Message from the Momen-Blinken Meeting


John Rozario

The relationship between Bangladesh and the US has grown tremendously over the last 51 years.
“We’re committed to continuing to work together, to find ways to strengthen and deepen the relationship, to address as well economic development and human rights,” said Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State, when he met Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at the Department of State in Washington DC in the early hours of Tuesday (BST).
“And of course, we’re looking – the world is looking – to Bangladesh for its next elections, to make sure that they set a strong example for free and fair elections for the region and for the world,” Blinken said. A meeting between Bangladesh and the US at the level of foreign ministers was held at the US State Department.
The US has given a significant message during Abdul Momen’s visit. For the sake of continued inclusion in the global process, it is necessary to seriously consider the advice of the US on various issues related to holding free and fair elections, freedom of expression and human rights.
The Bangladesh delegation was led by Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen. The US delegation was led by Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken. In the meeting, Blinken mentioned that since 2017, the US has provided 2.1 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to the Rohingya. He reiterated the US’ commitment to promoting Bangladesh’s economic growth, free and fair elections, human and labour rights, and freedom of expression.
US Secretary of State Blinken expressed deep concern over violence and intimidation against the media and civil society, including the Digital Security Act. He wants to deepen the US-Bangladesh relationship and said Bangladesh needs free and fair elections, and respect for human rights, media and civil society. Blinken also mentioned that the whole world is looking towards the upcoming elections in Bangladesh. Such free and fair elections should be organized in Bangladesh so that it becomes a ‘model’ election in the region and the world.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen promised to resolve these concerns of the US. But it is important to implement these commitments. The US has pledged to continue aid to the Rohingya despite a drop in world aid, which is positive.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticised the US in her speech to the National Assembly ahead of the foreign ministerial meeting in Washington. The role of the US in elections and politics was expressed in his speech. The US has said at various times seeking free and fair elections in Bangladesh; This time, too, there was no exception. This is nothing new. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh assured. Observers will be appointed. The meeting is, therefore, timely. This is not a courtesy meeting. Full bilateral meeting. The message of the US must be taken seriously. The US considers itself the leader of the world. What the US is saying is also being echoed by the European Union, Australia, and Japan.
The US recently released a report on the human rights situation in 198 countries in 2022. The country’s state department made various allegations of human rights violations against Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is experiencing several difficulties as a result of global price inflation brought on by the Coronavirus and Ukraine-Russia confrontation. US report was crucial in this circumstance. The US has recently given this part of Asia more attention.
The year 2021 was a trying one for relations between the US and Bangladesh. On December 10, 2021, the US sanctioned Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and numerous current and former officers for a long history of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. Bangladesh was not invited to the virtual Summit for Democracy that month by the Biden administration. In 2022, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, suppression of expression and media, use of force in gatherings, obstruction of national and international human rights institutions, etc. continued as usual in Bangladesh. However, compared to 2021, extrajudicial killings have decreased in 2022, according to the report published on the global human rights situation.
These things were said in the report entitled “2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” published on the website of the US State Department on March 21 about the global human rights situation.
Bangladeshi citizens needn’t spark any new controversy and worry based on this 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 the Bangladesh government. But the US hasn’t imposed new sanctions on Bangladesh.
The US is seeking more engagement with Bangladesh now than ever before. Although the two countries’ diplomatic ties began on April 4, 1972, the current focus of the US on Bangladesh reminds us that it desires a strategic partnership with Bangladesh.
Over the last decade, cooperation in trade, investment and security, particularly in counter-terrorism, has strengthened, especially after 2016. Trade between the two countries favours Bangladesh, and the US is the largest single market for garments produced in Bangladesh.
The increasing attention of the US in recent times on democracy and human rights in Bangladesh raises the question, why is the US taking this action now? One possibility is that the US sees a larger role for the country in its Indo-Pacific strategy. Bangladesh favours regional peace. It still believes in the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Bangladesh believes the US sanctions are motivated by geopolitics, while the US claims the RAB is harming the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
While Bangladesh’s top concerns are sanctions and investment, the US wants to ensure its security the in the Indo-Pacific area amidst the current great power rivalry. To accomplish this, the US plans to sign two defence agreements with Bangladesh that it hopes will strengthen military ties through enhanced intelligence sharing and exchange of logistical and technological support.
Bangladesh must pursue its policies to enhance “mutual understanding” with America and become a trustworthy ally of the US because the US is Bangladesh’s single largest export market for ready-made garments (RMG), accounting for 83 per cent of total exports.
Leaders in Bangladesh are keen to focus on US investment and bilateral trade. The suspended Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) is also on Bangladesh’s agenda. The GSP is an arrangement under which Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access to the US market. This arrangement ceased in 2013, though leaders in Dhaka are hopeful that it might begin again for them.
Bangladesh has identified information communications technology as its “thrust” sector and wants US investment to help it evolve. This will no doubt diversify US investment in Bangladesh. Moreover, Bangladesh has accepted the draft of GSOMIA, meaning potential new sources for defence procurement from the US, benefitting Bangladesh’s Forces Goal-2030.
In summation, the individual sanctions have been limited, suggesting that recent disputes are short-term and not impactful. Beyond the disputes, both countries have mutual interests that are likely to increase in political and economic alignment. Diplomatic engagement and the deepening of relations can be helpful in this context. The reciprocal diplomatic visits over the last two years have been fruitful and have helped to transform the relationship. This should continue.