By Pathik Hasan
Diplomatic relationship between Bangladesh and Thailand was established following Thailand’s recognition of Bangladesh on 5 October 1972. Thailand opened its Embassy in Dhaka in 1974 and Bangladesh established its Embassy in Bangkok in 1975 at the ambassadorial level. Since the establishment of resident Missions, both countries have been working for strengthening their bilateral relations for mutual benefits. Bangladesh and Thailand enjoy excellent bilateral relationship which is deeply rooted in religious, cultural and linguistic linkages of the two countries. Shared commitment to democracy, development and international peace and security has brought the two countries to work closely in many areas of mutual interest. (According to Bangladesh Embassy office to Thailand)
Bangladesh’s ‘Look East Policy’ and Thailand’s ‘Look West Policy’ may be synchronised to create new trade and economic connectivity corridors and offered to establish coastal shipping connectivity between Thailand’s Ranong Port and Bangladesh’s Chittagong Port. Bangladesh a “gateway and connectivity hub” between South Asia and Southeast Asia and offered to establish coastal shipping connectivity between Thailand’s Ranong Port and Bangladesh’s Chittagong Port.
Myanmar is one of Bangladesh’s closest neighbors with historic connectivity going back centuries. The 271 km long Bangladesh-Myanmar border is very important for Bangladesh due to its strategic position, although at present the area is militarized due to its ongoing internal conflicts. Were this to be resolved, Bangladesh could develop routes via Myanmar to access China to the east, and other southeast Asian countries to the south.
On the other hands, Thailand is a neighboring state of Myanmar. Myanmar and Thailand can be able to access in South Asia through Bangladesh. If Thailand connects itself with Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand-India connectivity project and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar connectivity corridor, Thailand would benefit. A huge potential is waiting for Thailand. If the two projects can be implemented truly, Thailand will be gainer in this regard. Bangladesh-Myanmar improved ties is very needed in this regard. Thailand is a very friendly country to both Myanmar and Bangladesh
Myanmar can also use Bangladesh as a transportation route to reach markets such as Nepal, Bhutan, and India. Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), an organization consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand that seeks to foster regional and economic cooperation. Laos can and should join BIMSTEC to utilize the benefits. Being a hub between South East Asian and South Asian country, Thailand can use the routes to enter in the Bay of Bengal and Indian ocean easily through Myanmar and Bangladesh. Then it would be able to bolster its trade ties with South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East Asia.
Bangladesh is a Southeast Asian country and can be used as an important hub to connect ASEAN and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). members of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka is difficult. Myanmar too, as an ASEAN member, can access the SAARC free-trade bloc through Bangladesh. Such a way, Thailand would benefit economically to boost up their trade ties. Thailand will be able to ensure its maximum business interest. Thailand can access into the market of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Central Asia easily.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have also resolved a dispute over their maritime borders through the International Court of Justice. As a result, the rights of Bangladesh have been established in an area of 1,11,000 square kilometers. Myanmar’s waters have also been properly identified. Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand has potential to invest in maritime business in the Bay of Bengal. These countries should utilize and extract the maritime resource from the maritime zone. Blue economy can bring benefit for Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand also.
The proposed construction of the Asian Highway, funded by the Asian Development Bank can increase land connectivity between the two countries and increase trade in products such as fertilizers, plastics, cement, and furniture, etc. Thailand should and can join the project to ensure its maximum business interest.
Myanmar and Thailand which at present does have sophisticated manufacturing, can import electronics and pharmaceutical products that are readily produced from Bangladesh and benefit from the technology transfer. Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand has potential of rice and fishery production. Trilateral effort is very needed here. Bangladeshi medicines, agricultural products garments, footwear and leather goods, knitwear, pharmaceuticals, tableware, home textiles, textiles, seafood and marine products, tea, potatoes, jute and jute products, light engineering products, spices, cosmetics and ceramics, Toilets, etc. can be exported easily to Thailand through Myanmar.
