Relations Division.

Since taking office in 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited China twice, the last time in June 2014. After that Bangladesh sent lists of dozens of projects to the Chinese government for soft loan. The Chinese side also gave verbal commitment for assistance amounting to $10 billion to $30 billion. But there has not been any written response.

During the Chinese president's visit, Bangladesh expects to land pledges worth billions of dollars from him and have already got indication to this effect from the Chinese side, according to finance ministry officials.

A package MoU might be signed about the projects that will get finance from China in the next five years. The Chinese side had sent a wish list from among the list of projects earlier sent by Bangladesh.

On Sunday, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed told The Daily Star that the amount of commitment from the Chinese president has not been fixed yet, but it would not be less than $20 billion.

During his two-day visit, Xi Jinping may stay at Le Méridien hotel for a night, sources said.

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