Hon'ble President | Hon'ble Prime Minister | MOFA | Foreign Minister | State Minister | Foreign Secretary


 

 

Press Briefing by Hon'ble Foreign Minister's at the New Year
2 January 2003
 

Introduction:

Bangladesh entered the year 2002 in the midst of considerable uncertainties in the wake of several new developments- both political and economic, as an after effect of the September 11 events. Economic downturn that ensued, which did not spare most countries including Bangladesh and stereotyping of Muslim countries in a particular manner, also made things difficult. Bangladesh was also assailed by a series of factors both of indigenous and regional character which are by now well known. In such a difficult situation the Foreign Ministry set out to achieve the following objectives:

Objective 1: To ensure national security within a stable regional context, to project the image of Bangladesh as a responsible peace-loving country and to counter efforts underway to depict Bangladesh as a fundamentalist country.

Objective 2: To remain engaged with our immediate neighbours and strengthen our friendship with them, establish new linkages and open new avenues with our friends in the East and the South-east, fully realize the potential of our friendly ties with the United States and other Western countries. In addition to consolidate and where possible to further strengthen friendly ties with Islamic countries.

Objective 3: Work with a well defined focus to advance the economic interest of Bangladesh through vigorous economic diplomacy.

Objective 4 : Make a strong contribution to regional cooperation.

Objective 5: Ensure the essential continuity of Bangladesh's pro-active multilateral diplomacy and play a significant role in influencing decisions and actions being taken in the multilateral context which affect the interest of Bangladesh.

Objective 6 : Improve and provide effective consular and welfare services to Bangladesh nationals abroad.

An overview of main initiatives

Under the guidance and overall dynamic leadership of the Hon'ble Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs played its due role in furthering all the above important objectives. The Prime Minister helped in the articulation of our national interest through following major initiatives at her level -

Participated in the 11th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in January 2002 - the Summit reactivated the SAARC process after a hiatus of almost two years, Bangladesh has also been actively trying to encourage the holding of the next SAARC Summit.

Hon'ble Prime Minister participated in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Coolum, Australia where she made important contribution in highlighting our view on the nature of international actions needed to fight terrorism and global efforts needed to address the problems of world's poorest countries.

Hon'ble Prime Minister participated in the World Summit in May 2002 for Children renewing our commitment to global action in support of Children.

Hon'ble Prime Minister personally signaled Bangladesh's keen interest to strengthen our relations with our immediate neighbours when she met the leaders of SAARC countries in January 2002 and with Myanmar when the Prime Minister of Myanmar visited Bangladesh in December 2002. She also highlighted the importance of our relations with China during the visit of Prime Minister of China Mr. Zhu Ronji during his visit to Bangladesh in January 2002 and her own return visit to China in December 2002. In between the visits of Prime Minister Tony Blair to Bangladesh in January 2002, of President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in July 2002 and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in July 2002 followed by Hon'ble Prime Minister's visit to Thailand in December 2002 as well as visit of Prime Minister of Korea to Bangladesh in November 2002 were important milestones.

The Hon'ble Prime Minister's personal initiatives were supplemented by my visit to a whole series of important bilateral visits and participation in important international and regional meetings. The mix of my visits was carefully worked out to advance Bangladesh's bilateral, regional and international concerns.

Tokyo meeting on reconstruction of Afghanistan 21-22nd January 2002. Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group Meetings in London, Botswana, and again London in January, May and October 2002, EU-OIC Meeting on dialogue between the civilizations in Istanbul February 2002, visit to Washington in May, visit to New York in May and September 2002. Visit to Canada May 2002, visit to Pakistan and India in June 2002 Asian Cooperation Dialogue Meeting in Thailand in June 2002 29th ICFM in Khartoum, Sudan in June 2002 , visited Bangladesh troops Sierra Leone in June 2002, visit to China in September 2002 , Saudi Arabia in October 2002 , Myanmar in November 2002, SAARC Council of Ministers October 2002 and UNGA in September 2002. BIMST-EC Ministerial Meeting in December 2002,

The Hon'ble State Minister for Foreign Affairs also made his valuable contribution to the unfolding of Bangladesh's foreign policy priorities and their effective implementation. He represented Bangladesh in the ICFM Special Session on terrorism in Kuala Lumpur in April, led Bangladesh delegation to LDC Ministerial Meeting in Cotonou in August 2002 participated in UNGA in September and represented Bangladesh in Second Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Seoul in November 2002. The Hon'ble State Minister was also a member of Bangladesh delegation to WSSD held in Johannesburg in August 2002, Morocco, Committee on Palestine, Doha Special Session of the ICFM.

