The message from the Momen-Blinken meeting explains why the US wants full engagement with Bangladesh

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US-Bangladesh Ties: Significance Of Blinken-Momen Meeting – OpEd – Eurasia Review

by John Rozario    14 April 2023

The relationship between Bangladesh and the United States has grown tremendously over the last 51 years and the US is committed to continuing to work together to further strengthen and deepen the ties.

“We’re committed to continuing to work together, to find ways to strengthen and deepen the relationship, to address as well economic development and human rights,” said Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State, when he met Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at the Department of State in Washington DC in the early hours of Tuesday (BST).

“And of course, we’re looking – the world is looking – to Bangladesh for its next elections, to make sure that they set a strong example for free and fair elections for the region and for the world,” Blinken said. A meeting between Bangladesh and the United States at the level of foreign ministers was held at the US State Department on Monday.

The United States has given a significant message in Abdul Momen’s visit. For the sake of continued inclusion in the global process, it is necessary to seriously consider the advice of the United States on various issues related to holding free and fair elections, freedom of expression and human rights.

The Bangladesh delegation was led by Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen. The US delegation was led by Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken. In the meeting, Blinken mentioned that since 2017, the United States has provided 2.1 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to the Rohingya. He reiterated the United States’ commitment to promoting Bangladesh’s economic growth, free and fair elections, human and labor rights, and freedom of expression.

US Secretary of State Blinken expressed deep concern over violence and intimidation against the media and civil society, including the Digital Security Act. He wants to deepen the US-Bangladesh relationship and said Bangladesh needs free and fair elections, respect for human rights, media and civil society. Blinken also mentioned that the whole world is looking towards the upcoming elections in Bangladesh. Such free and fair elections should be organized in Bangladesh, so that it becomes a ‘model’ election in the region and in the world.

Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen promised to resolve these concerns of the United States. But it is important to implement these commitments. By inviting Foreign Minister Momen and giving these messages, Blinken proves that the importance of Bangladesh to the United States has increased. The United States has pledged to continue aid to the Rohingya despite a drop in world aid, which is positive. Moreover, Bangladesh has the highest remittances from the United States. The US also has a high contribution to trade and investment.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticized the United States in her speech to the National Assembly ahead of the foreign ministerial meeting in Washington. The role of the United States in elections and politics was expressed in his speech. However, the US President wrote a letter of thanks to Joe Biden for his wishes on Independence Day.

There was a very good meeting at the level of the foreign minister in Washington. The meeting was very important to strengthen bilateral relations. But Blinken said that the whole world is looking at the election of Bangladesh; I don’t understand how he said that about the responsibility of the world. What the United States has said at various times seeking free and fair elections in Bangladesh; This time too there was no exception. This is nothing new. Foreign Minister of Bangladesh assured. Observers will be appointed. The meeting is therefore timely. This is not a courtesy meeting. Full bilateral meeting. The relationship between Bangladesh and the United States is stable.’ The message of the United States must be taken seriously. The United States considers itself the leader of the world. What the United States is saying, the European Union, Australia, Japan is also saying the same thing. Each country tries to say it differently. What Bangladesh does is its decision. However, Bangladesh is continuously becoming part of the global process.

The United States recently released a report on the human rights situation on 198 countries in 2022. The country’s state department made various allegations of human rights violations against Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is experiencing a number of difficulties as a result of global price inflation brought on by the Coronavirus and Ukraine-Russia confrontation. US report was crucial in this circumstance. The US has recently given this part of Asia more attention.

The year 2021 was a trying one for relations between the US and Bangladesh. On December 10, 2021, the US sanctioned Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and numerous current and former officers for a long history of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. Bangladesh was not invited to the virtual Summit for Democracy that month by the Biden administration. In 2022, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, suppression of expression and media, use of force in gatherings, obstruction of national and international human rights institutions, etc. continued as usual in Bangladesh. However, compared to 2021, extrajudicial killings have decreased in 2022, according to the report published on the global human rights situation.

These things were said in the report entitled ‘2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ published on the website of the US State Department on Monday (March 21) about the global human rights situation.

Since US recognition of Bangladesh’s independence in 1972, the trajectory of the relationship has witnessed a consistent upward trend. In 2022, both countries celebrated the auspicious event of 50 years bilateral relations.

