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The status of BRI projects in Bangladesh

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Here is a table of the year-on-year trade statistics of Bangladesh with China from 2017 to 2022:

YearBangladesh’s Import from ChinaBangladesh’s Export to ChinaBalance of Payment
2017$11.06 billion$1.01 billion-$10.05 billion
2018$12.22 billion$1.09 billion-$11.13 billion
2019$13.22 billion$1.14 billion-$12.08 billion
2020$13.31 billion$1.17 billion-$12.14 billion
2021$15.88 billion$1.32 billion-$14.56 billion
2022$18.5 billion$1.46 billion-$17.04 billion
Trade statistics of Bangladesh with China from 2017 to 2022

As you can see, Bangladesh has a long history of having a trade imbalance with China. Accordingly, Bangladesh is importing more commodities from China than it is sending back to that country. As a result of recent growth, the trade imbalance has reached a record high of $17.04 billion in 2022.

The Bangladeshi economy is suffering as a result of the trade deficit. In addition to slowing economic development, it is causing job losses and a drop in investment.

According to a Dhaka-based report headlined, ‘Bangladesh Reassesses its BRI Strategy as the US Offers a New Alternative,’ the initial excitement in Bangladesh for BRI projects appears to have faded.

In 2016, China proposed investing over USD 40 billion in infrastructure assistance and joint sector projects, as well as an additional USD 20 billion in development loans.

However, by 2022, Dhaka was confronting the problem of growing foreign debt, owing over USD 4 billion to Beijing. Bangladesh had to request a USD 4.5 million rescue package from the International Monetary Fund in July 2022, as diminishing foreign exchange reserves made imports problematic.

To alleviate the problem, Bangladesh has already abandoned or postponed many BRI infrastructure projects, including highway construction.

List of the projects that have suffered cost overruns:

  • Padma Bridge Rail Link Project (Transport)
  • Payra 1320 MW Coal-fired Thermal Power Plant (Energy)
  • Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (Energy)
  • Akhaura-Sylhet Rail Line Expansion Project (Transport)
  • Bangabandhu (Karnaphuli) River Tunnel (Transport)
  • Dasher Kandi Sewerage Treatment Plant (Water)
  • Barisal-Bhola (Tentulia-Kalabadar) Bridge (Transport)
  • Barisal-Kuakata Highway Project (Transport)
  • Boalkhali 660 MW Coal-fired Thermal Power Plant (Energy)
  • China-Bangladesh Friendship (Dhaleswari River) Bridge (Transport)
  • China-Bangladesh Friendship (Arial Khan River) Bridge (Transport)

Padma Bridge


Environment Damage, Cost Overrun, FundingIssues, FalseClaim

BRI in Bangladesh Padma Bridge
Commemorative notes of tk100 on the occasion of the inauguration of the Padma Bridge
BRI in Bangladesh Padma Bridge
Location of Padma Bridge

The Padma Bridge is a major infrastructure project in Bangladesh, and while it is not directly under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it has received financial and technical assistance from multiple international sources, including the World Bank.

The Padma Bridge is a multipurpose road-rail bridge across the Padma River in Bangladesh. It is the longest bridge in Bangladesh and the sixth-longest in the world. The bridge is being constructed by the China Major Bridge Engineering Company (MBEC).

In 2012, the World Bank withdrew its funding for the bridge after allegations of corruption. However, the Bangladesh government decided to self-finance the project and work continued.

The Padma Bridge was embroiled in controversy over “BRI or not BRI” as well as delays, funding difficulties, worries about environmental effects, and the relocation of local populations.

China has attempted to include non-BRI projects under BRI over the years in an effort to salvage its reputation due to delays, financial losses, and other issues. Padma Bridge is a glaring example of one such project.

It has faced a number of issues over the years:

Land acquisition: The Padma Bridge is being built on land that is home to a number of villages. The government has had to acquire land from these villages in order to build the bridge. This has led to protests and demonstrations from the villagers.

Security concerns: The Padma River is a major shipping route and is home to a number of pirates. The government has had to take steps to secure the area around the bridge in order to prevent attacks from pirates.

Cost overruns: The cost of the Padma Bridge has increased significantly since it was first proposed. Since it was initially suggested, the price of the Padma Bridge has greatly escalated.  For a developing nation like Bangladesh, an overrun of $1.3 billion on a $3.3 billion project is a significant burden.

There have been a number of protests, demonstrations, and uproars against the Padma Bridge. These protests have been organized by a number of different groups, including environmental groups, villagers, and opposition political parties.

In a sharp rebuttal to Chinese claims of Bangladesh’s biggest infrastructure project being part of BRI, Dhaka said that the Padma Bridge, which is scheduled to be launched on June 25, is not a part of China’s BRI. It also said that no foreign funds were taken to complete this multipurpose project.

