Implications Of US Delegation’s Visit To Dhaka: Strengthening Bangladesh-US Relations – OpEd


The visit of a US delegation to Dhaka from February 24-26, 2024, marked a significant moment in Bangladesh-US relations. The delegation included Eileen Laubacher, who served as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for South Asia at the U.S. National Security Council (NSC); Michael Schiffer, the USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Asia; and Afreen Akhter, the U.S. Department of State’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia (SCA).

During their visit, the three principals engaged in discussions with the government of Bangladesh aimed at enhancing diplomatic relations, addressing various challenges, and fostering a shared vision for advancing mutual interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Additionally, they held meetings with activists, civil society leaders, labor organizers, and advocates for an unrestricted media. Their conversations also centered on topics such as climate change, trade dynamics, the Rohingya situation, the Myanmar issue, and labor rights. The United States remained steadfast in its commitment to collaborating with Bangladesh to realize a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. This partnership included efforts to uphold human rights, combat climate change, bolster regional resilience against transnational threats, and promote economic reforms.

Diplomats and security analysts indicate that the US is prioritizing broader relations with Bangladesh over differences in electoral viewpoints. In meetings with diverse stakeholders, including government officials, they have underscored the importance of engagement from various sectors in advancing relations between Dhaka and Washington. During the meeting, a copy of the Prime Minister’s letter to President Biden was also presented to Special Assistant Laubacher. The original copy will be transmitted to the White House through the Bangladesh embassy in Washington.

In terms of the economy, Bangladesh and the US share a robust and interdependent relationship. Bilateral trade has witnessed remarkable growth, surging to US$13 billion in 2022. Bangladesh attracted FDI amounting to USD 3.48 billion in the fiscal year 2022, while exports to the US was $10.42 billion, constituting 17.57% of total export earnings. This surge in trade has elevated the US to the position of one of the largest trading partners of Bangladesh. Notably, the US remains the top destination for Bangladesh’s Ready-Made Garment (RMG) exports, totaling $46.6 billion in 2022. As the largest investor in Bangladesh’s energy sector, the third-largest trading partner, and a key market for RMG products, the United States plays a vital role in the economic and infrastructural development of the country. It is noteworthy that the US also holds a significant stake as a notable investor in Bangladesh’s energy sector and serves as the primary source of overall FDI. Furthermore, the US pledged its support to Bangladesh in establishing a new fund of $15 billion to address climate change.

While taking place the visit, the US embassy in Dhaka affirmed Bangladesh’s significance as a key partner to Washington in the Indo-Pacific region, emphasizing its commitment to fostering a prosperous, secure, and democratic Bangladesh. In a verified Facebook post, the embassy stated, “We discussed ways in which our two countries can collaborate on mutual interests, including economic development, security, refugee issues, climate change, labor rights, and trade.” Following tensions over the past two years, both Dhaka and Washington expressed their desire to embark on a new phase in their bilateral relationship during the three-day visit by the US delegation, marking the first such visit since the January 7 polls in Bangladesh. Nonetheless, analysts suggest that while Washington aims to advance the multifaceted relationship with Dhaka.

After a meeting with Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Saber Hossain Chowdhury, they convened with Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at the State Guest House Padma. Subsequently, the US delegation, headed by Eileen Laubacher, paid a courtesy visit to Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud. Later, they participated in a seminar on business reform at the EMK Center in the capital. Following a meeting with Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud, Eileen Laubacher expressed satisfaction in discussing priority issues between the two countries during their visit to Bangladesh. “We have deliberated on how we can mutually assist each other in the future. The United States values its relationship with Bangladesh,” the US official remarked during discussions with reporters. Moreover, Minister Hasan Mahmud reaffirmed Bangladesh’s steadfast stance in favor of peace and opposition to any type of conflict, urging the US to leverage its influence to secure a lasting ceasefire in Gaza. He also voiced his optimism for the resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The delegation also convened for a discussion session with Salman F Rahman, Prime Minister’s Advisor on Private Industry and Investment. Following the meeting, Salman F Rahman addressed reporters, stating, “We deliberated on how to further deepen the relations between our two countries in the future.” He emphasized that the election is now in the past and was not a topic of discussion during their meeting. Highlighting the concern expressed by the US delegation regarding the situation in Myanmar, Salman F Rahman mentioned that they are closely monitoring developments in Myanmar. “The US delegation has urged us to remain vigilant regarding the situation in Myanmar,” he added.

