US wants Bangladesh as partner | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 14, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:50 AM, October 14, 2020

US wants Bangladesh as partner

Say experts as Biegun arrives today

The US has intensified its engagements with Bangladesh to advance its Indo-Pacific Strategy amid the lowest point in decades of its relationship with China, which is expanding its global footprint.

Foreign relations analysts say a series of talks surrounding trade, economic and defence cooperation, and the signing of an open sky deal in a month are significant steps towards this end.

Bangladesh's former ambassador to the US M Humayun Kabir says there are some clear objectives for high level of engagements between the two countries.

The US wants countries like Bangladesh to be its partner as it moves to institutionalise the Quad -- an alliance of US, Japan, Australia and India -- to advance the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) that speaks of a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific region, he said.

It also wants to reduce the trade gap with Bangladesh. Out of $8.2 billion trade between the two countries, the US had a trade deficit of $4 billion in 2018, he said.

"Besides, a majority of our military arms acquisition is from China. The US wants to grab a share of this market," Humayun, also acting president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, told this correspondent.

"The US engagements with Bangladesh will continue to grow in the coming days," a diplomatic source said, adding that the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun starting today is also part of that.

His three-day visit follows a series of engagements with Bangladesh over the last month.

On September 11, US Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper spoke to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to discuss IPS, maritime and regional security, global peacekeeping, and initiatives to modernise Bangladesh's military capabilities.

Last year, the US Embassy in Dhaka revealed Bangladesh was in talks to buy sophisticated Apaches and missiles from the US. As per the US law, any country buying such equipment would have to sign two deals -- Acquisitions and Cross Servicing Agreement, and General Security of Military Information Agreement.

Discussions are still on in this regard, sources said.

On September 15, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Laura Stone held an online press briefing with Bangladeshi journalists, detailing the IPS objectives.

She said Bangladesh is a country with enormous potential, given its human resources capacity and strategic location between South and Southeast Asia. With a dynamic and fast-growing economy in normal times, Bangladesh is a development success story.

"Future success will be fuelled by deepening its democratic institutions and governing structures," Stone said.

On September 30, Bangladesh and the US signed the Open Skies Transport Agreement that allows unrestricted capacity and frequency of services, open route rights, liberal charter regime, and open code-sharing opportunities.

US aviation expert Emily Derrick writes in that this agreement will further expand the economic and commercial partnership. It also has some impacts on military and private aviation.

On the same day, the two countries, for the first time held a US-Bangladesh Economic Partnership consultation and discussed the whole range of trade and economic partnership. Both sides recommended forming a Joint Public Health Experts Response Group to promote cooperation in healthcare bilaterally and regionally.

The US has proposed opening a Foreign Commercial Service Office in Dhaka and announced creation of the US-Bangladesh Energy Industry Working Group for energy cooperation, while emphasising on cooperation on the blue economy.

Humayun Kabir said having strong ties with the US is good, but trade and economy should be Bangladesh's focus, not security aspects.

For example, Bangladesh should negotiate for the GSP (Generalised System of Preference) facility for Bangladeshi exports to the US, which suspended the privilege following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.

He said the US may want Bangladesh to be on its side to counter China, but Bangladesh should manage this very delicately with diplomatic skills as China is a good friend of Bangladesh.

"One relationship should be independent of the other relationship," Humayun said.

He said Bangladesh can take a lesson from ASEAN, which has serious tension with China over the South China Sea, but when the US wants ASEAN to counter China, the regional bloc does not seem interested.

Asked if Bangladesh can purchase defence equipment from the US, the former diplomat said, "Presently we are mostly reliant on Chinese arms. We can surely diversify."

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters on Monday that Dhaka is enthusiastic to work with the US on trade and economic fronts, but reluctant on defence aspects.


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