PM Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit to Japan: Roadmap to future cooperation

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On April 25, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will most likely visit Japan, where she is scheduled to have bilateral meetings with her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida. This will be the sixth visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Japan. 

Along with a few bilateral meetings, the PM’s itinerary for the trip includes attendance at an investment conference and a community reception. She will also present select Japanese citizens with the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honor.’ 

During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s impending visit to Japan, 8–10 agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU) are anticipated to be signed between Bangladesh and Japan since both nations want to elevate their bilateral ties. 

The governments of Bangladesh and Japan both anticipate that this trip will further solidify their close ties. 

PM Hasina has taken actions to elevate the bilateral relationship and put it on the strongest foundation for future cooperation. Japan intends to strengthen its bilateral relationships with Bangladesh to a strategic level by including new components like defence and security. 

Previously, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister visited Japan in 1997, 2010, 2014, 2016, and 2019. The Emperor of Japan will welcome the PM while she travels there. Thanks to her visionary efforts, the Government of Bangladesh kept strong ties with Japan, and her experience of bilateral meetings with various Japanese leaders provides her with a strong insight into the pros and cons of successful negotiations. 

During her visit, Japan is expected to pledge its full support for Bangladesh’s efforts to become a developed and prosperous nation by 2041.

The international community is at a historic turning point. The balance of power is shifting dramatically in the international community. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has revealed discrete challenges related to ‘global commons,’ such as climate and the environment, global health, and cyberspace, which have become more serious. Against such a backdrop, PM Hasina’s visit will add a new meaning to North-South cooperation.  

Purpose of this visit?

Japan wants to strengthen the comprehensive collaboration between the two nations. Both parties expressed their delight with the expanding bilateral ties between the two friendly nations. They praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan in May 2014, when she and Shinzo Abe raised the bilateral ties to the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ level. 

Japan, located at the confluence of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, sees Bangladesh as an important partner in achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific.

However, during a recent visit to Delhi, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio declared, “We will promote the Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept in cooperation with India and Bangladesh to foster the growth of the entire region. We view Bangladesh and other areas to the south as a single economic zone.” 

The MRT line in Dhaka, the deep-water port at Matarbari, and terminal three of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport are just a few examples of projects based on the Bay of Bengal Industrial Development Belt program, which Bangladesh is already a member of. 

The ‘BIG-B’ program allows Japan to increase its strategic influence in South Asia while primarily focusing on the economy, infrastructure, and development. In response, on April 11 and 12, Bangladesh, Japan, and India assembled in Tripura to discuss connectivity initiatives supporting the region’s commercial development. Hence, it is high time Bangladesh channelled this opportunity. 

The Sabrang Tourist Special Economic Zone in Cox’s Bazar and other sectors in Bangladesh have received increased interest from the prime minister since Bangladesh provides the finest investment opportunities for international investors among the Asian nations. 

PM Hasina mentioned Bangladesh’s geographic advantages and said that international companies might benefit from the sizable 350 crore-person markets surrounding Bangladesh. Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Japan will reach USD 20 billion by 2030 from more than USD 3 billion as apparel shipments to the far eastern country are rising fast. 

At the same time, Bangladesh’s imports from Japan will increase five-fold to reach USD 10 billion, and as such, the bilateral trade volume will cross USD 20 billion, indicating growth in recent years. Hence, this visit aims to enhance the existing multilayer cooperation to ensure a win-win situation. 

What is expected on this visit? 

Given that Bangladesh and Japan are both significant partners in the Indo-Pacific region, the Prime Minister’s trip is seen as being essential for both nations. 

Both parties anticipated that during the upcoming visit, Bangladesh and Japan would promote a deeper economic partnership in terms of trade and investment, human resource development, agriculture, ICT, education, defence dialogue and exchanges, connectivity between people, and the repatriation of Rohingyas. 

Besides, it will deepen the existing support of Japan in various ongoing mega-projects like The MRT line in Dhaka, the deep-sea port at Matarbari, the third terminal of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, and the special economic zone at Araihazar. 

The willingness to further collaborate in international fora, particularly on climate change, UN reforms, disarmament, non-proliferation, etc., was also emphasised by the two sides. 

Japan hosted the fifth edition of the economic dialogue virtually, organised to enhance economic relations between the two countries. Both parties concluded the dialogue by expressing hope that through the upcoming visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to Japan, the economic relations between the countries will reach a new height. This is the necessary step in negotiating a trade agreement with Japan to maintain Bangladesh’s zero-duty benefits after it graduates from the least developed country (LDC) category to that of a developing country in 2026.

On her upcoming trip to Japan, Hasina’s key priorities will also be defence cooperation and a free trade pact; a ‘letter of intent’ on bilateral defence cooperation was signed, setting the framework for future accords. The ‘Forces Goals 2030’ announced in 2009 with a view on significantly enlarging and modernising the Bangladesh Army, Navy, and Air Force, led by Hasina, spelt out its defence aspirations.

However, PM Hasina is also expected to seek support from Japan on the issue of durable solutions to the Rohingya Refugee crisis. She will urge Japan will bring up the Rohingya crisis with Myanmar and the ASEAN. Besides, due to the Ukraine war, there is a sharp decline in funds for the Rohingyas from international agencies. Hence, Japan must provide more humanitarian assistance to decrease the burden on Bangladesh. 

It is important to note that Japanese Organisations and the Japan International Cooperation Agency have also worked for the Rohingyas since the beginning. Bangladesh and Japan can predictably anticipate that this trip would further solidify their cordial ties against the changing geo-political landscape of the world.

– Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the founder of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The Financial Express [Link]