Is There A Significant Shift In Bangladesh-US Relations?

A dramatic shift in the United States’ stance is being observed after the January 7 general election in Bangladesh. The Biden administration consistently stressed the commencement of a free, fair, and participatory election throughout the electoral process. Since then, the dynamics of bilateral relations have gone through ups and downs.

Recently, US President Joe Biden penned a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, expressing to move forward with common interests in this region. Although the Biden administration explicitly acknowledges its dissatisfaction regarding the last parliament election, nevertheless, it is Sheikh Hasina who has formed a government after the last parliamentary election with an absolute majority, securing her fourth consecutive term. The content of this letter hints at a promising ‘new chapter’ in bilateral relations.

For the past six months, neither a delegation from Dhaka nor Washington has visited the other country for talks, as there was an understanding that visits during election time would not be appropriate. However, a delegation led by US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Afreen Akhter is now scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on February,8.

The team aims to engage with the Director General of the North America Wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with further bilateral discussions potentially involving the foreign secretary and various other meetings. Prior to the election, the United States had expressed concerns about civil rights, freedom of expression in Bangladesh, even going as far as concluding in a post-election statement that the voting process had not been entirely free and fair.

Prof. Shahidul Haque, former foreign secretary, and Bangabandhu chair at Delhi University, believes that diplomatic behavior evolves with time and circumstances, urging for a nuanced perspective. “Each country has different priorities at different times… I think we should think of it from that point of view,” he remarked.

The letter initiates with a mutual focus on regional and global security concerns, but after all, it is a matter of great significance in Biden’s communication with Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh historically emphasizes an economic pact, but the letter highlights collaboration between Bangladesh and the US in various areas, including regional and global security, addressing the Rohingya crisis, and a mutual commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. This collaboration extends to encompass economic development, climate change, and energy initiatives.

Bangladesh aspires to achieve its developed status by 2041 and has introduced various economic activities like construction of large infrastructures, radical changes in the education system. The magnitude of these endeavors necessitates not only financial support but also technical expertise, technology transfer, and educational assistance. The United States is considered a potential contributor in those areas beyond just financing.

Contrastingly, the United States, boasting a $27 trillion economy, views bilateral trade with Bangladesh, standing at approximately $10 billion, as noteworthy but not necessarily pivotal compared to other geopolitical considerations. While bilateral trade holds importance for Bangladesh, it’s perceived differently by the US. The $10 billion trade volume is considered less significant in the broader context, leading to a shift in focus towards evaluating Bangladesh through a comprehensive security perspective, encompassing both core and non-core aspects.

The United States wants to keep the South Asian region stable, defying over-dependence of any nation towards China. Bangladesh, for its significant geostrategic position, is being lured by the USA to align Dhaka with Washington’s initiative for a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy. The US eyes fostering collaboration on various fronts, especially security measures.

Dhaka and Washington prioritize its security cooperation on training, information sharing, peacekeeping efforts, maritime security, and the fight against terrorism and extremism. Recent developments include the provision of state-of-the-art drones by the US to Bangladesh. Additionally, both countries collaborate on issues such as climate change, food security, and energy security.

At present, preserving regional stability is paramount. Instability in Bangladesh could have significant consequences for the entire South Asian region. Presently, the region is grappling with a critical situation. Political influence and military conflict are in this region’s discourse. So, safeguarding the stability of the region is imperative and should not be compromised.

While unease preceding the election might gradually dissipate in Dhaka-Washington relations, lingering effects could surface, particularly concerning labor rights, with potential ramifications in international forums such as Brussels and Geneva.

The delicate balance between different superpowers is now more consequential than ever. For Bangladesh, it becomes exceptionally challenging to support any side fully, risking diplomatic catastrophe. Striking a balance with all global powers and maintaining its foreign policy, historic relationships, and reality becomes more imperative. Dhaka must pursue policies that align with its national interests.

In conclusion, the opening of a new chapter in bilateral relations between Bangladesh and America must lead to mutual collaboration and cooperation. This relationship will align their priorities, strengthening common objectives such as security, economic development, and regional stability. Both nations would benefit from a strengthened partnership addressing mutual concerns that have a significant impact on the global stage.

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