A new horizon of “heart to heart” relationship

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Illustration: Numerical star charts

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Bangladesh-Japan friendship

Illustration: Numerical star charts

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Japan. As Japan’s Ambassador to Bangladesh, I am honored to celebrate this momentous day with the people of Bangladesh.

On February 10, 1972, Japan recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign country soon after its independence. In the letter addressed to Mohammed Abdus Samad Azad, then Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Fukuda Takeo, then Foreign Minister of Japan, expressed Japan’s wish for the prosperity of Bangladesh and its eagerness to promote friendly relations between the two countries. In his response, Azad expressed his firm determination to rebuild Bangladesh’s economy after the liberation war through cooperation with Japan. Now, both countries have achieved their wish. The friendship and cooperation between Bangladesh and Japan have become stronger than ever, and Bangladesh’s economic development has been remarkable.

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The 50 years of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Japan have always been a “heart to heart” relationship. In January 1972, before Japan recognized Bangladesh, Fukuda stressed the importance of establishing a “heart-to-heart” relationship with other countries. Then it was Hayakawa Takashi, a member of the Diet of Japan, who endeavored to put the mind into practice.

In March 1972, Hayakawa visited Bangladesh as a goodwill envoy of the Japanese government. While observing a Bangladesh devastated by the war of liberation, he felt people’s enthusiasm and had an in-depth discussion with Nation Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman about future nation building. The Jamuna Bridge, mentioned by Bangabandhu during the discussion, was printed on Bangladesh’s Tk 100 banknote after its construction, which has become a symbol of friendship between Japan and Bangladesh. In October 1973, Bangabandhu visited Japan and received an enthusiastic welcome from the Japanese people amid the wave of the flags of the two countries, which bore a brotherly resemblance. Seeing the post-war reconstruction of Japan, Bangabandhu thought of the recovery and development of Bangladesh. His successful visit paved the way for the excellent cooperation that followed.

In 1973, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) started coming to Bangladesh. JOCV worked with the local community for the development of Bangladesh, building trust. In 1974, a large business delegation led by Nagano Shigeo, president of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, visited Bangladesh. The mission visited every corner of the new Bangladesh including Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Sundarbans, Cumilla, Kaptai, Sirajganj and Khulna. They found great potential in the country through face-to-face interactions with the people of Bangladesh. From the beginning of our relations, Japan has demonstrated its willingness to contribute to the development of Bangladesh in various fields, ranging from grassroots support and human resource development to infrastructure construction.

There is a saying: “A friend in need is really a friend”. As Kishida Fumio, Prime Minister of Japan, points out in his 50th anniversary message, Japan has always been a true friend of Bangladesh in difficult times. This has not changed at all, even during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Japan became one of the first countries to start supplying vaccines to Bangladesh in July last year. So far, about 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and budget support of 75 billion yen have been given to Bangladesh. Japan will continuously cooperate with Bangladesh to overcome this Covid-19 pandemic.

The 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Bangladesh will elevate the cooperative relationship between the two countries to a new level. JICA’s large-scale infrastructure projects will promote the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) initiative, launched by Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and later Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in 2014. In December this year, Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line 6 will start commercial operation and the Bangladesh Special Economic Zone at Araihazar will be ready for international investment. After that, the expansion of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Matarbari Deep Sea Port and Bangabandhu Railway Bridge will come online.

The completion of these megaprojects will be a game-changer for Bangladesh. The economic development and prosperity of Bangladesh is vital for the stability of the entire Indo-Pacific region, as Bangladesh connects India and Asean. During the celebration ceremony of the 50th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bangabandhu last March, Dhaka played a central role as a center of regional diplomacy and connectivity under the leadership of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. This showed that Bangladesh possesses great stature in the region against the backdrop of its rapid economic growth and political stability. Bangladesh will undoubtedly play an even greater role in promoting regional cooperation and achieving the global agenda.

In this regard, the ongoing efforts of Bangladesh to provide shelter and humanitarian assistance to displaced Rohingya from Myanmar deserve our appreciation. On January 28 this year, the Japanese government decided, as the first donor, to disburse a total of $2 million to UNHCR and WFP for the humanitarian and protection needs of the Rohingya in Bhasan Char. Japan will continue to work for a speedy repatriation with the Government of Bangladesh and the international community.

In 2026, Bangladesh will graduate from the status of least developed country (LDC) and aims to become a developed country in 2041 by achieving “Vision 2041”. Japan will continue to support Bangladesh on its development journey. Japan will extend its practical cooperation to Bangladesh as a partner in realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” vision of peace, stability and prosperity in the region. This cooperation includes quality infrastructure, connectivity and maritime security.

In this pivotal year, Japan hopes to improve the business environment. We should build a win-win partnership to expand trade and investment. Japan will also do its utmost to deepen mutual understanding and exchanges between the two peoples. To this end, we look forward to working “hand in hand” with the government and people of Bangladesh. Let us further develop our “global partnership” into a more strategic partnership. Japan will continue to move forward to further broaden the horizon of “heart-to-heart” relations between our two countries.

Ito Naoki is the Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh.

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