Bangladesh, USA Should Work Together To Face Future Challenges – OpEd


On April 4, 1972, three and a half months after gaining independence, the United States formally recognized the newly independent Bangladesh. Then US President Richard Nixon expressed his desire to cooperate with the new administration in a message to Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The letter stated that the US government is interested in establishing ambassadorial-level ties. On April 9, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wrote to President Nixon to convey his happiness over Bangladesh’s recognition. This is how diplomatic ties between Washington and Dhaka began.

Richard Nixon, the US’s Republican president at the time, backed Pakistan during the Liberation War. However, after witnessing the barbaric attacks, killings, and tortures on the innocent Bengalis, the diplomats of the then-American Consulate General Office in Dhaka were unable to support their own government’s East Pakistan policy. Therefore, the message they are sending by disagreeing with government policy is really admirable. Although the US government at the time opposed Bangladesh’s independence, American diplomats stationed in Dhaka as well as the general populace of the country spoke out in support of Bangladesh.

51 years have passed, and the two countries’ ties have improved in many areas. During this period, the largest foreign investment in Bangladesh came from the United States. The country is currently a crucial partner in Bangladesh’s growth. In terms of ready-made clothing, the country is also the biggest buyer. It is said that the partnership between Dhaka and Washington is now more extensive and comprehensive than it has ever been. The recent ban on RAB officials, however, has strained even the colorful relationships that go back more than fifty years. In addition, there is a visible tension between Dhaka and Washington regarding democracy, human rights, and good governance. So, Dhaka and Washington should improve going forward in accordance with democracy and economy.

Since gaining its independence in 1971, Bangladesh’s economy has increased from $9 billion to $450 billion, its life expectancy has increased from 47 to 73 years, and its adult literacy rate has increased to over 75%. Again, Bangladesh has made substantial socioeconomic advancements under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership in the areas of food production, disaster relief, poverty alleviation, enhanced health, education, and women’s empowerment. Recently, a motion honoring Bangladesh and its impressive socioeconomic development was adopted by the US Congress.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has contributed more than $7 billion over the past 51 years to a number of areas, including the reduction of poverty, economic growth, improvement of food security, decrease in maternal and infant mortality, electrification of rural areas, mitigation of disaster risk, microfinance, and humanitarian aid in Bangladesh. Partnerships in these sectors played a role in helping Bangladesh become a developing country.

The US is Bangladesh’s main export destination. More than $4 billion in annual export revenue, or about a quarter of all export revenue, comes from the United States. Bangladesh’s exports to the country are growing significantly each year. In 2021, the US will import more products from Bangladesh than any other country, totaling about $8.3 billion. The Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), the official US authority, reports that between January and September 2022, garment imports from Bangladesh to the US increased by 50.98%. With a share of 8.84 percent, Bangladesh maintained its ranking as the United States’ third-largest supplier of apparel imports, behind China and Vietnam. It should be mentioned once more that about 90 percent of the more than $4 billion worth of goods imported from Bangladesh to the United States each year are ready-made garments, an industry that employs about 4 million women. Additionally, the remittances that millions of Bangladeshi-American immigrants send each year are a major factor in the rise of Bangladesh’s foreign currency reserves.

Bangladesh is now a role model for developing countries and a key geopolitical ally of the United States. US President Joe Biden recalled the permanent relationship between the US and Bangladesh with seriousness on the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations in 2022. In a letter to PM Sheikh Hasina, Biden asserted that the defense relationship between Washington and Dhaka is at its strongest ever and that it would grow over the next 50 years and beyond.

It can’t be denied that the US has been absent so far in the connectivity and infrastructure sectors of South Asia, including Bangladesh. In Bangladesh’s energy sector, though, the country has grown to be a significant partner. Through USAID, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other public and private organizations, the US also offers financial and technical support to Bangladesh in a number of sectors.

The US President commended Bangladesh’s generosity in providing shelter to nearly 1 million Rohingya and pledged continued support to Bangladesh in protecting Rohingya rights. The United States has so far offered the most assistance to Bangladesh regarding the Rohingya crisis. While China, Russia, and India voted against Bangladesh’s position in a proposal to include the Rohingya issue in the United Nations in 2017, the majority of nations, including the United States, voted in favor of the resolution. The United States has given Bangladesh, Myanmar, and other countries in the region more than $1.9 billion in humanitarian aid since 2017.

Bangladesh, which has grown to be significant on the global stage for a variety of geopolitical and geo-economic factors in addition to its geographic position, is now sought after by the US as an ally. Note that the US considers Bangladesh’s position as the focal point of the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy. The United States has recently boosted its diplomatic efforts in Dhaka. Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher, the special advisor to President Joe Biden, toured Dhaka at the start of this year. Donald Lu, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, also visited Bangladesh after that. The American diplomatic activity makes it obvious that the Biden administration is becoming more interested in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is cautiously welcoming this interaction with the US. ACSA and GSOMIA, two significant military procurement agreements put forth by the US, are being favorably considered by Dhaka, even though Bangladesh does not currently want to join the military component of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Both countries have the opportunity to collaborate as significant partners on a number of issues in the coming decades, such as climate change, trade and investment, refugees, UN peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and maritime security, in order to foster their close relationship and speed up economic growth and development. The challenges here, however, are the lifting of the RAB ban, US expectations regarding Bangladesh’s IPS participation, and Bangladesh’s stand on the Ukraine War. So, both countries should have a lively discussion about the uncomfortable issues of bilateral relations. Priority should be given by Bangladesh to lifting the ban on RAB officials and the organization and guaranteeing more benefits for Bangladeshi products.

The US-Bangladesh relationship will surely get stronger in the coming days, no matter how the global situation develops. Therefore, steps should be taken to end misunderstanding between the two countries (Bangladesh and the United States) in order to take advantage of future chances and overcome challenges.

Dr. Sabera Chowdhury, Senior researcher at South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada.

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