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Bangladesh - Foreign Relations

Bangladesh is bordered on the west, north, and east by a 2,400-kilometer land frontier with India, and on the southeast by a land and water frontier (193 kilometers) with Burma. Bangladesh pursues a moderate foreign policy that places heavy reliance on multinational diplomacy, especially at the United Nations.

The fundamental Foreign Policy of Bangladesh is that the state shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlements of international disputes, and respect for international law on the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charters. Those principles shall

  1. Strive for the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and for general and complete disarmament,
  2. Uphold the right of every people to determine and build up its own social, economic and political system by ways and means of its own free choice, and
  3. Support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging in just struggle against imperialism, colonialism or racialism.
The State shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity. Bangladesh is a member of the Organization of Islamic Country (OIC).

Bangladesh is generally a force for moderation in international forums, and it is also a long-time leader in international peacekeeping operations. It has been the second-largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, with 10,481 troops and police active in November 2009. Its activities in international organizations, with other governments, and with its regional partners to promote human rights, democracy, and free markets are coordinated and high-profile. Bangladesh became a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2006, and began a second term in 2009. However, an explicit goal of its foreign policy has been to strengthen relations with Islamic states, leading to actions such as voting against a December 2009 UN resolution to improve human rights conditions in Iran.

Bangladesh was admitted to the United Nations in 1974 and was elected to a Security Council term in 1978 and again for a 2000-2001 term. The country's foreign minister served as president of the 41st UN General Assembly in 1986. The government has participated in numerous international conferences, especially those dealing with population, food, development, and women's issues. In 1982-83, Bangladesh played a constructive role as chair of the "Group of 77," an informal association encompassing most of the world's developing nations. It has taken a leading role in the "Group of 48" developing countries and the "Developing-8" group of countries. It is also a participant in the activities of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Since 1975, Bangladesh has sought close relations with other Islamic states and a role among moderate members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In 1983, Bangladesh hosted the foreign ministers meeting of the OIC. The government also has pursued the expansion of cooperation among the nations of South Asia, bringing the process--an initiative of former President Ziaur Rahman--through its earliest, most tentative stages to the formal inauguration of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at a summit gathering of South Asian leaders in Dhaka in December 1985. Bangladesh hosted the SAARC summit in November 2005, and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia reassumed its chairmanship. Bangladesh has participated in a wide range of ongoing SAARC regional activities. The head of the then-caretaker government participated in the April 2007 SAARC summit in India.

In recent years, Bangladesh has played a significant role in international peacekeeping activities. Over 10,000 Bangladeshi military personnel were deployed overseas on peacekeeping operations as of November 2009. Under UN auspices, Bangladeshi troops have served or are serving in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Kuwait, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Kosovo, Timor-Leste, Georgia, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Western Sahara, Bosnia, and Haiti. Bangladesh responded quickly to President Bill Clinton's 1994 request for troops and police for the multinational force for Haiti and provided the largest non-U.S. contingent.

Bilateral ties with Burma are good, despite occasional border strains and an influx of more than 270,000 Muslim refugees (known as "Rohingya") from predominantly Buddhist Burma. As of June 2011, there were over 29,000 refugees officially registered in camps in southern Bangladesh. Thousands of other Burmese, not officially registered as refugees, are squatting on the bank of the river Naaf or living in Bangladeshi villages in the southeastern tip of the country. Bangladesh and Burmese officials have held negotiations on establishing a road link between the capitals of the two countries.

The former Soviet Union supported India's actions during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and was among the first to recognize Bangladesh. The U.S.S.R. initially contributed considerable relief and rehabilitation aid to the new nation. After Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in 1975 and replaced by military regimes, however, Soviet-Bangladesh relations cooled.

In 1989, the U.S.S.R. ranked 14th among aid donors to Bangladesh. The Soviets focused on the development of electrical power, natural gas and oil, and maintained active cultural relations with Bangladesh. They financed the Ghorasal thermal power station--the largest in Bangladesh. Russia conducted an aggressive military sales effort in Dhaka and won a $124-million deal for eight MIG-29 fighters. Bangladesh began to open diplomatic relations with the newly independent Central Asian states in 1992. Bangladesh has signed an agreement with Russia for the construction of a nuclear power plant, and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni visited Moscow in May 2010.

China traditionally has been more important to Bangladesh than the former U.S.S.R., even though China supported Pakistan in 1971. As Bangladesh's relations with the Soviet Union and India cooled in the mid-1970s, and as Bangladesh and Pakistan became reconciled, China's relations with Bangladesh grew warmer. An exchange of diplomatic missions in February 1976 followed an accord on recognition in late 1975.

Since that time, relations have grown stronger, centering on trade, cultural activities, military and civilian aid, and exchanges of high-level visits, beginning in January 1977 with President Zia's trip to Beijing. The largest and most visible symbol of bilateral amity is the Bangladesh-China "Friendship Bridge," completed in 1989 near Dhaka, as well as extensive military hardware in the Bangladesh inventory and warm military relations between the two countries.

In the 1990s, the Chinese also built two 210-megawatt power plants outside of Chittagong; mechanical faults in the plants cause them to shut down frequently for days at a time, heightening the country's power shortage. The opening of a Taiwanese trade center in Dhaka in 2004 displeased China, but the Bangladesh Government moved quickly to repair the rift and closed the trade center. In April 2005, Bangladesh and China signed nine memoranda of understanding on trade and other issues during the visit to Dhaka of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. In August 2005, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia visited China.

In March 2010, Prime Minister Hasina visited China, in an effort to strengthen the countries’ diplomatic ties and discuss regional and global issues. Bangladesh agreed to continue its embrace of a “one China” policy, and China in return pledged significant development aid to Bangladesh. China also agreed to provide financing for several new infrastructure projects in Bangladesh. Bangladesh maintains friendly relations with Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and strongly opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Bangladesh has cordial relations with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Bangladeshi non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are active in Afghan reconstruction efforts. Bangladesh and Nepal agreed to facilitate land transit between the two countries. Bangladesh has explored importing electricity from Bhutan through India to meet its energy shortfall.

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Page last modified: 18-05-2012 15:25:43 ZULU