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US wants to be a ‘reliable’ partner of Bangladesh

Donald Lu’s message

Published : 17 Jan 2023 01:15 AM | Updated : 17 Jan 2023 08:36 PM

US President Joe Biden’s point person for South Asia Donald Lu ended a short visit to Bangladesh on Sunday amid a lot of speculation mostly related to the domestic politics and upcoming general elections of the country.

But through his daylong engagements and comments, he made it clear that the US wants to see itself as a ‘reliable partner’ of the new middle income Bangladesh which is, according to Canada-based online publication 'Visual Capitalist', now the 35th largest economy in the world.

“It’s a very important visit from a strategic point of view. It is a sign of recognition of Bangladesh’s geopolitical importance,” said Professor of international relations at the Dhaka University Prof Lailufar Yasmin.

“They (US) want to be a partner of that new Bangladesh,” she told Bangladesh Post. Prof Yasmin met the Assistant Secretary Lu over the luncheon hosted by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Sunday.

 Sympathisers of the opposition parties, mainly the BNP, have been trying to show the visit of Donald Lu as a pressure to the government as it comes on the heels of the US’s concerns on the human rights situation of Bangladesh. But there was no meeting with the BNP leaders.

 The visit also came when the embassy in Dhaka raised security concerns when Ambassador Peter Haas’ pre-scheduled meeting with ‘Mayer Dak’ on December 14 in Shaheenbagh was “interrupted by protestors, who attempted to enter the building where the Ambassador was located.”

 Lu and Haas are close friends in the US Foreign Service.

 More than a year ago, Washington also imposed a sanction on RAB and some of its top former and current officials alleging a violation of human rights.

 Lu, however, said that they have found “tremendous progress” in RAB’s daily activities when it comes to respecting human rights while discharging duties.

 “This is amazing work. It shows the RAB is able to carry out its important counterterrorism and law enforcement function while respecting human rights,” he had said.

 He also gave a positive note when it comes to the GSP issue. "We are still waiting for our Congress to authorize GSP to any country. We are working very closely with the government. So, when it is authorized, the first country on the list will be Bangladesh," he said.

 GSP is a trade advantage offered to different countries in the world by the European Union and the United States. Bangladesh lost the privilege in 2015 following the Rana Plaza building collapse.

 Last year marked the 50th anniversary of relations between the United States and Bangladesh. Over the past five decades, analysts say, Bangladesh and the United States have developed a complex relationship that spans economic and security ties as well as transnational issues like climate change.

 As the Biden administration implements its new Indo-Pacific strategy, Bangladesh’s relationship with China is drawing renewed interest from U.S. policymakers.

U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland visited Dhaka in March 2022 and signed a draft defense cooperation agreement. Before that, Special President Envoy for Climate John Kerry also visited Bangladesh.

The Indo-Pacific region, stretching from the Pacific coastline to the Indian Ocean, is home to more than half of the world’s people, nearly two-thirds of the world’s economy, and seven of the world’s largest militaries.

More members of the U.S. military are based in the region than in any other outside the United States.

It supports more than three million American jobs and is the source of nearly $900 billion in foreign direct investment in the United States, according to a White House paper.

The US has long recognized the Indo-Pacific as vital to its security and prosperity.

“The US wants to know the perspective of Bangladesh on the Indo Pacific strategy,” Prof Yasmin said.

“There is no joining of the Indo-Pacific strategy since there is no club or alliance.  But the US wants countries along the Indo- Pacific to respect its policy,” she said, adding that they want to see stability in this region.

“Bangladesh’s geopolitical importance reached a different level.  Those who are observing us can see the changes of our country. That's why they are giving a lot of importance to us. Many of us (in Bangladesh) cannot feel this change. If you see the post 2020 (when Covid strikes) situation, foreign friends keep coming to Bangladesh.

 So our focus should be on how to increase trade with the countries with our friends. We need a free trade agreement with the countries since we are graduating to a middle income country when the current trade privileges will go,” she said.

“We need to talk with America about that. The objective of Bangladesh and US diplomatic relations should be to strengthen the economic relations,” she said.

“In this new fourth industrial revolution, we also need help from the US when it comes to getting critical technologies. We should focus on that,” she said.

“Overall from his visit, I heard hopeful statements. Bangladesh is a country which has growing importance. And they want to be our partners.”

Security dialogue, partnership talk, TICFA, military to military engagement and high-level economic consultations are some of the platforms through which Bangladesh and the US discuss bilateral issues.

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