Ambassador Masato Watanabe
The newly installed Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Masato Watanabe, takes charge fully aware of the depth of the relationship he has now been entrusted with. Talking on the sidelines of a reception granted to him shortly after his arrival in Dhaka, he terms it “an honour”, making mention of the particular importance of the time at which he assumes his new role, that comes on the back of unprecedented heads of government-level contact between the two countries, as witnessed last year.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinizo Abe and Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina held two summits in 2014, literally in the space of a few months, that rightly fuelled talk of the bilateral relations – already very strong and well-founded – being elevated to new heights in the years ahead. Japan is historically Bangladesh’s largest foreign donor. There was even a quid pro quo involved – as Bangladesh gave up its opportunity of a seat as one of the rotating members of the UNSC in return for accelerated development cooperation from Japan, and here the ambassador mentions the ‘Big-B initiative’ that is the centre-piece of cooperation between the two nations going ahead.
During their summit in Tokyo in May 2014, Shinzo Abe and Sheikh Hasina agreed to further strengthen bilateral cooperation through the “Japan-Bangladesh Comprehensive Partnership.” At this occasion, Prime Minister Abe announced to provide 600 billion Yen (approximately US$6 billion), mainly in ODA loans, in 4 to 5 years. Following the first summit, Prime Minister Abe visited Bangladesh in September 2014, and the two Prime Ministers welcomed that the two countries shared a view on the direction of economic cooperation to be pursued under the initiative of “the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt,” or BIG-B. It aims to accelerate industrial agglomeration along the Dhaka-Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar belt area and beyond, encompassing developing economic infrastructure, improving investment environment and fostering connectivity.
BIG-B foresees Bangladesh transcending its national borders to become a heart of the regional economy and providing a gateway for both South Asia and South-East Asia to step into closer inter-regional relations, something Ambassador Watanebe reiterates on this evening.
Still, the ambassador is careful to add there is no ‘room for complacency to slip into the relationship’. He is also keen to stress the importance of working together with other democracies in the region, mainly India, to develop Bangladesh’s potential as a regional hub for the entire Asia-Pacific region.
Some of the key sectors in which he foresees cooperation between Japan and Bangladesh in the days ahead are garments and textiles, pharmaceuticals and agro-products. When it comes to the question of Japanese companies looking to invest in Bangladesh however, the ambassador is somewhat less optimistic, mentioning their famous insistence on certain conditions being met with regards to the investment climate and the ease of doing business here.
Ambassador Watanabe and his wife have already been making the rounds since their arrival in the capital. Among other things, they have attended the inauguration of the art exhibition being held in the memory of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Gallery Cosmos. The ambassador’s wife, clearly an art connoisseur, was already raving to this correspondent on the particular skill and distinctive style of leading Bangladeshi painter Shahabuddin Ahmed.