During a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on August 5[SSZ1] , Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that his government will provide $329 million to Bangladesh to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Ihsanul Karim, the press secretary of the prime minister, the fund has already been approved by the Japanese National Diet (parliament).
The announcement by the Japanese grant came at a time when Bangladesh is going through a very uncomfortable situation due to the Sino-Indian border conflict, as the country has strong bilateral relations with both parties.
Historically, Japan shared friendly ties with Bangladesh and was one of the first countries to extend a helping hand in the development of the post-independence war-torn Bangladesh. Since then, Japan has been a significant partner of Bangladesh, particularly in the development sectors.
During Sheikh Hasina's Japan visit in 2014, the two countries further developed a partnership agreement by signing "Japan-Bangladesh Comprehensive Partnership Treaty" and offered Bangladesh to provide 600 billion Yen to run development projects, including BIG-B (Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt) megaproject at Matarbari island.
Besides these economic aspects, the people of Bangladesh possess a strong affinity for Japan.
In particular, the horrors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 during the WWII, the hard work and economic development in Japan after the war, its cooperation during and after Bangladesh's War of Independence, the many casualties during the devastating tsunami in 2011, and obviously because of their beautiful minds, Japan is always popular in Bangladesh.
However, in addition to this bilateral proximity or economic partnership, Bangladesh is also very important to Japan from a geostrategic perspective, particularly due to its location beside the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh connects South Asia to Southeast Asia and is fast becoming an economic hub in this region.
After the Second World War, when Japan was struggling to recover its economy, South Asia remained out of sight due to its geographical distance. But in the aftermath of the Cold War in 1990, the then Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu's historic visit to South Asia opened the door for formal cooperation with Japan and other South Asian countries.
In recent years, the geostrategic demand of South Asia has increased in Japan and it has been forced to take this region as an important factor in their strategic-diplomatic agenda.
The Indian Ocean, in particular, has emerged as a lifeline for Japan, as Japan imports a large portion of its raw materials from the Middle East to meet the needs of their industries, and about 80 percent of Japan's maritime trade is conducted through this sea-trade route.
China strengthened economic ties with countries along the Indian Ocean through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and continues to building deep seaports in various countries.
As a result, if there is any disturbance in this region in future, Japan's maritime trade will undoubtedly fall in a complicated situation.
That is why the expansion of Japan's strategic relations with the countries of the Indian Ocean has become a new approach to Japan's foreign policy. Japan has already formed 'QUAD', a joint security venture with Australia, India, and the United States as an alternative to China's BRI in the Indo-Pacific region to keep its maritime routes uninterrupted.
On the other hand, while the Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc around the world, the Sino-Indian conflict in South Asia has undoubtedly given rise to an escalation in this region.
Following this rising tension, China has begun to exert its influence in the region. The country has recently given 97 percent duty-free facility to about 5,161 Bangladeshi products in its market, which will remain in force till 2024.
China's growing economic ties with other South Asian countries, especially Bangladesh, have naturally put Japan in a precarious position.
Since Bangladesh is very important to Japan for the geostrategic position, Japan will never want Bangladesh to get out of its belt. Moreover, due to the rise of the middle class, a big market for Japanese products, cheap labour, a good environment for Japanese investments, and the pace of economic development of Bangladesh, Japan is undoubtedly committed to increasing ties with Bangladesh.
The recent announcement of the aid package by Shinzo Abe indicates such intentions.
Although Japan's policy in South Asia is largely India-centric; due to its ongoing process of development, Bangladesh is set to become one of the most attractive and investment-friendly hubs for Japan.
Political stability has prevailed in Bangladesh for the past few years. Bangladesh has been able to inspire some Japanese investors by providing a special economic zone for Japanese investments.
Recently, the Bangladesh government has taken a policy to set up a G2G based 'Japanese Economic Zone' on about 1,010 acres of land in Araihazar, Narayanganj, which was approved by the ECNEC on 5 March 2019. Besides, a factory is being set up for Japanese Honda Motor Corporation on about 25 acres of land in Gazaria, Munshiganj.
However, considering the importance of Bangladesh to others, this is the right time to negotiate with different countries –India, China, and Japan –and prioritize our interests.
Just as India is politically important to Bangladesh, China or Japan is equally important from an economic perspective. In this case, Bangladesh must be tactful in setting its priorities and have the right direction in foreign policy.
Bangladesh needs to understand who its friendly state is and who is looking for opportunities. From this point of view, and considering the historical and trade aspects, it is very logical to keep Japan ahead.