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Will PM Hasina’s visit to Japan in April cement a strategic partnership?

Published : Tuesday, 18 April, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 564
Fumiko Yamada

Will PM Hasina’s visit to Japan in April cement a strategic partnership?

Will PM Hasina’s visit to Japan in April cement a strategic partnership?

Bangladesh's ongoing construction of a deep-sea port in the south appears to be a critical point for Japan and India, with the QUAD members looking to challenge China's sway. The Port of Matarbari, a Japan-funded project, will be located north of Sonadia on the Bay of Bengal. China was previously expected to construct a port in this prime location, but the plan was abandoned a few years ago. India and Japan have joined hands to counter China. Both countries are building a deep-sea port in Bangladesh, and this will counter China's String of Pearls strategy to encircle India.

India, Bangladesh and Japan have decided to explore the possibility of a trilateral to unlock potential of landlocked Northeast through the Chittagong Port and Tokyo-funded deep-sea port in Bangladesh's Matarbari. The decision was taken on Wednesday following two-days of talks between ministers from India and Bangladesh and top Japanese officials in Agartala, the capital of Tripura. The meeting focussed on connectivity and industrial value chains. The three countries decided to promote capacity building and soft power initiatives as India pressed Japan to increase investments in the Northeastern region over and above current projects.

Greater involvement of Japan will pave the way for industrial value chains and a comprehensive connectivity development of Northeast India and Bangladesh. Japan is investing in the region, including in the deep-sea port at Matarbari in Bangladesh, which will connect the landlocked region with the Bay of Bengal.

Amidst these, Bangladesh and Japan are likely to sign 8-10 agreements and MoUs during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's upcoming visit to Japan as the two countries are willing to take the bilateral relations to a new height. Although trade and investment have dominated Japan and Bangladesh so far, defense sector is joining this time. In addition to trade and investment, defense cooperation will also be important in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Japan. Both the governments of Bangladesh and Japan hope that this visit will further strengthen the friendly relations between the two countries. Japan wants to elevate the bilateral ties with Bangladesh to a "strategic" level, adding more elements like defence and security areas to the growing relations.

Sheikh Hasina will visit Japan from April 25 to April 28.  A letter of intent was signed between the two countries to open the field of defense cooperation during that visit recently. Japan, like the US and Europe, is working on separate strategies for India and the Pacific region. Along with trade and investment, the country wants to expand its activities in the field of defense. Bangladesh's long-standing relationship with Japan can be called 'Comprehensive Relationship or Comprehensive Partnership'. They want to develop it into a strategic partnership. To do that, defense cooperation will be an important adjunct. There are many other things. This will be an 'important aspect' of this visit. Agreement with Japan is also to be made for the desired cooperation. Due to lack of time, only the 'Letter of Intent' will be signed as the contract issues cannot be finalized this time. The signing of the memorandum of understanding means a general and preliminary agreement that the two countries are interested in further cooperation in this matter. An idea of what that collaboration might cover can be found there. Perhaps more concrete agreements will be signed between the two countries in the future based on this.

Ito Naoki said, "I think we can focus on more cooperation in defense and security. And we are looking at the possibility of exporting defense equipment to Bangladesh. A Japanese company has also shown interest in supplying defense equipment." During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Japan in 2014, there was talk of elevating the relationship between the two countries to the level of 'integrated partnership'. The then Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe visited Dhaka that year. It was then that the field of stronger economic partnership was prepared under 'Big-B'. In international relations terms, the highest level of ties in the relationship between two or more countries is a 'strategic partnership'. Comprehensive partnership (comprehensive partnership) is a bilateral relationship with all the pros and cons. A strategic partnership contemplates a larger alliance beyond the bilateral.

Japan's cooperation will be sought for the repatriation of the Rohingyas as usual during the Prime Minister's visit. Myanmar has very good relations with Japan. Now, since the military junta came to Myanmar, there seems to be a slight decline. Still, they have some influence if we consider their investments, other things. If it can be used to assist us in repatriation, I would certainly like it. Japan can also be offered a tripartite initiative like China regarding Bangladesh-Myanmar. Myanmar's relationship with Japan is good, Bangladesh's relationship with Japan is good. So why is he not taking a tripartite initiative? So that the repatriation of Rohingyas can be expedited, the Prime Minister can highlight the matter.

The writer is a research associate at the Australian University of Melbourne

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