The US assistant secretary of state for the bureau of south and central Asian affairs Donald Lu speaks to newsmen at the foreign ministry on Sunday
Prothom Alo

The US assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu has laid emphasis on open dialogue on democracy, human rights and freedom of expression during his Dhaka visit.

Bangladesh’s democracy is not also flawless like the US democracy and it has weakness, according to Donald Lu.

It is better to solve the problems through open dialogues when problems are pointed out instead of issuing counter statements.

About Bangladesh, this view of the US was reflected during Donald Lu’s recently concluded visit, according to several government officials and civil society representatives present during different discussions.

Sources said Donald Lu has maintained that blaming each other if any disagreement emerges would not bring any solution. Rather it is better to hold a direct discussion between both parties (Dhaka and Washington) before talking about any disagreements in public or in the media.

Otherwise, the culture of blaming each other will only exacerbate bitterness leading to discomfort in bilateral relations. The US considers deepening relations with Bangladesh as an important partner in the South Asia region as a priority.

Donald Lu reached Dhaka on a two-day visit on Saturday evening. He met government officials of different levels and civil society representatives during the visit.

Lu paid courtesy calls on law minister Anisul Huq, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s private industry and investment adviser Salman F Rahman and state minister for foreign affairs Md Shahriar Alam.

He holds a meeting with foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen and exchanged views with civil society members and labour leaders.   

Lu also maintained that a misconception exists here about the US stance on democracy and elections. He clarified that it is wrong to think that the US would remove any party from power and bring the other. The people of Bangladesh will decide who will go to power

Lu elucidates the stance of the US on democracy and election during three separate discussions in the foreign ministry and a dinner event hosted at the residence of US ambassador Peter Haas.

Sources said he maintained that the US hopes the next general election in Bangladesh would be a free, fair and participatory one. The hope of the US over the election has similarities with the expectation of prime minister Sheikh Hasina. The US wants a reflection of that expectation in reality.

Lu also maintained that a misconception exists here about the US stance on democracy and elections. He clarified that it is wrong to think that the US would remove any party from power and bring the other. The people of Bangladesh will decide who will go to power.  

Analysing various discussions with Doland Lu, it was found that he emphasized the long-held priorities of foreign policy such as democracy, good governance and human rights. He also stressed that Washington considers deep ties with Bangladesh a priority.   

Bangladesh was put in an uncomfortable position after the US imposed sanctions on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in 2021 on allegations of gross human rights violations. Bangladesh, during every discussion in the last year, emphasized that the US lifts the sanctions. The government also considered bringing up the issue during the discussions with Lu that no fresh sanction is imposed. But Lu showered praise over RAB for decreasing the number of extra-judicial killings.

An official told Prothom Alo that safeguarding human rights was at the centre of Donald Lu’s praise for the RAB. And by emphasizing fair election, he basically stressed good governance.   

While Lu emphasised frank discussion to deepen the ties with Bangladesh, he also did not mince in raising dissent. He expressed concern over the safety of US diplomats in the wake of an untoward incident with ambassador Haas in Shaheenbagh, the Digital Security Act and the lack of safeguards in labour rights. As a whole, such an approach of deepening the ties by a senior US official has surprised many Bangladeshi officials.

Observers think Lu’s Delhi visit before Dhaka was significant. Lu’s prior diplomatic experience in the US embassy in Delhi makes him aware of the geopolitical competition in the Indo-Pacific region. The US has a special priority over the increasing presence of China in this region and maintaining stability here. In this context, the US might have received any message from Delhi with the next election in Bangladesh within a year.

Former Bangladesh foreign secretary and Delhi University’s Bangabandhu fellow professor Md Shahidul Haque thinks fundamental values such as democracy and human rights remain a priority in the foreign policy of the US for 250 years. Under this context, Bangladesh should see Lu’s visit from a larger global perspective.

Shahidul Haque told Prothom Alo that the US wants Bangladesh by its side in the wake of global polarization due to increasing geopolitical competition in South Asia and the Russia-Ukraine war. Also, the US must be keeping in mind that Bangladesh is not pushed towards China or Russia block due to excessive criticism at such a moment.