The signings followed a visit by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India. The agreements included adopting a standard operating procedure on India’s use of the Chattogram (also known as Chittagong) and Mongla ports in Bangladesh.
Granting India access to the two ports means that India’s northeastern state of Tripura, which is surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides, would have direct access to the strategic Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.
“Tripura will become the first Northeast state to have direct access to international sea trade routes. This will immensely boost the state’s trade and commerce potential,” an unidentified senior official from India’s Chief Minister’s Office said on Oct. 5, according to The Indian Express.
The seven deals also included a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for India to provide a coastal surveillance system to Bangladesh. According to Bangladeshi media, India plans to set up about 20 units of the radar system to increase surveillance of the waters near Bangladesh and India.
India has set up similar surveillance systems in other countries, including the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Sri Lanka. According to India’s English-language daily The Economic Times, the new system in Bangladesh will be “useful amid growing terror threats via seas and growing presence of China in the Bay of Bengal region.”
Other agreements include cooperation in youth affairs, an MoU between the University of Hyderabad and the University of Dhaka, and the withdrawal of water from the Feni River in Bangladesh for India’s drinking water use.
India has been wary of China’s military presence in the area. In 2017, during a military standoff between the two countries near disputed territory in the Doklam plateau, dozens of Chinese warships and submarines appeared in the Indian Ocean.
India is especially concerned about Beijing’s footprint in Bangladesh, particularly over the sale of Chinese military hardware.
In 2016, when Bangladesh acquired two Chinese submarines as part of a $203 million deal, India was outraged.
Arun Prakash, a retired Indian Navy admiral, said the submarines were an “act of provocation,” according to U.S.-based defense news outlet Defense News. He added that the sale of the submarines was part of China’s strategy of “encircling India with its client states.”
Last month, it was reported that Beijing would help Bangladesh build its first submarine base in Cox’s Bazar on the southeastern coast, to house the two Chinese-made submarines. The project, to be built by Chinese state-run firm PTI, is estimated to cost $1.2 billion, according to Bangladeshi daily New Age.
Faruk Khan, a senior official of Bangladesh’s ruling party Awami League and chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, told Radio Free Asia’s affiliated news service BenarNews that the Chinese would build the base and train personnel, but assured that Chinese military submarines wouldn’t visit the base.
China has invested heavily in Bangladesh in recent years, partly through China’s flagship foreign policy initiative of One Belt, One Road (OBOR, also known as Belt and Road), which was rolled out by Beijing to finance infrastructure projects around the world in an effort to build up geopolitical influence.
According to China’s state-run media, Bangladesh and China signed several OBOR agreements worth $21.5 billion, including a power system upgrade and expansion project.
In 2018, China exceeded the United States to become the top investor in Bangladesh, with an overall investment of $1.03 billion, according to Chinese state-run media.
India also recently stepped up its cooperation with Burma, which borders the Bay of Bengal, to counter China’s regional influence, India signed a deal to transfer one of its Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines to Burma’s Navy for training purposes.