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Statement by His Excellency Mr. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, BB, Foreign Secretary at the Bangladesh Foreign Policy in the First Year
Dhaka, 29 October 2002


Hon�ble Foreign Minister,
Hon�ble State Minister,
Excellencies,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

        The four-party alliance under the leadership of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia assumed office in October last at a time of extraordinary global transformation, where prevailing norms and modalities of international relations stood to be undermined. The process of globalization coupled with global economic downturn, set an uncertain backdrop. Furthermore, the contemporary world of images and influences also emerged as yet another challenge before us in protecting our image in the global milieu as a liberal democracy. At the end of the first year, it would perhaps be worthwhile to share with our partners and friends our perception on the nature of challenges that the foreign policy of Bangladesh had to grapple with during the last one year and the strategy Bangladesh pursued to overcome them.

        The fundamental objective of Bangladesh foreign policy remains the preservation of our independence and sovereignty, ensuring economic progress, consolidation of our existence as a politically stable, moderate democratic and responsible contributing member of the international community and protecting this image outside. Bangladesh has accordingly tried to continue the momentum towards strengthening the process of peace and democracy, encouraging dialogue and negotiations, and reforming the international order so that it could protect and promote the interest of all nations, specially the weaker ones. We also expected that the global order should complement our efforts to effectively respond to the needs and aspirations of the common people around the globe. As a forward looking developing country, we have blended economic diplomacy to make such a process meaningful and relevant to our people.

Neighbourhood diplomacy:

        Indeed, most of our policy initiatives were inspired by these overriding commitments, be it in our bilateral relations with our neighbours, be it in promoting a regional climate for peace and cooperation, be it in espousing the legitimate an inalienable rights of the struggling people around the world, particularly that of our Palestinian brothers and sisters. For obvious reasons, our immediate focus was on furthering our relationship with our immediate neighbours both bilaterally and in the regional context. The enhanced level and scope of interactions with our neighbours in the last one year is a clear testimony to a recognition of our positive and forward looking approach. The visit from India of a high level special envoy immediately after the assumption of office of the new government set the tone for an engaging relationship. The goodwill visit of Indian External Affairs Minister to Dhaka in August this year further reinforced the process. As a follow up, the bilateral dialogue mechanism between Bangladesh and India has been reactivated. We hope that such close interactions with India will open up new opportunities for far wider and deeper relationship between these two close neighbours. Bangladesh remains ready to work with India to creatively address our bilateral issues on an equitable and mutually beneficial basis. This approach was underlined to the Indian leadership by our Foreign Minister when he visited New Delhi in June.

        The landmark visit of President Pervez Musharraf to Bangladesh in July 2002 lay the foundation for a more productive interactions between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Despite the presence of some outstanding issues, new flexibility in trade and economic relationship has set a new dynamism in our bilateral relations. The decision by the government of Pakistan to offer duty free access to Bangladesh tea and jute has created a noteworthy example that could be emulated in expanding the economic cooperation among the nations

        In South Asia. From our own point of view, the visit had yet another significance, it was for the first time that during a State visit to Bangladesh a Pakistani President expressed, both in writing and formally in his speeches regret for excesses committed by the Pakistani forces in Bangladesh in 1971.

        The visit of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to Dhaka in May 2002 also demonstrated a keen desire of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to take their relationship to a new height. Bangladesh has welcomed the courageous decision of Sri Lankan government to engage itself in the peace process. We are happy that the ongoing peace process is moving in right direction. Bangladesh�s relationship with Nepal and Bhutan has also progressed significantly. We are currently working with both Nepal and Bhutan to update the Trade and Transit Agreements with a view to further enhancing economic interactions with them. Special concessions given to Bhutanese Airlines, Druk Air by Bangladesh has already enabled it to raise its frequency of flights between Dhaka and Paro. Likewise, special offer made to Nepal for using the Mongla port will definitely create a new opportunity for more economic interactions between Bangladesh and Nepal.