The extent of our achievements can be judged by looking at the following :

Bangladesh has largely been able to project her tolerant, democratic and moderate image abroad notwithstanding concerted attempts to malign us, we strongly countered any attempt to depict Bangladesh as a sanctuary for fundamentalist militant outfits and a country lacking religious harmony. Our efforts so far have been successful. But we also need the understanding and support of our friends from the media.

Our commitment to a free press has been clearly underlined in its spirit and manifestation. The role of our media in this has been laudable.

In the inter-state level we have remained engaged to improve our bilateral ties with our immediate neighbours, added a new dimension to our foreign policy by opening new avenues of cooperation with countries to our East, consolidated our traditional friendly relations with countries in the Islamic World and added significant contents in our relations with our friends in the West including the USA and the members of the EU.

The dynamism of our multilateral initiatives has been maintained and our priority to realize the full potential of regional cooperation has remained unchanged.

New steps have been taken to enhance our economic interests through vigorous economic diplomacy and reprioritization of our endeavours.

Welfare of Bangladeshis working abroad have been given greater attention through implementation of specific steps to improve consular facilities.

Bilateral priorities and gains

Relations with neighbour: Consolidating friendly relations with neighbours has been a major policy objective of the Government during the year 2002. The Foreign Secretary visited India in February 2002 and I visited Delhi in June 2002. The Indian External Affairs Minister visited Bangladesh in August 2002. Bangladesh remains committed to improve her relations with India through constructive engagement and following a definite road map that ensures improved relations with India and her economic links on the basis of the recognition of the broad economic interests of both the countries - especially that of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is happy that both India and Bangladesh remained engaged in dialogue and discussions at the level of senior officials and at the political level on such important issues as peaceful management of common border between the two countries, completion of land boundary demarcation, trade, investment, sharing of waters of common rivers and use of Inland Waterways of Bangladesh. The year ended with the positive visit of Commerce Minister of Bangladesh to Kolkata. Bangladesh is keen to develop her relations with India in the New Year on the basis of mutual trust, due recognition of the legitimate concerns of Bangladesh and common challenges that the two countries must face together - especially for poverty eradication and promoting the prospect for regional stability.

Our relations with other SAARC countries have both remained cordial and warm. I visited Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal - the three main SAARC capitals besides New Delhi The visit of President of Pakistan to Bangladesh in July 2002 and the visit of Pakistan Commerce Minister in January 2002 were particularly important in improving further the friendly relations with Pakistan. The Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka also visited Bangladesh in April 2002. From Sri Lanka the Minister for Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion and Constitutional Affairs Mr. G.L. Peiris, Sri Lankan Minister for Tourism Mr. Gamini Lokuge and Sri Lankan Interior Minister Mr. John Amaratunga also visited Bangladesh in March, August and December 2002 respectively. Bangladesh Industries Minister Mr. M.K. Anwar visited Sri Lanka in October 2002. These visits further cemented the friendly relations with our southern neighbour in South Asia.

Bangladesh's relations with Nepal remained close and friendly in 2002.The Foreign Ministers of the two countries held wide ranging talks on ways to improve further the relations between the two countries in August 2002 when I visited Kathmandu in connection with the Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers. Similarly our relations with Bhutan also improved significantly. The Commerce Minister Mr. Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury visited Bhutan in April 2002. Talks on Trade Promotion with Bhutan were held at the Secretary level in November 2002 and Bangladesh Single Country Trade Fair was held in Thimpu in November 2002

The Defence Minister of the Maldives visited Bangladesh in May 2002 which was an useful occasion to renew contact with the Maldives. I also met the Foreign Minister of the Maldives in Kathmandu in August 2002 on the occasion of the Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers.

