Japan never forces any of its friends in South Asia and beyond to make a choice between itself and China, recognising that both are important relationships for any country including Bangladesh, says a Japanese Professor and international affairs expert based in Tokyo.
“We know these are two (China-Japan) important relationships (for all of you),” Dr Masayuki Tadokoro, Professor of International Relations at Keio University, Tokyo told Dhaka Courier.
He said they never ask their friends to “downgrade or downscale” their relations with China but expects them to maintain the very basic principles – freedom of navigation, rule of law and market economy.
Bangladesh and Japan shared the ideas of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific for the stability and prosperity of the international community by building the rules-based order, grounded in common values such as freedom, rule of law and market economy.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic visit to Dhaka in 2016, Bangladesh formally joined the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, a drive which has already drawn the close attention of the world.
Terming China an important trading partner of South Asian countries, Prof Tadokoro said they are not interested in forcing any country to make a choice between Chinese and Japanese idea of assistance.
The former Prof at the National Defense Academy, however, said they would ask their friends to remain “cautious” about those projects if there are conditions or elements which might compromise very basic principles of international order.
He said what Japan has been doing is basically supporting local efforts and Japanese ODA (Official Development Assistance) is totally different from others. Asked what the free and open Indo-Pacific offers for a country like Bangladesh, the Japanese international affairs expert said, “You have to request (on what kind of projects you want).”
“As long as it is a sustainable and feasible project that benefits your country, we’re happy to support it. You’ve to come up with your own idea and own project,” he added.
Responding to another question, Prof Tadokoro said the free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy is not a counter initiative to China-initiated BRI but they are aware of Chinese projects. “We’ve no intention to counter Chinese efforts. As long as it (BRI) is transparent we’ve nothing against it.”
The Japanese Prof said they are trying to promote a certain kind of regional and international order meaning that they want to maintain freedom of navigation, rule of law and most importantly want to see the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean “absolutely critical for basic survival” of all.
“It must not be controlled by any single country. It must be open and accessible to anybody under the existing international laws,” he added.
In August 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his vision for “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” to ensure international public goods.
Japan highlights three key areas to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific – promotion and establishment of the rule of law, freedom of navigation and free trade; pursuit of economic prosperity and commitment for peace and stability, according to Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The history of Japan’s development cooperation embodies the basic stance of Japan as a peace-loving nation, and is a practice of “proactive contribution to people” based on the principle of international cooperation, said the Japanese MoFA.
Bangladesh expressed its intention to advance economic and social development, and Japan expressed its intention to continuously support Bangladesh’s efforts for becoming a middle income country, said the officials here.
Bangladesh extended its gratitude for Japan’s decision to provide a loan of approximately 132.7billion yen for the projects aimed to construct Matarbari Port, Araihazar Special Economic Zone and Dhaka MRT Line 1 as well as to promote energy efficiency and conservation financing.
Greater interest amid robust growth
Bangladesh’s continuous efforts to improve infrastructural facilities and the ease of doing business will encourage Japanese companies to invest in Bangladesh in a bigger way, says a top Japanese business leader.
“Well-established infrastructures are a must with easier administrative procedures,” General Secretary of Japan-Bangladesh Committee for Commercial and Economic Cooperation Kazuo Nishitani told our sister newsagency UNB at his office in Tokyo.
He said people in Bangladesh have a very “high level of seriousness and skills” with stable political and economic growth making Bangladesh a good destination for investment. Nishitani, also Secretary General of Japan International Chamber of Commerce, said Bangladesh’s initiative to have special economic zone for Japanese investors will help attract more investment from Japan.
Talking about broader investment environment in the region, the Japanese business leader said infrastructure is not yet well established in the region with improvement in some countries which could be one of the barriers to investment. He said sometimes the administrative process takes too much time with complicated procedures. “Quick changes in tax policies are a problem, too. It should be stable.”
The Japanese business leader said Japanese companies prefer to invest in those countries where they feel safe and where there is a political and economic stability.
He said many industries will be interested to invest in textile, food industry, automobile and its supporting industries once infrastructure facilities are in place. Nishitani said there is public-private joint dialogue between Bangladesh and Japan and such joint dialogue is working very well.
Since the year 2008, the investment from Japan to Bangladesh has been expanding and the trend is getting stronger, especially after 2011, according to the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka. Japan has been the single biggest bilateral development partner for Bangladesh and the amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Bangladesh from Japan last year hit the US$ 1.8-billion mark.
Changing fast with solid growth
Talking to Dhaka Courier, Ryohei Kasai, a visiting researcher at Centre for South Asian Studies, Gifu Women's University, said Bangladesh, in just 15 years, has exemplified how a country can change fast with solid economic growth. “It’s surprising and it’s very good news.”
He said Japanese people did not have that good an impression about Bangladesh when he had visited Bangladesh 15 years ago. “It was mostly negative things - poverty, flood and violence.”
The Japanese South Asian affairs expert said Japanese people’s overall impression of Bangladesh “has undergone a dramatic change in the last 15 years”.
“I do hope this trend will continue in the coming years. Japan can help Bangladesh achieve its development goals ahead to have more stable and robust economy,” Kasai said.
The government has a vision to advance Bangladesh as a developing country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041. The Japanese expert said it is very important for Bangladesh to move ahead and put in its efforts to make the economic growth sustainable.
Bangladesh’s economy posted record high growth of 8.1 percent and is close to achieving double-digit growth, data shows. Since 2009, Bangladesh’s economy has grown by 188 percent in size and per-capita income has surpassed $1,909, according to available data.