Before I discuss Bangladesh-US relations, it is to be noted that US has been perceived as a role model for transparent and accountable democracy and freedom of speech including criticisms against the government and street protests against any wrongs of the community are ensured in the country. The US is a “shining star” on a hill and it shines to achieve multi-party democracy in all countries.
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 and economic cooperation. During 2014-15, 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.
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.
Secretary of State Ms. Hillary Clinton’s 20-hour stopover in Dhaka in May 2012 provided a successful diplomacy spotlight on U.S.-Bangladesh relations It also provided an opportunity for quiet discussions about some of the problems which confronted Bangladesh at that time.
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.
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 to join together and 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.
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.
In future, Bangladesh is likely to raise, among others, the following issues with the US to strengthen their bilateral relations:
• 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 in the country.
The strength of relationship between Bangladesh and the US relies on the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances during the last 43 years (2018). In this connection, the departing US Ambassador to Bangladesh Ms. Marcia Bernicat reportedly stated that the United States and Bangladesh shared a vision for an inclusive, secure, and prosperous future.
She further added that the annual U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue helped to advance shared bilateral, regional, and global objectives and gives strategic direction to ongoing and future cooperative activities. The fourth U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue meeting, held in Dhaka on April 30-May 1, 2015, covered a wide variety of topics: democracy and governance, trade and investment, and security cooperation. The delegations worked to deepen cooperation on bilateral, regional and international priorities, including sustainable development, counterterrorism, migration, and climate change. The fifth annual meeting took place in Washington, DC, in 2016.
In other areas, 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.
We all hope during the days of Trump’s presidency of the US will be productive in concrete terms for the people of this country and Bangladesh Prime Minister had invited the US President Trump and his family to Bangladesh.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva