Bangladesh PM defends decision to buy Chinese submarines

Irshad Salim — Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday defended her Awami League-led government decision to buy two Chinese submarines telling parliament that the purchase would not elicit “negative reactions” from the international political arena, as it was an issue of Bangladesh’s national interest.

On March 12, Hasina included the two submarines — BN Nabajatra and BN Joyjatra — into the Navy fleet for the first time in history with a view to further intensifying the monitoring of the Bay of Bengal and enhancing the force’s combat capability.

Hasina announced her plan to procure the Chinese submarines in 2013 when Bangladesh signed a billion-dollar deal with Russia to buy fighter training jets, helicopters and anti-tank missiles.

The two submarines were purchased from China for $203 million, on a soft loan basis according to some analysts.

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China has emerged as one of the most important development partners of the South Asian country. The purchase was meant to modernize the defense system by upgrading the Naval force to a three-dimensional one, Hasina said in a scripted response to lawmakers’ queries.

“The two submarines have strengthened our defense system much more compared to its previous situation,” and that has improved Bangladesh’s position in national and international politics, Hasina said, who’s also the leader of the House.

Hasina told the House that the submarines will help protect Bangladesh from any attack of exterior enemy, give security to commercial vessels in the deep sea, gather important operational information and play an important role in guarding country’s sovereignty.

Both the conventional diesel electric submarines are equipped with torpedoes and mines capable of attacking enemy warships and submarines.

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Besides, the BD premier hoped, these will ensure foolproof security in oil and gas exploration in the sea and play a special role in availing of the benefits of “blue economy” meaning the country’s economic uplift, and accelerate the country’s economic development.

These submarines reached Bangladesh on 25 December 2016 while Hasina commissioned them in Bangladesh Navy on 12 March.

Bangladesh analysts say procurement of the two submarines at a cost of $203 million reflected the country’s growing economic and defense ties with Beijing — Bangladesh and China have longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests in the region.

India expresses concern about Chinese ambitions abroad specially in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Bay of Bengal.

India in particular is concerned about Chinese activity in the region and see it as part of Beijing’s “string of pearls,” which refers to Chinese facilities and alliances among Indian Ocean countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

Analysts have also said New Delhi is worried by Chinese submarines, warships, and tankers present in the Indian Ocean. India has reportedly tracked Chinese submarines entering the Indian Ocean since 2013, and a 2015 US Defense Department report also confirmed that Chinese attack and missile submarines were operating in the Indian Ocean.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday that “China’s defense policy is defensive in nature. This has not changed.”

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