Marked the 50 years of Bangladesh-Sri Lanka bilateral ties. On the eve of Bangladesh’s independence, on March 4, 1972, Sri Lanka officially recognized Bangladesh. The early recognition by Sri Lanka provided the newly emergent country with much-valued support. Since then, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been enjoying cordial bonds of friendship based on our historical linkages, mutual respect, multiple commonalities and spirit of good neighbourliness.Sri Lanka has been a popular name in world politics since the post-colonial period. Despite the huge potential, educated and hardworking manpower, some internal problems have repeatedly stumbled upon the country. At present, the country with a population of 21.8 million has a GDP of 60 billion, an annual growth rate of 7.5 percent and a per capita income of 3,852 (2019) dollars. Growth is expected to recover to 3.4 percent in 2021. After the end of years of bloody civil war in 2009, the country’s policymakers are focusing on economic and infrastructural development. Sri Lanka is on track with two of Asia’s emerging economies, China and India.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa came to Dhaka as an invited guest on the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence and the centenary of the great founder of Bangladesh’s independence Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on behalf of the country’s people in March 2021. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are important members of SAARC, BIMSTEC and the Commonwealth. Now is the time to strengthen bilateral relations in the new geopolitical realities of South Asia. However, the priority sectors for cooperation between the two countries are agriculture, tourism, trade, investment, banking, information technology and education. Bangladesh is currently negotiating a ‘Preferential Trade Agreement’ (PTA) with Sri Lanka. Bhutan has also a ‘Preferential Trade Agreement’ (PTA) with Bangladesh. Bhutan and Bangladesh signed the ‘Preferential Trade Agreement’ in December 06. People of Bangladesh and Bhutan are benefitting from it. Now huge of Bangladeshi products are open in Bhutan. Bangladesh apparel, medicine, goods are being exported and Bhutanese fresh foods are being imported now. The door opens up.
The signing of the FTA with Sri Lanka will boost trade relations between the two countries and will be part of history. About 25,000 Sri Lankans are working in Bangladesh. Most of them work in the readymade garments sector. The two countries can work together to create mid-level skilled officers in the readymade garments sector. Sri Lanka’s Textile and Apparel Institute already has an agreement with Bangladesh’s BGME Fashion Institute in Chittagong. Sri Lanka has also achieved world-class technological advancement in the banking and the stock market. Bangladesh has a trade deficit with Sri Lanka. Bangladesh has a demand for medicines, paper and cement in Sri Lanka. 45 Sri Lankan companies have invested 300 million (in the garment sector) in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Bangladeshis have invested only 20 million in the Sri Lankan pharmaceutical sector.
The higher education sector can be one of the most important sectors of cooperation between the two countries. Sri Lanka’s higher education is world-class. They have increased the reliance on technology in education. They are successful in establishing Vocational College. Sri Lanka is also very successful in job-based technology education. There is talk of increasing cooperation among foreign service academics. A joint study on Indian Ocean security strategy could be conducted between the Bandaranaike Center for International Studies and the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies. In addition, the two countries will benefit from the consensus on the issue of climate change as well as joint research in the production of agricultural seeds suitable for the changing climate. The two countries can work together to meet the ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets by 2030. Now Bangladesh is going to be a full member of the Colombo Security Conclave. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other regional countries can work closely to ensure maritime cooperation.
Incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is an influential Sri Lankan politician. He had earlier visited Bangladesh in 2011 as President. World politics is gradually shifting to the Asia-Pacific region. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have joined the BRE project proposed by China. Although Sri Lanka is debating China’s debt, Bangladesh is taking a balance. The India-Japan-Australia quad has been set up against China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project. This is the message that South Asia is going to be the background for the domination of the superpowers in the coming days. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh both saw the incidents of the Easter Church attack in 2019 and the Holy Artisan attack in 2016 respectively. Bangladesh is now considered a role model of counter-terrorism around the whole world. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka both can work in this regard because this is a threat to sustainable development. Tourism and tackling covid-19 can be the common sectors to serve the mutual interest.
Recently, the President of Maldives said that Bangladesh and Maldives can work together to establish a peaceful and trade-friendly Indian Ocean region. Sri Lanka could also be an important partner in this regard. In these circumstances, Bangladesh will need the experience, support and consensus of countries like Sri Lanka to remain steadfast in its separate foreign policy in the spirit of ‘friendship to all, malice to none anyone’ (Principle of Bangladesh’s foreign policy).Bangladesh faces and bears the burden of Rohingya refugees who are the citizens of Myanmar. They were displaced by their own government in 2017. Bangladesh has sheltered them temporarily. Now it is high time to repatriate them to their homeland Rakhine in Myanmar. The Sri Lanka government can support Bangladesh in this regard. Sri Lank can support Bangladesh at every common international form to pressurize Myanmar in favor of repatriation.
Sri Lanka was one of the initiators of the non-aligned bloc that took place in world politics in the middle of the last century through the Bandung Conference, outside the US and Soviet domination. Neutral alliances of smaller countries are once again becoming important in the tug of war between the major superpowers in the region. Therefore, there is no alternative to building a sustainable bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to meet the challenges of future world politics. This bilateral relationship could lead to future alliance neutrality in the region.