Dhaka, Tokyo decide to enhance cooperation in defence, economy

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina shakes hands with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (R) during a signing ceremony at the latter’s official residence in Tokyo on 26 April, 2023

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Japanese counterpart Kishida Fumio have welcomed the commencement of negotiations on agreement concerning the transfer of defence equipment and technology, recognising the future potential.

The two prime ministers decided to elevate the bilateral relationship to a “Strategic Partnership” as a guiding principle to lead the two countries’ journey into the next 50 years and beyond, according to a joint statement issued from Tokyo on Thursday.

Both leaders shared the determination to enhance cooperation, specifically cooperation for peace and stability in the region and beyond, deepening economic cooperation for mutual benefits and regional prosperity, and expansion of cultural cooperation and people to people exchanges.

At the invitation of the Japanese prime minister, Sheikh Hasina is currently on an official visit and had a summit meeting with her Japanese counterpart on 26 April.

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 defence 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 programmes and goodwill exercises.

In addition, both the prime ministers have decided to consider opening Defence Wing in Tokyo and National Security Wing in Dhaka in their respective embassies in the near future.

Furthermore, they concurred to enhance dialogue among the respective diplomatic and defence authorities in order to identify possible ways to strengthen the security cooperation.

Prime Minister Kishida explained Japan’s efforts for fundamentally reinforcing its defence capabilities and strengthening diplomatic efforts, as illustrated in the new National Security Strategy, National Defence Strategy, and Defence Buildup Programme.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina shared Bangladesh’s plan and initiative for further modernising its armed forces under the Forces Goal 2030.

Both prime ministers acknowledged the efforts by both countries to contribute to their respective regional security.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addresses a ceremony to confer “Friends of Liberation War Honour” to four Japanese nationals at Akasaka Palace Guest House, Tokyo, on 27 April 2023

Sheikh Hasina acknowledged the establishment of the Official Security Assistance by Japan, a new cooperation framework for the benefit of armed forces and other related organisations of like-minded countries for the purpose of deepening security cooperation, and looked forward to future cooperation under this framework.

The two prime ministers confirmed that, guided by the traditional and time-tested friendship since the independence of Bangladesh, the two countries have achieved significant progress in bilateral relations based on the “Comprehensive Partnership” established in 2014.

They noted that the two countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2022, as a manifestation of commitment and determination to contribute to enhancing the bilateral relationship based on common values and mutual interests.

Guided by the fundamental values and principles shared by the two countries, the two prime ministers reaffirmed their commitment to realising a free and open Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law, where the rights, freedoms and sovereignty of all countries, regardless of size or power, are protected by international law, rules and norms.

In particular, they affirmed that maritime order based on common values such as freedom of navigation is a cornerstone for stability and prosperity of the international community and that the use of the sea as global commons will contribute to the development of blue economy.

Prime Minister Kishida explained that Japan, as the G7 Presidency, would like to demonstrate the G7’s determination to uphold the free and open international order based on the rule of law and to enhance relations with partners in the international community beyond the G7.

Sheikh Hasina felicitated Japan on its G7 presidency.

Prime Minister Kishida also outlined a newly released plan for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)”, which will strengthen Japan’s efforts to further promote the FOIP vision, with the four pillars of cooperation: “Principles for Peace and Rules for Prosperity,” “Addressing Challenges in an Indo-Pacific Way,” “Multi-layered Connectivity,” and “Extending Efforts for Security and Safe Use of the “Sea” to the “Air”.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appreciated Japan’s sustained efforts to contribute to securing regional and international peace, stability, and prosperity.

She reiterated Bangladesh’s principled position on a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and secure Indo-Pacific based on international law and shared prosperity for all.

Recognising the importance of Bangladesh, which holds great economic potential and can be a bridge between huge economic markets, namely South Asia and Southeast Asia, the two prime ministers shared the recognition that developing quality infrastructure will enhance regional connectivity and contribute to the development of Bangladesh and the region.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana pose for a photograph after conferring “Friends of Liberation War Honour” to four Japanese nationals at Akasaka Palace Guest House, Tokyo, on 27 April 2023

In this context, they stressed the importance of transparent and fair development finance to achieve sustainable development and highlighted the importance of adhering to international rules and standards, such as debt sustainability and transparency.

They also shared the recognition on the importance of economic security, including strengthening resilience of supply chain, and the rules-based international economic order to counter challenges such as economic coercion.

