By Pathik Hasan
Laos-Myanmar-Bangladesh could exchange regional some advantages but Rohingya issue must be resolved. Closer Bangladesh-Myanmar ties have great economic potential but the regional crisis should be resolved as soon as possible for ensuring the greater interest of South Asia and South East Asia including Laos. 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, Laos is a neighboring state of Myanmar. Myanmar and Laos can be able to access in South Asia through Bangladesh. If Laos connects itself with Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand-India connectivity project and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar connectivity corridor, Laos would benefit. A huge potential is waiting for Cambodia. If the two projects can be implemented truly, Laos will be gainer in this regard. Bangladesh-Myanmar improved ties is very needed in this regard. Laos 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 land locked country, Laos can use the routes to enter in the Bay of Bengal and Indian ocean easily. Then it would be able to bolster its trade ties with South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East Asia. Laos can decrease its dependence on Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam easily in such way in this regard.
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, Laos would benefit economically to boost up their trade ties. Laos will be able to ensure its maximum business interest. Laos 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-Laos 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-Laos 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. Laos should join the project to ensure its maximum business interest.
Myanmar and Laos 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-Laos 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 Laos through Myanmar.
According to Bangladeshi media outlets, On the other hands. Laos mainly exports Machinery, boilers, Manmade staple fibers, Paper and paperboard, articles of pulp, paper and board, Cotton, Pearls, precious stones, metals, coins, Raw hides and skins (other than fur skins) and leather etc. to Bangladesh. 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.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina visited Laos in 2012. Bangladesh and Laos have been supporting each other in various international forums. In 2012, Laos supported Bangladesh’s inclusion in the AESM.
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. Cambodia 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 Laos also. Myanmar and Bangladesh should resolve 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.
Laos can play a very significant role in this regard. Laos can mediate to bolster the strained relations between Bangladesh-Myanmar. Laos can play to repatriate the Rohingyas in Rakhine in Myanmar. Laos can easily resolve the problem because it has a very good relations with Myanmar.
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 resolve 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. Laos should play an effective role to motivate Myanmar to bolster ties with Bangladesh. Laos should take significant initiative to resolve the crisis. Benefit is waiting not only for Myanmar but also for Laos.