Significance of Bangladesh PM's upcoming Japan visit

Kamal Uddin Mazumder *

February 10, 2022, marked 50 years of diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and Japan. The recognition of Bangladesh on February 10, 1972, marked the beginning of Japan's cordial State relations with Bangladesh, but they actually started almost a century before. Before Bangladesh became an independent Nation, Japan maintained excellent relations with the Bengalis. This region of India used to send a lot of individuals to Japan for technical education, and the practice is still present now.

Even throughout Bangladesh's liberation conflict, Japan's cordial demeanor was tremendously beneficial. The Japanese students supported Bangladesh at the time by reserving their lunch money. In 1973, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman conducted a successful visit to Japan to maintain this wonderful connection. This visit created the strong groundwork for bilateral relations between the two Nations.

Consequently, the Government of Bangladesh maintained positive relations with Japan throughout the terms of various Governments. Every Bangladeshi leader who assumed office following the country's independence travelled to Japan. From November 29 to 30, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will travel to Japan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will meet bilaterally during the visit, and it's probable that both parties will sign many memorandums of understanding on cooperative efforts. In 2019 and 2021, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister visited Japan.

Japanese businesses are investing more in Bangladesh at the moment. Bangladesh is also getting a lot of direct aid from the Japanese Government in addition to different kinds of investments. Just as many different products are imported from Japan, so too has the export of goods from Bangladesh to Japan grown. An examination of the economy and trade reveals that the degree of investment and trade between Bangladesh and Japan has increased.

The foundations of the current relationship are firmly anchored, despite the fact that economic cooperation and bilateral trade interests predominate in the modern stage of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Japan, an industrialized Nation, was the first to recognize Bangladesh among OECD members.

Because Bangladesh and Japan are both significant allies in the Indo-Pacific region, the trip is seen as being extremely essential for both Nations. The two Nations are marking 50 years of diplomatic relations at the time of the visit. In 2014, Bangladesh and Japan began a comprehensive relationship. Japan has since increased its investment in Bangladesh. Additionally, bilateral trade is growing day by day. There is a chance that the PM may bring up the connection to a strategic alliance during his visit.

Japan gave Bangladesh $2.63 billion in aid in 20202021, more than any other Nation. The MRT line in Dhaka, the deep sea port at Matarbari, the third terminal of the Dhaka airport, and the special economic zone at Araihazar are just a few of the large projects that Japan is putting into action in Bangladesh.

Japan is reportedly interested in running the third terminal of the Dhaka airport as well as the deep-water port at Matarbari. In addition, Japan intends to sell Bangladesh military hardware. Bangladesh is aiming to clinch a free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan since it will graduate from the LDC category by 2026. In the most recent fiscal year, Bangladesh exported goods worth $1.35 billion to Japan, an increase of 14.40 percent from the year before.

According to Bangladeshi media outlets' reports, Ito Naoki, Japan's ambassador to Bangladesh said that trade between Bangladesh and Japan would increase from $3 billion to $20 billion by 2030 as clothing exports to the country's far east rise quickly. According to Naoki, garment exports from Bangladesh to Japan reached $1.10 billion in the most recent fiscal year, and by 2030, it is anticipated that shipments will increase 10-fold to $10 billion.

At the same time, Bangladesh's imports from Japan will climb five-fold to $10 billion, crossing $20 billion in bilateral commerce and demonstrating recent expansion. When Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visits Japan in the near future, on November 2930, she will ask for "stronger engagement" from Japan in support of her country's development efforts through "investment and funding" in significant projects.

According to AK Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister, "We are delighted with Japan looking at the areas (giant projects) where they are working." He claimed that Japan is a "good investor" in Bangladesh and that they are carrying out significant initiatives. Bangladesh is now looking to Japan for more funding for significant projects.

"The fundamental tenet is that Japan can finance and does so consistently and without imposing onerous terms. They also possess technology" explained Momen. The operation of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport's third terminal is of importance to nations like Singapore and Japan (HSIA). Momen stated, "We will observe and assess (before making a decision)."

