Climate change set to emerge as key theatre of the US-Bangladesh relationship
Experts at Cosmos Dialogue call for greater US role in Myanmar
Experts on international relations have depicted more consistent and deeper engagement between Dhaka and Washington under the Biden Administration, with cooperation in the global fight against climate change presenting the most obvious theatre of cooperation between the two countries.
They hoped to see the US takes a greater role over the events in Myanmar and address the Rohingya issue, noting that the US needs to do more inside Myanmar with actors on the ground.
Experts from both countries were brought together virtually for a symposium hosted by the Cosmos Foundation to assess the Dhaka-Washington relationship in its present context and identify the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
The keynote address at the event was delivered by Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Programme and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Centre in Washington, DC.
Chairman of Cosmos Foundation Enayetullah Khan delivered the opening remarks at the event, which premiered Saturday on the Facebook page of Cosmos Foundation, and is now available for viewing at the convenience of viewers.
Renowned scholar-diplomat and adviser on foreign affairs to the last caretaker government Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury chaired the session.
It was the latest instalment in Cosmos Foundation's flagship 'Dialogue' series, in which a high-level expert panel was tasked with tackling pressing issues of the day that has continued through the pandemic.
Former Ambassador Tariq Karim, Distinguished Professor of political science at the Illinois State University Dr Ali Riaz, Bangladeshi-American scientist-turned-politician Dr Nina Ahmad, and former Ambassador Serajul Islam joined as discussants.
Kugelman in his keynote speech offered some thoughts on perceptions of Bangladesh in the US, the current state of US-Bangladesh relations and discussed what to expect for the relationship in the Biden era.
He said there is scope for the US-Bangladesh relationship to grow in the Biden years and beyond, especially through opportunities for stepped up cooperation on climate change and through Bangladesh's inclusion in the US Indo Pacific policy.
No matter how things 'shake out', Kugelman, an increasing presence across mainly Indian-owned media across platforms, said driven in particular by economic cooperation, the relationship between Dhaka and Washington should continue to be cordial and stable on the whole.
Kugelman said Washington knows that Bangladesh is a key theatre for Sino-India competition.
"Now, one can argue that Dhaka's ties to Delhi are warmer and more multifaceted than they are with Beijing, but clearly there's a competition playing out here," he said adding that the Biden administration has an opportunity to try to shift the balance away from China and more towards India by stepping up its own engagements with Bangladesh through more maritime cooperation, more investment, more efforts to partner with Bangladesh on trans-regional connectivity projects, such as those within the BIMSTEC rubric.
Ambassador Tariq Karim said how the US addresses its relations with India, in relation to India's relations with the other neighbours is going to send a key message to everybody.
He said Bangladesh is between a rock and several hard places and specifically in between two major powers - India and China. "It's strategically placed."
The former diplomat said Bangladesh maintains a good relationship with India and China who are competing with each other. "We're also part of the Indo Pacific and Belt and Road Initiative."
He said Bangladesh developed its relations with India which is natural while China continues to engage in economic projects apart from defence cooperation.
Tariq Karim said the US will have to chart its course carefully noting that Bangladesh is not an inconsequential country anymore.
Enayetullah Khan said they hope to see that the US take a greater role over the current events in Myanmar and address the Rohingya issue to ensure stability in the region.
Dr Iftekhar said the US will need to be engaged with the smaller global actors as there are issues like climate change and Covid-19 pandemic.
He said Bangladesh's focus is development and Bangladesh expects support from the US as Bangladesh is set to graduate from the list of Least Developed Countries. "We'll require market access and we believe positive results will come out."
Prof Ali Riaz said how the US deals with India has an implication for the Bangladesh-US relationship.
Dr Nina Ahmad recalled the sacrifice of people behind Bangladesh's emergence as an independent country and how Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman inspired them.
She laid emphasis on investing in the poor, continuing helping the women to play their role effectively and look into labour conditions to help make Bangladesh stronger. "Bangladesh has arrived, now at 50 years, after starting from nothing."