UPON an invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will make an official visit to Japan from May 25 to 28. She had earlier visited the country in 2010, when the opposition Democratic Party of Japan was in power.
According to foreign office sources, the PM will hold summit talks with her Japanese counterpart. His Majesty the Emperor of Japan will receive her in audience (His Majesty has a fond memory of visiting Bangladesh in 1973 as then Crown Prince of Japan and meeting Bangabandhu), while the Deputy Prime Minister & Finance Minister of Japan Mr. Taro Aso -- who is also the president of Japan-Bangladesh Parliamentary Association -- and the President of JICA , Madam Sadako Ogata, will call on her separately. She will address a business seminar in Tokyo jointly organised by the JETRO and Japan Bangladesh Commission for Commercial and Economic Cooperation (JBCCEC) and deliver a speech at the Waseda University.
The visit of Sheikh Hasina to Japan is her first foreign trip abroad since returning to power after the January 5 election. The visit, which comes within months of a visit by the Japanese foreign minister to Bangladesh, is significant in many ways for relations between our two countries and especially for the present Bangladesh government. It will be an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate Bangladesh-Japan bilateral cooperation. It will also provide a major international forum for Hasina to explain her government's views and the context of the recent election in Bangladesh, which continues to be perceived as lacking in popular mandate not only within the country but in the capitals of the important western capitals too. No doubt she will take full advantage of the opportunity and seek to validate her return to power and its justification.
It will also be interesting to know how the major western powers react to the overtures of the Japanese government to the Hasina government. The major western countries still seem to be undecided on whether to warm up to the present government or to remain cool, allowing the traditional interaction to continue unhindered between Bangladesh and their respective countries. Notwithstanding the fact that it's the prerogative of a sovereign state to structure its foreign relations as it deems fit, nonetheless, many like-minded countries take an identical stance on certain international issues, such as in the case of the recent election in Bangladesh. In that context Japan has, to the delight of the present Bangladesh government, proved to be a source of relief and inspiration for the latter. In fact, the Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh in a recent press meet reportedly stated that they were happy to conduct business with the present Bangladesh government as the elections were held within the “legal and Constitutional” framework.
As to the Summit talks, it's understood that both the countries will re-emphasise their desire to further strengthen the existing economic and trade ties and explore new avenues for cooperation, taking into account that Japan is the single largest development partner of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh prime minister is likely to seek enhanced Japanese support for the major projects the government has undertaken to be implemented on fast-track basis, greater FDI from Japan to Bangladesh, and augmentation of Bangladesh export to Japan.
Japan, being the largest development partner of Bangladesh, has an abiding interest in seeing the country prosper economically, develop an inclusive political culture and practice, ensure peace and stability and, by doing so, create a conducive and enabling condition for attracting greater Japanese business and investment.
Though Japan has demonstrated its desire to promote bilateral ties with Bangladesh by its recent actions, it will likely be interested to know the Bangladesh government's thoughts on resolving the political stalemate currently obtaining in the country. Japan would surely be interested to learn the views of Bangladesh, as one of the closest neighbours of India, on the evolving political developments in India following the emergence of a non-Congress government and its impact both regionally and internationally.
Coincidentally, it is learnt that the prime minister elect of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, has decided to visit Japan on his first overseas trip.
Japan would also be happy to receive the support of Bangladesh in its aspiration to a permanent seat in the UNSC and also to the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals by the North Koreans. Although the latter is a minor issue in the international context, it is an important emotional matter in Japan.
Recently, the Bangladesh government recognised a number of our foreign friends, including a few Japanese, for their contribution during our War of Liberation. However, quite a number of countries have bestowed special honours to Japanese nationals for their role in promoting bilateral relations between Japan and them.
In this context, the government may consider honouring H.E. Mr. Taro Aso , former prime minister and currently deputy prime minister and minister of finance of Japan. An old and time-tested friend of Bangladesh, Mr. Aso, after taking over as president of Japan-Bangladesh Parliamentary Association in 2007, took special interest in promoting closer ties between the two countries.
It would be worthwhile to recall that Mr. Aso, then prime minister of Japan, made a personal telephone call to congratulate Sheikh Hasina within days of her return to power following the January 2009 general elections. He not only informed her of his decision to withdraw the suspension of the Japanese ODA to Bangladesh, which was effected during the CTG in 2008, but also pledged to considerably enhance the amount of ODA from that of the previous years.
In my opinion, Mr. Aso deserves special recognition by Bangladesh.
The author is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to Japan.