Significance of Brunei Sultan’s visit to Bangladesh

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The spirit of friendship and collaboration that characterised Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah’s historic first visit to Bangladesh ended in signing of numerous significant agreements.

On October 17, amid a meeting between Brunei’s Sultan and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, the two leaders signed three memorandums of understanding (MoUs), including one on a long-term partnership in the energy sector focused on Bangladesh’s supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other petroleum products.

Moreover, the four bilateral arrangements incorporate an air services agreement and a MOU on the employment and recruitment of Bangladeshi Workers.

This is the first-ever state visit by the Sultan at the invitation of President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Earlier in 2019, Prime Minister visited Brunei.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Brunei Sultan acknowledged with satisfaction that their bilateral relationship has gained new momentum as a result of the visit, while agreeing to collaborate closely as development partners given their strong faith, tradition, and culture, as well as their shared vision of prosperity, peace, and stability.Therefore, this visit will create a win-win situation for both countries and open a new avenue for bolstering cooperation.

Why is this visit significant?

Since the advent of Brunei as an independent State, Bangladesh has shared a warm and amicable relationship with this ASEAN member.

In 1984, Brunei declared its autonomy. Bangladesh created a resident diplomatic representation in 1985 and promptly recognised Brunei. Throughout her current tenure as Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has made special efforts to strengthen bilateral ties with Brunei Darussalam.

Bangladesh has done an astounding job of strengthening bilateral relations with many countries in recent years, which can benefit Bangladesh considerably, with Brunei being the latest added to the list.

Given the high degree of political agreement already present, bilateral ties between Brunei and Bangladesh may be further developed and expanded in various areas, including trade, culture, defence, education, human resources, and investment.

Exploring energy cooperation

Pointing to the ongoing inflationary pressures and volatile energy sector, there is a need for stronger bilateral and regional collaboration to cope with the prevailing challenges. One of the MoUs the two countries signed among the four instruments focused on cooperation in supplying LNG and other petroleum products.

Both leaders agreed to look into ways for long-term cooperation in the energy sector, particularly in the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other petroleum products to Bangladesh, given the rising energy needs of Bangladesh and Brunei Darussalam’s position as a reliable and significant regional energy exporter. Since Bangladesh depends largely on energy imports to create electricity, diversifying its energy sources, particularly LNG, is crucial. Brunei is a possible, stable and long-term alternative in that regard.

Renewed prospect of the labour market

The two countries renewed their MoU on labour supply, including their recruitment, training, and safety measures. Now both countries can meet regularly and address any problems related to recruitment, treatment, and welfare of the workers.

Officials concerned said some 20,000 Bangladeshis work in Brunei. Setting a minimum wage, insurance, and reducing recruitment costs are key concerns that need to be addressed to ensure the workers’ welfare.

According to a joint statement, the two countries agreed to discuss the possibility of recruiting more workers in Brunei from Bangladesh, including skilled and professional manpower, and managing the recruitment process in a transparent, orderly, and ethical manner. The labour export will potentially result in myriad benefits for both countries.

Cooperation in a regional framework

The two sides agreed to deepen further cooperation in the regional and international forums, including the UN, OIC, the commonwealth, and ASEAN regional forum. Brunei appreciated Bangladesh’s continued interest in strengthening its relations and assured its support for Bangladesh’s bid to become a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN.

As an ASEAN member, Brunei will strengthen Bangladesh’s ties with South East Asian countries, which will pave the way for collaboration among many regional and subregional platforms like BCIM EC, BIMSTEC, SAARC, etc. of ASEAN.

Providing assistance for the Rohingya repatriation

Bangladesh expressed its gratitude to Brunei for its political support for the much-awaited and expeditious repatriation of over a million Rohingya, displaced from the Rakhine state of Myanmar and took shelter in Bangladesh.

All of them were informed of the protracted crisis brought on by the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals. It was hoped their steadfast support would help convince Myanmar to create an environment that would allow for the safe, honourable, and prompt return of more than 1.1 million Myanmar nationals.

Brunei Sultan acknowledged the significant burden the Rohingya crisis had had on Bangladesh and offered his complete sympathies while pointing out that Bangladesh had been treated unfairly by the situation.

Additionally, he expressed optimism that all parties in Myanmar would continue to be dedicated to the system established for the return of the internally displaced people to Myanmar and would honestly endeavour to find a long-term solution to this situation.

Bolster existing trade and investment networks

Both sides identified trade and investment as areas of crucial bilateral cooperation and expressed their keenness in working to increase the volume of two-way trade, which is potential.

Bangladesh offered Brunei the advantage of investment in the special economic zones of Bangladesh. Brunei also invited Bangladesh to consider investing in its economic diversification activities like food, agriculture, and aquaculture industries.

MoU in the health sector is also expected to recruit and train healthcare professionals, specialised services, and pharmaceutical services.

Both Bangladesh and Brunei have a lot of potential for mutual development. Their contribution to the region and deepening ties between the two can only be expected to impact their overall advancement significantly.

Hence, the historic visit of Brunei’s Sultan will rejuvenate the existing bilateral ties between these two countries and will work as a bridge between Bangladesh and South East Asia.

 

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, she worked as an Intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh.

Published in The Financial Express [Link]