Dhaka and Tokyo have special significance and call for their own definition particularly when compared to the relationships between Bangladesh and other key nations. In fact, Bangladesh's relationships with other nations and areas have undergone significant changes because of shifting economic ties and global politics, which are strongly linked with the politics that shape national interests.
Japan has persistently supported Bangladesh's development efforts and maintained stable, cordial ties with the nation ever since Japan recognised Bangladesh as an independent nation, despite changes in the international political landscape. Dhaka was essential as a hub for connectivity and regional diplomacy.
On the flip side, after the Cold War ended, Japan pursued a more active foreign policy to take on a bigger role on the world stage, even in the security sphere. One of the manifestations of Japan’s new foreign policy is the engagement of Japan in the Bay of Bengal region. Gradually, the Bay of Bengal region has become significant for several reasons including security and geo-political ones, especially after the Ukraine and Taiwan crises. Japan aimed to do this by departing from its conventional socioeconomic diplomacy.
As indicated earlier, the ongoing Ukraine war diverts the focus of big powers away from pressing issues like solving climate change, ensuring the security of food and energy for developing countries, and triggering militarization and arms race, and polarisation.
Significantly, the crisis has given prominent players in the Global South such as Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia the chance to show that they have their own objectives in world affairs, including their numerous ideas for handling the conflict in various aspects between Russia and Ukraine.
Against such a backdrop, the upcoming visit of PM Sheikh Hasina to Japan on 25th April will elevate the geopolitical and economic significance of Japan-Bangladesh ties as well as the degree to which Japan-funded development initiatives in Bangladesh adhere to changing geo-political landscapes.
Japan’s Thrust for More Global Role
Japan's national security strategy is currently experiencing an unprecedentedly rapid historic transformation as a result of this new reality. The Ukrainian crisis prompted a prompt response from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Research Committee on National Security of the LDP made proposals to boost Japan's defense capabilities to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on April 27, 2022. They included developing 'counterstrike capabilities' and setting a five-year goal for defense spending equal to 2 per cent of GDP.
However. In response to worries about China’s maritime ambitions, especially its pressure on Taiwan, freedom of navigation in the area, and trade issues, Japan has been working with India, the United States, and Britain to boost defense relations.
During the past few decades, Japan and South Asia have developed closer political, security, and economic ties. Most of the South Asian nations consider ties with Japan to be cordial and trustworthy owing to their long economic engagements in the region and non-hegemonic image. However, Japan on the flip side realises to accomplish the 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)' goal of peace, stability, and prosperity in the area, it has to expand practical cooperation with Bangladesh as a partner.
Decoding Bangladesh’s Response to Geopolitical Crises
Bangladesh is particularly entangled in the workings of geopolitics since it was born during the height of the Cold War. Bangladesh seems to have always been caught in the middle of conflicts between major powers, whether it is the competition between India and Pakistan, the Cold War conflict between the US and the former Soviet Union, or the current conflict between China and the West. Bangladesh is currently praised as a 'South Asian miracle'. Notwithstanding the difficulties that accompany economic expansion, particularly considering the enormous wealth disparity, the nation's overall economic development remains positive.
After 50 years of independence, the nation is firmly emerging from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) category and is expected to rank among the top 25 economies in the world by 2035. Bangladesh’s influence on the global stage is growing every day as its economy soars and the balance of power shifts eastward. Throughout the past year, the majority of the Global South's nations have taken a well-considered neutral stance on the conflict in Ukraine. In that case, it is leaving Bangladesh on a tightrope, working out the next course of action while keeping in mind one's national interests.
Significance of this Visit in Changing Political Landscape
Concerns about non-traditional security have been exacerbated by the advent of artificial intelligence, e-commerce, cyber-security, hybrid warfare, climate change, and even novel viruses like the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The ongoing geo-political crisis is adding a fatal blow to these challenges. Hence, Bangladesh-Japan relations are significant to create a win-win situation for both nations based on the convention for peace, stability, and rule-based order.
By 2021, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wanted Bangladesh to be a middle-income nation and the goal was achieved. To that end, she is actively seeking investments in building infrastructure and development projects in Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s foreign policy has entered a new era with the implementation of the 'Look to the East' strategy. Thus, Bangladesh is trying to extract its benefits from the superpower rivalry focusing on its foreign policy dictum ‘friendship to all, malice to none.'
Bangladesh prioritises its relations with Japan, and the Sheikh Hasina government is already working together to take advantage of the many opportunities for expanding and deepening the bilateral partnership. In order to increase collaboration in the areas of food security, climate change, global health, and cybersecurity, Japan also provided concrete initiatives. Kishida stated that Japan will work with India and Bangladesh to establish the 'Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept' for the development of the entire area.
Finally, Bangladesh's efforts to provide shelter and humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas from Myanmar deserve special appreciation from the world, including Japan. The Government of Japan resolved on January 28 of this year to provide the UNHCR and WFP with a total of USD 2 million for the humanitarian and protection needs of the Rohingya people on Bhasan Char. Bangladesh will leave the list of least developed nations (LDNs) in 2026 and, by accomplishing Vision 2041, hopes to become a developed nation by the year 2041.
Hence, this visit will be a reflection of Bangladesh’s seeking support of Japan as it develops and the evolving strategic partnership will create a height of bilateral cooperation.
Dr. Delwar Hossain is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka and the Founder of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs.
Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs