ISSN 2330-717X

Celebrating 50 Years Of Close Friendly Ties Between Bangladesh And Indonesia – OpEd

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This year, both Bangladesh and Indonesia are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations between them.

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Indonesia was one of the first few Muslim-majority countries to recognize Bangladesh as a new independent and sovereign country on Feb. 25, 1972. Since then, both countries have been enjoying an excellent bilateral relationship.

“Our two countries are more than neighbors. Bangladesh is Indonesia’s important friend and partner in South Asia. Fifty years is a mature age, and I’m pleased to see our relations continue to translate into concrete cooperation that benefits our people,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said in a video message at the celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Indonesia in Jakarta on June 21.

“I’m glad that we could count on each other’s support during this pandemic. We must continue to move forward together. Our world today is full of challenges, challenges that are so massive that we cannot tackle individually. We are now on the brink of three dimensional crises: food, energy and finance”.

Echoing a similar expression, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen commended both countries’ commitment to peace and socioeconomic development.

“Ever since (1972), Bangladesh and Indonesia have been maintaining excellent bilateral relations based on friendship, mutual respect and understanding as well as a broad commonality of values, culture, tradition, religion and ethos. Both our countries share a common commitment to the maintenance of peace, security and socioeconomic development, both regionally and globally,” Momen said in a video message.

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The Bangladesh Embassy in Indonesia organized the event on June 21 in Jakarta to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

“In 50 years, the relationship has become stronger and intensified in trade, defense, tourism, aviation and many other sectors. Both Bangladesh and Indonesia hold similar views on many regional and international issues and work together in regional bodies, such as the Bali Democracy Forum, ASEAN Regional Forum, Indian Ocean Rim Association, United Nations, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and World Trade Organization,” Bangladesh Ambassador to Indonesia Air Vice Marshall Mohammad Mostafizur Rahman said in his opening remarks.

With a population of 167 million people, Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country in the world, while Indonesia is the fourth most populous with 279 million people. Indonesia also has the world’s biggest Muslim population, while Bangladesh ranks the fourth. Both have pluralistic societies and are Asia’s biggest democracies. They respect religious tolerance, freedom of expression, and human rights.

Bangladesh is one of the leading countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), while Indonesia, the current president of the G-20, is the de facto leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Under the able leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the Father of the Nation and independence hero Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh has been moving on the trajectory of inclusive development and people-centric progress since 2009.

“I am happy to share with you that Bangladesh’s graduation from an LDC (Least Developed Country) to a developing nation in 2021 is a recognition of the collective struggle of our people for progress in the 50 years of our independence,” Momen said.

Bangladesh has achieved sustained growth and macroeconomic stability as well as a significant reduction in poverty.

“Bangladesh is now recognized as a role model in socio-economic development in the world. The rate of poverty has been dropped, and per capita income has tripled over the past decade. Besides its good GDP growth rate of 6.94 percent, Bangladesh is in the seventh position in women’s political empowerment, second in apparel exports and first in UN peacekeepers,” Ambassador Rahman said.

The World Bank has commended Bangladesh for its remarkable economic progress.

“Bangladesh tells the world a remarkable story of poverty reduction and development. From being one of the poorest nations at its birth in 1971 and the world’s tenth lowest per capita GDP, Bangladesh reached lower-middle-income status in 2015. It is on track to graduate from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list in 2026. Poverty declined from 43.5 percent in 1991 to 14.3 percent in 2016, based on the international poverty line of $1.90 a day (using 2011 Purchasing Power Parity exchange rate). Moreover, human development outcomes improved along many dimensions,” the World Bank said in a report.

According to Momen, Bangladesh is the fifth most resilient country in the world during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, with its US$405 billion gross domestic production (GDP) and a per capita GDP of $2,408, Bangladesh is the 40thh biggest economy in the world. It has $1.07 trillion GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms.

Indonesia has recognized the potential of dynamic Bangladesh and taken several measures to deepen the ties.

The leaders of Bangladesh and Indonesia have good rapport and have visited each other’s country not only as a gesture of close friendship but also to foster further relations.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina visited Indonesia in 2011, 2015, and 2017, while Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Bangladesh in 2018 to boost bilateral ties. Several agreements and memorandum of understandings (MoUs) were signed during these visits to strengthen bilateral ties.
Economic ties

With their massive populations, growing middle class and consistent economic growth, Indonesia and Bangladesh have enormous economic potential. Bilateral trade has been growing at a tremendous pace in recent years. It surged to US$3.03 billion in 2021 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a huge jump from $1,66 billion in 2017.

The trade was heavily in favour of Indonesia. With $2.92 billion exports and $0.10 billion imports, Indonesia enjoyed a $2.81 billion trade surplus with Bangladesh last year.

During the first four months of 2022, Indonesian trade with Bangladesh jumped to $1.39 billion, a 40.56 percent increase from the same period last year.

Bangladesh buys coal, palm oil, LNG, automotive spare parts, spices, and rubber from Indonesia in large quantities. Recently, Indonesia’s PT INKA supplied 400 train wagons to Bangladesh. Indonesia is the fifth biggest source of imports for Bangladesh.

To increase trade and achieve a healthy trade balance, Indonesia is negotiating a preferential trade agreement (PTA) with Bangladesh.

“We will conclude the preferential trade agreement talks soon,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s director-general for Asia-Pacific and African affairs Abdul Kadir Jailani said at the reception. “Because I am confident that the growth in trade will lead to growth in other sectors, including investments.”

Jailani was the chief guest at the event. He commended Bangladesh for its help during difficult times.

“We thank Bangladesh for providing COVID-medicines to Indonesia. We also thank it for the assistance in evacuating Indonesian citizens from Bangladesh during the pandemic,” Jailani said.

Trade will increase a lot in the coming years as both countries are on a positive growth trajectory.
In fact, in April this year, both Bangladesh and Indonesia agreed to start a Medan-Dhaka air route to boost tourism and people-to-people contacts via an Indonesian airlines company, Lion Air.

“The benefits of a direct flight are expected to boost business and tourism but only if the COVID-19 situation allows,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a press release after the virtual Foreign Office Consultation with its Bangladesh counterpart on April 29, 2021.

Indonesia can invest in Bangladesh in various sectors because Dhaka offers so many incentives to foreign investors. Bangladesh is not only a land of opportunities but also a gateway to South Asian countries.

Garments and medicines are the leading products of Bangladesh. Indonesia can purchase several high quality medicines as well as health products from Bangladesh at a much cheaper price.
Both countries, according to Rahman, have agreed to cooperate closely in defense, counter terrorism, maritime security, law enforcement, agriculture, disaster management, pharmacy, energy, education, science and technology, shipping, customs, railways, air connectivity sectors and capacity building.
Which direction will relations between Bangladesh and Indonesia go in the future?

“So far, we have enjoyed a very close relationship, but I believe it is time to add a strategic dimension to it. I also believe that our relationship will reach new heights in coming days,” Rahman said.

Given the huge potential of both countries, the leaders of Bangladesh and Indonesia must consider to establish a strategic partnership in the future. This will change the entire gamut of the relationship.

Veeramalla Anjaiah

Veeramalla Anjaiah is a Jakarta-based senior journalist and the author of the book “Azerbaijan Seen from Indonesia

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