By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, April 29: The three-day visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Japan between April 25 and 28 has resulted in a win-win agreement on both geopolitical and economic matters.
While Japan succeeded in enticing Bangladesh into the Indo-Pacific fold, Bangladesh is to significantly benefit from increased Japanese involvement in its economy.
The Joint Statement issued after talks between Prime Ministers Fumio Kishida and Sheikh Hasina on April 26, is a detailed blueprint of the emerging relationship. The document should be great interest to other powers such as China, India and the US.
For China, the agreement is a direct challenge to its dominant position in Bangladesh. Japan could, from now on, be the principal economic partner in fast-developing Bangladesh. The changed situation will have a fallout on Beijing’s anti-Indian plans in the Bangladesh and East Indian region.
As for India, it faces the prospect of being marginalized in the economic development of Bangladesh where it already faces a potent challenge from a more efficient and wealthier China. But there are silver linings for India in the agreement. Japan and Bangladesh have pledged to use the economic development of Bangladesh for the development of the South Asian and South East Asian nations also. This has been included to entice India into supporting the new Bangladesh-Japan economic agenda. Further, increased Japanese involvement in Bangladesh’s economy will reduce Dhaka’s dependence on Beijing, which will be to New Delhi’s advantage geopolitically.
The US, which is the principal proponent of the Indo-Pacific agenda, will be supplanted by Japan in Bangladesh not only because of the larger economic package which Japan is offering but because Bangladeshis tend to prefer the polite Japanese to the abrasive Americans. Without doubt, Japan is an acceptable face of the Indo-Pacific in Bangladesh, not America.
The joint statement begins with the broad declaration that the “Comprehensive Partnership” established in 2014 will be elevated to a “Strategic Partnership”.
And the principal area of concern is the security of the Indo-Pacific. The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to realizing “a free and open Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law, where the rights, freedoms and sovereignty of all countries, regardless of size or power, are protected by international law, rules and norms.”
The generalized wording of this paragraph, without mentioning any country in particular, was acceptable to Bangladesh because it cannot afford a direct confrontation with China which, to date, is the principal economic partner.
Given Japan’s critical involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, Kishida declared that Japan, as the G7 President, would like to demonstrate the G7’s “determination to uphold the free and open international order based on the rule of law and to enhance relations with partners in the international community beyond the G7.”
On her part, Hasina reiterated Bangladesh’s “principled position on a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and secure Indo- Pacific based on international law and shared prosperity for all.” The commonality of interest on the Indo-Pacific was thus clear.
The two Prime Ministers recognized the “importance of Bangladesh, which holds great economic potential and can be a bridge between huge economic markets, namely South Asia and Southeast Asia.”
They shared the recognition that “developing quality infrastructure will enhance regional connectivity and contribute to the development of Bangladesh and the region.” Japan has thus given Bangladesh a critical role in regional development to make it a Japanese-style role model for regional development in contrast to the Chinese model.
In this context, the two Prime Ministers stressed the “importance of transparent and fair development finance to achieve sustainable development and highlighted the importance of adhering to international rules and standards, such as debt sustainability and transparency.” The allusion to China is apparent.
“They also shared the recognition on the importance of economic security including strengthening resilience of supply chain, and the rules-based international economic order to counter challenges such as economic coercion.”
This is an interesting statement in as much as both China and the US practice economic coercion. The former does it through opaque deals and the latter through sanctions.
Given the fact that security is the principal dimension of the Indo-Pacific architecture, the joint communiqué said the two Prime Ministers welcomed recent “frequent port calls” at Chattogram (Chittagong) by vessels of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the high-level mutual visits of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Bangladesh Armed Forces.”
Further, in light of the Memorandum of Cooperation and Exchanges formulated between the defense authorities from the two sides, they concurred to continue to promote security cooperation such as mutual visits by vessels and aircraft, unit-to-unit exchange, training programs and goodwill exercises.
The Prime Ministers decided to consider opening a Defense Wing in Tokyo and National Security Wing in Dhaka in their respective embassies in the near future. Furthermore, they concurred to enhance the dialogue among the respective diplomatic and defense authorities in order to identify possible ways to strengthen security cooperation.
Recognizing the future potential, the two Prime Ministers welcomed the commencement of negotiations on the Agreement concerning the “Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology.”
Prime Minister Kishida explained Japan’s efforts for fundamentally reinforcing its defense capabilities and strengthening diplomatic efforts, as illustrated in the new National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Defense Buildup Program. Prime Minister Hasina shared Bangladesh’s plan and initiative for further modernizing its armed forces under the Forces Goal 2030. Both Prime Ministers acknowledged the efforts by both countries to contribute to their respective regional security.
