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China twist in India-Bangladesh Teesta river challenge

21st August, 2020 International Relations

Context: Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river.

Teesta Project

  • The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
  • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water sharing in the Teesta.

How has the Teesta dispute progressed?

  • The two countries were on the verge of signing a water-sharing pact in September 2011, when PM Manmohan Singh was going to visit Bangladesh. However, West Bengal CM objected to it, and the deal was scuttled.
  • After the regime change in 2014, the government hoped that it could reach a “fair solution” on the Teesta through cooperation between central and state governments.
  • Five years later, the Teesta issue remains unresolved.

Recent irritants in ties between India and Bangladesh

  • For India, Bangladesh has been a key partner in the neighbourhood first policy — and possibly the success story in bilateral ties among its neighbours.
  • However, there have been recent irritants in the relationship.
  • These include the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.
  • Bangladesh had insisted that while the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC were “internal matters” of India, the CAA move were “not necessary”.

How have relations between Bangladesh and China been developing?

  • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
  • In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the imports from China commanded the lion’s share. The trade is heavily in favour of China.
  • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
  • This move has been widely welcomed in Bangladesh, with the expectation that Bangladesh exports to China will increase.

Way forward

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due next year.
  • What Delhi can do is to address other issues of concern, which too are challenging.
  • Now, the test will be if India can implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner .Or else, the latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, which has been revived after India’s CAA -NRC push can permanently damage the historic ties.

Reference: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/china-twist-in-teesta-river-project-challenge-6563398/