US Emphasis on The Bilateral Partnership

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Bangladesh recently conducted its 12th parliamentary elections with the participation of 28 registered political parties. According to media reports, Bangladesh Awami League won 223 seats, and opposition parties including Jatiya Party and independent candidates together won 75 seats. In its post-election statement (on January 8, 2024), the US State Department mentioned that “The United States notes the Awami League party won a majority of seats in the January 7, 2024 parliamentary elections.” This underscores the recognition of the Awami League’s victory in the recently held election which is positive in mapping directions of Bangladesh-US relations.

The statement also reads that “The United States condemns violence that took place during elections and in the months leading up to it. We encourage the government of Bangladesh to credibly investigate reports of violence and to hold perpetrators accountable.” The people of Bangladesh did not forget the fire incident in Benapole express that resulted in four deaths and injured many. We also witnessed violent activities before the elections, including the burning of more than 100 buses, and killings of people. The United States’ concern of the violence before, during and after the election are appreciated. It is also encouraging that the United States urged “all political parties to reject violence” as violence cannot bring any positive outcome. The US has made its position unequivocal in condemning violence in achieving political objectives.

It is also worthwhile to mention that in its statement, US State Department highlighted that “Looking ahead, the United States remains committed to partnering with Bangladesh to advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, to supporting human rights and civil society in Bangladesh, and to deepening our people-to-people and economic ties.”

There are four crucial dimensions in this statement. First, the US has recognized the growing geopolitical importance of Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific region. In this case, promoting maritime partnership between Bangladesh and USA in the Indo-Pacific region becomes imperative for the pursuit of common aspirations. Second, the US also expressed interest in supporting human rights and civil society in Bangladesh which is positive in the comprehensive development of Bangladesh-US relations.

Third, “deepening people-to-people ties” has also been highlighted in the statement. In fact, people-to-people contact matters in international diplomacy. In the last decade, there was an impressive development in people-to-people contacts between Bangladesh and the US. For instance, according to data from the US Embassy in Dhaka, during the past decade, Bangladeshi students in the US have increased by more than 300%, from 3,314 students during the 2011-2012 academic years to 13,563 students during the 2022-2023 academic years. In the words of US ambassador Peter Haas, “Bangladeshi students continue to make impressive achievements across US campuses.”

The number of Bangladeshi diasporas to the US has also increased tremendously in the last two decades. According to the data of Pew Research, the Bangladeshi population in the United States was 57,000 in the year 2000, which increased to 208,000 in 2019. Such impressive development in people-to-people ties need to be continued in the days to come.

Fourth, it is also encouraging that the statement emphasized the promotion of economic ties. Notably, in 2008, the volume of bilateral trade in goods amounted to $4,216.5 million, which increased to $14,115.5m in 2022. In the next five years, bilateral trade and investment can be increased for mutual benefits. The US investment in the blue economy of Bangladesh needs to be encouraged.

This piece also notes that in the recently held Bangladesh election, the number of total voters was 11,93,33,157 (male voters: 6,05,92,169; female voters: 5,87,40,140; third gender voters: 853). A record number of over 1,900 candidates, representing some 28 political parties took part in the elections, where all the candidates had free access to people and there was no hindrance in campaigning on their own behalf. However, there was a visible absence of some political parties in the elections which had an impact on turnout in the elections.

The US statement is not just a routine diplomatic communication; it symbolizes a friendly and pragmatic diplomatic gesture, laying the groundwork for future collaboration and mutual interest between the two nations. It signifies a commitment to constructive engagement, where the United States and Bangladesh seek to navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities together. The statement underscores a relationship built on shared values, geopolitical significance, and a vision for a secure and prosperous future.

The statement of the US State Department becomes very important in shaping future Bangladesh-US relations. And the untapped potentials in Bangladesh-US partnership needs to be explored and harnessed in the next five years for the betterment of the people of both nations. At a bilateral, regional and global scale, Bangladesh-US partnership becomes necessary in the formation of a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based multilateral order.

– Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and Md. Shariful Islam, PhD is an adjunct Research Fellow of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA) and an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

Published in Dhaka Tribune [Link]