Bangladesh has worked steadily to strengthen relations with Afghanistan in 2002. I represented Bangladesh in the Tokyo Meeting on the "Reconstruction of Afghanistan" in January 2002. I also met the Afghan President Hamid Kharzai in New York in September 2002. In the meanwhile Bangladesh also entrusted our Ambassador in Tashkent to represent Bangladesh in Kabul. A number of NGO's in Bangladesh have started valuable work in the social sectors in Afghanistan and the Foreign Secretary pledged Bangladesh readiness to help train Afghan army and police personnel either in Bangladesh or in Afghanistan during a one day Conference of the Steering Committee of the Afghan Support Group in April 2002. Bangladesh also participated at the Meeting of the OIC Assistance Group for Afghanistan held in Doha in November 2002.

Relations with our friends in the East: Very conscious efforts were made during the year 2002 to add a new dimension to our relations with countries to our east and south-east. The high profile visit of Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to Bangladesh in January 2002 and the return visit of the Hon'ble Prime Minister to China in December 2002 were important milestones in the relations between the two friendly countries. These two visits have resulted in a number of cooperation agreements which would act as important frameworks for further future development of the relations between the two countries. Besides the visits at the level of the Head of Government during 2002 a series of other important visits also took place. Amongst others, I thus visited China in September 2002.

Bangladesh's close and friendly ties with Japan also became even closer in the year 2002. During this year the two countries celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. I renewed the contact with my Japanese counterparts during my visit to Tokyo in January 2002 and Mr. Shin Sakurai, member of the House of Councilors and Vice-President of the Japan Bangladesh Parliamentarian League visited Bangladesh in October 2002 as a Special Envoy of the Japanese Prime Minister. Bangladesh deeply values its ties with Japan and it would be an important objective of Bangladesh to further strengthen her friendly relations with this major Asian Power.

The relations of Bangladesh with Myanmar entered new phase of constructive and friendly engagement in 2002. The high point of a perceptible process of improvement in the relations between the two countries was the visit of the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council and Prime Minister of Myanmar to Bangladesh in December 2002. The Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Commerce, the Minister for Communications and I also visited Myanmar in June, March, August and November contributing significantly to the ongoing discussions between these two countries to widen the scope and content of their very warm friendly ties.

The relations between Bangladesh and Thailand also improved at a very rapid pace during the year. The Prime Minister of Thailand Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra visited Bangladesh twice in July and December 2002. In between the Foreign Secretary of Thailand also visited Bangladesh in August 2002. The Hon'ble Prime Minister visited Thailand in December 2002. This visit marked the high point of a very welcome process of intensification of cooperation between Thailand and Bangladesh.

During the year 2002 the relations of Bangladesh with Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines also improved steadily. I held important discussions with my counterparts from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia in New York in September 2002 at the margin of the UNGA on further ways to develop relations with these countries. The extension of stay of Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia was a major success.

Bangladesh has also actively taken part in the ACD process during the year 2002. I participated in the inaugural session of the first ACD Conference in Bangkok in June 2002 and a subsequent follow-up meeting of the countries involved in the process in New York in September 2002 at the margin of the UNGA session.

Relations with countries in West Asia and Africa: Bangladesh deeply values her ties with Islamic countries in West Asia and Africa. During the year 2002 Bangladesh constantly stood by the countries in the Middle East at times of crisis strongly criticising the strong arm tactics adopted by Israel and horrendous consequences arising out of its continued occupation of Palestinian lands. Bangladesh also strongly condemned the violence against the Palestinian people and the treatment meted to President Arafat.

Bangladesh also continuously improve relations with the countries in the Middle East. I met the Saudi Foreign Minister in New York in September and subsequently visited Saudi Arabia in October 2002 at his invitation. I also met the Foreign Ministers of Algeria, Oman and Iran in September 2002. Earlier the Foreign Minister of Iran also visited Bangladesh in February 2002. The countries in the Middle East continued to be a major source of remittances from Bangladeshi workers which increased 38% during the year 2002. Special steps taken by the Government to facilitate remittances through official and banking channels largely contributed to this increase. The Government of Bangladesh has also stepped up efforts to offer better consular and other services to the Bangladeshis working in these countries and Bangladesh Missions abroad have been specifically instructed to be sensitive to their needs.

