Hilary Clinton’s visit to Bangladesh: A long-waited visit

Hilary Clinton’s visit to Bangladesh: A long-waited visit

The US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to visit three Asian countries—China, India and Bangladesh— from 3rd May and is scheduled reach Bangladesh on 5th May for a 24-hrs.. The visit is a long-waited one and is to be welcomed.

The Secretary of State is no stranger to Bangladesh as she visited the country in 1996 as being the First Lady at the invitation of the Grameen Bank. Upon her return she wrote moving descriptions of her visit and encounters with rural women. She is popular among people of Bangladesh because of her continued support for the country.

Bangladesh-US relations are many-sided and cover almost all areas of bilateral relations. The regular contacts between the US administration and Bangladesh governments continue at various levels to grow in dimension and depth. Bilateral relationship is based on understanding of each other’s interest and benefit.

The relations reached its peak when President Clinton visited Bangladesh on 20, March, 2000 for a day, the first ever visit by the US President and the visit re-energised bilateral relations on a new direction.
A centerpiece of the bilateral relationship is a U.S. aid program. However both the countries have recently given more emphasis on economic cooperation rather than on aid and assistance. The cooperation and assistance provided by the US all these years and, in return; the support given by Bangladesh to the US has greatly helped in cementing the bond between the two countries.
Last October Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni met the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and underscored the need of government’s commitment to further strengthening bilateral relations.

This was the first foreign ministerial-level meeting since dissatisfaction was expressed by the US over removal of noble laureate Muhammad Yunus from the position of Managing Director of the Grameen Bank..

The US has already provided more than $ 5.8 billion over the years to Bangladesh. On 9th April, the USAID committed $ 40 million grant over the next five years to support the health sector development programme of Bangladesh.

On economic relations, the potentials are yet to be blossomed. The total investment by the US entrepreneurs is only $1 billion by February 2012 and it could be much higher.

During 2010-11, Bangladesh export earning from the US stood at US$ 4.59 billion constituting 25% per cent of total exports and imported from the US goods worth about
$1.09 billion.

It is recently reported that after a long delay and negotiations, the two countries are to sign the Trade Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (TICFA) which will be a forum between the US and Bangladesh on trade and investment.

The US policy towards Bangladesh as reported in 2009 by the then US Ambassador is based Three Ds—Democracy, Development and Denial of Space for Terrorism and continues to be so.

Bangladesh agrees with the broad thrust of the policy as Bangladesh practices multi-party democracy and its foreign policy stands on two pillars—security and development.

However the discordant between the two mainstream parties—AL and BNP— does not reflect sound democratic norms and sustainability. The tension has given rise to political instability which may be of serious concern to the US Secretary of State because the US wants political stability in Bangladesh otherwise violent extremist organizations will raise their ugly heads in the country. The US is interested to ensure that the election in 2014 is inclusive and participated by all parties.

Bangladesh government continues to take stern action against violent extremist organisations within the country and has adopted a zero tolerance towards terrorists. Laws have been enacted to prevent money-laundering. However, the local and overseas Human Rights Organisations expressed concerns on the “forced disappearances” of its nationals. The US Secretary of State may not be comfortable in such an environment where human rights are violated.

Bangladesh geopolitical position is hugely important for the US because Bangladesh shares borders with India and a resurgent democratic Myanmar and is a near neighbour to China. Myanmar has become the “darling” of every country in 2012 because of its richness in natural resources. The US wants an arc of Asian-Pacific countries within its loop ( India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the Philippines) to counter eventually the political, economic and military dominance of China in the Asia-Pacific region.

However Bangladesh has to be sensitive to the concerns of China and may play a balancing role between the US and China and should not be seen to be within the camp of the US against China.

The US Ambassador Dan Mozena in early 2012 reportedly said at his maiden press conference at the American Club in Dhaka that his country was considering to reach a strategic partnership with Bangladesh during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Dhaka. “This is my goal, this is my dream,” Washington considers Bangladesh ‘a huge country’ and an immensely important one, Mozena added. “Bangladesh is also a critical player for global security and food security.”

Strategic partnership is based on long-term shared strategic vision, based on convergence of strategic interests, mutual trust, confidence in each other and respect for each others strategic sensitivities. The US has concluded such agreements with India.

On 19th April, both sides for the first time exchanged views on the ongoing engagement in the areas of (a) counter-terrorism, (b) disaster management, (c) maritime security and (d) UN peacekeeping operations.. The US delegation was led by Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew J Shapiro while Bangladesh delegation was led by Additional Foreign Secretary.

Bangladesh is likely to raise, among others, the following issues with the US Secretary of State:
• Bangladesh may get duty-free and quota-free access for its garment products into the U.S. market as a LDC and currently has to pay US tariff 15-30% per cent, although the US offers duty free facilities to the Caribbean and African LDCs.
• Bangladesh needs to get assistance from US Millennium Fund (Millennium Challenge Account) so as to help achieve Millennium Development Goals.
• The US may increase the Official Development Assistance to reach the UN target of 0.7% of GDP as it has been amongst the lowest (in 2010, only 0.20% ) in terms of meeting the UN target
• Bangladesh is the most vulnerable country due to global climate change and needs funds from the US for adaptation and mitigation programmes.
• A convicted killer of Bangabandhu Lt Col (retd) M Rashed Chowdhury who has been living in the US is sent back to Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Foreign Minister sometime ago reportedly sent letter through diplomatic channel to the Secretary of State to seek help to deport the killer to Bangladesh to meet justice.

The strength of relationship between Bangladesh and the US relies on the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances during the last forty years.

Bangladesh cannot remain outside the influence of the US. The presence of US multinationals in the country is visible. The Coca-Cola, KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s culture have reached in Bangladesh. Television shows and Hollywood films have carried US values and aspirations into millions of homes.

Finally on Bangladesh-US relationship, in January, the US Ambassador Mozena reportedly said: “America’s partnership with Bangladesh is multifaceted… I have come to Bangladesh to further broaden, deepen and strengthen this partnership, and I commit myself to do everything that I can to this end.”

We all hope the visit of the US Secretary of State will be productive in concrete terms for the people of this country.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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