2023: Bangladesh’s Journey of Diplomacy, Success and Challenges

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The year of 2023 proved to be a pivotal year for Bangladesh’s diplomacy and foreign policy, as the nation actively engaged with great powers and global institutions from different corners of the world. Throughout the year, Bangladesh demonstrated noteworthy success in multiple diplomatic arenas. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, embarked on a significant state visit to Japan, unveiling a fresh dimension in Bangladesh’s relations with this global economic powerhouse. This diplomatic outreach showcased Bangladesh’s efforts to diversify its global partnerships.

Furthermore, Bangladesh’s diplomatic accomplishment shone brightly during the Prime Minister’s visit to India. India extended an invitation to Bangladesh to participate in the G20 summit, an opportunity that the Prime Minister clutched. This move not only underlined the nation’s growing regional influence but also showcased Bangladesh’s proactive approach to engaging with major global platforms.

The Bangladesh Prime Minister’s active participation extended to the BRICS Summit held in South Africa, signaling the nation’s commitment to engaging with emerging economies and contributing to discussions on critical global issues. Another significant diplomatic endeavor involved an official visit to Italy at the invitation of the World Food Organisation, highlighting Bangladesh’s dedication to addressing global challenges, particularly those related to food security.

Equally noteworthy was the Prime Minister’s visit to Qatar, a move that emphasized Bangladesh’s strategic efforts to foster stronger ties with influential players in the Middle East. The diplomatic outreach extended further to Saudi Arabia, demonstrating Bangladesh’s commitment to cultivating partnerships in the region and contributing to the discourse on regional stability.

In her role as the top diplomat of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister took center stage in 2023, effectively disseminating the narrative of Bangladesh’s development, prosperity, and achievements across the global landscape. Through her strategic engagements, she not only highlighted the geopolitical significance of Bangladesh but also sought to leverage these platforms to enhance the efficacy of Bangladesh’s diplomatic endeavors. As the head of the government, her speeches and active participation in various diplomatic forums played a pivotal role in steering Bangladesh’s diplomacy in the year 2023.

A landmark moment in Bangladesh’s diplomatic orbit was the articulation of the Indo-Pacific Outlook declaration in April 2023. This declaration, a manifestation of Bangladesh’s vision for the Indo-Pacific region, conveyed a resolute commitment to an open, peaceful, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The declaration underscored Bangladesh’s determination to foster collaboration among all nations and stakeholders, leading the region towards shared prosperity. The emphasis on inclusivity within the Indo-Pacific Outlook stands out as a defining feature, setting Bangladesh’s approach apart and emphasizing a collective and cooperative future for the region.

The Prime Minister’s active engagement in diplomatic forums and the formulation of significant declarations such as the Indo-Pacific Outlook signal a proactive and forward-thinking stance in Bangladesh’s foreign policy. The commitment to an inclusive approach not only aligns with Bangladesh’s diplomatic values but also positions the nation as a constructive and collaborative force on the global stage. The decision is indicative of Bangladesh’s strategic vision and its proactive efforts to shape a positive and inclusive bearing for the region and the world at large.

Bangladesh assumed a prominent and impactful role in the realm of UN diplomacy throughout 2023, underlining its commitment to addressing global challenges. The Prime Minister, through various platforms, including the United Nations General Assembly, adeptly showcased Bangladesh’s concerns regarding the issues facing the developing world. Her speeches not only brought attention to the challenges confronting nations in the Global South but also served to elevate Bangladesh’s international standing by highlighting its role and achievements.

A significant diplomatic focus for Bangladesh in 2023 was its concerted effort to address the Rohingya crisis. The delicate situation within Myanmar posed complex challenges, prompting Bangladesh to intensify its diplomatic endeavors. The Prime Minister, maneuvering this byzantine landscape, employed diplomatic channels to draw attention to the crisis and advocate for its resolution. In collaboration with China, Bangladesh initiated a pilot project aimed at facilitating the repatriation of Rohingyas. While the project did not come to fruition in 2023, the mere initiation of such efforts underscored Bangladesh’s proactive stance and commitment to finding diplomatic solutions to humanitarian crises.

The involvement of China in the pilot project signals the importance of international collaboration in addressing complex regional issues. Bangladesh’s diplomatic engagement on the Rohingya crisis, despite challenges and setbacks, demonstrated a commitment to seeking feasible and viable solutions and engaging with the international community to address the plight of displaced populations.

Therefore, Bangladesh’s diplomatic endeavors in the UN and other forums during 2023 not only showcased the nation’s concerns for global issues but also demonstrated a pragmatic approach in addressing regional challenges, particularly the Rohingya crisis. The proactive stance and collaboration with international partners reflect Bangladesh’s commitment to charting complex diplomatic terrain for the greater good of those affected by crises in the region.

