The Upcoming Sheikh Hasina-Kishida Summit: Creating A New Trajectory for Bilateral Partnership

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On April 25, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is most likely to 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 would 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 defense and security. Bangladesh Prime Minister had already been to Japan in 1997, 2010, 2014, 2016, and 2019. The Prime Minister will be welcomed by the Emperor of Japan while she travels there. Thanks to PM Hasina’s visionary administration, the Government of Bangladesh kept strong ties with Japan and her experience of bilateral meetings with various Japanese leaders provides her a strong insight into the pros and cons of successful negotiations. Nowadays, more Japanese companies are making investments in Bangladesh. In addition to other types of investments, Bangladesh also receives a significant amount of direct help from the Japanese government. During her visit, Japan is expected to pledge its full support for Bangladesh’s efforts to realize its goal of becoming 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 today. 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. incorporate these new elements of addressing peace and global commons-related issues. Against such a backdrop, PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit will add a new meaning to North-South cooperation.

What is the purpose of this Visit?

Japan wants to strengthen the comprehensive collaboration that already exists between the two nations. Both parties expressed their delight with the expanding bilateral ties between the two friendly nations, praising 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 aims to take its bilateral relations with Bangladesh to a “strategic” level and expand them to include defense and security matters. Japan, which is 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. Bangladesh believes that the Indo-Pacific region should be “open, inclusive, and navigable” for all parties without any “encumbrances.”

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 that are 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 to that, on April 11 and 12, Bangladesh, Japan, and India assembled in Tripura to talk about connectivity initiatives that would support the region’s commercial development. Hence, it is high time Bangladesh channeled this opportunity.

Besides, Japan’s investment in Bangladesh has expanded more than ever before now. Moreover, daily growth is being seen in bilateral commerce. The Sabrang Tourist Special Economic Zone in Cox’s Bazar as well as 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 may benefit from the sizable 350 crore-person market that surrounded Bangladesh. Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Japan will reach $20 billion by 2030 from more than $3 billion at present 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 $10 billion and as such, the bilateral trade volume will cross $20 billion, indicating growth in recent years. Hence, the purpose of this visit is to enhance the existing multilayer cooperation for ensuring 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 extremely essential for both nations. Japan is a significant development partner of Bangladesh and an important participant in the Indo-Pacific region; hence the visit is seen as having tremendous significance. Japan is investing in Bangladesh and Northeast India, particularly at the deep-sea port of Matarbari, which would connect the area’s landlocked territory with the Bay of Bengal. Japan is carrying out several significant projects under the BIG-B plan, including the Dhaka MRT line, Matarbari deep seaport, the third terminal of Dhaka Airport, and Araihazar’s special economic zone. Earlier, she expressed gratitude to Japan for helping to build the third terminal at Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

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, defense 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 emphasized by the two sides. Japan hosted the fifth edition of the economic dialogue virtually organized with the aim to enhance economic relations between the two countries. By building a port and transportation infrastructure in the area, Japan has suggested creating an industrial hub in Bangladesh with supply chains to the landlocked northeastern states of India and beyond, to Nepal and Bhutan.  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 the process of negotiating a trade agreement with Japan to maintain Bangladesh’s zero-duty benefits after it graduates from the category of a least developed country (LDC) to that of a developing country in 2026. On her upcoming trip to Japan, Hasina’s key priorities will be also defense cooperation and a free trade pact, a “letter of intent” on bilateral defense cooperation was signed, setting the framework for future accords. The “Forces Goals 2030” announced in 2009 with a view on significantly enlarging and modernizing the Bangladesh Army, Navy, and Air Force, led by Hasina, spelled out its defense 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 come forward with more humanitarian assistance to decrease the burden on Bangladesh. It is important to note that Japanese Organizations and the Japan International Cooperation Agency were also working 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).

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