Japan awaits Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming Tokyo visit with high eagerness expecting the event to elevate bilateral ties to a higher level amid current geopolitics, the country’s ambassador in Dhaka told BSS.
“This visit is highly expected from the viewpoint of the Japanese government (and) the expectation is high,” Japanese ambassador Iwama Kiminori said in his first exclusive interview to a Bangladeshi media outlet since he assumed his new assignment in Dhaka four months ago.
Talking to BSS diplomatic correspondent Tanzim Anwar, the envoy said Dhaka and Tokyo were on the verge of elevating bilateral ties to higher level with enhancing economic relations and increasing security cooperation amid ongoing geopolitical polarization.
“As the international situation has been evolving and the status of Bangladesh is developing towards a middle income country, and in the future a developed country, our (Japan’s) relationship with Dhaka is inevitably changing,” he said.
Kiminori said Tokyo expected to deepen and widen ties with Dhaka with Sheikh Hasina’s visit while his country also envisaged the ties to be based on “equal partnership” instead of a “donor-recipient” relationship in view of Bangladesh’s steady economic growth.
“Equal partner means the trade and investment should be center part of our relationship,” the envoy explained.
Sheikh Hasina will be on an official visit to Japan on 25-28 April at the invitation of her Japanese counterpart Kishida Fumio when they are scheduled to hold a summit alongside a working dinner to be hosted by Kiminori.
According to officials the two countries are expected to sign a number of memorandums of cooperation during the visit.
The Japanese ambassador said the talks between the two premiers were expected to uplift the bilateral relations unto next level through economic cooperation, trade and investment, progress on signing bilateral economic partnership agreement, new development initiatives, security cooperation, indo-pacific strategy, people-to people contact, Rohingya crisis and Russia-Ukrain conflicts.
Economic cooperation and agreement
The envoy said Fumio and Sheikh Hasina were likely to discuss the possibility of signing a bilateral economic partnership agreement or free trade deal.
“Two leaders are likely to welcome the fact that our discussion towards economic partnership agreement is on the right track and this is one of the symbolic structures that we are aiming at for the enhanced economic relationship,” Kiminori said.
Japan launched a joint study group in December last year to discuss on various issues towards possible bilateral economic partnership agreement between Bangladesh and Japan.
According to the envoy joint group’s met in their first meeting earlier this month in Tokyo while Japan government planned to conduct several such sessions to explore best steps for elevated economic cooperation between the two countries.
“We would like to have free trade agreement between Bangladesh and Japan,” said the ambassador.
Kiminori said Japan considers Bangladesh’s graduation from Least Developed Country to middle income country as “leverage” towards the next step to have an “equal relationship” with Dhaka in terms of economic, trade and investment ties.
He said Tokyo would like to promote as many as Japanese companies at the Japanese Economic zone in Araihazar that was opened in December last year, to intensify foreign direct investment in Bangladesh.
“We can help the Bangladesh government’s idea to diversify the industries because it is one of the key elements,” he said adding that Tokyo found Bangladesh ICT sector as most potential area for Japanese investment.
The ambassador said as Tokyo would like to uplift the Japan-Bangladesh bilateral relations into a higher level as “strategic partnership” while enhancing security cooperation is an “important element” to achieve that.
“This (security cooperation) is one of the issues that we are diversifying the relationship between Bangladesh and Japan,” the ambassador said adding that Tokyo has decided to provide defense items to Bangladesh under its new initiative called Japanese Official Security Assistance (OSA).
He said Japan was not aiming to conduct military operation through this OSA but Tokyo would like to provide military support to some selected countries including Bangladesh on their effort in maintaining peace and stability in the indo-pacific region.
“We are not aiming to sell weapons but some security related items which will contribute to the regional stability, (while) we have announced Bangladesh is one of the countries that we will look at (in this regard),” said the ambassador.
Currently, he said, Japan and Bangladesh governments are in the beginning phase of preliminary consultation regarding security cooperation.
“We are having discussion between Bangladesh and the Japan governments about the possibility of the Official Security Assistance,” he said.
The ambassador said the prime ministers of Bangladesh and Japan might touch upon the issue related to the Official Security Assistance during their bilateral talk in Tokyo though the matter is now under consultation stage nothing in “concrete”.
Kiminori said the Japanese interest in providing security cooperation was reflected when Japanese navy ships visited Bangladesh this and last year to increase “human to human” contact between defense forces between the two countries.
“I think when it comes to the security perspective, one of the important issues is not just giving one country some equipment or some facilities but having human to human contact, the military to military communication and dialogs,” he added.
As per concern of any new initiative related to development assistance, the ambassador said that connectivity from Matarbari deep sea port to North Eastern states of India could be discussed during the visit.
The envoy said Tokyo was committed to build the deep sea port at the Matarbari but still there are some “missing links” of ensuring connectivity between the port and the region in “true sense”. “It is a new initiative,” he added.
During his visit to India last month Japanese Prime Minister Fumio said Tokyo would promote an “industrial value chain” from the Bay of Bengal to northeastern India in cooperation with both New Delhi and Dhaka, “to foster the growth of the entire region.”
The construction of Matarbari Port – a deep seaport in Cox’s Bazar district – is currently underway with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) assistance an considered as a key component of Japan’s Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP) plan.
Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP)
The ambassador said during the prime minister level bilateral summit in Tokyo, Japanese premier Fumio will share his though regarding Japan’s FOIP plan.
“Whether the (Bangladesh) government will join or not (in Japan’s FOIP) our (Japanese) prime minister will share the idea (with Bangladesh prime minister),” he said.
During his recent trip to India, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida presented the FOIP plan in detail where in addition to India, he also unveiled plans for Bangladesh stating that Tokyo would promote the Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept to foster the growth of the entire region.
The Japanese ambassador said Tokyo was advocating free and open indo pacific initiative since long to diversify relationship with Bangladesh while his country observed Dhaka was also in favour of free fair indo pacific.
“There is some common understanding (between Japan and Bngldesh)”.
Kiminori said Japan welcomes Bangladesh to join any regional economic platforms that doesn’t matter whether the US or China are “in or out” in those forums.
The ambassador said the “basic idea” to resolve the Rohiongya crisis which is – sustainable, safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of the displaced people to Myanamar – would be shred during the meeting of the two prime ministers.
He said the Japan appreciates Bangladesh’s generosity of hosting such huge number of Rohingyas in their land while Tokyo is committed to provide humanitarian assistance for the displaced people and the host community alongside to continue its advocacy in favour of safe and voluntary repatriation to ensure peace and stability in the region.
“We (Japan) would continue to commit ourselves to provide humanitarian assistance to Rohingyas in various phase to alleviate the burden of Bangladesh,” he said.
The ambassador said the two prime ministers are also likely to discuss the current situation regarding Ukraine conflict while Tokyo might share how Japan could assist the developing countries as a G7 member to face the ongoing global economic condition.