Bangladesh-Japan together at 40 | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 08, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 08, 2012

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Bangladesh-Japan together at 40


Photo: AFP

Japan recognised Bangladesh on February10th, 1972 and this year will mark the 40th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. A week- long function has been organised in this regard in Dhaka and Japanese investors are expected to attend it.
The Japanese Embassy was opened in Dhaka in March, 1972. Since then, Japan has been a significant development partner of Bangladesh and Bangladesh-Japan relations have grown from strength to strength over the 40 years.
The bilateral relationship goes back before the birth of Bangladesh. The Consular Mission of Japan in Dhaka, in mid-'50s, was engaged in furthering trade and people-to-people contact in the '50s and '60s made them aware of each other's culture including art, music and literature.
Soon after the opening of the Embassy in 1972, the Japanese government sent Takashi Hayakawa to Bangladesh to assess the needs of the new nation, followed by a team of Japanese experts. Japan came forward with aid, trade and investment in Bangladesh.
Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujbur Rahman, who visited Japan in October 1973, had laid the solid foundation of bilateral relations. In 1975, their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan visited Bangladesh.
Bangladesh's relations with Japan took a favourable turn in unusual circumstances. A hijacked Japanese airliner landed in Dhaka in October 1977, creating a crisis in Japan. The Japanese hostages were released through the skilful handling of Bangladesh government leaders, which impressed the government of Japan.
All heads of government of Bangladesh visited Japan to strengthen bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Japan on November 28th, 2010 for the third time at the invitation of her Japanese counterpart, and held talks on bilateral, regional and global issues.
She also held meetings with Japan's International Cooperation Agency (JICA) President S. Ogata, Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) President Y Hayashi, Japan-Bangladesh Committee for Commercial Economic Cooperation (JBCCEC) and Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI).
Bangladesh sent a search-cum-rescue team with relief goods including medicines to Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March last year. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni donated a cheque of $1 million to the then Japanese ambassador on behalf of private mobile operators in the country.
The foreign minister said: “Whenever Bangladesh became the victim of natural disasters, Japan came forward to assist us. Now time is for us to stand for our trusted friend.” Though the aid is not so significant, it demonstrates the affection of the people of Bangladesh for the Japanese people.
In 2009, State Foreign Secretary of Japan Ms. Seiko Hashimoto visited Bangladesh and disclosed that Bangladesh was included as a part of the Japanese prime minister's flagship project “Cool Earth Partnership” at a time when global climate change has been having adverse effects on Bangladesh.
Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), a conglomerate of Japan's Export-Import Bank and Japan's Official Aid Agency, is a key player in channeling development assistance to Bangladesh. Japan's official development assistance has three componentsgrant aid, technical cooperation and loans.
The Meghna Bridge was built at the cost of $7.9 billion with Japanese assistance. This is perhaps the single largest project with Japanese assistance anywhere in the world. JICA has further committed to provide funds of $400 million for the Padma Bridge.
JICA has committed to provide Tk.490 crore as budgetary support for the next three years to cope with environment related disasters and will cancel a debt of Tk.700 crore from its Debt Cancellation Fund. JICA will provide a loan of up to $63 million to the “Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Improvement Project” of the Health, Population and Nutrition Sector Development Programme.
Japan is keen to support the power sector in Bangladesh after formulation of the ongoing comprehensive power development master plan for attaining stable power supply up to 2030.
The amount of two-way trade varies between $500-700 million per year and the balance is heavily inclined towards Japan. Export from Bangladesh to Japan in fiscal year 2010 expanded by 60% compared to the previous fiscal year. In response to requests from Bangladesh, Japan relaxed rules of origin of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in April 2011. As a result, an increase in export from Bangladesh to Japan is expected.
The number of Japanese companies that have invested in Bangladesh has risen to 107 as of April 2011 (JETRO statistics). Economists suggest that to attract FDI from Japan in Bangladesh, South Asian markets should be integrated through regional connectivity.
It is reported that Japan is keen to set up an industry in Bangladesh to manufacture instruments that would be used in the spaceships, including all types of devices required to launch satellites into the space.
Japan's assistance has underscored the development of economic infrastructures like roads, bridges, power transmission etc. It is suggested that the concentration of the Japanese help should be more on human development so that the people can be more independent and will be able to do things on their own in the long run. Japanese assistance needs to include water, food security and climate change in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh-Japan relations are not confined only to economic matters. Bangladesh folk music has been very popular in Japan, and Japanese folk music Min'yo enthralled Dhaka audience on December 9th, 2009.
On February 3rd, Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh H.E. Shiro Shadoshima reportedly termed Bangladesh as a country of potentialities. He said: “This country has progressed much in all sectors in the forty years of liberation and I remember the martyrs who sacrificed their lives during the war of liberation with deep respect.”
An important characteristic of Bangladesh's relationship with Japan is the way in which the diversification of bilateral economic relationship has grown. With the passing of time, the solid foundation of friendship and cooperation built during the forty years will be further strengthened in future for mutual benefit.

The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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