Bracing Socio-cultural Ties with Japan

“From my childhood, I have had a fascination with Japan. I used to collect Japanese art, calendars, stamps, dolls, etc. Japan was always close to my heart. This was transmitted to me from my father” – PM Sheikh Hasina 

Bangladesh and Japan share a groundbreaking and long-lasting friendship whose foundation was laid by the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1973 during his visit to Japan. He once remarked that the Japanese flag makes him think of the country of the rising sun, whereas ours reminds us of the freedom we attained by sacrificing millions of lives and of our green field. 

Our identical flags serve as a constant reminder of our interconnectedness. At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Japan, Kishida Fumio, Bangladesh’s PM Sheikh Hasina, paid an official visit to Japan from 25th to 28th April 2023. During the visit, both the PM had a summit meeting on April 26, where they confirmed that guided by the traditional and time-tested friendship since the independence of Bangladesh, the two countries have achieved significant progress in bilateral relations based on the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ established in 2014.   

At the Akasaka Palace Guest House in Tokyo on April 27, 2022, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana presented one of the four Japanese nationals with the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ award in recognition of their contribution to the Liberation War, which is considered a remarkable achievement in the bilateral relationship of these two countries. 

“Most unforgettable was the charitable gesture of Japanese school children who saved and donated their tiffin money to help our people,” PM Hasina said.

One of the key aspects that got special attention is bolstering the sociocultural ties of the people to people, which two Prime Ministers strongly advocated to upgrade the robust partnership in the next 50 years and beyond. 

Major takeaways

Eight agreements and memorandums of cooperation (MoCs) between our two sides have been inked, and they will further institutionalise our future collaboration in fields including agriculture, customs, defence, ICT and cyber security, etc. 

The two prime ministers hoped it would increase bilateral communication and interpersonal encounters. They applauded recent cross-cultural interactions like the first JET deployment from Bangladesh and the founding of the first friendship-city partnership between two nations, Naruto City in Tokushima and Narayanganj. 

The two Prime Ministers recognised the important roles that organisations like the Japanese Language and Culture Program of the Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka, the Department of Japanese Studies, and the Japanese Universities Alumni Association in Bangladesh (JUAAB) play in the fields of teaching Japanese and studying Japanese culture. They declared their desire to assist them going forward. 

The two prime ministers agreed that more global efforts are required to tackle climate change. Prime Minister Hasina appreciated Japanese efforts to fulfil the objectives of the Paris Agreement. They emphasised the significance of collaboration in reducing the danger of cyclones, tsunamis, and earthquake disasters. 

The UN Security Council reform, which included Japan becoming a permanent member, has consistently received support from Bangladesh, and Prime Minister Kishida acknowledged his thanks for that support. 

The leadership and active participation of Bangladesh, which supplies the most troops to UN peacekeeping missions and will be presiding over the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2022, was commended by Prime Minister Kishida. They also reaffirmed their commitment to advancing bilateral ties.

Expansion of cultural cooperation

Prime Minister Kishida stated that he intended to continue deepening his collaboration with Bangladesh in this field, especially through exchanging knowledge to develop human resources in Bangladesh’s public and private sectors; Japan and other Asian nations are being developed, and people-to-people exchanges are happening between Japan and Bangladesh. 

In the bilateral summit, PM Hasina announced that her country intends to participate in Expo 2025 in Osaka, Kansai, Japan, to further develop and expand commerce, investment, and other economic ties—connections between the two nations’ populations. 

Both leaders welcomed signing the Memorandum of Cooperation in Information and Communication Technology, including Cybersecurity, and Prime Minister Hasina thanked Japan for its prior support in the ICT sector for Digital Bangladesh, including the Miyazaki Bangladesh Model. 

In its implementation, Agenda 2030, Vision 2041, Bangladesh envisages transforming from an agrarian economy into a service- and manufacturing sector-led growth trajectory. Bangladesh is confident that Japan and its people will accompany it on its transformative journey to prosperity and development.

The two prime ministers agreed that Bangladesh’s large and youthful labour pool would somewhat offset Japan’s workforce deficit. In this regard, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Hasina hailed the start of the Japanese language and skill exams for the country’s Specified Skilled Workers in February 2023 and expected further assistance for Japanese language education for Specified Skilled Workers. 

Thus, the Technical Intern Training Program has made progress since both sides signed the Memorandum of Cooperation in 2018, and both prime ministers indicated their aim to use the program to encourage the transfer of talents. This will expand the flow of remittance, which the two countries have been trying for a long time and expand the sociocultural exchanges to the root levels. 

To transition from ‘one of vulnerability to resilience and climate prosperity,’ Bangladesh launched the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan. Prime Minister Kishida praised Bangladesh for its active efforts as the Chair of the Climate Vulnerability Forum. 

They agreed to increase cooperation under Japan’s Asia Energy Initiative, welcoming the two countries’ cooperation in boosting energy efficiency and capacity and promoting renewable energy through the implementation of the Joint Crediting Mechanism in accordance with Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and the cooperation to develop the power and energy masterplan by JICA. 

During the summit, they talked about how the Rohingya’s presence in Bangladesh has ‘seriously’ impacted the lives and livelihoods of the local populations. The two Prime Ministers agreed that a sustainable, safe, voluntary, and dignified return of the displaced people to Myanmar is the only way to end this crisis and restore peace and stability. 

In the end, both nations hope that the excellent understanding, friendship, and cooperation between our peoples and governments will grow even stronger in the years ahead.

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

Published in The Financial Express [Link]