Check out our report: Padma Bridge is not a part of BRI

BRI in Bangladesh Padma Bridge
Press release by the Bangladeshi Government

Payra Deep Sea Port

Cost Overrun, FundingIssues, China’s geopolitical interests, Corruption Delayed

The government of Bangladesh and China signed MoU to develop three components of the Payra Deep Seaport in 2016. This is the third-largest port in the country, strategically located in the Patuakhali region on the banks of the Bay of Bengal.

Two Chinese companies China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) and China State Engineering and Construction Company (CSCEC) will execute port development.

The Payra Deep Sea Port has been plagued by financial problems since its inception. The original cost of the project was estimated to be $1.1 billion, but the final cost is expected to be much higher. The government of Bangladesh has had to borrow money from China to finance the construction of the port, and the debt burden is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

In addition to the financial problems, the Payra Deep Sea Port has also been plagued by corruption allegations. The  Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a case against several officials of the Bangladesh government and the China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) for allegedly misusing public funds in the construction of the port. The ACC has also filed a case against several officials of the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) for allegedly awarding the contract for the construction of the port to CHEC without following due process.

The delays in the construction of the Payra Deep Sea Port have been caused by a number of factors, including financial problems, corruption allegations, and environmental concerns. The construction of the port was initially scheduled to be completed in 2016, but the deadline has been pushed back several times. The port is now expected to be completed in 2023, but it is possible that the deadline will be pushed back again.

The Payra Deep Sea Port’s future in all certainty is uncertain.

Sonadia Deep-Sea Port

China’s geopolitical interests, Cost Overrun, FundingIssues, Corruption, Halted

The Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Project was a proposed deep-sea port on Bangladesh’s Sonadia Island. Bangladesh’s government originally proposed the project in 2006. A feasibility study was done in 2007 because the Chinese government was interested in investing in the project. However, India was opposed to the proposal, citing concerns about the geopolitical implications of a Chinese-built port in the Bay of Bengal.

The Bangladesh government signed a memorandum of understanding with China for the port’s construction in 2012. The project was, however, delayed owing to a variety of issues, including environmental concerns and political resistance.

BRI in Bangladesh Soniadia Island
Location of Sonadia Deep Sea Port

The Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Project was a controversial project from the start. The Indian government was concerned about the strategic implications of a Chinese-built port in the Bay of Bengal. Environmentalists were concerned about the impact of the project on the Sonadia Island ecosystem. And local residents were concerned about the displacement that would be caused by the project.

The project was also plagued by corruption allegations. In 2013, a Bangladeshi newspaper reported that a Chinese company had bribed Bangladeshi officials to secure the contract for the project. The allegations were never proven, but they further damaged the project’s reputation.

The project was finally halted and buried forever by the Bangladesh Government in 2020.

Bangladesh has been a cautious partner in the BRI. The country has signed a number of agreements with China, but it has also been careful to protect its own interests. The cancellation of the Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Project is a sign that Bangladesh is not willing to sacrifice its environmental and economic interests for the sake of the BRI.

Download the complete report to know the status of the following projects:

  • Chinese Economic and Industrial Zone (CEIZ)
  • Dasher Kandi Sewerage Treatment Plant (DSTP)


In conclusion, the findings of the report shed light on the significant challenges faced by Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in Bangladesh. Issues such as cost overruns, corruption, environmental damage, funding difficulties, delays, lack of progress, and poor quality of development have plagued these projects. The Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Project exemplified the controversies surrounding BRI, with concerns raised by the Indian government, environmentalists, and local residents about strategic implications, ecosystem impact, and displacement.

Corruption allegations further tarnished the reputation of BRI projects, as exemplified by the Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Project. Although the allegations were never proven, they cast doubts on the integrity of the project. Ultimately, the Bangladesh Government made the decision to halt the Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Project in 2020, signaling the end of its development.

The Padma Bridge, another project embroiled in controversies and challenges, exemplified the struggle between categorizing projects as part of the BRI or not. Delays, funding difficulties, concerns about environmental effects, and the relocation of local populations added to the complexities. China’s attempts to include non-BRI projects under the BRI umbrella aimed at salvaging its reputation in the face of delays and financial losses, with the Padma Bridge serving as a notable example.

The report’s findings also highlighted the changing perspective in Bangladesh regarding BRI projects. Initially, there was enthusiasm for BRI investments, with significant proposals put forward in 2016. However, by 2022, Bangladesh found itself grappling with mounting foreign debt, leading to a request for financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund. In response to these challenges, Bangladesh has made the difficult decision to abandon or postpone numerous BRI infrastructure projects, including highway construction, in an effort to alleviate its financial burdens.

Looking to the future, the report suggests a reassessment of Bangladesh’s BRI strategy. The fading enthusiasm for BRI projects and the exploration of alternative options, such as those offered by the United States, indicate a shift in the country’s approach. Bangladesh’s experience serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the importance of carefully evaluating the long-term implications and risks associated with participating in large-scale infrastructure initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative.