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PM Sheikh Hasina’s Upcoming Visit To Japan: Exploring Security and Strategic Imperatives In Bangladesh-Japan Relations
Dr. Delwar Hossain
2023-04-21
Region : South Asia, Bangladesh, North East Asia, Japan, Economy,
Issue : ,
Japan was one of the first nations to provide support in the development of the post-independence war-torn Bangladesh and historically is considered an all-weather friend of Bangladesh. Japan has been Bangladesh’s major partner since then, especially in the development field.
However, the relationship between Bangladesh and Japan is no longer confined to the development domain rather it has upgraded to a strategic partnership in the changing political landscape. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the “Comprehensive Partnership” between Bangladesh and Japan is now poised to be upgraded to a “Strategic Partnership”. Both Bangladesh and Japan can multiply the existing areas of cooperation to attain multiple benefits. One of the key elements of the growing “Japan-Bangladesh Comprehensive Partnership” is highlighted in the strategy. On the occasion of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan, the two nations are prepared to advance their bilateral relations to a strategic level.
Japan’s Emerging Security Quest in the Indian Ocean
Since the period of the previous prime minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s stance on security and defense has changed. Given that Japan imports a significant share of its raw materials from the Middle East to fulfill the demands of its industries, and given that roughly 80% of its maritime trade is carried through this sea-trade route, the Indian Ocean has particularly emerged as a lifeline for Japan. Via its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China deepened its commercial relations with nations bordering the Indian Ocean and has continued to develop deep seaports worldwide.
As a result, Japan’s marine trade will surely find itself in a challenging situation in the future if there is any unrest in this region. Because of this, a new strategy for Japan’s foreign policy is the growth of its strategic ties with the nations of the Indian Ocean. To counter China’s BRI in the Indo-Pacific area and maintain uninterrupted access to its maritime lanes, Japan has already established ‘QUAD,’ a collaborative security venture with Australia, India, and the United States.
Japan has signed a series of bilateral and trilateral agreements owing to its security quest in the Indian Ocean. On October 22, Japan and Australia agreed to a new security accord that creates a tight security collaboration between the two nations but refrains from a mutual defense pact. Together with numerous other types of collaboration, the pact aims to strengthen defense cooperation, information sharing, economic security cooperation, climate and energy security cooperation, and more.
Japan has shown a deeper commitment to Taiwan in both unilateral actions and combined comments with the United States, defining the Taiwan Strait’s peace and stability as essential to Japan’s security. Not only that, an unofficial trilateral network has developed as a result of the US and Japan’s increased engagement with a third regional partner in recent years. In South Asia, another trilateral network has developed as a result of the US and Japan’s increased engagement with a third regional partner India after the successful execution of the first fighter aircraft exercise “Veer Guardian” between the two nations in Japan in January 2023.
On the other hand, the Sino-Indian conflict in South Asia has surely led to an increase in this region while the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading devastation over the globe. Japan has found itself in a hazardous situation as a result of China’s expanding commercial connections with South Asian nations, particularly Bangladesh.
Japan’s FOIP and Bangladesh’s Strategic Significance
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Dhaka in September 2014, the Bay of Bengal Industrial Development Belt (BIG-B) initiative for joint economic cooperation was unveiled as part of Japan’s broader spectrum of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). As both nations worked toward improved economic and geopolitical ties, this signaled the beginning of a new era in their relations.
Japan has agreed to lend Bangladesh between $4 billion and $5 billion over the course of four to five years. The primary goal of the foreign assistance included in this plan is for Bangladesh to enhance its physical infrastructure, business environment, and connectivity, but it has security and strategic implications. Bangladesh is viewed under the BIG-B plan as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is also said to be a major plan to link the Pacific and Indian seas to strengthen Japan’s economy within a larger geopolitical context. Bangladesh’s geographic location enables it to serve as both a node and a hub in regional and interregional commercial activities. Japan and Bangladesh share many of the same fundamental values as the IPS, including democracy, a market economy, a rules-based international order, and a free Indo-Pacific (Indo-Pacific Strategy).