In 2023, Bangladesh has actively sought to assert itself in the complex arena of world politics, marking a notable presence in crucial geopolitical situations. The nation has navigated the Ukraine war with a strategic and neutral stance, emphasizing its commitment to a principled approach. In the Gaza conflict, Bangladesh has taken a robust stance in favor of the Palestinians, vociferously advocating for resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly and various international forums to address the alleged cruelty and war crimes committed against the Palestinian population. Bangladesh, along with four other nations, has gone a step further by announcing a collaborative effort to gather evidence of potential war crimes perpetrated by Israel.

This diplomatic activism underscores Bangladesh’s commitment to ethical foreign policy and human rights, leveraging its influence on the international stage. The geopolitical and economic significance of Bangladesh in South Asia, the Bay of Bengal region, and broader Asian contexts has been accentuated, recognizing its pivotal role in regional dynamics. Additionally, the nation’s diplomatic landscape is influenced by the substantial presence of major global powers within its borders.

Simultaneously, Bangladesh has unveiled a series of impactful megaprojects in 2023, including the Dhaka Metro Rail, Dhaka Airport Terminal 3, the Karnaphuli Tunnel, Dhaka Elevated Expressway, Padma Rail Link Project, and Dhaka Cox’s Bazar Railway and others. Recognizing the integral link between diplomacy and economic prosperity, Bangladesh has garnered significant cooperation, particularly from Japan, India and China. Japan’s substantial assistance in constructing Terminal-3 at Dhaka Airport and the Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge has not only strengthened bilateral ties but has also contributed to Bangladesh’s growing global standing.

As a consequence, Bangladesh’s relations with key players such as Japan, the United States, China, India, Russia, and the European Union have witnessed a notable deepening. Despite some divergence with the Western world on certain internal issues, particularly related to elections, there is a discernible trend toward increased assurances of cooperation as elections draw near. This delicate approach reflects Bangladesh’s adept diplomatic maneuvering, guiding its internal affairs while fostering international collaboration for mutual benefit and regional stability.

The internal dynamics shaping the politics of any country are undeniably rooted in the unique societal realities and the populace therein. The forces influencing the political landscape are intrinsic to the specific challenges faced by each country, and any external interference or attempts to exert influence have historically proven futile, a lesson vividly evident in Bangladesh’s past experiences. Consequently, as Bangladesh prepares for upcoming elections, a diplomatic upheaval ensues, gradually finding its equilibrium. Amidst this, the significance of Bangladesh in international relations and its bilateral ties with various countries underscore the growing emphasis on national interests and collaborative efforts.

Examining the negotiations within European Union countries in 2023, matters such as the acquisition of Airbus and parallel discussions with the United States regarding Boeing purchases were prominent. This underscores the paramount role that economic considerations and national interests play in diplomatic interactions, as evidenced by the multifaceted engagements. The successes achieved in Bangladesh’s diplomacy during 2023 reflect a strategic alignment with these principles.

In the current global landscape, characterized by increasing complexity, diplomatic acumen assumes heightened importance. The unexpected events of 2022, including the Ukraine war and the Gaza war, demonstrate the unpredictability of geopolitical dynamics. The emergence of groups like Hamas, with no state power, orchestrating impactful attacks serves as a stark reminder of the effective armed resistance to prolonged sufferings of the Palestinians. Moreover, the disproportionate and unjust response from Israel in the face of such threats brings to light the complexities and brutalities inherent in modern conflicts. Consequently, it is imperative to fortify diplomacy, elevate its significance, and accord it a greater priority to maneuver the complex realities of the contemporary world.

The evident antagonism between China and the United States adds a layer of complexity to global dynamics, and the summits between these two nations, while generally positive, also bring unforeseen developments. This increased entanglement characterizes the world in 2023, a reality Bangladesh has navigated adeptly. As a new government assumes power in 2024, it inherits the responsibility of governing the state and conducting diplomacy. Drawing lessons from the challenges faced in 2023, the year 2024 is poised to witness a heightened emphasis on diplomacy and foreign policy to safeguard Bangladesh’s national interests, foster prosperity, and propel development.

The ongoing competition and rivalries among global and regional powers for influence over Bangladesh is anticipated to persist. However, Bangladesh’s proactive engagement in global diplomacy is expected to endure, reflecting a leadership role within the developing world. Despite this, the country may encounter challenges in its relations with certain powers, particularly from the Western world. Maintaining the fundamental principle of Bangladesh’s foreign policy—”Friendship to all, malice towards none”—and upholding a balanced position will be crucial. Adhering to these principles not only safeguards against any external interference or targeting but also serves as the cornerstone of Bangladesh’s continual success in its foreign policy in the coming days.

– Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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