He claimed that Japan is also interested in managing and providing port facilities. "We have not yet reached a decision." Momen responded, "That could be an issue, but it depends (on the decision at the inter-ministerial meeting)," when asked if Bangladesh will seek financing for the second Padma Bridge in Bangladesh.

He stated that the underground railway project was looking for funding and technology. "That might also be a problem. All of them are up for discussion. There hasn't been a decision made yet." As their return has not yet begun, the foreign minister responded to a question by saying Bangladesh will also seek Japan's "proactive engagement" on the Rohingya issue.

Ito Naoki, the Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh, stated that his Nation will continue to provide assistance in order to see the beginning of Rohingya repatriation. More than 1.1 million Rohingyas who fled their home in Rakhine State due to persecution by the Myanmar military are currently being housed in Bangladesh.

When asked about defense cooperation, Momen responded that although the Japanese side is interested in providing Bangladesh defense technology, Bangladesh's main policy is to ensure the welfare of its citizens. "Priority one is to feed, house, care for, and educate our people. After that, we'll investigate other issues," he stated, emphasizing Bangladesh's importance. Bangladesh is regarded by Japan as an "attractive" investment location and an economy that is "rapidly developing."

In order to realize a "free and open Indo-Pacific," Japan, which sits at the intersection of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, views Bangladesh as an "essential partner." In Bangladesh's view, the Indo-Pacific area should be "open, inclusive, and navigable" for all parties without any "encumbrances," according to Momen.

Momen responded that they will look into inviting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to the Bangladesh Metro Rail's partial launch. At a summit meeting with Sheikh Hasina in Tokyo in May 2014, former prime minister Shinzo Abe and Abe jointly unveiled the "Bangladesh-Japan Comprehensive Partnership." Abe and Hasina met for a summit in Dhaka in September of that year.

On February 10th, 1972, Japan recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign state, and the start of diplomatic ties between the two countries will be 50 years old in 2022. In a recent visit to Japan, Momen paid tribute to former Japanese Prime Minister Abe by attending his state burial in Tokyo on their behalf after he was slain.

For example, the number of Japanese businesses in Bangladesh tripled during the previous ten years to reach 338 in 2022, and the majority of them are eager to grow their operations there. The majority of businesses that engage in bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Japan desire the two countries to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) so that duty exemptions will continue to be granted even after the former leaves the category of least developed country in 2026.

With Japan being the most attractive export market in Asia, Bangladesh is trying to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) or economic partnership agreement (EPA), with the commerce ministry having already produced a pertinent memorandum of cooperation (MoC). This is the necessary step in the process of negotiating a trade agreement with Japan to maintain Bangladesh's zero-duty benefits after it graduates from the category of least developed country (LDC) to that of developing country in 2026.

By April of next year, regarding the migration of trained labor from Bangladesh to Japan, Bangladeshis will have the chance to go to Japan and work in the caregiving sector. The prime minister is due to visit Japan by the end of the month, in an effort to strengthen bilateral ties and encourage greater Japanese investment in Bangladesh.

Together, Japan and Bangladesh can tackle the Rohingya refugee problem, develop the blue economy, fight against terrorism, and other issues. The Japanese government has chosen to continue providing a $2 million emergency aid grant for the assistance of the displaced "Rohingya" in Bhasan Char.

On February 8, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested cooperation from Japan for an early and sustainable repatriation of forcibly displaced Rohingyas to their native Myanmar because Dhaka and Tokyo have similar views on how to resolve the problem. Bilateral strategic relations would eventually result from the bilateral cooperation.

The strong foundation of bilateral ties between Bangladesh and Japan is prepared to be elevated in the near future from "comprehensive partnership" to "strategic partnership". PM Hasina's visit will definitely pave the way.

* Kamal Uddin Mazumder wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a researcher and strategic affairs analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh
This article was webcasted on November 01 2022.

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