Before the 12th National Parliament election, faced different dimensional diplomatic stresses with the US and EU allies, but the situation shortly transformed post-government formation. This is a relief for internal politics and garners positive attention worldwide. The focus now shifts to developing diplomatic relations over reforming the financial sector. Post-election, major powers like India, Russia, and China supported the government, while the US and the EU sought free, fair, and participatory elections. The Awami League’s fourth consecutive victory on January 7 garnered international congratulations, with US Ambassador Peter Haas expressing determination to enhance relations during a meeting with Foreign Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud, praising Bangladesh-US ties.
Global Recognition and Support
In the initial week of taking office, the finance minister convened a meeting with key development partners, including the World Bank, the Indian High Commissioner, and ADB. Discussions emphasized strengthening ties, addressing the ongoing global crisis, and receiving reiterated commitments from the World Bank for continued support in Bangladesh’s economic and developmental challenges. Collaborations extend to the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and engagements with the USA, UK, and the European Union, alongside increased support from partners like the World Bank, ADB, IMF, and JICA for Bangladesh’s development.
The Prime Minister is set to embark on a foreign tour in March to enhance diplomatic relations, and preparations for the Bangladesh Development Forum (BDF) conference involve engaging with 32 partner countries and organizations by June. Additionally, the Foreign Minister is scheduled for a bilateral visit to India on February 7, representing the first diplomatic engagement in the new role. Following the January 7 vote, the US has shown a noticeable easing in its approach to Bangladesh, expressing interest in advancing relations, a sentiment echoed by Ambassador Peter Haas in acknowledging the policy-making stage of the new government.
There’s a consensus among diplomats that the Dhaka-Washington relationship is thawing, marking a pivotal shift. However, another segment of diplomats advocates for continued observation to discern the United States’ stance on Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s strategic importance in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific, acting as a crucial bridge between South and Southeast Asia, enhances its geopolitical significance. Geographically, Bangladesh occupies a vital position globally, with the Bay of Bengal further elevating its importance.
Despite global challenges, Bangladesh’s resilient work ethic during the pandemic has garnered international attention, contributing to notable economic progress. The United States, with a regional strategy, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, sees Bangladesh’s cooperation as essential for achieving its goals. Before the elections, the US prioritized democracy, human rights, and election-related issues, with post-vote activities indicating fluctuations.
The United States is navigating its interests in the changing tide, and Dhaka anticipates advancing relations. The government pledges open discussions on issues of contention, providing accurate information to dispel confusion. While initial engagements between Ambassador Peter Haas and Foreign Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud focused on mutual interests, business, and the Rohingya crisis, further collaboration in security and defense cooperation is on the agenda. Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Center underscores shared interests between Bangladesh and the United States, emphasizing the potential for enhanced cooperation in the days ahead. Ongoing observations are necessary to discern the United States’ evolving position in Bangladesh.
Navigating U.S. Relations
Bangladesh’s garment sector finds the United States a crucial market, and strategic positioning attracts numerous US investors. Prior to the vote, the US actively engaged in enhancing Bangladesh’s foreign policy, collaborating with political leaders, civil society, and stakeholders on election processes, democracy, and human rights. The rationale behind the US’s keen interest in shaping Bangladesh’s foreign policy remains unclear.
Post-election, the US may emphasize two key aspects in its relations with Bangladesh – the government’s role in ensuring free, fair, and peaceful elections and the future goals the US seeks from Bangladesh. While experts note flexibility in the post-vote US statement, further observation is essential to decipher the evolving US stance on Bangladesh. In the diplomatic dance, if the US displays flexibility, Bangladesh should consider improving relations, possibly with concessions, recognizing the significance of engaging with the Western world.
The ball is in the US court for a relationship review, with hopes of restarting and navigating ups and downs in diplomacy. Both parties need sensitivity for the relationship’s sake, as Bangladesh aims to prevent deterioration in ties, a sentiment reciprocated by the US, acknowledging Bangladesh’s importance in the region.
Post-election, Ambassador Peter Haas continues engagements with the new government’s policy-making level, a customary diplomatic practice. However, predicting the trajectory of this relationship remains challenging.
Finance Department and Planning Commission sources highlight the new government’s priority in strengthening ties with the US, Canada, and Europe. Additionally, a focus on Asia and South America, labor market collaboration in the Middle East, and diplomatic finesse in handling relations with India, Russia, and China are on the agenda. Initiatives are underway to enhance ties with the United Nations, involving the reorganization of Bangladesh’s permanent mission to contribute effectively to overall diplomatic development.
As the term of the Biden-led US government concludes, fostering strong ties between Bangladesh and the United States remains crucial, regardless of the incoming administration’s ideology. Emphasis should be on cultivating positive relations without hostilities, extending to global organizations such as the UN, WHO, WTO, FAO, UNHCR, and others. Economic development and regional security necessitate good relations with China, India, Russia, the USA, and EU countries.
A notable challenge is the highest tariff imposed by the US on Bangladesh’s apparel and textile exports, contributing to a 16 percent duty. Unlike India and China with only a 5 percent duty, this tariff hinders competitiveness. The possibility of appointing lobbyists to address this issue is under consideration, reflecting a strategic response by the Ministry of Commerce.
Dr. Hasan Mahmud, in his role as Foreign Minister, prioritizes economic diplomacy. Dhaka aims to expand economic ties, particularly with African and South American nations, navigating the challenges of global polarization and fostering relationships in both Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
International ambassadors, including those from the US and the UK, congratulate the new government, expressing willingness to collaborate due to the perceived fairness of the elections. Despite concerns of potential visa and trade restrictions following a one-sided election in 2024, Western reactions post-election echo patterns observed in 2014 and 2018.
The US, while toning down its pre-election commentary, maintains a consistent policy regarding Bangladesh’s elections, supporting the people’s aspirations for democracy and freedom of expression. Ongoing scrutiny of US steps in relations with Bangladesh and efforts to normalize bilateral ties are anticipated.
Maintaining positive relations with the East and West, including the US, remains beneficial for Bangladesh. Existing advantages under the Global Gateway facility in various sectors, such as environment, good governance, renewable energy, and transport, are expected to be reinforced. The recent EU commitment of 407 million euros at the Global Gateway Forum further solidifies collaboration, emphasizing ongoing support under the Everything But Arms (EBA) facility and promising a GSP-plus facility. The EU ambassador commended Bangladesh’s initiatives for marginalized communities, fostering a positive outlook for continued cooperation in various sectors. The Prime Minister expressed satisfaction over the enduring relations between Bangladesh and the European Union, seeking further collaboration, notably in renewable energy under the Global Gateway program.