On 10 February 1972, Japan formally acknowledged Bangladesh as an independent nation-state. Since then, the two nations have kept up a cordial relationship that can be described as an upstanding model of development partnership. It is time to evaluate the positives, negatives, and future prospects of their five-decade journey to move Bangladesh-Japan relations to a new level of bilateral engagement as they approach their relationship’s golden anniversary.
The main topic of this essay is how Japan’s economic help policy and connections with a nation like Bangladesh in South Asia are determined. Japan is a significant economic power and is also considered as a “great power of aid,” but it is not a military powerhouse. Even beyond recent diplomatic history, Bangladesh and Japan have strong cultural ties. Both nations are culturally homogenous, are vulnerable to natural disasters, and have limited natural resource availability.
Since 1972, Japan has given generously to Bangladesh through Official Development Assistance (ODA), becoming the country’s top bilateral donor. The majority of Japan’s ODA goes to Bangladesh, and since the two countries established a Comprehensive Partnership in 2014, Japan’s financial assistance to Bangladesh increased.
Japan has contributed a total of $24.72 billion since Bangladesh’s independence, roughly equally divided between grants and loans. Bangladesh receives help from Japan in a variety of sectors, including social and economic growth, energy production, and the creation of both physical and intangible infrastructure. The official development assistance (ODA) that Japan provides to Bangladesh has turned out to be profitable for both nations rather than exploitative. According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 71 percent of Bangladeshis have a positive opinion of Japan, making it one of the most pro-Japanese nations in Asia. In favor of Japan, Bangladesh withdrew its application for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) in 2014.
Japan is Bangladesh’s top export market in Asia. Although Bangladesh’s exports to Japan have almost doubled over the past 10 years, there is still a tremendous amount of unrealized trade potential for Bangladesh. There is room to increase the export of pharmaceuticals, agricultural, and fishery products to Japan, which now imports mostly ready-made garments and leather goods from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a key component of Japan’s geoeconomic strategy in South Asia. Bangladesh’s economy, which is one of South Asia’s most free-market and trade-oriented nations, is steadily growing into one of the most promising and lucrative in the region. Due of Bangladesh’s maritime access to the Bay of Bengal, through which 80 percent of Japan’s imports of oil from the Middle East pass, Japan has kept Bangladesh in its geostrategic sphere. Besides, 164 million consumers, political stability, expanding middle class, higher purchasing power, domestic demand, affordable labor, and quick speed of economic development are also playing significant role in developing Japan-Bangladesh economic cooperation. For Japanese companies trying to shift away from China, Bangladesh can present itself as an enticing alternative site.
The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B), a Japanese plan to alter South Asia’s economic outlook primarily for Japanese interest, is playing a significant role in the creation of jobs and new infrastructure in Bangladesh. MRT line in Dhaka, the deep-water port at Matarbari, Terminal 3 of the airport, and the economic zone at Araihazar are among the key projects being carried out under BIG-B.
However, Japan’s alignment with Quad and rising friction with China, a strategic partner of Bangladesh, is raising the chance of future complications for Bangladesh. Jolted by the Ukraine war and China’s assertiveness, Japan is looking to boost its defense capability, which is embraced a pacifist outlook after its defeat in the Second World War. Public opinion polls and commentators have found that since the end of the Ukraine conflict, the Japanese people have been steadily turning away from pacifism. While the world’s attention is on the situation in Russia and Ukraine, U.S. and NATO hostilities with China and North Korea are escalating substantially halfway across the globe in the Pacific Ocean, thus leading to the state of unease in Japan. Since the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” which was created in part to divert attention away from the decision to surge troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in the failed U.S. war strategies in the Middle East, the U.S. military’s naval and air presence in the Western Pacific has steadily increased.
The strategists of Quad may look to make the most out of the positive mindset of Bangladeshi citizens towards Japan and supplement the negative outlook of India in the region to counter rising Chinese influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The Quad is also setting up strategy to counter Russia and its joint approach with Beijing in Asia, a move that may make Dhaka uncomfortable in the future, as Russia is also a major development and military partner of Bangladesh after China.
The Sino-Indian competition, in which smaller nations use China as an extra-regional power to balance or negotiate with Indian monopoly, considerably impacts South Asian affairs. However, it is challenging for these states to preserve their equilibrium or strategic hedging due to the growing US stake and direct conflict between Quad and China.
Standing at this pivotal time in their relationship, Bangladesh and Japan may work together to strengthen their bond with a unique and well-defined plan for future economic cooperation. And by closely monitoring the geoeconomic and geopolitical dynamics of the region and beyond, Dhaka should emphasise sustainable development for a future self-sufficient economy.