        Last year, the international community has taken up a moral obligation through the Bonn Conference and other subsequent conferences to build durable peace in Afghanistan. Bangladesh welcomed the establishment of a new transitional government, which has expressed its commitment to build a stable, peaceful and democratic Afghanistan. As an active member of the Afghan Reconstruction Group, Bangladesh has also expressed its commitment to assist Afghanistan�s transitional government in their reconstruction efforts. We have indicated that Bangladesh would like to support them a variety of areas, including reconstruction and peacekeeping efforts under suitable UN mandate. Bangladesh is also actively considering to upgrade our diplomatic presence in Kabul soon.

Regional Cooperation:

        Conflict prevention is a global priority. Bangladesh shares the view of the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that we must move from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention and we are ready to contribute to strengthen such a process. In the face of any tension, we thus consider it as our solemn responsibility to respond to such a challenge with all our sincerity and ability. During the recent months, Bangladesh, as a stake holder in the well being of the South Asian region, took a proactive role to remove the cloud of tension from the region. The visit of Hon�ble Foreign Minister to Pakistan and India in last June and other diplomatic initiatives helped to persuade our neighbours to understand our concerns. We are glad that a sense of pragmatism has finally prevailed and India and Pakistan have decided to withdraw their troops from their common borders. Bangladesh has welcomed such a move as a timely step in the right direction for restoring a climate of trust, which in turn can encourage them to resolve their outstanding issues through dialogue and negotiations.

        Regional cooperation is yet another thrust area in our foreign policy. SAARC was our gift to South Asia. We firmly believe that peaceful regional climate is a sine quo non for any cooperation for economic development. SAARC provides us the appropriate vehicle to channelize our energies in a positive direction. Bangladesh strongly believes that inspite of its relatively slower pace, the SAARC process deserves sustained support form the member states. Bangladesh has reinforced its efforts to strengthen the mechanism of cooperative interactions within the SAARC. Our unflinching support to the SAARC has been eloquently manifested by the active participation of Bangladesh delegation under the leadership of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia at the XI SAARC summit in Kathmandu in January this year. The eight point programme proposed by the Hon�ble Prime Minister was duly reflected in the Kathmandu Declaration. Thanks to the collective effort of the member states, the preparation for the next SAARC summit is moving forward smoothly. Bangladesh strongly believes that SAARC is not only a forum for regional interaction, it gives us an identity � a South Asian identity and a South Asian agenda to pursue to address our common concerns. It may be coincidental, but it is perhaps fitting that at this crucial point of time, it is a Bangladeshi who has assumed the office of the Secretary General of SAARC.

Looking East:

        Sustained engagement with countries in the South East Asia and Far East region are characterized by an accent on extending our ties with the countries of the East. From the Far East was the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji in January. This visit was of special significance. It was the first visit at this level after a long gap of 13 years and its high point was the reassurance given by the Chinese Premier that China shall forever remain a trusted and reliable friend of Bangladesh and a development partner. The number of important bilateral accords signed during the visit underlined the depth of our bilateral cooperation. The fact that China has emerged as an ally of Bangladesh was evident from the timing of this visit and its content. The Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation between Bangladesh and China was held in Beijing. China�s willingness to include 13 projects for Chinese assistance under concessional terms was another positive gesture on their part. Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia is expected to pay an official visit to China at a mutually agreeable time.

        Transition of East Timor to full independence and the launching of Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) were two major regional developments. Bangladesh was represented at the East Timor Independence celebrations by our Ambassador in Jakarta, who also carried personal messages from the President and Prime Minister for their East Timor leadership. As for the ACD, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister played a crucial role in launching the process. Bangladesh will fully cooperate with the launching of ACD and be actively involved in the process of its operationalisation.

        The visit of the Thai Premier to Bangladesh has been regarded as a milestone in developing relations between the two countries, especially in the field of industry, commerce, communications, tourism and investment. The signing of an MOU on Accounts Trade System and another on reciprocal protection of investments between Bangladesh and Thailand will help broaden the scope of our ties with this important country to our east. Another MOU was signed between the two countries by the apex body of business communities on formation of their business council. The visit of the Thai Premier was followed by the visit of the Permanent Secretary of Thailand to Dhaka to give boost to the implementation of what was agreed during the Summit meeting.

        The Vice Foreign Minister of Vietnam visited Bangladesh to reaffirm the historic ties between Bangladesh and Vietnam. He also indicated his country�s readiness to reopen their resident diplomatic mission in Dhaka.

