“Bangladesh is sitting on the driver’s seat. Japan is only sitting on the side. You (Bangladesh) are navigating everything,” Ambassador Shiro Sadoshima said belying a notion on Japan-Bangladesh relations.
He was talking with a group of journalists on Tuesday on the just-concluded visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe left Dhaka on Sep 7 ending a less than 22-hour sojourn that came only three months after his counterpart Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Tokyo in May.
He is the first Japanese PM to have come to Bangladesh in the last 14 years.
The visit generated a lot of speculations as Japan was not happy with the Jan 5 elections that returned the ruling Awami League to power for the second successive term amid opposition BNP boycott.
But later ambassador Sadoshima said they did not find any “constitutional flaw” and invited Hasina within three months.
During the landmark visit to Tokyo in May, both countries embarked on a “comprehensive partnership”.
Abe pledged to give $6 billion official assistance for the next four to five years to help Bangladesh develop its infrastructure.
Hasina also visited China, a week after her return from Japan, where the leadership also offered huge assistance for building a number of infrastructures.
China is pursuing for Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) cooperation in its bid to revive the ancient silk-road.
Japan launched a new concept of building Bay-of-Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) which Prime Minister Abe said would be the “centrepiece” of Japanese cooperation in Bangladesh.
A Tokyo-based Asian business review just before his visit commented that Japan was aiming to deepen its relations with Bangladesh ahead of China.
Photo credit: Asif Mahmud Ove
But Sadoshima said Bangladesh was always on “the driver’s seat”.
“You can take advantage of initiatives proposed by other countries because you are sitting in the driver’s seat, not us,” he said.
“We are sitting on the side to help you guide the country,” he said.
He said Japan’s concept was not meant to exclude any other concepts.
“…rather we would like to help you set up policies which would make your country have diversified industrial basis like richer nations which is your dream,” he said.
The ambassador said his head of government had been “very happy” during his entire visit.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali described the visit as a “milestone”.
Hasina announced during Abe's visit the withdrawal of Bangladesh’s candidature for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council was in favour of “long-tested” friend Japan.
Japan was the first developed nation to recognise Bangladesh within two months of its independence.
It is the country’s largest aid donor as of today.
“We are moved by the decision (UN candidacy withdrawal),” the ambassador said on Tuesday, “We are grateful”.
He said this decision had taken the bilateral relations “one step further”.
“We are ready to expand many areas of cooperation,” he said, including people-to-people exchange.
He said his PM had brought top Japanese CEOs with him and they learnt “how friendly the country is”.
“But a lot of work remains to be done. You need a proper investment environment,” he said, referring to the shortage of infrastructure as well as power supply.
He said under their BIG-B concept they would help Bangladesh overcome the situation.
Improvement of infrastructure for industrial development, the creation of better environment for investments and the promotion of regional connectivity were the three dimensions of BIG-B.
This concept was to help Bangladesh diversify its industrial base, the ambassador said.
“We want to make the country ‘a hub of production’ under the concept (BIG-B),” he said.
Japan has a grand design of combining the two oceanic regions – Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean – for more geo-political space to boost its economy.
The largest Bay in the world, Bay of Bengal forms the north-eastern part of the Indian Ocean. Bangladesh is located in the north of this Bay.
Photo credit: Asif Mahmud Ove
The ambassador again urged Dhaka to “look east” for expanding trade.
He said Bangladesh had always been “successful” in connecting European and North American market and became number two ready-made garment exporter in the world.
But this is not happening with Japan.
He said the basic orientation was with the West, not seriously with the East yet.
“But we want to take full advantage of the high-level visits,” he said, referring to the two Prime Ministers’ visit three months apart.
“It has never happened before”.
Prime Minister Abe also termed the year 2014 “a memorable and special year” for Japan-Bangladesh relations.