‘New generation to carry forward Bangladesh-Japan partnership’

In another event, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday paid deep homage to the Japanese who raised voice during the great War of Liberation of Bangladesh and hoped the new generation would carry forward the ‘lasting friendship’ and ‘enviable partnership’ between the two country in the years to come.

“I am confident that the people of Japan will always be on our side besides the government as they did in our need in the past. Our lasting friendship and enviable partnership over the past fifty years will be carried forward by our new generation in the years to come,” she said.

She was addressing a ceremony to confer “Friends of Liberation War Honour” to four Japanese nationals at Akasaka Palace Guest House, Tokyo.

“I thank all of you for joining us on this humble occasion where we not only honour our friends but also celebrate the bonds of amity with Japan,” she said.

The prime minister welcomed all in that august occasion to honour the great souls who had raised voice and put efforts for the cause of humanity during the War of Liberation in 1971.

“Among them were Japanese citizens who are with us today. This is an auspicious occasion for Bangladesh and its people,” she said.

The prime minister said the Japanese people stood beside the suffering humanity of Bangladesh, adding that Bangladesh had a modest list of eight honourees whom the country has honoured with ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ on 27 March 2012 and 1 October 2013.

“This evening we are in Tokyo to honour four more great friends of Bangladesh who stood by us, organised the moral and material support and ensured assistance. They rose to protest atrocities and sent humanitarian reliefs, medical facilities to our helpless people,” she said.

Mentioning that it was a period of sorrow which cannot be expressed in mere words, she said Bangladesh was ravaged by the occupying forces.

“At that critical moment, our Japanese friends understood our plight and went forward for the cause of humanity,” she added.

“They (Japanese) faced great challenges, but did not fall back. Their act of selflessness rekindled our spirit in the face of threats. Most unforgettable was the charitable gesture of Japanese school children who saved and donated their Tiffin money to help our people,” she recalled.

“Bangladesh recalls with deep gratitude the support of the people of Japan which reconfirmed that our cause was right and could not be trampled,” she said, adding, “You heard our yearning for justice, honour, dignity and human rights.”

“Your voice added strength to our voice and was magnified to the global community. You rallied with our cause and together raised a human citadel against a ruthless force. In the land of the rising sun, we see the image of a nation with dignity and humanity,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina said for her it was an honour to carry on her father’s legacy and visit Japan in 1997, 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2019 to further strengthen the relations.

“I am happy today that during my tenure, our time-tested friendship has evolved in depth and dimension from a “Comprehensive Partnership” to a “Strategic Partnership,” she said.

The prime minister also said that Bangladesh and Japan share the same noble ideas and principles of equality, democracy and democratic practice, inclusive development, social justice and rule of law.

“We are following the vision of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who declared the core of our foreign policy “Friendship to all, malice towards none” which is also practiced in Japan,” she added.

She said they acknowledge the sustained economic cooperation and support of Japan in their socio-economic pursuit.

“We have achieved the status to graduate from LDC to a developing country,” she added.

The prime minister further said bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Japan are based on mutual trust, respect, friendship and cooperation. The historic visit of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to Japan in October 1973, laid the foundation of a steadfast and lasting friendship.

She said they are paying deep homage to the greatest Bangalee of all times, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who led Bangladesh’s War of Liberation and three million martyrs of the Liberation War, 200,000 women who endured inhuman torture, the martyrs of 15 August, four national leaders, all the valiant freedom fighters and all the foreign friends of Bangladesh who contributed to the cause of our liberation.

“We have dedicated ourselves to Bangabandhu’s dream of a true Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) and to turn Bangladesh into a land of opportunity. We are confident that Japan will be on our side as it had been in the past,” she said.

Prime minister’s younger sister Sheikh Rehana was present on dais while Lt. Col. (Retd) Quazi Sazzad Ali moderated the function.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Kalam recited the citation in honour of the four Japanese. They are President Emeritus of Japan Red Cross Society Tadateru Konoe, Professor Gallop Pema, political leader Hideo Takano (posthumous) and photo journalist Taizo Ichinose (posthumous).

Prof Gyalpo expressed his feelings in the function on behalf of the honour recipients.

The prime minister said she feels very happy as she, along with her younger sister Sheikh Rehana, has been able to honour the Japanese friends for their contribution during the Liberation War.

They helped Bangladesh in its need during the Liberation War in 1971, she said.

“It is the great thing that we never forget our friends,” she added.