What Does Joe Biden’s Letter Mean for Bangladesh-US Partnership?

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The 2024 national election in Bangladesh was one of the most eventful elections in the history of Bangladesh. Very few elections in Bangladesh have received so much worldwide interest. The year prior to the election was full of statements and concerns from Western countries regarding the democratic process in Bangladesh. The United States of America was the most outspoken compared to the other nations. In addition, the USA introduced measures such as imposing additional visa restrictions on those who pose a threat to the democratic process in Bangladesh. Throughout the year 2023, the general narrative was that the US was skeptical about Bangladesh government’s ability to maintain a peaceful political environment in the country during elections. However, the common narrative proved incorrect when Bangladesh successfully conducted a free and fair election in a very peaceful manner. In this context, the US State Department issued a press release on 8 January 2024 which also signified the interest of USA to work with the Sheikh Hasina government. It is also worthy to note that the President of the United States, Joe Biden, sent a letter to Bangladesh’s newly elected Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, expressing willingness to work together and strengthen bilateral ties. The letter from Joe Biden holds significance for several reasons in Bangladesh-US relations. This piece investigates the possible implications of Present Joe Biden’s letter to PM Sheikh Hasina.

First, the letter offers a robust endorsement of the democratic process in Bangladesh. Given the US’s skepticism towards the democratic process in Bangladesh, it would not extend a warm welcome to the newly elected administration unless the country is comfortable with the state of democracy and the election in Bangladesh. Thus, the common narrative regarding the US’s concern over Bangladesh’s election is nullified by the letter.

Second, Biden’s letter alleviates the mutual unease that arose between the United States and Bangladesh both during and before the 2024 election. In response to the issue of discomfort, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh stated nothing of concern and highlighted the positive nature of the letter, which emphasized the establishment of a new cooperation between Dhaka and Washington. Thus, Biden’s letter is redefining Bangladesh-US diplomatic relations.

Third, Bangladesh has successfully restored its global reputation as a country that upholds democratic principles and the rule of law. The persistent election boycott by certain opposition parties and their ambiguous narrative sparked international apprehension over the state of the rule of law in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, President Biden’s greeting of the newly elected Prime Minister of Bangladesh disregarded any concerns expressed by opposition groups. Moreover, the letter serves as evidence that Bangladesh upholds the notion of the rule of law since the US does not support any government that is intolerant towards democracy.

Fourth, the letter provides sufficient evidence of Bangladesh’s increasing geopolitical importance in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean region. In his letter to Sheikh Hasina, Joe Biden mentioned that his country wants to partner with Bangladesh for a free and open Indo-Pacific. It is important to carefully understand the wording of Biden. Biden wrote, ‘shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific’. Thus, Biden wanted to imply that Bangladesh and the US have a common vision towards the Indo-Pacific, and his country wants the support of Bangladesh to achieve the goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific which underscores the increasing importance of Bangladesh to the United States.

Fifth, Biden asserted his government’s desire to support Bangladesh’s ambitious economic goals. This assertion is a massive development in the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the US. Bangladesh is now growing at an unprecedented rate. At this time, Bangladesh needs support from foreign businesses and investors. Biden’s assertion to support Bangladesh’s economy will deepen the economic relationship between the US and Bangladesh, and at the same time, it might enhance cooperation among Bangladeshi and US business firms.

Sixth, Biden mentioned cooperation in climate change and the energy sector. Since Bangladesh is a climate-vulnerable country, the US support in the climate change sector would strengthen Bangladesh’s climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Additionally, Bangladesh may garner US support in the global climate forums. On the other hand, Bangladesh requires sustainable and sufficient energy to maintain its economic growth. Garnering technological and financial support from the US in the energy sector will help Bangladesh revolutionize its power and energy arena. It should be mentioned that the US is one of the largest contributors to the natural gas and petroleum sector of Bangladesh.

Seventh, one of the main significances of Biden’s letter is the explicit declaration of US assistance for the Rohingya refugees. The presence of Rohingya refugees poses a significant security concern for Bangladesh. Biden’s affirmation of supporting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh presents a fresh opportunity for Rohingya diplomacy. Bangladesh should pursue the US government to accelerate the repatriation process.

Finally, Biden asserted that the people-to-people connection between the United States and Bangladesh serves as the foundation basis for the relationship between the two nations. Thus, the US government emphasize the public support for the Bangladesh-US bilateral relationship. This also means the role of Bangladeshi migrants in US in deepening bilateral ties between the two countries.

After the 2024 election, many countries congratulated Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. However, the welcome letter from the US President seems to be a strategic paper for the renewed diplomatic relations between the two nations. The letter represents Bangladesh as an important geopolitical partner of the US and maps out the key areas of cooperation between the two counterparts. Bangladesh should utilize this opportunity to enhance its economic and political ties with the US for the betterment of the people of these two countries.

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

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