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50th anniversary: development cooperation through bridges between Japan and Bangladesh

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On June 25, a historic inauguration ceremony of Padma Bridge was held. At the initial stage, JICA conducted a feasibility study for the bridge. Then it was constructed by the Bangladesh government on its own. The Bridge is indeed a testament to the development efforts of Bangladesh. I would like to express my fullest congratulations to the people of Bangladesh on the completion of the bridge.

The 134 bridges constructed by JICA in Bangladesh have contributed significantly to the economic development through enhanced integration and connectivity of the country. They are also bonds with Japan. In 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman expressed his hope to Ambassador Oyamada, the first Japanese Ambassador, to build a giant bridge, which would be a symbol of friendship between Japan and Bangladesh. In response, JICA started the feasibility study for the construction in 1973. Since then, Japan cooperated in constructing the high quality bridge to improve the country's transportation access. The Jamuna Bridge, which Bangabandhu dreamt of, was completed in 1998 and printed on Bangladesh's 100 taka banknote.

The recent completion of the Kanchpur, Meghna, and Gumti Bridges, known as KMG Bridges, connecting Dhaka and Chattogram, Bangladesh's most important economic corridor, showed the prominent features of Japanese quality infrastructure assistance. Despite various difficulties, KMG Bridges were completed on schedule and at a lower cost. Moreover, Japanese engineers eagerly trained Bangladeshi engineers, providing advice and technology transfer during the construction. The project of the KMG Bridges increased confidence in Japan. It was well-received by the people of Bangladesh as an example of a bond to further deepen our friendship.

THE DAWN OF JAPAN-BANGLADESH FRIENDLY RELATIONS: 50 years ago, on February 10, 1972, Japan recognised Bangladesh as a sovereign state soon after its independence. In the letter addressed to Mr. Mohammed Abdus Samad Azad, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Mr. Fukuda Takeo, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan, expressed Japan's wish for the prosperity of Bangladesh and its eagerness to promote friendly relations between the two countries. In his reply, Mr. Azad expressed his determination to rebuild through cooperation with Japan Bangladesh's economy devastated from the liberation war.

The following year, 1973, Bangabandhu made a historic visit to Japan. His visit laid the solid foundation for our bilateral relations. It steered the course of the subsequent partnership. He then expressed his wish that Japan would be Bangladesh's most important development partner. He probably witnessed the future development of Bangladesh in the post-war reconstruction of Japan at the time.

In 1973, Japan established a basic policy for its assistance to Bangladesh. First, Japan regards Bangladesh as an important country located at the nexus of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Second, Bangladesh should not be regarded merely as a separate country from Pakistan but as a country comparable to ASEAN countries. That basic idea remains the same today.

SIGNIFICANCE OF JAPAN'S INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: It is vital for developing countries, including Bangladesh, to achieve "quality growth," which is inclusive development that benefits society as a whole, leaving no one behind. At the same time, the growth needs to be sustainable, in harmony with society and the environment and "resilient" against economic crises, natural disasters, and other shocks.

Japan cooperates with developing countries to promote "quality infrastructures," focusing on openness, transparency, cost-efficiency, and debt sustainability. Furthermore, those infrastructures provide safety and resilience against disasters. Needless to say, they need to be sustainable and SDG-compliant with considerations of social and environmental impacts. Japan will continue to help develop "quality infrastructure" in line with the economic needs and development strategies of developing countries and also train human resources to maintain and operate the infrastructure, mindful of the importance of technological transfer.

THE STRENGTHS OF JAPANESE INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT IN BANGLADESH: The amount of yen loans to Bangladesh has increased tenfold in ten years. Bangladesh has had the highest economic growth rate in Asia over the last decade. Bangladesh shows sound debt sustainability, and its foreign exchange reserves have increased due to rising exports and remittances from abroad. In addition to strong economic growth and growing demand for infrastructure, confidence in Bangladesh is high. Last fiscal year, the 42nd round of yen loans to Bangladesh to boost growth amounted to approximately USD 2.75 billion, including COVID-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support Loan.

I would like to highlight four strengths of Japanese infrastructure investment deployed in Bangladesh, in addition to the cost and time elements which were already explained in the KMG case.