Bangladeshi citizens needn’t spark any new controversy and worry based on this recent human rights report. US-Bangladesh bilateral relations wouldn’t affect. This is not the first time the US has produced a study like this in recent years. There isn’t much of a difference between those and the latest report. Many hoped that the Biden administration was going to impose more sanctions on Bangladesh government. But US hasn’t imposed new sanctions on Bangladesh. Bangladesh has recently had the foreign minister level meeting, US-Bangladesh Partnership dialogue, Donald Lu, Victoria Nuland’s recent Bangladesh visits, the praiseworthy comments of the President Joe Biden regarding US willingness to engage with the current Bangladesh regime.

The US is seeking more engagement with Bangladesh now than ever before. Although the two countries’ diplomatic ties began on April 4, 1972, the current focus of US on Bangladesh reminds us that it desires a strategic partnership with Bangladesh.

Over the last decade, cooperation in trade, investment and security, particularly in counter-terrorism, has strengthened, especially after 2016. Trade between the two countries favours Bangladesh, and the US is the largest single market for garments produced in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is also the third-largest recipient of US aid in South Asia. Joe Biden’s comment is very important in this regard. It is clear that Joe Biden has keen interest in engaging,cooperating with the Hasina regime in Bangladesh.

It is surprising that the US is showing interest in Bangladesh and has included it in its strategic calculations today.The increasing attention of the US in recent times in democracy and human rights in Bangladesh raises the question, why is the US taking this action now. One possibility is that US sees a larger role for the country in its Indo-Pacific strategy. Bangladesh favours regional peace. It still believes in the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Bangladesh believes the US sanctions are motivated by geopolitics, while the US claims the RAB is harming the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. The US must recognise that Bangladesh is allied with the US Because of China’s overwhelming domination in South Asia, the US will have no friends (except India) in the region.

While Bangladesh’s top concerns are sanctions and investment, the US wants to ensure its security in the in the Indo-Pacific area amidst the current great power rivalry. In order to accomplish this, the US plans to sign two defense agreements with Bangladesh that it hopes will strengthen military ties through enhanced intelligence sharing and exchange of logistical and technological support.

Bangladesh must pursue its policies to enhance ‘mutual understanding’ with America and become a trustworthy ally of the United States because the US is Bangladesh’s single largest export market for ready-made garments (RMG), accounting for 83 percent of total exports.

The US is also Bangladesh’s top source of Foreign Direct Investment. Bangladesh should retain “strong connections” with the United States for two reasons: investment and the Rohingya crisis.

Bangladesh seems to have followed this strategy at the recent partnership dialogue held in March. It’s worth noting that Bangladesh aspires to be a South Asian economic miracle.

As a result, it is dependent on the United States and the European Union to maintain the current rate of rapid economic growth. Bangladesh is not a threat to the United States. Bangladesh is a firm believer in international friendship. Bangladesh could become a trusted ally of the US in the region.

Both countries have been showing signs of progress for some time, with Bangladesh establishing human rights cells and sending out human rights reports. At the same time, the US has reaffirmed its commitment to working with Bangladesh to improve the country’s human rights situation.

Bangladesh supports the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy of freedom and openness. It requires the US for its development. Bangladesh aspires to be a South Asian economic miracle. As a result, it is dependent on the US and the European Union to maintain the current rate of rapid economic growth. Bangladesh is not a threat to the US; it may become one of the trusted allies of the US in the region.

Leaders in Bangladesh are keen to focus on US investment and bilateral trade. The suspended Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) is also on Bangladesh’s agenda. The GSP is an arrangement under which Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access to the US market. This arrangement ceased in 2013, though leaders in Dhaka are hopeful that it might begin again for them.

As Bangladesh is a tiger economy with a good investment environment, there are strong prospects that bilateral trade and investment will increase in coming years. Bangladesh has identified information communications technology as its “thrust” sector and wants US investment to help it evolve. This will no doubt diversify US investment in Bangladesh. Moreover, Bangladesh has accepted the draft of GSOMIA, meaning potential new sources for defense procurement from the US, benefitting Bangladesh’s Forces Goal-2030.

In summation, the individual sanctions have been limited, suggesting that recent disputes are short-term and not impactful. Beyond the disputes, both countries have mutual interests that are likely to increase in political and economic alignment. Diplomatic engagement and the deepening of relations can be helpful in this context. The reciprocal diplomatic visits over the last two years have been fruitful and have helped to transform the relationship. This should continue.