Donald Lu’s Visit to Dhaka: What Does It Mean for the Political and Social Domains of Bangladesh-US Relations?

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“They [The US] are our good friends. Among friends, we can talk about issues very openly without any reservations. That’s what we did”

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen

Bangladesh and the USA for the last decade demonstrate a true gesture of friendship in all domains despite having global and regional tensions. Besides, like many other states, while facing challenges, both are using their rationality and trying to enhance cooperation through various dialogues. The two countries are also maintaining a higher degree of political and social connections which is an example of bilateral cooperation for many other actors. Amongst all the efforts, this time the visit of Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary Bureau of South And Central Asian Affairs, rectifies the bond of friendship especially in the dimensions of political and social. The visit is also taking place amidst tension between two of the most significant actors of global politics, the USA and Russia. The impacts of that will also be there. But the relationship between the two will facilitate to confront the challenges posed by regional and global politics.

However, the two countries growing political and social ties over the past two years might also be considered as being continued by Lu’s visit. There have been 17 mid- and high-level bilateral visits to date, including the most recent one with Eileen Laubacher. Seven delegations from Bangladesh have visited the US during the 17 visits, compared to 10 from the US. It will be Lu’s eleventh visit in the past two years. Expanding relationships and recent disputes that need to be resolved are the causes of such a high number of visits. This growing relationship is also motivated by Bangladesh’s political stability and cultural diversity.

His visit, moreover, will undoubtedly have a number of ramifications, including the resolution of political stability, the future of the Rohingya, investment, and the Indo-Pacific strategy, given the present direction in Bangladesh-US relations. Priority problems like energy, commerce, security coordination, religious freedom, labor, and human rights were also discussed. Mr. Lu also addressed the ways to increase economic engagement and hear what the civil society has to say about labor and human rights. In light of all these, the visit needs to be assessed from two distinct points of view- political and social. Hence the write-up will focus on the political and social dimensions of the visit and try to evince the way forward.

The most important prospect of the visit was the conversation on RAB. Donald Lu has praised the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) for the great strides it has made in upholding human rights while carrying out its duties. Lu mentioned that he had a fruitful discussion about RAB with senior Bangladeshi government officials and cited a recent Human Rights Watch report that noted “tremendous improvement” in eliminating extrajudicial murders. It demonstrates that RAB can carry out its crucial tasks and counterterrorism operations while upholding human rights. Moreover, the United States had pledged to support democracy, and the USA looks forward to cooperating closely with related stakeholders in Bangladesh. Bangladesh had agreed to speak up when the United States noticed issues and to give suggestions.

Besides, according to him, the US is “committed” to continuing its assistance with Bangladesh in its efforts to advance labor rights saying he had a detailed conversation about it with Salman F. Rahman, Bangladesh’s PM’s advisor on business and investment, at a meeting, and that there was still opportunity for improvement. The United States is dedicated to working with Bangladesh to advance labor rights in the future.

Issues pertaining to the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the general elections were briefly reviewed. It is a sign of trustworthiness. In light of that, Lu added that his nation will eagerly anticipate collaborating with its allies in Bangladesh to uphold freedom of speech and expression.

Besides, Bangladesh also eager to work on issues like Rohingya crisis, where according to the USA Bangladesh is doing great. Bangladesh, by exploiting the prospects of is visit can uphold the Rohingya issue in international domains.

There will be profound implications of the visit experienced by both states. First, Bangladesh will emphasize on the prospects of increased demand of RAB sanction lifting which gives clarity on the relationship since the envoy praised their recent deeds.

Secondly, the different viewpoints between the two states on human rights can be minimized owing to the praise of the envoy since it demonstrates the changing perception of the USA on this issue. The recent report of many human rights organizations supports the portrayal also.

Thirdly, Bangladesh can be a role model for her contribution to labor rights management. Here the issue of freedom of speech can be added as the cherry on the ice since both are interconnected and can complement each other to prove the practicing environment of Bangladesh.

Fourthly, all the drudgeries can bring clarity to the domain of diplomatic approaches which can be used to raise the Rohingya issue in international forums to get proper attention to assure funds and peaceful repatriation.

Finally, it reflects the start of a new era of friendship and trustworthiness. Both countries will move on the path of strengthening friendship by resolving all bilateral issues. There will be newer approaches to continue the existing ties between them.

The two sides are “almost on the same page” on a number of fronts after a “very constructive” conversation about bilateral issues. Both nations came to an understanding that Bangladesh and the USA will continue to work together to advance these conversations on all matters with specific time-bound objectives through their functional efforts, utilizing all available channels and mechanisms. They want to take relationships to the next level.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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