Bangladesh to persuade China to use Chittagong port

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh will persuade China to use Chittagong port as a commercial outlet for its southern Yunnan province, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on Sunday.

File photo of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a news conference in Dhaka December 31, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj/Files

The Bangladesh stance was announced nearly three months after Bangladesh had agreed to allow India, Nepal and Bhutan to use its two sea ports mainly Chittagong port.

“It will be a great achievement if China agrees to use our Chittagong port, which we want to develop into a regional commercial hub by building a deep seaport in the Bay of Bengal,” she told a news conference.

The offer for Chittagong port to Beijing will be discussed when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visits China from Wednesday on a five-day itinerary, Moni said.

The impoverished south Asian country has taken plans to build an $8.7 billion deep-sea port in three phases to raise bulk cargo handling capacity to 100 million tonnes and container handling to 3.0 million twenty-feet equivalent unit (TEU) containers annually by 2055.

Presently the port handles 30.5 million tonnes of bulk cargo and 1.1 million TEUs annually.

Port officials said when built the port would serve Nepal, Bhutan, southern China, Myanmar and the northeastern region of India.

To use Chittagong port China will need a road or railway link or both between Kunming, the capital of southern Yunnan province with Chittagong via Myanmar, Moni said.

Myanmar last year had agreed to expand a planned road project with Bangladesh to link up with China in a tri-nation network, another foreign ministry official said.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal in July 2007 to construct a 25 km (16 mile) road to connect the two countries and construction will begin soon, officials at the Communication Ministry said.

The road project between Myanmar and Bangladesh is nearing completion, a senior foreign ministry official said on Sunday.

Chinese investment for Bangladesh’s energy and IT sectors, boosting trade and seeking assistance for building a $9 billion deep seaport and a $2.5 billion river bridge will be on top of Hasina’s agenda.

China is Bangladesh’s biggest trade partner with annual turnover worth more than $4 billion -- with the balance heavily in Beijing’s favour.

After bilateral talks with her Chinese counterpart and signing of probable agreements for financial assistance, Hasina will visit Kunming on March 20.