During the meeting with the US delegation, diplomatic sources revealed that Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud, Prime Minister’s Advisor on Private Industry and Investment Salman F Rahman, and Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen broached the topic of the letter from US President Joe Biden addressed to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh interpreted the contents of the letter as a positive indication to fortify bilateral relations, emphasizing the need to transcend any lingering unease arising from discrepancies surrounding the election process. The discussions surrounding President Biden’s correspondence underscored Bangladesh’s commitment to fostering a constructive and cooperative relationship with the United States. It signaled a mutual desire to move beyond past differences and focus on shared objectives and mutual interests. By addressing concerns directly and seeking clarification, the Bangladeshi officials demonstrated their proactive approach to diplomatic engagement.

The interpretation of President Biden’s letter as a catalyst for strengthening bilateral ties reflects the importance of communication and transparency in international relations. It highlights the significance of diplomatic gestures in building trust and fostering goodwill between nations. Bangladesh’s willingness to engage in dialogue and interpretation further exemplifies its dedication to nurturing diplomatic ties and promoting mutual understanding with its international partners. The letter underscores the multifaceted nature of bilateral relations, encompassing political, economic, and strategic dimensions. By addressing concerns related to the election process, both parties affirmed their commitment to upholding democratic principles and fostering a positive discourse in their relationship. Therefore, the discussion surrounding President Biden’s letter represents a pivotal moment in Bangladesh-US relations, reflecting a shared commitment to deepening cooperation and strengthening ties for the benefit of both nations. It underscores the importance of open communication, dialogue, and mutual respect in advancing diplomatic relations in the modern era.

The discussions during the government-level talks with the visiting US delegation encompassed various measures taken by the US and statements made in Bangladesh’s political landscape before and after the 12th parliamentary elections. These discussions included issues related to sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion, adjustments to the visa policy for Bangladeshi citizens to ensure electoral fairness, as well as statements made by both Bangladesh and the US. Bangladesh expressed hope that the US would undertake various measures in the near future, including the lifting of sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion and a reconsideration of the visa policy.

Unpacking Diplomatic Significance: Assessing the Implications of the US Delegation Visit for Bangladesh-US Relations

The visit of the US delegation to Dhaka from February 24-26, 2024, carries significant implications for Bangladesh-US relations. Firstly, it underscores the depth and complexity of the bilateral relationship, particularly in economic matters. The robust trade growth, substantial foreign direct investment, and Bangladesh’s increasing involvement in the US as a trading partner highlight the interconnectedness of their economies. This reliance positions the US as a key player in Bangladesh’s economic development and underscores the importance of maintaining a strong and cooperative relationship.

Secondly, the discussions held during the visit indicate a shared commitment to addressing a range of regional and global challenges. From climate change to human rights issues, the two nations are aligning their efforts to promote stability, prosperity, and democratic values in the Indo-Pacific region. The US pledge to support Bangladesh in establishing a fund to combat climate change further demonstrates their shared commitment to addressing pressing global issues.

Thirdly, the interpretation of President Biden’s letter as a positive signal for strengthening bilateral ties signifies the importance of diplomatic gestures in fostering trust and cooperation between nations. By addressing concerns surrounding the election process and seeking clarification, Bangladesh and the US are demonstrating their commitment to open communication and dialogue.

Finally, the discussions surrounding various measures taken by the US and statements made in Bangladesh’s political landscape underscore the multifaceted nature of their relationship. Addressing issues such as sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion and visa policy adjustments reflects a mutual commitment to upholding democratic principles and ensuring electoral fairness.

The three-day visit of the US delegation to Dhaka underscored the importance of Bangladesh-US relations and the commitment of both nations to fostering a prosperous, secure, and democratic Indo-Pacific region. The discussions held during the visit laid the groundwork for enhanced cooperation across various sectors, including economic development, security, climate change, and human rights. While challenges remain, particularly regarding issues such as democracy and media freedom, both Dhaka and Washington expressed their determination to overcome these obstacles and chart a new course in their bilateral relationship. The visit not only reaffirmed the strategic partnership between Bangladesh and the United States but also signaled a renewed commitment to mutual cooperation and shared prosperity

Syed Raiyan Amir

Syed Raiyan Amir is a Senior Research Associate at The KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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