Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Thailand: Boosting Bilateral Cooperation

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will pay a six-day official visit to Thailand from 24 April 2024 at the invitation of her Thai counterpart Srettha Thavisin to strengthen ties between the two countries. In this context, it becomes imperative to review the Dhaka-Bangkok ties and map out the importance of the visit.

If one looks back history, Bangladesh-Thailand relations date back on 5 October 1972 following Thailand’s recognition to Bangladesh. Since then, Bangladesh and Thailand have been enjoying excellent bilateral relationship. One can argue that the bilateral relationship is deeply rooted in religious, cultural and linguistic linkages of the two countries. In fact, shared commitment to democracy, development, international peace and security has brought the two countries to work closely in many areas of mutual interest at bilateral and multilateral scale.

Bangladesh and Thailand celebrated 50 years of its diplomatic relations in 2022. It will not be wrong to claim that after came to power in 2009, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reinvigorated ties with the neighboring countries, including Thailand. For instance, the Prime Minister of Thailand Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra paid an official visit to Bangladesh on 21-22 December 2012 which was the first official visit by a Thai Head of Government to Bangladesh in almost a decade. It is worthy to note that the Thai Prime Minister led a 108-member official and business delegation, which included, among others, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Commerce, Minister of Industry and other Ministers. Thai Prime Minister’s visit imparted significant boost to the friendly relations between Bangladesh and Thailand.

The upcoming visit of PM Hasina becomes significant for ten specific reasons. First, it will be a historic visit as it will be the first-ever visit at the level of head of government from Bangladesh to Thailand since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972. Thus, the visit will create new windows of cooperation between Dhaka and Bangkok.

Second, the visit will work as a milestone in deepening ties in different dimensions, including diplomatic. It is expected that Bangladesh and Thailand will sign an agreement on visa exemption for official passport holders which will be imperative to deepen Dhaka-Bangkok ties at diplomatic level.

Third, it is expected that there will be a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on energy cooperation. In fact, ensuring energy security becomes a precondition for the continuation of development projects and life standards in Bangladesh.

Fourth, an MoU on tourism sector cooperation is also expected to be signed. Bangladesh can take Thai support and expertise to improve the tourism sector of Bangladesh.

Fifth, the visit also becomes imperative to deepen Bangladesh-Thailand economic relations. For instance, the volume of Bangladeshi exports to Thailand in 2022 was worth US$83.1 million, representing a 53 % increase while the import volume was worth US$ 1. 17 billion. Thailand offers a duty free, quota free facility for selected Bangladeshi products. There exists Joint Trade Committee (JTC) between Bangladesh and Thailand to map out new avenues of trade. Thus, the visit can provide an opportunity to discuss about signing a free trade agreement (FTA) to strengthen bilateral trade. The visit can also be imperative to attract more Thai investment in the infrastructure development initiatives of Bangladesh, the agro-processing sector, the health and pharmaceutical sectors.

Sixth, according to media reports, around 150, 000 Bangladeshis visit Thailand for trade, tourism or medical purposes every year. Thus, the visit can be an opportunity to strengthen people-to-people contacts between Bangladesh and Thailand.

Seventh, Thailand is an important member of ASEAN. So, Thailand can play a crucial role in case of Rohingya refugee repatriation. So, this visit can provide an opportunity to seek support from Thailand regarding Rohingya refugee repatriation in Myanmar.

Eighth, the visit can also be utilized to showcase the growing geopolitical and geo-economic importance of Bangladesh to the BIMSTEC countries, including Thailand. In fact, Bangladesh can be a regional trading and connectivity hub where Thailand can be an important beneficiary and actor.

Ninth, the visit will also strengthen Bangladesh’s multilateral engagement. Bangladesh Prime Minister is expected to attend the 80th Session of the Commission for UNESCAP where she is likely to deliver a speech at UNESCAP on April 25. On the same day, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Armida Salsiah Alisjabana will call on the Prime Minister. Thus, the visit will provide an opportunity for Bangladesh to focus Bangladesh’s achievements on different sectors.

Finally, Bangladesh and Thailand can also broaden cooperation over blue economy. Thailand is good at marine fisheries. Bangladesh lacks deep marine fisheries ships and marine technology. In this case, Bangladesh can take technological cooperation from Thailand to explore its untapped blue economy potentials.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam 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.

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