Published:  12:27 AM, 14 June 2019

A success story of economic diplomacy

A success story of economic diplomacy

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reached Japan on last May 28. The object of her Japan visit was to join the summit of Future Asia, but in real sense it was a bilateral tour. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has assured Sheikh Hasina of continuing to support Bangladesh in its efforts to graduate to a developed nation.

The two premiers held a joint news conference after a bilateral meeting and signing of US$2.5 billion official development assistance in Tokyo.We recall with highest regards that saving money from their meals, Japanese students stood beside Bangladesh during our liberation war with Pakistan in 1971. Japan was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh on February 10, 1972.

In a very recent official visit to Japan, the land of the rising sun, Bangladesh's PM Sheikh Hasina invited Japanese investors as Bangladesh is transforming from an agrarian economy into a service and manufacturing sector-led growth trajectory. "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," she wrote before beginning her official tour. "This was transmitted to me from my father," she said, referring to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's relations with Japan.

She said she shares the aspiration of her father "to transform my country to be another Japan." She wrote the historical background to the relations and said: "There is close resemblance between our flags."

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's recent visit to Japan is a sign that the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Japan is headed for newer heights. More importantly, there seems to be a palpable method to this resurgent Asian connection that does not just attempt to restore the balance of power in Asia. The two sides are astutely restructuring regional formulations in the Asian geopolitical theatre through a mix of economic, political and strategic accomplishments.

Even under these conditions, Bangladesh-Japan relations have not only been stable, but in recent years, flourished. While trade remains a mainstay of their relationship, including robust flows of capital and technology, people-to-people exchanges continue to thrive.

Both the countries bilateral relations remain strong. This is underpinned by a consensus on both sides on the importance of bilateral ties. Nevertheless, the significance placed on Tokyo-Dhaka ties within the Japanese government tend to influence the speed and depth of the Bangladesh-Japan relationship.

Bangladesh and Japan have long been historically, culturally and religiously strong bonded nations. The relationship between Bengali and Japanese people is centuries old. Bangladesh's people have a favourable view of Japan, making Bangladesh one of the most pro-Japanese countries in the world.

Japan is Bangladesh's 7th-largest export market as of 2015 and imports from Bangladesh make up sizeable percentage of all Japanese imports. Common imports from Bangladesh to Japan include textiles, leather goods, and shrimp. By 2004, Japan had become Bangladesh's fourth-largest source of foreign direct investment. Japan is also a significant source of development aid to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh and Japan have traditionally maintained a strong relationship, characterised by mutual cooperation, respect, friendship, goodwill and partnership for development in the fields of economic, trade and commerce. The framework of cooperation between Bangladesh and Japan is underpinned by a number of common factors, such as climatic conditions, culture, religion, tradition and history.

Since Bangladesh-Japan relation was established in February 1972, the Government of Bangladesh reciprocated positively by establishing her embassy in Tokyo in July 1972. Exchange of High-level visits: After establishment of diplomatic relations the bilateral relations between the two countries began to grow steadily. There have been successive high level visits from both sides at political and official levels.

Japan is a one of the richest and industrially developed countries of the world. On the contrary, Bangladesh is a developing country with backward economy. Since independence, Bangladesh has been struggling hard to overcome her crisis of development. She has been dependent on the industrially developed countries for aid and assistance to meet her challenging socio-economic problems. Of the industrially developed countries, Japan has become the major source of foreign aid for Bangladesh.

Japan is Bangladesh's 11th largest export market; imports from Bangladesh make up 26% of all Japanese imports from the least developed countries. Common imports from Bangladesh to Japan include leather goods, ready-made garments, and shrimp. By 2004, Japan had become Bangladesh's fourth-largest source of foreign direct investment.

Japan is a significant source of development aid to Bangladesh. Japan-Bangladesh bilateral relations: Japan and Bangladesh have maintained friendly relations since long through economic and technical cooperation, cultural exchanges and mutual visits. Japan is a major development partner for Bangladesh, extending support to the efforts of Bangladesh for its economic and social development.

The two governments signed the Agreement on Technical Cooperation between Japan and Bangladesh on December 8th, 2002 to strengthen further mutual technical cooperation by consolidating its infrastructure and simplifying its process under a single umbrella framework. Mutual support and cooperation in international arena have also produced excellent results and deepened the trust between both governments.

