Hiren Pandit: Japanese Ambassador to Dhaka Iwama Kiminori said that Japan has included Bangladesh in the Official Security Assistance (OSA) project to intensify defense cooperation recently. Bangladesh is one of the four countries that Japan has included in this new program for the first year. The other three countries are – the Philippines, Malaysia and Fiji. To this end, Japan and Bangladesh have agreed to appoint defense attachés in their respective embassies. Dhaka-Tokyo is exploring the possibility of signing an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to boost trade and investment after Bangladesh exits the list of least developed countries and in a duty-free period by 2026.
Japan included a new cooperation framework called ‘Official Security Assistance’ for the benefit of developing countries to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. This program provides the armed forces and other related organizations with necessary materials and equipment as well as helps the country develop infrastructure based on the security needs of the countries.
According to the Japanese foreign ministry, as Japan is finding itself in the midst of the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II, it is essential for us to drastically strengthen our own defense capabilities as well as enhance the security and deterrence capabilities of like-minded countries in order to prevent unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, ensure the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region in particular, and create a security environment desirable for Japan.
“In order to achieve this objective, apart from Official Development Assistance (ODA) which aims for the economic and social development of developing countries, Japan has decided to establish a new cooperation framework Official Security Assistance (OSA) for the benefit of armed forces and other related organizations by providing materials and equipment as well as assistance for infrastructures development based on the security needs of the countries.”OSA is referred to in the new National Security Strategy approved by the Cabinet on December 16, 2022.This OSA issue was mentioned in the joint statement after Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Sheikh Hasina’s meeting in April. Prime Minister Hasina acknowledged the establishment of the OSA by Japan for the benefit of armed forces and other related organizations of like-minded countries for the purpose of deepening security cooperation and looked forward to future cooperation under this framework.
The two prime ministers welcomed recent frequent port calls at Chattogram by vessels of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the high-level mutual visits of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Bangladesh Armed Forces. In light of the Memorandum of Cooperation and Exchanges formulated between the defense authorities from the two sides, they concurred to continue to promote security cooperation such as mutual visits by vessels and aircraft, unit-to-unit exchange, training programs, and goodwill exercises.
Recognizing the future potential, they welcomed the commencement of negotiations on an agreement concerning the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology. Prime Minister Kishida explained Japan’s efforts for fundamentally reinforcing its defense capabilities and strengthening diplomatic efforts, as illustrated in the new National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Defense Buildup Program.
Prime Minister Hasina shared Bangladesh’s plan and initiative for further modernizing its armed forces under the Forces Goal 2030.Both prime ministers acknowledged the efforts by both countries to contribute to their respective regional security. In order to deepen economic cooperation, the two countries established the Joint Study Group on the possibility of a Japan-Bangladesh Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in April 2023.
The third terminal of the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and the entire route of the Dhaka metro rail were both constructed with Japan’s support. The ambassador said they had already dispatched language teachers as part of the cultural cooperation. Japanese overseas cooperation volunteers (JOCVs) will also be dispatched soon. He said they were also trying to start the Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) program in Dhaka as part of hiring human resources.
Ambassador Kiminori said at the closing session of a round table discussion held at the auditorium of the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka recently. Pan Asia Research Institute (PARI) organized the discussion titled ‘Implementation of Bangladesh-Japan Strategic Relations: Diplomatic, Economic and People-to-People Relations’.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Japan last April. During this visit, after the summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the relationship between the two countries was elevated to a strategic level. The joint declaration issued after the summit mentioned the inclusion of Bangladesh in the OSA. The Ambassador of Japan said that Bangladesh has been included in the OCA to strengthen defense cooperation with the armed forces and related institutions. There have been positive discussions in recent months to increase cooperation under that framework, especially arms exchange and technology exchange. He said that a joint survey team was formed in December last year for the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the two countries. Two rounds of negotiations have already been completed. The study team intends to start the EPA as soon as possible after the third round of negotiations. The Japanese ambassador said that by the end of this year, Japanese volunteers will be sent to Bangladesh again.
It needs to be mentioned that Kushtia-born Bengali Justice Radha Binod Paul laid the foundation of Bangladesh-Japan relations. The role he played in the judicial process in the wake of World War II is still remembered by the Japanese. In addition, during the liberation war in 1971, Japanese students saved tiffin money and sent aid to Bangladeshi refugees, it is also memorable. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Dhaka in 2014 and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan in 2023 have added a new dimension to the relationship between the two countries. Trade and investment between the two countries have increased. This is the first time that the trade between the two countries has crossed 4 billion dollars.
