Enhanced and meaningful relations between Bangladesh and Vietnam are guided by their common historical experiences, shared values, and pragmatic efforts to trigger rapid socio-economic growth and development. At the invitation of Bangladesh President Md.
Abdul Hamid, the three-day state visit (March 4-6) to Bangladesh by the Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang marked the completion of 45 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. President Quang, his wife and high-ranking entourage were warmly received by President Abdul Hamid, his wife and several senior ministers.
The state visit by President Quang is significant for two reasons. First, he is the second most powerful person of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Second, about two hundred leading businesspersons accompanied him to explore trade and investment in Bangladesh.
Remarkably, it is the second trip by a Vietnamese President to Bangladesh in 14 years. The first visit was initiated by the earlier President Tran Duc in March 2004 when he affirmed the importance of Bangladesh in Vietnam’s foreign policy. In August 2017, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam Dang Dinh Quy and his Bangladeshi counterpart Md. Shahidul Haque co-chaired the first ever Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) in Dhaka and resolved to strengthen bilateral relations.
The visit by President Quang demonstrates that Vietnam considers Bangladesh as its strategic partner of choice. Three main reasons may be attributed to this. First, as an emerging and rapidly growing economy, it is now more eager to advance its economic and trade relations with Bangladesh and others to sustain its future growth. Second, Bangladesh offers a major market for Vietnam with a population of over 161 million. Third, Bangladesh has been supportive of Vietnam in different international forums such as the United Nations (UN), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), South-South Co-operation and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
Bangladesh has established diplomatic relations with Vietnam on February 17, 1973. However, after a protracted gap of Bangladesh’s recognition, former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia was the first head of government to visit Hanoi in May 2005. During her visit, the two countries signed an investment agreement. Khaleda’s Finance and Planning Minister, late Saifur Rahman led a delegation to Hanoi in 2006 to attend the Bangladesh-Vietnam Joint Economic Commission (JEC) meeting. These saw an increase in bilateral trade relations.
Subsequently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina officially visited Hanoi in November 2012 with her effective drive towards East Asia agenda. Sheikh Hasina’s visit resulted in many agreements on substantive issues to boost bilateral relations. In August 2015, President Abdul Hamid paid a state visit to Hanoi and talked about Vietnam’s trade and investment in Bangladesh. Bangladesh parliament speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury visited Hanoi in 2017 to build closer ties. Several business delegations also visited Vietnam from time to time. Thus, there have been more frequent top level visits by Bangladeshi leaders and business people than Vietnam which reaffirmed that Bangladesh is certainly inclined to strengthen relations with Vietnam.
Vietnam is currently one of the economically vibrant emerging nations in the world. With robust continued annual economic growth of over 6 per cent during the past three decades, it attained lower middle-income (MDG) status in 2010. Its economy is in the process of shifting from agrarian to industrial and from highly centrally planned to market economy. Similarly, Bangladesh economy also continues to have spectacular growth and development. The World Bank predicts that its growth is expected to increase to 8.4 per cent in FY 2018.
The latest available trade figures show that the two-way trade between Bangladesh and Vietnam reached to more than US$ 900 million in 2017, up from only US$ 93 million in 2009. Thus, trade between the two countries has continued to grow. However, at present, Bangladesh’s have big trade deficits with Vietnam amounting to $ 417 million.
According to a Vietnamese brief, Bangladesh has invested in four projects worth $ 615,000 in Vietnam, while Vietnam has invested in one project worth only $27,900 in Bangladesh. Vietnamese investment is thus very negligible indicating Bangladesh’s failure to attract investment from Vietnam.
In fact, Bangladesh is looking for a reciprocal and comprehensive trade and investment ties with Vietnam. Currently, Bangladesh’s exports to Vietnam include pharmaceutical products, jute and leather goods, and seafood, while Vietnam’s major exports to Bangladesh include clinker and cement, rice, fibre, apparel, accessories and machinery.
Bangladesh and Vietnam have signed three important memorandums of understanding (MoU’s) after discussions between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. The MoU’s are in the field of fisheries and livestock (renewal), machinery manufacturing and cultural exchange demonstrating growing cooperation between the two countries. However, monitoring and implementation of the deals are highly important.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a joint press statement with the Vietnam President said: “Besides cementing our political relations, major focus of our discussion was to enhance trade, investment and technical cooperation”. Hasina also pushed for cooperation of Vietnam for peaceful resolution of the Rohingya crisis. She also sought Vietnam’s cooperation to become “Sectoral Dialogue Partner of the ASEAN and to join the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MCG). President Quang assured that he will give due consideration to Dhaka’s ambitions.
On trade and investment cooperation, President Quang said, both the countries “agreed to encourage and widen” economic and commercial ties. Vietnam also sought Bangladesh’s support for the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for 2020-2021.The two countries also agreed to reinforce cooperation in security and defence areas. Indeed, both sides expressed gratification at the crucial outcomes of the visit to further lift the bilateral relations to a greater height.
The state visit by President Quang demonstrates a growing interest of Vietnam in Bangladesh. It outlines Vietnam’s consistent foreign policy of giving impetus to bolster relations with Bangladesh. Analysts believe that President Quang’s visit will play an important role in shaping future relationship between Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The writer is a former Professor and Chairperson, Department of Political
Science, University of Dhaka