China has shelved the proposed railway project between Chittagong and Kunming due to opposition from Myanmar.
However, China is good to go for the road project connecting the two countries to boost bilateral trade and commerce.
Highly placed Bangladesh government sources said the Myanmar government late last year suddenly refused to allow China to build the rail links through its territory, irking the Bangladeshi and Chinese governments.
Li Jeming, vice-minister for commerce of Yunnan provincial government, during a press briefing for Asian journalists in Kunming told The Daily Star, “We're always keen on establishing a rail link between Kunming and Chittagong, but we have to give up the idea for now as Myanmar is against it.”
Replying to The Daily Star, he said the Yunnan provincial government had even provided Myanmar with $2 billion financial support so that rail lines could be built on its territory.
He said they were now putting their attention on building railway link between Kunming and Laos, which he said would ultimately connect Thailand.
When a Myanmarese journalist asked if China could do anything to convince Myanmar, Li said, “We could do some work to make the government of Myanmar understand the need for rail lines and how they would benefit from it but it is not our major responsibility. Rather it is the people of Myanmar who must tell their government of their needs.”
If the Myanmar people realise this, their government might come forward, said the junior minister, adding that if the Chittagong-Kunming rail connectivity could be established, all three countries would benefit.
Meanwhile, LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Syed Ashraful Islam told The Daily Star that they have heard that Myanmar had been opposing the construction of rail link. He said the work for the road connectivity would go on.
Ashraf said a road show would be held in Kunming and Dhaka soon to tell people about the business opportunities the connectivity would create in the countries.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had urged China several times to construct the rail and road links between the two cities, which are considered by many as the Chinese gateway to South and South East Asia.
In March 2010, Hasina visited Kunming and expressed her interest in road and rail links between Chittagong and Kunming.
After her visit, Governor of Yunnan province Qin Guangrong expressed his government's desire to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Bangladesh on road and rail communications between the two countries.
In October, 2010, Chinese Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Liu Zhen in Beijing said China would construct road and rail links between Chittagong and Kunming via Myanmar to boost Sino-Bangladesh cooperation.
Bangladesh, the same year, made a plan to build rail lines and roads up to the Myanmar border by 2014 at a cost of Tk 1,852 crore. The government had aimed at making a corridor for the proposed Trans-Asian Railway and connecting to Kunming through Myanmar.
However, highly placed government sources claimed that the rail project had been shelved in the interest of India, which opposed Bangladesh becoming connected to its powerful neighbour in the Far East.
They said the Prime Minister's Office would try to convince Myanmar and India to allow construction of the rail line in the greater interest of the region.