  1. Japanese "quality infrastructure" in Bangladesh

Today, mega-infra projects by JICA are nearing completion day by day under the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) initiative, launched by Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and then Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in 2014.

This December, the Dhaka metro will start its operation. Line 6 will initially serve about 48,000 passengers per day. Furthermore, the metro rail network is planned to expand to 130 km around Dhaka by 2030, and Japan will work with this. Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport Expansion will increase the number of passengers from the current 8 million per year to 20 million.

Matarbari Port, the first deep-sea port, is expected to have an impact that will further boost the country's growth momentum. Once completed, mother vessels will come directly to anchor at Matarbari Port without reloading cargoes at Colombo or Singapore. The deep-sea port will connect Bangladesh to South, Southeast, and East Asia, including Japan. It will be a game-changer for the country.

Bangabandhu Railway Bridge will enhance rail connectivity between the capital and the country's northwestern regions. These projects by Japanese ODA are in line to be completed and essential for fulfilling the growth potential of Bangladesh. They will soon change the face of the nation and the lives of people.Furthermore, Bangladesh Special Economic Zone (BSEZ) in Araihazar will also be ready to host Japanese and international investment in December. More and more businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors will see Bangladesh as an attractive investment destination.It is also noteworthy that these projects have not been significantlydelayed in the construction schedule despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Strengthening of regional connectivity

These projects are fundamental to Bangladesh's economic growth and people's lives. They will dramatically enhance regional connectivity and the economic opportunities in Bangladesh and open up the further possibility of regional development. I would like to reiterate that Bangladesh's further growth and prosperity are vital for the stability of the entire Indo-Pacific.

3.Local social development

Japanese projects are also characterised by the fact that the Japanese companies involved in the projects contribute to the social development of local communities, through construction work per se and by CSR activities. In Bangladesh, for example, in the Matarbari project, a Japanese company has renovated educational facilities, provided local transport by operating free small buses, and donated rice to local communities. We just signed exchange of notes on South Chattogram Regional Development Project on June 28. In the project, Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) will enhance the quality of life by improving social infrastructure for industrial development and responding to population growth in Matarbari and surrounding areas in Cox's Bazar District.

4.Inclusive assistance: technical cooperation projects

In parallel to its iconic yen-loan infrastructure projects, Japan is also focusing on inclusive assistance for Bangladeshi society and human resources development in various fields including governance, rural development, health, and education. For example, some technical cooperation projects have been implemented to improve the investment climate in Bangladesh. These projects aim to improve the ease of doing business, including regulatory reform and capacity building with the efforts of ministries and authorities. Other technical cooperation projects include initiatives to improve livelihood of people dependent on fisheries, including "Rohingya" host communities in Cox's Bazar, and to strengthen waste management in the cities of North and South Dhaka and Chattogram. These technical cooperation projects fully utilise Japanese knowledge, technology, and experience to develop human resources and play a significant role in resolving social issues and economic development in Bangladesh.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION AND REALISATION OF BANGABANDHU'S DREAM: Japan is ready to engage in Bangladesh's development journey further. On May 24, Mr. Kishida Fumio, Prime Minister of Japan, hosted the Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Leaders' Meeting. At the meeting, the four leaders affirmed their commitment to deepen infrastructure cooperation, which is critical to driving productivity and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. They announced they would seek to extend more than 50 billion USD of infrastructure assistance and investment in the Indo-Pacific over the next five years.

Furthermore, the leaders remain firmly committed to realising a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). In Tokyo, the US hosted a meeting on the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). The framework refers to enhancing connectivity by supporting the development of sustainable and durable infrastructure and by providing technical assistance. Also, it focuses on green energy and digital economy.

Japan is a partner for Bangladesh to pursue and promote FOIP further. On the milestone of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Japan looks forward to the new era of the Japan-Bangladesh relationship and reassures its readiness to work together and stand by Bangladesh and its people towards the realisation of Bangabandhu's dream - Shonar Bangla, in the new era of bilateral relations.


Ito Naoki is Japanese Ambassador in Bangladesh.
[email protected]

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