Bangladesh needs to have more choices in terms of any proposal, specially financial proposals that will give it a better bargaining point, according to a Japanese expert.

"We have to be very robust in creating such proposals to make Bangladesh have much more free choices. It is better if you have two or more choices. In fact we both need to have more choices," Dr Ken Jimbo, Managing Director, International House of Japan and Professor of Keio University told UNB in an interview recently.

Highlighting Japan's new plan for Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), he said Japan is offering 51 items without any condition attached and Bangladesh can pick and choose which is attractive.

The Japanese expert who served as Special Advisor to the Minister of Defense Taro Kono, Japan Ministry of Defense (2020) and Senior Advisor, the National Security Secretariat (2018-20) said they are happy to consider Chinese proposals if those are rule-based and in line with international standards.

"If there is one proposal on the project finance coming from China which is very attractive and there is no alternative proposal to be made by Japan or any other countries, Bangladesh may have no choice but to take Chinese money," he mentioned.

Responding to a question, Prof Ken said the FOIP definitely has competitive elements together with cooperation elements.

"In Japanese version, you can find a lot of cooperation elements, almost predominantly in the many of the items that we have outlined," he added.

The Japanese expert said they need to cultivate capabilities and capacity building in terms of defence and security.

"Let's create the kind of platform of capability which enables us to resist if there is any kind of potential challenges that may arise so that we are able to jointly counter. That is the baseline," he observed.

Asked about the domestic scenario, Prof Ken laid emphasis on maintaining stability that will create the international community's confidence about the stable governance in Bangladesh.

"And this is, I think, truly the important thing for the investors' mindset, and the people's mindset to engage in Bangladesh more actively," he said.

Prof Ken said, "I think that to demonstrate Bangladesh as a stable nation, democracy is a costly process because you have to listen to people, you have to go through the different interests of the people to be represented in the government."

Responding to a question on FOIP, he said the Japanese government has been promoting the concept of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific since a decade ago, officially since 2016.

Prof Ken has said various countries around the world are paying great attention to the Indo-Pacific concept and enhancing their engagements and collaboration in the Indo-Pacific region.

In this regard, he welcomed the announcement of "the Indo-Pacific Outlook" of Bangladesh by the government of Bangladesh in April this year.

Prof Ken noted that the concept of Indo-Pacific emerged in the 2010s as the regional concepts of Asia had evolved since the 1980s.

Having said that, he explained that the first officialised version of the Indo-Pacific policy can be traced back to the speech of former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe which was made at the TICAD VI in Nairobi, Kenya in August 2016.

"So this remains to be an important Japanese regional engagement concept as of today," said the expert, adding that the contestation of the US-China great power rivalry is expanding the influence in many other regions, as well.

He said Japan has been proposing the new plan with so many items on the economic connectivity, governance reform, security cooperation, and the rule-based international order by demonstrating there are so many items of the cooperation that Japan can offer without any strings attached.

"This is very important. So for many countries, they can really pick and choose - including infrastructure funds, connectivity investments. There are so many options," said Prof Ken.

He said in Japan's vision of an open Indo-Pacific, it is an economic centric or a request to go for in the security dimensions. "I think it's much more balanced, predominantly that is economic.

Talking about the importance of Bangladesh, Prof Ken said Bangladesh has a huge growth potential and Bangladesh today and Bangladesh 15 years from now will be much different.

He said there are huge investment opportunities for Japanese companies, together with other nations. "And in my sense, those investment opportunities have not been fully exploited."

At the current stage, he said, the scale is very small and items are very limited but Bangladesh can think about expanding those portfolios in the future.

He said Bangladeshi investment conditions are very famous for the business environment compared to other South Asian countries. "You can really demonstrate competitive advantage over it."

Responding to a question on Bangladesh's Indo-Pacific Outlook, Prof Ken said, "By reading the Bangladesh outlook on Indo Pacific, I was very much encouraged and heartened to see there are so many commonalities between the Japanese version and the Bangladesh version."

"And commonality can be found on our three or four pillars about promotion of economic connectivity, rule-based economic order, and our huge commitments for the green economy, including the promotion of the SDGs, climate change, and so on," he added.

Asked about the Rohingya crisis, he said logically speaking, they are also concerned about human rights and also the situation of the Rohingya in terms of how to help these Rohingya refugees, and their status inside Myanmar is the concern of Japan as well.

"And who is now helping most of the Rohingya issue is Bangladesh. And definitely, this is the case that Japan can collaborate," said Prof Ken.

"At a time when the international community is at a history's turning point, I would like to clarify the concept of FOIP once again to propose a guiding perspective to be shared by the international community which, if left unchecked, could drift towards division and confrontation," said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a visit to New Delhi in March this year.

"I believe that this vision, nurtured by the voices of different countries and which can be characterized as "our FOIP", is becoming more important than ever toward the goal of leading the international community," said the PM.

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