50 years of Bangladesh-Japan ties: A new horizon of ‘heart to heart’ relationship


Published on February 10, 2022
  • Details Image

Ito Naoki:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Bangladesh. As Ambassador of Japan to Bangladesh, I am honoured to celebrate this memorable day with the people of Bangladesh.

On February 10, 1972, Japan recognised Bangladesh as a sovereign country soon after its independence. In the letter addressed to Mr Mohammed Abdus Samad Azad, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Mr Fukuda Takeo, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan, expressed Japan's wish for the prosperity of Bangladesh and its eagerness to promote friendly relations between the two countries. In his reply, Mr Azad expressed his firm determination to rebuild Bangladesh's economy from the liberation war through cooperation with Japan. Now, both countries fulfilled their wish. The friendship and cooperation between Japan and Bangladesh have become more robust than ever, and the economic development of Bangladesh has been remarkable.

The business relationship between Japan and Bangladesh dates back to 1971 when a few Japanese companies started operations in Chattogram. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made a historic visit to Japan in October 1973. In 1974, a business delegation of 24 top executives, headed by Mr NAGANO Shigeo, President of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, toured Bangladesh and visited many places, including Dhaka, Chattogram, Cox's Bazar, Lake Kaptai, Sylhet, Sirajganj and Khulna. Those symbolic visits at the early stages of our relations steered the course of the subsequent cooperation. Japan supported Jamuna Bridge, Sonargaon Hotel, Chittagong Airport, and Ghorasal Fertilizer Plant to name a few.

In particular, the past 10 years witnessed the remarkable bolstering of economic ties between Japan and Bangladesh. H.E. Mr. KISHIDA Fumio, Prime Minster of Japan, praised Bangladesh in his message for the 50th anniversary, saying 'The rapidly developing economy of Bangladesh is an attractive investment destination, and the number of Japanese companies investing in Bangladesh has been increasing year by year recently'. Indeed, the volume of investment from Japan has more than tripled over the period, notwithstanding the appalling terror attack in Dhaka in 2016 and the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the recent JETRO survey, over 60 per cent of Japanese companies are willing to expand their business operations in the coming two years.

I understand that the per capita GDP of Bangladesh will exceed $3,000 shortly. In 2030, the country will join the top 25 economies globally. The economy is truly taking off. I would say the new brand image of Bangladesh is in the making, ?Bengal Tiger with high growth potential and the 21st-century role model of development.

The 50th anniversary of the Japan-Bangladesh diplomatic relationship will elevate the cooperative relationship between the two countries to a new height. JICA's large-scale infrastructure projects will promote the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) initiative, jointly launched by Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and then Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in 2014. In December this year, Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-6 will start its commercial operation, and Bangladesh Special Economic Zone in Araihazar will be ready for international investment. After that, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport Expansion, Matarbari Deep Sea Port and Bangabandhu Railway Bridge will be in line.

The completion of these mega-projects will be a game-changer for Bangladesh. Bangladesh's economic development and prosperity are vital for the stability of the entire Indo-Pacific region, as Bangladesh connects India and ASEAN. In this regard, Bangladesh's current efforts for providing shelters and humanitarian assistance to displaced "Rohingya" from Myanmar are worthy of our appreciation. On January 28 this year, the Government of Japan has decided, as the first donor, to fund a total of US$2 million to UNHCR and WFP for the humanitarian and protection needs of "Rohingya" people on Bhasan Char. Japan will continue working towards early repatriation together with the Government of Bangladesh and the international community. Japan will extend practical cooperation to Bangladesh as a partner to realise a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)" vision of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.

In 2026, Bangladesh will graduate from the least developed countries (LDC) status and aims to become a developed country in 2041 by achieving "Vision 2041". Japan welcomes such ambition and work together to achieve the vision. However, in order to do so, we believe Bangladesh needs to address those challenges to improve the business climate, that include delays in custom clearance, various taxations, restrictions on telegraphic transfer of import payments, discrimination of export incentives between domestic and foreign companies, improvement of the environment in EPZs and SEZs. The country also needs to cope with newly-emerging challenges. Industries must be diversified. Introducing new technologies is necessary for productivity growth, and workforce development with skills will also be essential. Young and talented Bangladeshis should be ahead of the curve of innovation. Expanded FDIs will help facilitate the economy to get over those challenges. Japan will work with Bangladesh to overcome these challenges to bring about a win-win partnership for expanding trade and investment.

A saying goes, "A friend in need is a friend indeed." As Mr Kishida Fumio, Prime Minister of Japan, emphasises in his message for the 50th anniversary, Japan has always been a true friend of Bangladesh in difficult times. It has not changed at all, even during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Japan became one of the first countries to start providing vaccines to Bangladesh in July last year. Until today, about 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and budget support of 75 billion yen (about 70million USD) have been given to Bangladesh. Japan will continuously cooperate with Bangladesh to overcome this Covid-19 pandemic.

Japan will also make the utmost effort to deepen the mutual understanding and exchange of the two peoples. To that end, we look forward to working "hand in hand" with the government and the people of Bangladesh. Let's further develop our "Comprehensive Partnership" to a more strategic one. In this milestone year, Japan looks forward to the new era of Japan-Bangladesh relationship and reassures its readiness to work together towards our more sustainable and prosperous future.

Writer: Ambassador of Japan to Bangladesh

Source: The FInancial Express