Understanding Bangladesh and Japan Relations from a Global Perspective

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The forthcoming visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Japan will provide spotlight on the relevance of Bangladesh-Japan partnership from a global perspective which is, of course, a new but strong phenomenon in bilateral cooperation. Dhaka and Tokyo have special significance and call for their own definition particularly when compared to the relationships between Bangladesh and other key nations. In fact, Bangladesh’s relationships with other nations and areas have undergone significant changes because of shifting economic ties and global politics, which are strongly linked with the politics that shape national interests. Japan has persistently supported Bangladesh’s development efforts and maintained stable, cordial ties with the nation ever since Japan recognized Bangladesh as an independent nation, despite changes in the international political landscape. Under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Dhaka was essential as a hub for connectivity and regional diplomacy. Result of its strong political stability and robust economic growth, this demonstrated Bangladesh’s prominence in the region. Bangladesh will likely take on a greater significance in advancing regional cooperation and tackling global issues.

On the flip side, after the Cold War ended, Japan pursued a more active foreign policy to take on a bigger role on the world stage, even in the security sphere. One of the manifestations of Japan’s new foreign policy is the engagement of Japan in the Bay of Bengal region. Gradually, the Bay of Bengal region has become significant for several reasons including security and geo-political ones, especially after the Ukraine and Taiwan crises. Japan aimed to do this by departing from its conventional socioeconomic diplomacy. Japan will improve communication with the US, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Europe, and other countries. However, Japan must interact with the Global South to realize its vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific or rule-based maritime order.

As indicated earlier, the ongoing Ukraine war diverts the focus of big powers away from pressing issues like solving climate change, ensuring the security of food and energy for developing countries, and triggering militarization and arms race, and polarization. Significantly, the crisis has given prominent players in the Global South such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia the chance to show that they have their own objectives in world affairs, including their numerous ideas for handling the conflict in various aspects between Russia and Ukraine. Hence, Bangladesh’s response to the Ukraine crisis was a diplomatic continuation of its long-term policy – primarily driven by its non-alignment policy based on economic emancipation.

Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh and Japan have collaborated extensively to advance world peace and stability and have similar perspectives on many important international problems. In light of this, one can understand the geopolitical and economic significance of Japan-Bangladesh ties as well as the degree to which Japan-funded development initiatives in Bangladesh adhere to changing geo-political landscapes.

Japan’s Thrust for More Global Role

Japan has gradually begun to understand how to speak up, how to properly express its ideals, and how to position its diplomacy, especially during the past several years. Japan’s national security strategy is currently experiencing an unprecedentedly rapid historic transformation as a result of this new reality. Prime Minister Kishida has taken a huge stride forward and onto the world scene. The Ukrainian crisis prompted a prompt response from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Research Committee on National Security of the LDP made proposals to boost Japan’s defense capabilities to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on April 27, 2022. They included developing “counterstrike capabilities” and setting a five-year goal for defense spending equal to 2% of GDP. The complete impact on the Indo-Pacific region has still to be determined. Yet by increasing its economic ties and coercively advancing its maritime claims in the South China Sea, China has made significant attempts to increase its regional diplomacy and influence in Southeast Asia. However. In response to worries about China’s maritime ambitions, especially its pressure on Taiwan, freedom of navigation in the area, and trade issues, Japan has been working with Japan, India, the United States, and Britain to boost defense relations.

In the latest move to strengthen security relations in the face of growing Chinese military and economic might, Japan and Australia hailed a new agreement to closely cooperate on defense as a milestone and a historic.

During the past few decades, Japan and South Asia have developed closer political, security, and economic ties. Most of the South Asian nations consider ties with Japan to be cordial and trustworthy owing to their long economic engagements in the region and non-hegemonic image. To contribute to the region’s peace and stability, Japan will cooperate closely with India. However, Japan on the flip side realizes to accomplish the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” goal of peace, stability, and prosperity in the area, it has to expand practical cooperation with Bangladesh as a partner. These efforts involve connection and high-quality infrastructure.

Decoding Bangladesh’s Response to Geopolitical Crises

Bangladesh is a nation-state that is particularly entangled in the workings of geopolitics since it was born during the height of the Cold War. Bangladesh seems to have always been caught in the middle of conflicts between major powers, whether it is the competition between India and Pakistan, the Cold War conflict between the US and the former Soviet Union, or the current conflict between China and the West. The Bangladesh of today, however, is not the same country that was created in 1971. Bangladesh is currently praised as a “South Asian miracle” after being called a “international basket case” in the past. Notwithstanding the difficulties that accompany economic expansion, particularly considering the enormous wealth disparity, the nation’s overall economic development remains positive. After 50 years of independence, the nation is firmly emerging from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) category and is expected to rank among the top 25 economies in the world by 2035. The economy of Bangladesh is projected to grow 7.4 percent in the current fiscal year, up from an anticipated 5.2 percent growth in the year that ended in June of last year. Bangladesh’s influence on the global stage is growing every day as its economy soars and the balance of power shifts eastward. Throughout the past year, the majority of the Global South’s nations have taken a well-considered neutral stance on the conflict in Ukraine. In that case, it is leaving Bangladesh on a tightrope, working out the next course of action while keeping in mind one’s national interests.

Bangladesh-Japan Ties in Changing Political Landscape

Concerns about non-traditional security have been exacerbated by the advent of artificial intelligence, e-commerce, cyber-security, hybrid warfare, climate change, and even novel viruses like the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The ongoing geo-political crisis is adding a fatal blow to these challenges. Hence, Bangladesh-Japan relations is significant to create a win-win situation for both of the nations based on convention for peace, stability and rule-based order.

By establishing a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia, fostering closer interregional cooperation, and integrating Bangladesh into regional and global value chains, Japan’s Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B), an initiative for changing South Asia’s economic outlook, can play a significant role in transforming Bangladesh into the center of the regional economy. By 2021, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wanted Bangladesh to be a middle-income nation and the goal was achieved. To that end, she is actively seeking investments in building infrastructure and development projects in Bangladesh. Bangladesh foreign policy has entered a new era with the implementation of the “Look to the East” strategy. In a move that might assist Bangladesh’s economy, Japan is encouraging its firms to transfer production out of China and has included Bangladesh in a list of preferred locations for the relocation of the facilities. Thus, Bangladesh is trying to extract its benefits from the superpower rivalry focusing on its foreign policy dictum ‘friendship to all, malice to none.”

Bangladesh supports Japan’s drive for permanent seat on the UN Security Council and values its status as a SAARC observer, which binds Japan to the region as a true partner. Bangladesh prioritizes its relations with Japan, and the Sheikh Hasina government already working together to take advantage of the many opportunities for expanding and deepening bilateral partnership. In order to increase collaboration in the areas of food security, climate change, global health, and cybersecurity, Japan also provided concrete initiatives. Kishida stated that Japan will work with India and Bangladesh to establish the “Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept” for the development of the entire area.

Finally, Bangladesh’s efforts to provide shelter and humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas from Myanmar deserve special appreciation from the world, including Japan. The Government of Japan resolved on January 28 of this year to provide the UNHCR and WFP with a total of USD 2 million for the humanitarian and protection needs of the Rohingya people on Bhasan Char. Along with the government of Bangladesh and the international community, Japan will keep pushing for early repatriation. Bangladesh will leave the list of least developed nations (LDNs) in 2026 and, by accomplishing “Vision 2041,” hopes to become a developed nation by the year 2041. Bangladesh will continue to seek the support of Japan as it develops and the evolving strategic partnership will create a height of bilateral cooperation.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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