While attending a meeting with Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Naoki Ito, finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said that a huge investment from Japan will come in no time to fuel the ongoing development programmes in Bangladesh. It is encouraging to see that Japanese entrepreneurs are demonstrating more enthusiasm about business and investment opportunities in Bangladesh. It is learnt that some major giant companies of Japan like Sumitomo, Nippon Steel, Honda and Soujit will invest huge amount of money on different sectors in the country for the continuation of the ongoing development. These companies have already started investing in small scale in Bangladesh at various economic zones. Being satisfied the key investors have agreed to expand further and invest in bigger size.
We cannot rebut Japan’s relentless support and contribution in our endeavourers to chase Vision 2021. Over the past decades we have witnessed a steady growth of close cooperation between Japan and Bangladesh. There is no denying that the bilateral diplomatic interactions are relatively recent phenomena, but the ties between the two nations are centuries old through historic and cultural connections.
Japan has been Bangladesh's single biggest bilateral development partner and is supporting the country primarily through its Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme. Since our independence, Japan has provided financial support of about USD 18.6 billion comprising grants, loans and technical assistance. Regular high-profile official visits and diplomatic overtures by the political leaders and exchanges by business groups of the two countries have advanced the relations over the years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina officially visited Japan four times between 2014 and 2019, including the current trip, mainly to secure Japanese foreign aid and investment. Japan is the first nation in Asia with whom our export earnings reached a record USD 1.0 billion in FY 2017.
Japan is one of the most powerful industrialized nations in the world. The country not only took part in our independence movement but also at the post independent time of Bangladesh. The role Japan has played in Bangladesh’s nation building strategy is a concrete instance of selfless friendship. The friendship that Japan and Bangladesh has been enjoying over the last four decades is rare in today’s world. Friendship between the two countrues was tested in the terror attack in Dhaka in July 2016, which led to the tragic death of seven Japanese nationals. It was during that moment of national anguish and mourning that yet again, the Japanese people and government stood by us and reassured us of Japan’s continued support to Bangladesh’s development.
However, when it comes to Japan-Bangladesh relationship, the name Radhabinod Pal (a Bangladeshi born Jurist) inevitably appears. Pal was a member of the United Nations' International Law Commission from 1952 to 1966. He was one of three Asian judges appointed to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the "Tokyo Trials" of Japanese war crimes committed during the Second World War. Among all the judges of the tribunal, he was the only one who submitted a judgment which insisted all defendants were not guilty. Since then, Japan has been a selfless friend of Bangladesh and India. Addressing and paying heed to judge Pal’s Japanese emperor Hirohito said, “As long as there will be in Japan, Bengali food shortage and the financial problem will be overseen. Japan will be a selfless friend forever to Bangladesh.”
It was not just the words. We have witnessed the evidences over the past years. But the irony is Bangladesh has almost forgotten the contribution of Justice Radhabinod Pal (1886-1967). However, the relation got a new dimension when Japan extended its immense support to the war-torn Bangladesh in 1971. Japan was one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent Bangladesh. Saving money from their meals, Japanese students stood beside us during our liberation war.
Almost 50 years have gone by. Based on the success of “Vision 2021,” we now aspire to become a developed country by 2041.And in order to chase such aspiration Japan’s involvement in our development efforts is inevitable. As a part of its continued support to Bangladesh, we are happy to note theJapan has signed $2.5 billion in official development assistance, or ODA, to fund several infrastructural projects in Bangladesh, which is 35 percent higher than the previous year. We hope the present flow of ODA to Bangladesh will continue in the future too. Reportedly, the funds under the new ODA will be used to implement the Matarbari Port Development project, Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (Line 1), Foreign Direct Investment Development Project (II), Energy Efficiency and Conservation Promotion Financing Project (Phase-2), and Matarbari Ultra Super Critical Coal-Fired Power Project (V).
However, Japan also views Bangladesh as an important partner as the country seeks to facilitate the flow of people and goods by building infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region, where China is expanding its influence. Also Bangladesh has pledged to support for Japan’s desire to become a permanent member of the UN body.
Since 1972, Bangladesh received $ 11.3 billion in official development aid from Japan; making Japan our largest bilateral development partner. Japanese contributions have been instrumental in various areas of infrastructure development, including the Karnaphuli Fertilizer Company Ltd., the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel and water supplies in major cities. Meanwhile, our people residing in Japan are also contributing to Japanese economic development. Some transformational projects initiated by us, such as Padma Bridge, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, High-tech Park and ICT Parks are now visible and we have initiated massive infrastructural development for ensuring multimodal transport system, safeguarding energy security, maintaining food security, keeping a regional balance and ultimately improving our standard of living. Presently, 280 Japanese firms are operating in Bangladesh, an increase of 10 times over the last decade. Different surveys conducted by Japanese institutions revealed that the confidence of Japanese-affiliated firms in doing business in the country is improving. The launch of the Japan-Bangladesh Public-Private Economic Dialogue has significantly contributed to strengthening business and investment ties between the two countries including six projects under public-private partnership in government-to-government cooperation..
We believe our time-tested friend Japan and its people will be with us on our transformative journey to development and prosperity. Also we expect that the government of Japan would favourably consider the suggestions made by our prime minister to help value add to the quality of our labour so that we could develop a quality workforce that could meet the increasing demand of trained people. We envisage that in our efforts to cross the threshold from a developing to a developed country, we shall continue to have in Japan a facilitator in the manner that they have been so far.
The relationships between Dhaka and Tokyo are going from strength to strength. The latter is likely to continue to play a crucial role as the single largest bilateral donor and a trusted friend and development partner. It is essential that Tokyo remains actively engaged with Dhaka to enable it to become self-reliant.
Sayeed Hossain Shuvro is Editorial Assistant, Bangladesh Post