Japan was one of the first few nations to recognise independent Bangladesh on February 10, 1972. Ever since diplomatic relations began, there has been continual engagements and mutual collaboration between the two countries.
The cooperation has been strong and active in such areas as infrastructure development, trade and investment, education and foreign relations. Despite asymmetry in economic power, Japan-Bangladesh relations exemplify remarkable cordiality and productivity between an industrially developed and a developing country. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$4,971.93 billion in 2018, Japan is the world's third largest economy after the USA and China.
Japan has been Bangladesh's single biggest bilateral development partner and is supporting the country primarily through its Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme and entry to its markets. Since our independence, Japan has provided financial support of about $18.6 billion comprising grants, loans and technical assistance.
Regular high-profile official visits and diplomatic overtures by the political leaders and exchanges by business groups of the two countries have advanced the relations over the years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina officially visited Japan four times between 2014 and 2019, including the current trip, mainly to secure Japanese foreign aid and investment.
Till now, more than eight Agreements and Treaties have been concluded between the two countries that have reinforced the mutual comprehensive partnership. An Agreement on the Promotion and Protection of Investment and an Agreement on Technical Cooperation were signed in 1999 and 2002 respectively.
Bangladesh is the second largest recipient of Japanese ODA in the world delivering approximately US$ 1.8 billion in 2018. Mutual trading relationships are rapidly increasing and according to the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, Japan is the first nation in Asia with whom our export earnings reached a record $1.0 billion in FY 2017.
Of the total $1.13 billion earned from exports in FY2018, about $846.73 million came from readymade garments. Still, Bangladesh has substantial trade deficits with Japan. Currently, some 280 Japanese companies, including UNIQLO, NTT-DoCoMo, and Ito-Ikado are running business enterprises in Bangladesh.
Besides completion of construction of bridges such as the Rupsha Bridge, Second Meghna Bridge and Second Gumti Bridge, Japan has been engaged in implementing key infrastructure projects in Bangladesh.
Cooperation in the education sector is also deepening as every year more than 120 scholarships are granted to the Bangladeshi students to pursue higher studies in Japan. In recent times, the Bangladesh government recognised the contribution of a few Japanese citizens to the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Japan from May 28 to 30 at the invitation of her counterpart, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. Both Hasina and Shinzo Abe pledged to continue strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries at a meeting on May 29, 2019 and vowed to work together against extremism and terrorism at the national and international level. Hasina also reiterated Bangladesh support for Japan's pitch for a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
During her visit, Japan signed a new agreement with Bangladesh providing US $2.5 billion ODA for carrying out four infrastructure projects. The projects included: Matarbari Port Development Project (1), Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (Line 1), Foreign Direct Investment Promotion Project (II), Energy Efficiency and Conservation Promotion Financing Project (Phase 2).
While speaking at the Bangladesh-Japan Business Forum, Hasina called upon the Japanese business community to invest in export-oriented sectors as Bangladesh remains a highly competitive location for investments in terms of cost, human resources, size of the domestic market, and entry to international markets, trade facilitation as well as investment security.
The relationships between Dhaka and Tokyo are going from strength to strength. The latter is likely to continue to play a crucial role as the single largest bilateral donor and a trusted friend and development partner. It is essential that Tokyo remains actively engaged with Dhaka to enable it to become self-reliant and reduce its dependency on New Delhi and Beijing.
Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.
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