However, Japan’s thrust was never security-oriented but now the scenario of world politics has changed. Japan is also trying to create its sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean Region. Japan has been obliged to include South Asia as a key aspect of its strategic-diplomatic agenda as a result of the geostrategic demand for this area growing in recent years. Japan realized Bangladesh’s strategic geographic position inside a triangle of three developing markets: India, China, and South-East Asia.
Japan is focusing on the security and strategic issues in its periphery East Asia and Southeast Asia and extending into the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh also believes in Japan’s vision of FOIP as both countries opt for peace and stability and create rule-based order. Bangladesh and Japan share a common perception that security should be ensured in the region for mutual growth and prosperity. Thus, any threats to regional security should be eliminated promptly to ensure economic and political stability. Japan is also trying independently to create its sphere of influence which is very significant for Bangladesh as they share common perceptions regarding peace and security to a great extent.
Japan Propels for Security Cooperation with Bangladesh
To maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, defense and security cooperation has become one of the Special Strategic and Global Partnership’s key pillars. A potential new area of collaboration with Bangladesh is the defense industry. The “Forces Goal 2030” announced in 2009 with a view on significantly enlarging and modernizing the Bangladesh Army, Navy, and Air Force, Dhaka, led by Hasina, spelled out Bangladesh’s defense aspirations. Modern military gear, including assault helicopters, unmanned planes, and anti-aircraft missiles, have already been purchased by Bangladesh, primarily from China and India.
The main elements of FOIP include commerce, investment, and infrastructure development as well as defense and security. Dhaka is now aiming to increase its collaboration with Japan in several sectors. Japan recently loosened its regulations on the transfer of military hardware. Since then, Japanese businesses started supplying military gear to several Asian nations. These procedures were already in progress with the Philippines, Vietnam, and other ASEAN nations. As Bangladesh announced its intention to diversify its sources for acquiring military weaponry, its territory became available.
However, the new structure for support, known as official security assistance, or OSA, was established in revisions to the National Security Strategy in December of last year. In its budget for the fiscal year 2023, the government set aside nearly $2 billion to pay for OSA. Japan will assist nations to enhance their deterrence capabilities through the provision of defense equipment and other means. Four nations, including Bangladesh, will get the first batch of the new funding from the government.
Future Opportunities
There is a compelling reason for Bangladesh and Japan to cooperate and work together, given how the security environment is evolving and how difficult the current scenario is. Bangladesh is crucial to Japan’s geopolitical stance; hence Japan considers Bangladesh indispensable for fulfilling its strategic vision in the region. Hence, it is expected that Dhaka and Tokyo will sign a “letter of intent” on bilateral defense cooperation, which will pave the framework for future deals.
Additionally, Japan is devoted to fostering closer connections with Bangladesh given the country’s rapid economic development, the expansion of the middle class, the size of the market for Japanese goods, the availability of inexpensive labor, and the favorable business climate.
Most critically, Bangladesh and Japan need to strengthen their security cooperation given the shifting geopolitical scenario. There have been increasing number of the port visits, officer exchange, and joint training of the self-defense naval ships. The Bangladesh Air Force has shown a strong desire to purchase mobile radar equipment from Japan. For security and defense-related domains, the foundation for collaboration is already in place. Moreover, ICT security and cyber security are areas where Japan and Bangladesh should explore the possibility of collaboration. Besides, Japan will assist Bangladesh in realizing its full economic potential, overcoming obstacles that may arise after it no longer qualifies as a Least Developed Countries (effective in 2026), and diversifying its diplomatic ties with major nations.
It is extremely significant to remember that Bangladesh is a key component of Japan’s security-diplomatic strategy in South Asia. Improved ties with Dhaka will enable Tokyo to restructure its power relations in South Asia beyond New Delhi. In Japan’s strategic calculations, Bangladesh is significant not only for its unique location between South Asia and Southeast Asia and its direct access to the Indian Ocean but also for its rising economic and political significance in the global arena. Similarly, Bangladesh will benefit from having strong diplomatic connections with Japan while it implements its foreign policy strategy based on non-alignment and independence.
Dr. Delwar Hossain, Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, The Founder of KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs
This article originally appeared in Eurasia Review
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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