Prime Minister Hasina acknowledged the establishment of the Official Security Assistance by Japan, a new cooperation framework for the benefit of the armed forces and other related organizations of like-minded countries for the purpose of deepening security cooperation, and looked forward to future cooperation under this framework.
On economic cooperation, which is of primary concern to Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina pointed out the need to transform Bangladesh’s economic structure to be a high-middle income country by 2031 and a smart developed country by 2041.
The two Prime Ministers welcomed the launch of the Bangladesh-Japan Industry Upgrade Partnership for the enhancement of industries in Bangladesh through public-private cooperation and recognized the need for cooperation in the field of intellectual property to promote investment and improve the business environment.
They hoped that the Bangladesh Special Economic Zone (BSEZ), which was inaugurated in December 2022 in Araihazar for Japanese and international companies, would further deepen the economic partnership between the two countries.
With a view to enhancing economic exchange between the two countries, Prime Minister Kishida emphasized the necessity of continuous improvement of the investment climate in Bangladesh. The two Prime Ministers welcomed “good progress” in the resolution of some investment issues faced by Japanese companies through the Japan-Bangladesh Public-Private Joint Economic Dialogue (PPED).
Prime Minister Hasina assured that outstanding investment-related issues flagged by the Japanese investors will be attended to, and expressed her commitment to further improving the investment climate to encourage more Foreign Direct Investment from Japan in Bangladesh.
The two Prime Ministers expressed their “satisfaction” with the progress of seven joint PPP projects reviewed in the 5th Bangladesh-Japan Joint PPP Platform Meeting held in Tokyo on 4th October 2022, and the 1st working level meeting based on revised MOC held in Dhaka on 8th February 2023, which encourages Japanese companies to expand their investment in Bangladesh and give a stronger boost to Bangladesh’s development potential.
Welcoming the cooperation between the two countries in increasing energy efficiency and capacity and promoting renewable energy through the implementation of the Joint Crediting Mechanism consistent with the Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and the cooperation to formulate the power and energy masterplan by JICA, the two Prime Ministers pledged to step up cooperation under Japan’s Asia Energy Transition Initiative.
Hasina welcomed Japan’s support to Bangladesh for the formulation of ambitious and long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.
The Bangladesh Prime Minister thanked Japan for its past support in the ICT sector for “Digital Bangladesh”, including Miyazaki Bangladesh Model. They welcomed the signing of “the Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of Information and Communication Technology including Cyber security”. Prime Minister Hasina invited investments in IT/ITES sector from Japan in Bangladesh’s High-Tech Parks.
The two Prime Ministers welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation with a view to enhance agro-based business and promote investments. The two Prime Ministers recognized the importance of establishing a food value chain through beneficial trade and investments in and cooperation on technologies and innovation with Bangladesh. They emphasized meaningful cooperation, particularly in the fields of adoption of new technology, agro- and food-processing and distribution, etc. for achieving a sustainable food system.
In this context, Prime Minister Hasina expressed her interest in promoting cooperation in the area of coastal aquaculture and deep-sea fishing with the aim to harness the possibility of a Blue Economy.
Recycling of Ships
Prime Minister Kishida expected that Bangladesh will accede to the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009 (HKC) at its earliest opportunity. Prime Minister Hasina expressed her intention to make efforts for early accession to the HKC in 2023.
In response, Prime Minister Kishida expressed his intention to consider supporting Bangladesh’s efforts in the area of ship recycling, taking into account Bangladesh’s need for the development of a Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF).
The two Prime Ministers affirmed the importance of developing highly skilled human resources in public and private sectors and realize sustainable high economic growth. In this regard, the two Prime Ministers acknowledged the importance and progress of legal technical assistance provided by Japan.
Prime Minister Kishida expressed his intention to continue wide cooperation in this area with Bangladesh including through sharing the experience of development in Japan and other Asian countries and people-to-people exchange between Japan and Bangladesh in order to develop human resources in public and private sectors in Bangladesh.
Jobs in Japan
The Prime Ministers recognized that while Japan is short of labor, Bangladeshis need jobs. They agreed that Bangladesh’s abundant young labor force will contribute to supplementing Japan’s labor shortage. In this context, Prime Minister Hasina welcomed the starting of skill exams and Japanese language tests for Specified Skilled Workers in Bangladesh in February 2023, and expected further assistance for Japanese language education for Specified Skilled Workers. Both Prime Ministers welcomed the progress in the Technical Intern Training.
Bangladesh sought the return of Japanese volunteers. Prime Minister Hasina recalled that Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) had been working closely with the local people and had played a major role for the development of Bangladesh and people-to-people exchange. On his part, Prime Minister Kishida Prime Minister Hasina recalled that Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) had been working closely with the local people and had played a major role for the development of Bangladesh and people-to-people exchange, expressed his willingness to resume the dispatch of JOCV as early as possible to Bangladesh, “while taking into account safety measures.”