According to Bangladeshi media outlets, some major export items from Bangladesh to Thailand include other made textile articles, vegetable textile fibers, articles of apparel, products of animal origin, electrical & electronic equipment, fish and crustaceans, Pharmaceuticals and chemicals, chemical products, leather and leather products, frozen fish, raw jute and jute goods, ceramic tableware, knitwear and woven garments, tea etc. have good prospects in Thai market. On the other hands, Thailand’s cement, cereals, plastics and articles thereof, man-made staple fibers, sugar and sugar confectionary, machinery and mechanical appliances, cotton and cotton fabrics have good demand in Bangladeshi market.
But one of the major problems is the lack of adequate transport links for the expansion of bilateral trade between the two countries. Both countries are working to resolve this transportation issue and are in the process of joining the Asian Highway Network, which is expected to address this issue. Bangladesh and Thailand are longstanding friends and connected by the Bay of Bengal and maritime routes, Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand should intensify cooperation in trade, investment and regional connectivity.
According to Bangladeshi media outlets. Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral relations matters for ensuring great regional interest. Huge growth is possible in trilateral trade amongst the three nations. Bangladesh will able to create a dedicated economic zone for Thai investors, and pledge to extend all-out support. Bangladesh and Thailand cand Boost cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina visited Thailand in 2013. Bangladesh and Thailand have been supporting each other in various international forums. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s very successful visits to Bangladesh thrice in less than two years in December 2011, February 2010 and in May 2018, have also added greater momentum to the cooperative engagement between the two countries.
China is now the biggest investor in Myanmar. China has invested over US$3 billion since the 2016-2017 fiscal year. One of the most strategic components of these investments is the US$1.3 billion Kyaukphyu deep seaport, which when completed, can provide China’s Yunnan province a shortcut to the Indian Ocean. Thailand can extract some benefits from the investments for its own gain.
The country’s biggest economic advantage for Myanmar is that they are a member of ASEAN. ASEAN controls about 24 percent of total world trade and its share in world trade is growing yearly. ASEAN’s trade relations with China, Japan, and South Korea are deepening due to the increase in trade and the upcoming RCEP agreement. ASEAN countries account for more than 50 percent of total trade between themselves and these three countries.
Bangladesh is keen to provide assistance to Myanmar. Covid-19 vaccine distribution and counter-terrorism training are some areas for cooperation. The Rohingya refugee problem has, however, created some tension between the two countries, and find the solution can serve the longer-term interests of Bangladesh and Myanmar even Thailand also. Myanmar and Bangladesh should solve this problem to serve its own and reginal interest. Myanmar should understand that it is the issue of the region. Whole South Asia and South East Asia may be volatile and unstable for this problem.
Thailand can play a very significant role in this regard. Thailand can mediate to bolster the strained relations between Bangladesh-Myanmar. Thailand can play to repatriate the Rohingyas in Rakhine in Myanmar. Thailand can easily solve the problem because it has a very good relations with Myanmar. However, Thailand can support for Bangladesh’s bid for membership in Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Forum and the ASEAN Sectoral Partnership. Bangladesh and Thailand can closely cooperate in different regional forums including BISMTEC, ACD, ARF, ASEM, OIC and AMED and multilateral forums including UN, WTO and ITU.
However, the three countries can also increase production in the agricultural sector through joint ventures. Apart from adopting joint investment projects, Bangladesh can increase imports of various agricultural products including pulses, spices, fish and rice. Thus, enhancing trilateral relations could contribute to the growth of trade and investment relations with ASEAN and BIMSTEC countries. This will create an opportunity to solve the Rohingya problem and stop militant activities. Therefore, Myanmar should take effective steps to strengthen bilateral relations to connect the South East Asia with South Asia. Thailand should and can play an effective role to motivate Myanmar to bolster ties with Bangladesh. Benefit is waiting not only for Myanmar but also for Thailand.
*Pathik Hasan, Dhaka based NGO worker, Freelance writer