I visited Sierra Leone in July 2002 to visit Bangladesh troops serving in the UN Peace Keeping Operations. On the same occasion I held wide ranging talks with the officials and Government leaders in Sierra Leone. The valuable work of Bangladesh Peace Keepers in Sierra Leone has been widely acclaimed and Bangla has recently been declared on of the official languages by the President of Sierra Leone in recognition of their contribution.

Bangladesh remains profoundly concerned about the situation in the Middle East and remains committed to work for peace, security and stability in the region.

Relations with countries with America and Pacific: The relations with United States remained a major focus of Bangladesh's Foreign Policy in the year 2002. The ties between the two countries were characterised by a shared concern to achieve certain clear cut objectives. Both the countries worked closely to combat terrorism. The United States appreciated Bangladesh's commitment to shore up democracy and follow a liberal approach to various issues of vital national interest including on the question of treatment of minorities and disadvantaged groups. There was a great understanding of the fundamental thrust of Bangladesh's position regarding religious extremism and recourse to violence. The US Assistant Secretary of States visited Bangladesh in March 2002 and she spoke positively in Bangladesh during the recent Congressional hearing in South Asia. When the controversy on Al-Qaeda terrorist presence in Bangladesh broke out the US Administration and US Ambassador in Bangladesh stood by Bangladesh's assertion on the matter. I visited Washington in May 2002 and met Secretary of the States Mr. Collion Powell, National Security Adviser Dr. Condolezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defence Dr. Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of Treasury Mr. Kenneth Dam on the occasion. My meetings made an important contribution to the enrichment of the US - Bangladesh relations. The USA remains a major destination of Bangladesh's RMG products. The visit of the Bangladesh Commerce Minister and several other visits to Washington by Bangladesh Ministers and high officials have helped to effectively share our various trade and investment related concerns with the United States. Bangladesh also received a Congressional delegation in January 2002.

The relations between Canada and Bangladesh entered a new phase with Canada extending duty and quota free access to products from the Least Developed Countries including Bangladesh. The MOU for the purpose was signed in Dhaka on the last day of the year. The visit of the Canadian Secretary of State Mr. David Kilgour to Bangladesh in April 2002 and my visit to Canada in May 2002 played a major role in adding a new dimension to Canada - Bangladesh relations.

The relations between Australia and Bangladesh also remains close and the Hon'ble Prime Minister met her Australian counterpart in Coolum in March 2002 on the occasion of Commonwealth Summit. Several steps are under consideration to increase to a trade between the two countries. Australia will provide duty and quota free access to Bangladesh's products with effect from July 2003.

Relations with countries of Europe: Relations with countries of Europe remained a major area of priority for Bangladesh during the year 2002. The visit of British Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair to Bangladesh in January 2002 was an important contributory factor to the improvement of bilateral ties between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh. The visit of Mr. Hillary Benn, MP Minister of State in the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom in January 2002, visit by a 7 member delegation of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association - United Kingdom (CPA)- UK in August 2002 and Ms. Sally Keeble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department of International Development in December 2002 also made important contribution to Bangladesh - UK ties. Mr. Douminique Girard, French Additional Foreign Secretary visited Bangladesh in February 2002. I met the French State Minister for Foreign Affairs in New York in September 2002 who is expected to visit Bangladesh early in the New Year. A Norwegian Foreign Ministry delegation visited Bangladesh in June 2002 followed by another high level delegation representing the Standing Committee on Security and Constitutional Affairs in September 2002. Norwegian Minister for Development Cooperation met the Hon'ble Prime Minister during her visit to New York in May 2002 and subsequently she visited Bangladesh in November 2002 when the new MOU on Development Cooperation between Norway and Bangladesh was finalized. During the year 2002 Bangladesh also initiated negotiation for institutionalising regular official level talks between Bangladesh and European countries. At the same time the Ministry also remained focused in promoting cooperation with the EU on a wide front taking due note of new orientation of development cooperation programmes of the EU with countries like Bangladesh.