The program to increase the connectivity of Dhaka with the North East region of India is ongoing. Japan is helping to increase this connection. Bangladesh and Japan will move forward together in the coming days. Japan-Bangladesh relations are characterized by a shared commitment to promoting peace and stability in the region and beyond. He said that communication and overall relationship between Japan and Bangladesh will improve in the coming days.
OSA has established cooperation frameworks for the benefit of Japan’s armed forces and regional organizations of like-minded countries for peace and stability. Japan has announced an agreement with Bangladesh on the ‘transfer of defense equipment and technology’. The relationship between Bangladesh and Japan has improved significantly in the last decade.
Major projects in Bangladesh with Japanese funding have made significant progress. In October, the third terminal of Shahjalal International Airport was opened. Apart from this, the first phase of the Metrorail project has been launched and the second phase has been completed. Dhaka-Narita air service has also been launched. Japan is a trusted friend of Bangladesh. In addition to Japan’s bilateral relations with Bangladesh, Japan has multilateral relations with the country. Apart from this, our strategic relationship is also getting stronger.
The 50th anniversary of the establishment of Bangladesh-Japan diplomatic relations was celebrated. Despite the wide gap in terms of economic status, the sincere desire to strengthen the existing good relations and expand close cooperation between the governments and people of these two Asian countries is reflected in various interest-planning to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Although economic cooperation and bilateral trade interests dominate the modern phase of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the foundation of the current relationship is deeply rooted in the long history. Among the OECD member countries, industrialized Japan was the first to recognize Bangladesh.
Among the Japanese, Takashi Hayakawa made an unforgettable contribution to strengthening Japan-Bangladesh relations. He was an elected member of the Diet of Japan for 40 consecutive years and was awarded the title of ‘Father of the Diet’. As an influential member of the Diet of Japan, Hayakawa played a strong role in extending the support of the Japanese people and government to the liberation struggle of the people of Bangladesh. The liberation war of Bangladesh has special importance in Japanese media. He urged Japanese intellectuals, industrial owners, workers, and students to come forward to collect money to help the Bangladeshi refugees and coordinate Japanese support for the liberation war.
The opportunity to strengthen Bangladesh-Japan bilateral relations was created during the first high-level visit from Bangladesh to Japan in October 1973 under the leadership of Bangabandhu. In 1996, after the new government in Bangladesh led by Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina assumed power, the Japanese government and people took steps to review the situation very cautiously. The Bangladesh government also attaches special importance to Japan-Bangladesh friendship. This time, during the summit visit, the horizon of Japan-Bangladesh financial cooperation was opened. Initiatives were taken to implement some big projects including Jamuna Fertilizer Factory and Karnaphuli Fertilizer Factory with Japanese funding.
A major aspect of the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Japan is the expansion of economic cooperation and commercial exchanges in the last 50 years. It can be said that economic cooperation and the ups and downs of Bangladesh-Japan bilateral trade have served as special indicators in the depth and dynamics of the relations between the two countries at the modern stage.
Through this, Bangladesh developed a special relationship with Japan as the third country after China and India. Strategic relations with neighboring countries like Japan are of particular importance. During her visit to Japan, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina informed the Japanese Prime Minister about the plans and initiatives to further modernize the Bangladesh Armed Forces in the light of ‘Forces Goal 2030’. Agreements and MoUs signed between Japan and Bangladesh on agriculture, customs, defense, information technology, cyber security, industrial development, intellectual property, ship recycling and metro rail will institutionalize future cooperation.
Moreover, the number of foreign nationals coming and going in Dhaka is normal like other times. After stepping foot in Bangladesh, most of the foreign nationals say that they are not worried about security. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, special measures are taken for the security of millions of foreign nationals staying in the country.
No country can achieve economic prosperity depending on its own investment alone, foreign direct investment (FDI) is needed. Just as Japanese investment has contributed to the rise of China, Japanese investment has also played a role in the development of ASEAN countries. Our neighbors India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka along with countries like Thailand and Vietnam are now desperate to get Japanese investment under China plus one policy. At this time, Jethro’s report is very comforting for our country. We are ahead of all other countries except India. This opportunity should not be missed in any way. In order not to miss this opportunity, now is the time to take appropriate steps to solve the problems identified by Japanese students and JETRO country representatives.
Hiren Pandit is a columnist
and a researcher.