Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Photo: Star/File
Voicing her high hope of keeping up good relations with India, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today said any problem with neighbouring countries, including India, could be resolved through bilateral talks.
"You may have differences over policy, it's quite natural. If there’s any problem you can solve it through bilateral discussions," she said.
The prime minister was interacting with Japanese media at the National Press Club of Japan on the last day of her four-day official visit to the East Asian nation.
As a Japanese journalist asked whether there would be any hindrance to Bangladesh-India relationship after Narendra Modi became the new prime minister as he is accused of being very nationalistic and tough on the minority Muslim people in India, Hasina said that India is Bangladesh's next door neighbour.
The prime minister hoped, "I believe we'll be able to keep up a good relationship .....he (Modi) has his own ideas, now he has become Indian prime minister and I hope as a prime minister of India he would play his due role so that all neighbouring countries have good relations."
She said, "I know how to protect my people’s safety and wellbeing… I know India is a big country and maybe we're small geographically. But, considering (our) population, we're a big country. Bangladesh is an independent, sovereign country and definitely we've to ensure independence, sovereignty and security of our people."
In this connection, she mentioned the signing of the Ganges water sharing treaty with India in her first tenure in 1996 overcoming the longstanding dispute as well as signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.
"Our foreign policy is very clear, friendship to all and malice to none. Since we've formed the government, we've found good relationship with our neighbors," Hasina added.
India has its own foreign policy and they would follow their foreign policy, Hasina said adding that she, in her three terms, worked with four governments in India, and the latest Modi government is the fifth one.
Hasina said he always values friendship with the neighbouring countries. "I always say our common enemy is poverty and we've to fight against poverty together."
The prime minister went on saying, "I always give importance to neighbouring countries so that we can cooperate with each other and ensure economic development and economic emancipation of our people."
Narendra Modi was sworn in on Monday as India’s 15th Prime Minister, ringing in a new era of governance for the world’s largest democracy. Chief among the guests at the swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi was Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, among other South Asian leaders.
In reply to another question whether Bangladesh would extend its support to Japan in the non-permanent seat of the UN Security Council, the prime minister said Bangladesh and Japan are two friendly countries and Dhaka greatly values its friendship with Tokyo.
In this connection, she mentioned that Japan extended support and was very much with Bangladesh during the War of Liberation in 1971. "Not only the common people of Japan, even its schoolchildren contributed their tiffin money for the refugees and their children," she said.
Sheikh Hasina also said when Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman started rebuilding the war-ravaged nation, Japan was the first few countries which came forward to help and cooperate with Bangladesh.
"We always remember with gratitude that Japanese support...Japan is our tested friend and Bangladesh is ready to make any sacrifice for the tested friend," she said.
The prime minister who has already invited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Bangladesh and hoped he would visit Dhaka in the end of August this year.
During the visit, she said, "Japanese people would definitely get good news." Hasina, however, said she does not want to make any comments about the issue at this moment. "I’ll have to go back and discuss the matter with my cabinet colleagues. But, we would definitely value the friendship with Japan," she said.
Earlier, in her written speech before the Japanese press alongside international press, the prime minister said following her fruitful discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, they have launched the Japan-Bangladesh Comprehensive partnership by elevating the friendly relationship between the two countries to a higher level.
The prime minister said she also requested Abe to help build several mega infrastructure projects to keep up the momentum of Bangladesh’s development and progress.
In this regard, Prime Minister Abe announced his commitment to provide up to 600 billion Yen of additional assistance, mainly loans to Bangladesh in about four or five years from 2014, she added.
Sheikh Hasina said Japan also reaffirmed its support to establish a Peace Building Centre in Bangladesh as a symbol of the two countries’ cooperation in UN Peacekeeping and Peace Building efforts.
Talking about bilateral trade and commerce, Hasina said she requested the Japanese prime minister for further relaxation of the Rules of Origin for our knitwear, and for duty-free market access to other products to remove the existing trade imbalance.
She said Prime Minister Abe assured her of considering the issue sincerely.
Hasina also referred to the signing of a MoU between agencies concerned of the two countries on providing 40 industrial plots and two factory buildings for Japanese entrepreneurs in five Export Processing Zones in different parts of Bangladesh.
"We’re also working on establishing a Special Economic Zone for Japanese entrepreneurs to whom we’re extending an open invitation to come and invest in Bangladesh," she added.
Sheikh Hasina said the Japanese prime minister also assured her that from now on more Bangladesh government Officials and students would study in Japan under enhanced numbers of Japanese government scholarships. It will increase people-to-people contact and help build the capacity of the government officials.
She also mentioned that both she and Abe also agreed to extend reciprocal visa exemption for the diplomatic and official passport holders of both the countries.
Hasina said trusting in the socio-economic development of the present government the people of Bangladesh gave their mandate to them for the second consecutive terms through the January-5 national election.
The prime minister said her government announced a Charter titled ‘Marching Ahead Bangladesh’ to materialise the dream of ‘Sonar Bangla’ through maintaining the continuity of prosperity and fulfilling the people’s aspiration of peace, stability and discipline.
Terming Japan as a steadfast and most development partner of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina said the friendship between the two countries based on mutual trust respect and cooperation, and hoped that partnership will endure and continue to bring peace, progress and prosperity to our countries and peoples.
The prime minister also thanked the Japanese Press Club authorities for preserving the signature of Bangabandhu which he had signed in the visitor's book during his visit to the Press Club on October 29 in 1973.
"I became emotional after seeing the signature and thank the Press Club authorities for preserving the historic signature," she said.
Sheikh Hasina later signed the visitor's book making comments: "My best wishes to Japanese Press Club members."
She presented a nice painting of Bangladesh to the Japanese Press Club while they presented a fountain pen to Hasina.
Ambassador at-large M Ziauddin, PM's Media adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, PM's Principal Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder, ERD Secretary Md Mejbahuddin, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, PM's Special Assistant Mahbubul Hoque Shaki, were, among others, present on the occasion.