Islamic world and Bangladesh:

        Our relationship with the Islamic Ummah remains an important element in our foreign policy. In order to underscore this importance, the Hon'ble Prime Minister visited Saudi Arabia in October 2001, just after the assumption of office. Hon'ble Foreign Minister's intervention at last ICFM in Khartoum enhanced the image of Bangladesh in the Muslim world. In his intervention at the ICFM, the Foreign Minister advocated a more proactive and visionary role for the OIC to meet emerging global challenges collectively. He urged a more concerted effort from the Muslim world to reach out and bridge the global religious divide that threatens us all.

        The plight of the Palestine people under the aggression from the Israeli government deserves most serious and urgent attention from the international community. Bangladesh has always reaffirmed its unflinching support to the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to their homeland with Jerusalem as its capital. We also recognize that President Arafat as the legitimately elected representative of the Palestinian people. Bangladesh also believes that in a region as volatile as the Middle East, all problems should also be resolved through diplomatic dialogue and negotiations. The aggressive Israeli military action does not any way contribute to a peaceful resolution of a problem that is of major consequence to all.

Major powers:

        Our bilateral relations with China has been reinforced with the visit of Chinese Prime Minister to Bangladesh just in the wake of the assumption of the new government in Bangladesh. It has continued to grow in the mean time and we intend to further strengthen it with exchange of visit at the highest political level.

        The partnership between Bangladesh and the countries in Europe has also been consolidated. British Prime Minister Tony Blair during his visit to Bangladesh gave a ringing endorsement of the proactive, balanced and creative foreign policy of Bangladesh. As a recognition of our positive contribution to balanced global economic relations, Norway has joined the European Union and other nations in allowing duty and quota free access of Bangladesh products to their markets. Canada has also announced such a concession for Bangladesh products to its market following an appeal by our Prime Minister to the Canadian Prime Minister delivered personally by our Foreign Minister. These decisions represent a success of our economic diplomacy.

        Our relationship with the United States has also been strengthened. The socio-economic policies of the government as well as the balanced role played by Bangladesh in the international arena have been duly recognized by the United States government and its law makers. During a recent hearing on Bangladesh, the members of the Congress termed Bangladesh as a "role model of moderate, secular, democratic, Muslim state." Recent visit to the United States by the Hon'ble Foreign Minister has further deepened the bilateral understanding between Bangladesh and the United States on a wide range of issues of mutual interest.

Multilateral issues:

        Hon'ble Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia's active participation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Coolum in Australia in March 2002 and at the Special session of the General Assembly on Children in May this year were the highpoints in our multilateral diplomacy. At the CHOGM, Bangladesh's position on terrorism, poverty and democracy were duly reflected in the final document. At the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children the success stories of Bangladesh in providing primary health care, integrated nutrition programme, programme for supporting literacy drive, such as stipend for the girl students, and safe motherhood projects attracted the attention of the global community. The efforts of the government for ensuring the rights of children were also appreciated.

        Bangladesh�s commitment to global peace and security has been supported by its active involvement in the UN peacekeeping operations. Our peacekeepers under the UN banner are currently engaged in maintaining peace, building infrastructures, connecting people, and reconstructing fractured societies in countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Bangladesh's high profile participation in the United Nations peacekeeping efforts is one of the bright spots in our foreign policy. We are proud of our peacekeepers and we intend to continue to remain engaged in this pursuit of the international community to strengthening the global climate for peace and security.

Institutional support:

        In order to guide and support our foreign policy efforts around the world, we are working towards forging better coordination among various wings in our Missions as well as with various Ministries and agencies at home. We are also trying to improve support services with a view to making our Missions more effective and efficient. Already special priorities have been given by the Missions to take good care of the Bangladesh expatriate community abroad, particularly those who are in need of consular support and to promote our economic interests. Cooperation with the private sector business community is also being enhanced for facilitating promotion of our economic diplomatic initiatives. We are already in the middle of ongoing consultations with them with a view to equipping our diplomats to discharge their new responsibility with energy and commitment.

Continuing commitment:

        The catalog of our foreign policy achievements in the last one year is not only long in its form, it is also qualitatively sound in its content. Our actions in terms of our foreign policy goals have laid the foundation for our approach in the coming years. It is now time to build on what has been founded in the past 12 months.

 

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