Donald Lu due in Dhaka this May

Donald LuFile photo

US assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs Donald Lu will be visiting Dhaka to strengthen the Dhaka-Washington relations and to discuss the outline of future relationships between the two countries. He is scheduled to take part in several meetings at various levels of government and private agencies.

Diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Washington confirmed this to Prothom Alo saying Donald Lu will land in Dhaka on 14 May on a two-day visit.

According to the officials at the foreign ministry, during his visit, the US assistant secretary of state will hold a bilateral meeting with foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen. Besides, he will pay courtesy calls on foreign minister Hasan Mahmud and prime minister’s private industry and investment advisor Salman F Rahman. Donald Lu is also expected to exchange views with the representatives of the civil society.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said Donald Lu would visit Dhaka by mid-May.

This is going to be the first top-level visit from the US Department of State following the 7 January election. Earlier, a US delegation led by Eileen Laubacher, special assistant to the president and senior director for South Asia of the US National Security Council (NSC) visited Dhaka. Apart from strengthening the relations between the two countries, geopolitics and regional security-related issues gained importance during that visit.

The foreign officials in Dhaka say the difference in opinion regarding the 7 January polls between Dhaka and Washington is known to all. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced a new visa policy for Bangladeshis to ensure a free and fair election in Bangladesh. The US had been stressing on a free, fair and credible election since then. Even after the 7 January polls, the US expressed frustration over it. They said the poll was not free and fair and it’s frustrating that all parties were not part of the elections.

Referring to Eileen Laubacher’s visit, a senior government official told this correspondent the NSC focuses mainly on security-related issues in terms of international relationships. There were talks regarding the potential threats to regional stability due to the internal conflict within Myanmar. So during the February visit, both countries showed interest in starting a new chapter of bilateral relationships between the two countries. Despite the disagreement over the elections, both sides stressed on further developing the relationships between the two countries.

Speaking regarding the upcoming visit of Donald Lu, several relevant officials told this correspondent that US president Joe Biden cleared the view of the USA over its relations with Bangladesh in a letter sent to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last February.

President Biden mentioned “starting the new chapter of US-Bangladesh partnerships” in the letter, which made it clear that the USA wants to focus on further progressing its relations with Bangladesh. He also mentioned several priorities, including regional and global security, economic development, climate change and energy, global health, humanitarian assistance (Rohingya crisis), in terms of partnerships with Bangladesh. Donald Lu’s visit will give an idea about other sectors of US priorities in terms of its relationship with Bangladesh.

Asked whether issues like good governance and human rights are no longer among the priorities of the US, in particular the Democratic Party, a senior official said, “There is no scope to drop these issues from the agenda. Good governance, accountability, human rights and democratic values are the most important factors of the foreign policy of the US. However, they won’t bring these issues to the fore after the elections as the US takes these issues into consideration from a global standard. Therefore, the US wants to further progress the relationships between the two countries focusing on other issues than democratic value at the moment

Another official indicated that the US might stress on ensuring labour rights in the coming days to advance the relations between the two countries. Michael Schiffer, assistant administrator of the United States Agency for International Development was part of the US delegation led by Eileen Lubacher. During the visit, he exchanged views with the workers' leader.

US assistant trade representative for Central and South Asia Brendan Lynch stressed on improving the labour situation in Bangladesh during his meeting with prime minister’s commerce advisor Salman F Rahman and law minister Anisul Haque.

The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) visited Bangladesh in recent times as part of their investigation on the capability of competing in the garment sector.

Donald Lu visited Dhaka in January last year. Several dialogues were held on partnerships, defence and security in the following months. The dialogues on security, defence and partnerships between the two countries are scheduled to be held this year in Washington.

Meanwhile, the next US presidential election is due in November this year. In this context, Donald Lu may discuss the future of these dialogues.

Speaking regarding this, former foreign secretary Md Towhid Hossain told Prothom Alo that apart from the Pacific Ocean, the USA is also setting a strategy circling the Indian Ocean. So Bangladesh has become important to them. They believe that they will be able to have a strong position in this region if they can develop a friendly relationship with the government of Bangladesh that sits on the top of the Indian Ocean. Both countries have been showing interest in further advancing the bilateral relations despite the dissidence over the 12th general elections of Bangladesh.

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu