51 years of US-Bangladesh relations

By Fumiko Yamada
Commentary 51 years of US-Bangladesh relations
APR 2, 2023 LISTEN

April 4, 2023 marks 51 years of US-Bangladesh ties. Although the role of the United States in Bangladesh has been widely discussed since the war of independence. Since then, various levels have been added at different times. At present, the country is a major export destination of Bangladesh and one of the major sources of remittances.

Bangladesh-US relations have been a part of the country's progress since independence. Although there was a question about the role of the United States in the war of liberation, the common people of that country and the lion's share of Congressmen and Senators were sympathetic towards Bangladesh. That is why the Seventh Fleet was inactive in the Bay of Bengal.

It is pertinent to mention that after the nine-month war of liberation against Pakistan in the midst of complex global politics, Dhaka emerged as the capital of the newly independent country, on April 4, 1972, the then US administration recognized Bangladesh. Most of the cooperation since independence has come from the United States. The United States is the largest market for Bangladesh's exports. The country has come forward selflessly during the Corona era when Bangladesh was suffering from a vaccine crisis. They have given more than 50 million vaccines to Bangladesh as a grant.

In recent times, the USA is very interested in further strengthening bilateral relations. Bangladesh also intends to deepen and enhance its ties with the US. Analysts say that the US wants a strategic relationship with Bangladesh beyond bilateral ties. Bangladesh's strategic geographical location is a major factor in the United States' interest in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a coastal and integral part of the Indian Ocean and a major maritime trade route. In addition, Bangladesh's geo-strategic position, impressive economic and social development has added to US interest.

Particularly since the present administration came to power in 2009, the political, economic, and trade ties between the two nations have improved. The United States is also among the most significant nations when it comes to Bangladesh’s diplomatic interests. The United States has made a particularly substantial contribution to the socioeconomic growth and investment of Bangladesh, as well as its security cooperation.

US President Joe Biden expressed optimism about deepening relations with Bangladesh. US President Joe Biden has greeted Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the people on the Independence Day, saying that the South Asian nation understand deeply the value of freedom and independence as it fought courageously in 1971 to choose their own fate.

Biden wrote the past half a century of bilateral ties yielded advancing economic development, strengthening people-to-people ties, addressing global health and climate issues, partnering on the humanitarian response to Rohingya refugees, and committing to a prosperous, secure, democratic, and independent Bangladesh.

He highly acclaimed Bangladesh Prime Minister as Bangladesh has opened its arms and welcomed nearly one million Rohingya refugees.

US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken has said Bangladesh is "quickly becoming a regional leader" with a rapidly growing economy, an increasingly well-educated workforce, and a dynamic youth demographic. Conveying his best wishes to the people of Bangladesh on its Independence Day, Blinken said his country looks forward to deepen the bilateral partnership with Bangladesh in the years ahead.

The United States Congress has introduced a resolution recognizing and commending Bangladesh and its remarkable socioeconomic progress under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, co-chair of the Congressional Bangladesh Caucus, tabled the resolution at the Congress on March 29 on the occasion of Bangladesh's 52nd anniversary of independence.

Since its independence in 1971, Bangladesh's economy has grown from $9 billion to $450 billion, life expectancy has risen from 47 years to 73 years, and the adult literacy rate has risen to more than 75 percent, the resolution mentioned.

Bangladesh, under the leadership of PM Hasina, has made substantial socioeconomic progress in food production, disaster resilience, poverty reduction, improved health, education, and women's empowerment, it read.

According to the resolution, Bangladesh has successfully maintained a moderate Muslim society and curbed extremism, and its people have sought to maintain support for democracy and rule of law rather than descending into authoritarian rule. It said the US and Bangladesh have extensive cooperation on matters of regional and global security, counter terrorism, and climate change.

Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes said that more than half a century of friendship, Bangladesh and the United States strengthened cooperation across broad range sectors.

The two countries have built close trade and investment ties fuelled by vibrant diaspora community and strong business links, she said. The United States assistant secretary of state for the bureau of population, refugees and migration ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes has said Bangladesh serves as model for rest of world.

In October in 2021, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrived in Bangladesh on a landmark visit. He said the United States was looking at Bangladesh's participation as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS.

