High Commissioner of Malaysia, the Chair of the ASEAN Dhaka Committee,
Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Heads of Missions and Representatives of the ASEAN Countries in Dhaka
Ladies & Gentlemen, Good Morning
I am very happy to be able to join you celebrating the joyous occasion of 54th year of ASEAN’s founding.
I take this opportunity to congratulate, on this happy occasion, on behalf of the Government of Bangladesh and on my own behalf, H.E. Chair of ASEAN Dhaka Committee. I also extend my warmest greetings and heartiest felicitations to the governments and people of the ASEAN Countries.
In this month of mourning, I pay my deepest homage to our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his wife Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatun Nesa Mujib and his family members who were brutally assassinated in 1975. Today we are observing the 91st birthday of Begum Fazilatun Nesa who through her life supported and inspired her husband . As we celebrate Mujib Borsho, I take this opportunity to thank the ASEAN friends for spontaneously joining us in our celebration and sending us messages of felicitations from the highest level of their respective countries.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) brings together ten countries with over 660 million people, about 9% of the world’s population, and a combined gross domestic product of more than USD 2.5 trillion. ASEAN covers a huge swathe of territory, and therefore, has the opportunity to play major role in global socio-economic development. The Association is founded on “three pillars”-political security, socio-cultural integration, and economic integration. We have observed with admiration how countries with so much ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity, each in varying stages of economic development, have been able to work together setting aside their differences for common good, to become a model of regional integration for the rest of the world.
Throughout the last 50 years, the ASEAN has transformed from a loosely constructed regional organization to one of the major players in the world encompassing almost all countries in Southeast Asia. Besides its growing political integration, ASEAN created the world’s sixth-largest market and works with the third-largest labor force. According to UN, by 2030 if it were a single economy, ASEAN would be ranked 4th amongst all of the world’s economic powers.
Our relationship with the ASEAN community is, by any standard, one of our key foreign policy priorities. Bangladesh has long admired the fact that Southeast Asia has been one of the fastest growing, economically vibrant and immensely resourceful regions of the world. It goes without saying that for its phenomenal progress, ASEAN acted as a key driver in Asia’s political economy. ASEAN’s emergence coincided with a period of remarkable economic expansion, with per capita incomes in the region expanding by 33 times from US$122 in 1967 to US$4,021 in 2017. When ASEAN was founded in 1967, nearly all of its members were low-income economies. Today, the region includes two countries with high incomes, two with upper middle incomes, and the rest with lower middle incomes.
Given geographic proximity, historical linkages, civilizational commonalities and contemporary convergence of views, Bangladesh believes that it can be one of ASEAN’s strongest partners. Bangladesh, which itself is one of the fastest growing economies of the Asia Pacific region and has a rapidly growing middle class, can be a huge market for the ASEAN countries. With its large manufacturing base, Bangladesh can also be a source of competitive imports for the ASEAN countries. We are already one of the largest tourist sending countries to Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia – with improved air connectivity there is scope to enhance this manifold. Bangladesh can be an attractive destination for ASEAN investors, who are looking for good returns on their investment. With its unique geographical location, Bangladesh can act as a “bridge” between South Asia and South East Asia acting as a gateway to the land locked countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Northeast India for the ASEAN countries. While the ASEAN member countries sit in the extended neighborhood of Bangladesh, the country links up ASEAN with a vast market of South Asia. Since its independence, Bangladesh has maintained very friendly relations and attaching high priority to its relations with all ASEAN countries. We are looking forward to celebrating 50 years of Diplomatic Relations with most of the ASEAN next year with due festivity. It is a matter of satisfaction for us that we have established resident Missions in all the ASEAN countries except Laos and Cambodia. During this COVID-19 pandemic, Bangladesh and ASEAN countries stood beside each other offering mutual support.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Bangladesh is the last frontier of the South Asian region interfacing with the ASEAN region beginning with Myanmar. On the Golden Jubilee of our Independence, as we work to transform the vision of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Sonar Bangla into reality under the wise and dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we feel that our geographical location and trade, economic and cultural interaction with ASEAN countries make Bangladesh a natural candidate for stronger and more meaningful partnership with the ASEAN.
Bangladesh shares a common agenda for peace, development, security and economic prosperity with the member countries of the ASEAN. Since the last decade, Bangladesh has been an active member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and engages closely with most ASEAN countries to promote our shared vision for a peaceful and stable Asia and the Pacific. Our deep commitment to ensuring regional peace and stability matches perfectly with the vision and objectives of ASEAN.
Bangladesh wishes to intensify political, trade, economic and cultural connectivity with the ASEAN and wants to develop sectoral cooperation. We wish to institutionalize our relations with ASEAN. This could be done initially through Sectoral Dialogue Partnership leading to full Dialogue Partnership in future. Bangladesh has the experience and knowledge to share with the ASEAN countries in many areas notably poverty alleviation, primary healthcare, sanitation, counter terrorism, human trafficking, drugs and narcotics control, climate change, water resources management, migration, disaster management, women empowerment, UN peace keeping operations, Human Resources Development, agriculture, fresh water fisheries, climate change, ICT, and many more. Institutionalization of this relationship will not only build bridges between the two ancient regions, it will also foster investment, trade flow and social and cultural exchanges for future generations.
I would like to draw your kind attention to one longstanding problem afflicting our region. Out of a humanitarian consideration Bangladesh is sheltering to 1.1 million Myanmar nationals who were forcibly evicted from their homeland.
Here, I would like to urge the ASEAN member states to intervene in the matter and help the repatriation process. Myanmar, our neibour, agreed to take back their displaced people from Bangladesh. They agreed to provide them safety and security and also to create a conducive environment in the Rakhaine State for their return. For the last 4 years, there is no violence in the Rakhaine State yet none of them displaced people of Myanmar returned to their homes mostly because of fear of uncertainty and trust defect. ASEAN should walk together to reduce their trust and uncertainty and facilitate their safe repatriation. The prolonged presence of such a huge number of displaced people entails serious ramification on the economy, environment, security, and socio-political stability of not only Bangladesh but the entire region including the ASEAN. We need to make a tangible progress in terms of a safe, secure and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas to their homeland, Myanmar.
I would like to mention that ASEAN is standing at a crossroad of previous success and future opportunities. Bangladesh considers it is crucial to maintain regional peace, stability and security if the region is to attain full potential. Bangladesh is willing to work with ASEAN for the betterment of the people of this entire region and to attain the shared vision of future prosperity.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank the Ambassadors and High Commissions of the ASEAN Countries in Dhaka for arranging today’s event. I hope this auspicious occasion will motivate us to extend support to each other and strive for a better tomorrow.
Long live Bangladesh-ASEAN friendship.
Joy Bangla / Joy Bangabandhu.
H.E. Mr. Md. Shahriar Alam, MP