In private economic sector, the bilateral relations are increasingly strengthened and diversified. Agreement between Japan and the People's Republic of Bangladesh concerning the Promotion and Protection of Investment entered into force in 1999.

Since 1972, Bangladesh received US$ 11.3 billion in official development aid from Tokyo, making Japan the largest bilateral development partner of Bangladesh. The 40th official development assistance worth US$2.5 billion was signed during the prime minister's last visit to Japan.

"Our father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, used to say the Japanese flag reminds him of the land of the rising sun and ours recalls the independence gained by sacrificing millions of lives and our green field." "He inspired us to follow the Japanese transition process from agrarian to industrialisation, focusing on farm mechanisation," Bangladesh's PM Hasina said, referring to the strong foundation of bilateral relations laid by Bangabandhu through his historic visit in October 1973.

She said the friendship with Japan was tested in the terror attack in Dhaka in July 2016, which led to the tragic death of seven Japanese nationals. It was during that moment of national anguish and mourning that yet again, the Japanese people and government stood by us and reassured us of Japan's continued support to Bangladesh's development. Japan and Bangladesh are resolved to fight terrorism and extremism together.

Both countries will celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2022. "I am confident that with our shared values and commitment to promoting peace and development, we shall ensure prosperity for our peoples. Our twin flags are a reminder of the umbilical ties that bind us together," Sheikh Hasina said.

During the last three to four years major Japanese companies such as UNIQLO, NTT- Docomo, Ito-Ikado, Seiyu and a host of other smaller companies have invested in Bangladesh. Our export to Japan also improved significantly during the period from US$98 million to well over US$200 million by the first quarter of 2010 -- and is showing a consistent rising trend.

Japanese investment in Bangladesh, which has jumped to fourth position, is well over US$1.5 billion. In 2005, our government also funded the construction of a Shaheed Minar in the Ikebukoru park of Tokyo, which has not only become a cultural heart for the Bangladeshis in Japan but also a symbol of friendship between the two countries.

Security Council and appreciates its role as an observer of SAARC that anchors it to the region as a bona fide partner. The relations with Japan are of priority for us and both countries are already engaged to exploit the high potentials for further deepening and widening cooperation.

Japan is also a major trading partner and source of foreign direct investment. Although the volume of bilateral trade and investment is yet to reach the full potentials, joint and new efforts may substantially raise the level for mutual gains. Bangladesh offers enhanced investment support services, incentives, large market, inexpensive workforce and quality export products as evidenced in JETRO studies recognising the country with lowest cost of doing business and capable of supplying IT products for Japan.

Big businesses like NTT Docomo, UNIQLO, SEIYU, Ito Yokado, NITORI, and Mitsubishi have started or negotiating for doing business in Bangladesh. More such delegations also bear the testimony of the hard work and relentless efforts this mission has put in to motivate and encourage the big Japanese companies to invest and doing business in Bangladesh.

There are more than 10,000 Bangladesh nationals living in Japan and are engaged in various activities including business, employment, research and academic related pursuits. There are also good number of Japanese people living in Bangladesh who, too, are involved in various activities such as business, employment and voluntary services. These expatriate nationals are providing valuable contribution to the strengthening of people to people contact and are building a strong bridge of friendship between Bangladesh and Japan.

In order to harness the potentials and strength of Bangladesh businessmen living in Japan, this Mission helped launch a Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan in 2007. The chamber has already started playing an important role towards increased bilateral trade and investment between the two countries.

Moreover, it has become clear that so long China has built their economy on a strong footing taking the facilities of cheap labor, though Japanese investment was there largely. But with the mass industrial expansion of China has made the Japanese products costly making an adverse impact in the Japanese economy.

Under this situation Japan is now tilting towards South Asia. The advantage of Japan in Bangladesh is that the labor is less costly than India. So, Japan is trying to build up special economic zones here in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is also interested in the matter. So we can expect that the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Japan has signalled the mass Japanese investment in this country.

Thus the land of the rising sun and Bangladesh are walking on the same path for a very closer ties between them.

The writer is a senior citizen, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and
international affairs.

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