Ambassador Kelly Keiderling said Bangladesh has traditionally been known as a garment maker and a poor underdeveloped country. However, the United States' perception of Bangladesh has changed as the economy continues to grow and contributes to global security through UN peacekeeping missions. Given the growing importance of the economy and security, the United States is moving away from the old notion of Bangladesh. At the same time, they want to redefine the relationship between the two countries in the next 50 years, said the top US official.

The United States is currently one of the leading development partners in Bangladesh. The United States views Bangladesh as one of the most important economic and security partners in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States recognized Bangladesh on April 4, 1972. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman visited the United States in 1974 as the first statesman of Bangladesh. His historic speech in the UNGA was praiseworthy. This year marks the 51th anniversary of Bangladesh-US relations. The two countries are working together on a wide range of issues, including a lasting solution to the Rohingya problem, tackling climate change, protection of labor and human rights, counter-terrorism, and the defense sector.

Although tensions sometimes arise between the two countries on issues of global and international interest, in almost every case they have given priority to good sense and goodwill. Although US has been publishing its 'annual human rights report' from years to years and criticizing Bangladesh for rights violation. Bangladeshi citizens needn’t spark any new controversy and worry based on the recent human rights report. US-Bangladesh bilateral relations wouldn’t affect. This is not the first time the US has produced a study like this in recent years. There isn’t much of a difference between those and the latest report. Many hoped that the Biden administration was going to impose more sanctions on Bangladesh government. But US hasn't imposed new sanctions on Bangladesh.

IPS is spread across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and is a major US initiative in Asia. Under the IPS, the United States promotes the vision of an open, inclusive, peaceful, and secure Indo-Pacific region with prosperity for all. To achieve this goal, the United States seeks to integrate private sector participation with countries in the region.

Enhancing security cooperation is also an important aspect of IPS. However, on the year of 51 years of bilateral relations, the US and Bangladesh need to strengthen ties mending all fences and dispelling misunderstandings.

According to data gathered by the United States Department of Commerce through the first ten months of 2022, American orders for clothing made in Bangladesh are increasing faster than American imports from the world’s largest clothing manufacturer China.

According to the Office of Textiles and Apparels (OTEXA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States imported clothing from Bangladesh worth about $8.5 billion between January and October of last year, a 49 percent increase from imports of clothing made in Bangladesh during the same period in 2021.

The US, Bangladesh’s top export market, had an increase in garment shipments of almost 51% from the previous year. The nation shipped a record amount of clothes worth more than 7.5 billion US dollars in the first nine months of this year. It is noteworthy that Bangladeshi garment manufacturers are gaining a firm presence in the American market as exports have experienced considerable development. Despite the worldwide economic downturn, Bangladeshi clothing exports to the US have significantly increased.

The Rohingya problem has so far received the most support from the United States. The US Secretary of State announced an additional $170 million in humanitarian help during last year’s UN General Assembly. More than 190 million dollars have been donated by the nation to the Rohingya catastrophe since 2017.

The US wants to relocate Bangladeshi Rohingya. The US Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Immigration, Julieta Valls Noyes, visited Bangladesh for this reason last month. The US administration collaborating with the Bangladeshi government would be greatly appreciated. It will demonstrate improved communication between the two administrations. The western world and those who support those who advocate for humanitarian causes can follow the US footprint.

Looking 50 years into the future
However, Bangladesh is a crucial regional ally of the United States when it comes to humanitarian, economic, climatic, and security concerns. The United States and Bangladesh had many high-level engagements and strategic conversations in Dhaka and Washington, D.C., to expand bilateral, economic, commercial, and security cooperation as 2023 celebrates the 51th anniversary of U.S.-Bangladesh relations. It is in the US’ interest to foster a sense of growing interdependence with Bangladesh as it moves away from the sense of obligatory dependency that defined its relationship with the US in the previous 50 years, looking ahead to the future 50.

Fumiko Yamada
Author bio: Japanese national Fumiko Yamada has a passion for "international affairs." She works as a research associate at the Australian "University of Melbourne." She received her degree in South Asian Studies from the University of Toronto in Canada.