Our regional achievements:

Bangladesh continued her efforts to strengthen the SAARC process all through the year 2002. The Hon'ble Prime Minister strongly articulated our hope for a strong SAARC process during the 11th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in January 2002. We have also consistently held that bilateral contentious issues should not hold up the SAARC process. Bangladesh continues to hope that the postponed 12th SAARC Summit would be held soon. The Bangladesh Government also made important contribution to the work of the reconvened Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation, has remained engaged in negotiations for the finalization of a draft on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). Bangladesh also hosted the Meeting of SAARC Technical Committee on Energy.

Bangladesh remained committed to the goals and objectives of BIMST-EC and actively participated in its working programme. I participated in the BIMST-EC Ministerial Meeting in December 2002.

Contribution of Bangladesh in the multilateral arena:

In pursuit of the Foreign Policy objectives in different multilateral fora, Bangladesh participated in the World Summit for Children May 2002 at the level of the Hon'ble Prime Minister. Bangladesh also participated in the Monterrey Conference on Development Finances in March 2002 and World Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in June 2002. The Bangladesh delegations to these Conferences made relevant contribution to the shaping of specific decisions with significant bearing for nature of development cooperation in specific areas in support of countries like Bangladesh. I led the Bangladesh delegation to the 57th Session of the UNGA in September 2002 which also included the Hon'ble State Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Bangladesh delegation made important contribution during the 57th UNGA in the finalization of the decisions amongst others on integrated implementation of the decisions of the three major International Conferences i.e. World Summit on Children, the Monterrey Conference and WSSD as well as the decisions on UN Reforms.

Bangladesh Permanent Mission in Geneva effectively projected the Human Rights records of Bangladesh in the context of work of the UN Human Rights Commission. The Mission also continues to make valuable contribution the Doha Round of Trade Negotiations within the framework of WTO.

During the year 2002 Bangladesh achieved significant success in terms of electoral achievements within the UN system. Mrs. Salma Khan of Bangladesh was elected to Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), elected Chairman of the Commission for Social Development, Committee for Information and a Deputy Member of the ILO Governing Board. The Secretary General of the UN also inducted Bangladesh as a member of the Working Group entrusted to recommend measures for UN Reforms.

The Bangladesh Prime Minister participated in the Commonwealth Summit in Coolum and my re-election as a member of CMAG once again highlighted the confidence reposed in Bangladesh as a major contributing country to the Commonwealth process as well as her constant work to advance Commonwealth values of democracy and fundamental human values.

Bangladesh also played a major role in the OIC process I represented Bangladesh in the ICFM held in Sudan in June 2002 where I strongly called for the revitalization of the OIC. Hon'ble State Minister for Foreign Affairs represented Bangladesh in the special OIC Ministerial Meeting on Terrorism in Kuala Lumpur in August 2002.

Bangladesh and the UN Peace Keeping

Bangladesh continued to play a major role in the UN Peace Keeping Operations in the year 2002. Presently Bangladesh has 5324 troops serving under UN flag in 10 different Peace Keeping Operations in different parts of the World. Bangladesh troops serving with UNAMSIL have earned high laurels and I visited them in Sierra Leon in July 2002. Major General Ashfaqur Rahman was appointed UN Force Commander in Georgia during the same year.

New dimensions of Bangladesh's economic diplomacy:

The new Government identified economic diplomacy as a major thrust area for policy initiatives of Bangladesh. Several steps have been taken to translate the notion of economic diplomacy into concrete actions. These include directives sent to all Bangladesh Missions to reorient their work to promote trade and investment in Bangladesh, and secure large flow of remittances from expatriate workers. Steps have also been taken to ensure enhanced interface with private sector and trade and investment related bodies as well as a more engaged level of coordination with line Ministries dealing with trade and investment related matters. A standing institutional arrangement for consultation between and among trade bodies and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Commerce is also currently being worked out.

Conclusion:

In a nutshell the year 2002 has both been a year of consolidation as well as planned expansion aimed at making best out of Bangladesh's diplomatic initiatives to advance the national interests. With the work done Bangladesh today is well poised to address the challenges of the New Year with confidence, hope and new expectations. The Foreign Ministry will continue to be engaged in diplomacy in its widest sense to achieve our national priorities.

 

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