With the newer kind of appreciation of Bangladesh’s value in Australia, Dhaka is now making its all-out efforts to become “economically more pertinent” to Canberra by jointly exploring the vast areas of cooperation keeping the geopolitical imperatives in mind.
“I think there has been a newer kind of appreciation of Bangladesh’s value. And particularly in the last three-four years, we actually started shaking the tree by projecting that Bangladesh is no longer a Bangladesh of 2005 or 2010. It’s changing very fast. And we see this is getting reflected at various levels,” Bangladesh High Commissioner to Australia Mohammad Sufiur Rahman told UNB in an interview marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries that falls on January 31.
All these past years, he said, Australia has been supportive and there is no doubt about it. But there was a perception in Australia that Bangladesh is a disaster-prone and aid-dependent country.
“So, we’ve tried our level best to change it by projecting Bangladesh as a self-assured and self-dependent country which is emerging as a middle economic power in this Indian Ocean region,” said the High Commissioner, adding that it has been their focus in the recent period to change that negative narrative.
Highlighting the huge perception change from the Australian side, he said persistent efforts of the Bangladesh Mission over the last three-four years to create a new narrative of Bangladesh in Australia have started paying dividends.
Signing of Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA), repeated telephone calls from Australian Foreign Minister to Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and request from Australian Prime Minister for meeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during COP26 in Glasgow indicate a significant change in the approach from the Australian side that has all these years seen Bangladesh as a vulnerable country and a recipient of her development assistance, said the diplomat having a three-decade long career.
Founded on bipartisan support, the leadership of Australia quickly recognised Bangladesh on January 31 in 1972, the first among the developed nations that influenced recognition from other countries.
The then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam visited Dhaka in January 1975 and met Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman giving Bangladesh-Australia relations a strong beginning.
“But when we lost our Father of the Nation, I think Bangladesh also lost its path. The momentum in bilateral relations that was created during the visit of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, the only Australian Prime Minister who visited Bangladesh in the last five decades, couldn’t be sustained,” said the Bangladesh envoy, recalling the role of these two giant political personalities.
In the subsequent period, High Commissioner Sufiur said, they saw Australian support coming in the reconstruction of Bangladesh and in the field of socio-economic development which he thinks was far below the potential.
The envoy who is also Bangladesh High Commissioner to New Zealand and Fiji said things started changing slightly when Australia decided to extend duty free quota free market access to Bangladesh, two decades back as an LDC.
And in the last 10 years or so, he said, Australia's interest in Bangladesh increased because of Bangladesh's capacity to export in a significant quantum to the Australian market and to absorb Australian exports apart from Bangladesh diaspora’s important role in Australian nation building efforts.
Geopolitics and Post-Covid Era
The High Commissioner said the post-Covid era is going to be an “uncertain time” for everybody in the regional context and also in the global context with the emergence of intense strategic competition.
“And that will also have an impact on how we produce, how we consume and how we trade. These all are going to happen at the same time. So, we would expect to see greater focus on sustainable consumption,” he said, adding that the production processes will change, sourcing from various countries will also change.