ISSN 2330-717X

Sri Lanka Including Bangladesh Can Benefit From CPEC – OpEd

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Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are both South Asian countries. As an island county in South East Asia, Sri Lanka has been utilizing some facilities in the sector of international maritime trade, commerce. Sri Lanka is known as a maritime hub in South Asia. Its Colombo port is very famous in the world map.

On the other hands, Bangladesh has some geo-strategic significance that’s why China is interested in investing in Bangladesh. Now Western powers want to see Bangladesh as a strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region. But Bangladesh has joined China run BRI in 2017. Its location across the Bay of Bengal gives a strategic position in South East and South Asia. Bangladesh can utilize this properly.

However, Pakistan is the only South Asian country who is showing its full-scale strategic significance to the world leaders at this moment. Its foreign policy has shifted towards geo-economic from Geo strategy. CPEC and Gwadar port has added extra value in this regard. China run Gwadar port and CPEC has increased more confidence between China and Pakistan to prove that they are really “all weather ally”.

Sri Lanka has some advantageous position in South Asia in case of maritime connectivity. It is also known as a maritime hub in South Asia. Sri Lankan Hambantota port is a hot cake in international politics. Sri Lanka has leased it to China for 99 years. There is some debate regarding this. But that is another issue. However, China is more interested to connect Sri Lanka with its connectivity project “Belt and Road Initiative”

It is very pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka and Pakistan are both the active members of China ‘BRI’ project. Sri Lankan Hambantota and Colombo ports are considered as epic center and hub of China’s BRI project in South Asia. Sri Lankan ports can be used a regional maritime hub between South Asia, South East Asia, Central Asia and Middle East. 

Sri Lanka and Pakistan can work together in the sector of bilateral trade, investment, science and technology, and culture through enhancing connectivity. Sri Lanka is the one of the top most business partner of Pakistan in South Asia.

Pakistan PM Imran Khan visited Sri Lanka in February 23-24, 2021. During his visit to Sri Lanka, Mr. Khan focused on Pakistan’s connectivity with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has historical connection with Pakistan. Sri Lankan Colombo port’s connection with Pakistan’s Karachi port is well to Known.

Pakistan is the part of the Chinese president’s Belt and Road Initiative through its flagship China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Sri Lanka could benefit from it through enhanced connectivity up to the Central Asian states. Bi lateral connectivity would increase the bilateral trade between the two states. Basically, Sri Lanka and Pakistan would benefit mutually.

Sri Lanka can ensure its maximum interest from using of Gwadar Port for warehousing to facilitate trade with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Western and Central China, Central Asian Republics and Middle East. Gwadar is connected with CPEC. Ultimately, Sri Lanka can easily export to and import from the markets of above-mentioned states. Sri Lankan can to use Gwadar Port’s gateway for export to Afghanistan and then Uzbekistan and from there to entire Central Asia.

During the visit of Sri Lanka, Imran commented that Pakistan is allocating land to Uzbekistan for warehousing and export, the same facility can also be provided to Sri Lanka. (February 26, The Business Recorder)

On the other hands, according to a leading Bangladesh daily (Daily Observer), Bangladesh can benefit from using Pakistan’s Gwadar port. The Daily Observer published an article titled “Bangladesh can benefit from Gwadar port’ on September 30, 2021. 

Pakistan’s another daily “Pakistan Today” has also published an article titled ‘Why Bangladesh should use Pakistan’s Gwadar port?” on September 26, 2021. Leading Pakistani daily “Pak Observer” has also republished the article urging the Bangladesh and Sri Lanka both to utilize the Pakistan’s Gwadar port for ensuring their business interest. It is pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka’s another online portal Lanka Web and India’s “Maritime Gateway’ republished the article on September 26,qmd 27 respectively with referencing. 

But that is not issue of my article. My point is here that the main theme of the article is connectivity amongst Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The author of the article shows that If Bangladesh’s Chittagong, Payra, Mangla ports can be connected with Pakistan’s Gwadar ports including Karachi port, Port Qasim and Keti bandar via Sri Lankan Colombo port and Hambantota port, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan would benefit trilaterally. Regional connectivity would ensure their own maximum business interest. The millions of people in the region could benefit. 

Sri Lanka’s Tea, apparel, machinery and Bangladesh apparel, mangoes, medicines, potatoes can be easily exported to the above-mentioned markets. On the other hands, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka both import goods such as cotton from Pakistan, Central Asian States, Western and Central China even Russia. But a holistic trilateral effort is much needed in this regard. If Sri Lanka and Bangladesh use CPEC, they can take part in the development process in Afghanistan with Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran. SAARC may be revived through these activities. Revival of SAARC is must at the present context or scenario of South Asia.

Pakistan’s Gwadar port could benefit Sri Lanka in this regard. If Sri Lanka starts to use Gwdar port, its export to Central Asian states, Central and Western China and Pakistan would increase. Sri Lanka’s connection with Pakistan’s CPEC project would accelerate the regional connectivity more. 

The bilateral connection between two states would boost up. Sri Lanka and Pakistan can increase their joint bilateral efforts to counter terrorism, tackle covid-19 etc. Terrorism has been harming the economic interests of both states. Sri Lanka saw Easter Church attack in 2019. Pakistan has been facing the challenging from TTP threat. If Pakistan and Sri Lanka increase the connectivity through utilizing of these connectivity project, bilateral efforts of tackling and countering terrorism would ensure automatically. 

Tourism is another sector. Pakistan has many historical Buddhist sites such as ancient civilizations of Gandhara, Takhsila. Sri Lanka people can easily visit these historical holy sites if connectivity between two states would build. On the other hands, Sri Lanka has historical places for Muslims like Adam peak. Pakistani Muslims will be able to more to visit the holy site. But bi-lateral connection is must for ensuring that. CPEC is a regional connectivity project. 

As a regional state, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh each can and should join the project to exploit the benefit. This trilateral connection would boost up the business connection, people-to-people connection. The public diplomacy, economic diplomacy, cricket diplomacy would be strong more.

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Pathik Hasan

Pathik Hasan is a Dhaka-based NGO activist, researcher and freelance writer on contemporary international issues whose work has been published in many local and international publications. Academic background: BSS (Peace and Conflict Studies) and MSS (International Relations) under the University of Dhaka. He can be reached at [email protected]

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