To strengthen Bangladesh’s relationship with Singapore, Bangladesh Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina made her maiden official visit to the country. Her meeting with the Prime Minister of Singapore Mr. Lee Hsien Loong got translated into the signing of two memoranda of understandings (MOUs), giving a boost to their business and bilateral relationship.
On signing of these MOUs, Mr. Lee Hsien said, “Singapore is a maritime nation situated between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, we should do more together. Singapore-based companies are keen on the growing Bangladesh market. The MOU on public- private partnership will facilitate more investments by Singapore companies in Bangladesh, particularly in the power, connectivity and infrastructure sectors.”
Thus, the MOU based on public- private partnership was signed to help and support the Singaporean firms in entering and establishing their presence in the Bangladeshi markets, which is ever growing and expanding. IE Singapore and the Public Private Partnership Authority of Bangladesh were the signatories to this MOU.
The Civil Aviation Authorities of both the countries gave an agreeable shape to the second MOU for the purpose of advancing cargo and passenger services between Singapore and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina stressed on the historic diplomatic relations between the two countries which have remained intact since 1972. She talked about the constant cordiality between the two ever since, and the prosperous futuristic collaborations.
With Singapore firm Sembcorp making investments worth US $ 1.1 billion in power plants, further investment engagements in Chittagong Port are being explored by PSA. While praising the conducive working environment for Bangladeshi workers in Singapore, she hopes the trend continues and Singapore continues to remain a favourite destination for the workers.
She expressed her happiness on acknowledging the brewing interest and intent being showcased by the Singaporean companies in Bangladesh. She added, “Bangladesh and Singapore belong to different levels of development. But we can complement each other in our economic pursuit. In Singapore, you have capital, advanced technology and know-how while in Bangladesh, we have a large workforce. Moreover, a large section of our population is young and educated. These comparative advantages may be harnessed to our mutual benefit.”
The ‘world’s most persecuted community’ is facing an uncertain future. Forced out of their homeland by a ruling establishment in the name of eradication of “terrorism”, the Rohingyas are now living in a pitiable state in the squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh. Those who once had roofs over their heads and farmlands to sustain on, now sleep under the plastic of tents, or unforgiving sky, and survive on succour from the contributions of donor nations and rights bodies. Since August 25, 2017 – the day when Myanmar began a crackdown on terrorists belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), officially, in the Rakhine state – lakhs of Rohingyas have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the bullets of the Army. In a month from August 25, The Economist estimated that the weekly outflow of refugees from Myanmar was the highest since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Details of the persecution faced by the Rohingyas are horrific, to put it succinctly. Media reports speak of alleged violence against Rohingya women, children being thrown into fires, and people being shot and their bodies disposed of in the bushes and rivers that dot the landscape of the Rakhine state. Myanmar has repeatedly denied all the accusations levelled at it by international bodies including the United Nations.
In January, however, the Myanmar Army admitted to have killed 10 Rohingyas believing them to be ARSA terrorists on September 2, 2017, in the village of Inn Din, situated to the north of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine. At the time of writing, it marks the only instance when the powerful Junta accepted a wrong, yet the word ‘terrorists’ associated with those killed appeared like a conspicuous excuse. This reflects on the fact that Myanmar has never recognised Rohingyas as their own people. This is why the Rohingyas have no rights till date in the land they have been inhabiting since before the Colonial times.
Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had called the admission by the country’s Army “a positive step”, continues to be under tremendous pressure from rights bodies and other Nobel laureates who want her to actually do more to end the crisis – described by the UNHRC as “ethnic cleansing” – and not “stay silent”. On March 7, the US Holocaust Memorial revoked the prestigious Elie Wiesel Award from Suu Kyi while accusing her and her party, the National League for Democracy, for having “refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, blocked access to journalists and promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community”. While issuing threats to drag Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the “genocide”, Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen demanded that Suu Kyi take the Rohingyas back in and provide them with citizenship.
On March 6, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, said that systemic persecution of Rohingyas continue in Myanmar even though the violence has ebbed. Following a visit to the refugee camps in Bangladesh, he said that the new weapons of the Myanmar Army are “lower intensity campaign of terror” and “starvation” with a singular aim to force Rohingyas out of Rakhine and into Bangladesh.
Thus, as the persecution continues at home, Rohingyas are steadily entering Bangladesh – many of them crossing the Naf river, which marks a part of the border between the two nations and is closest to motorable roads leading to Cox’s Bazar.
Mr. Masud Bin Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, countered claims that the arrival of refugees has gone down by stating that some 1,500 Rohingyas had crossed into Bangladesh in the first 10 days of February alone. According to reports, the new refugees continue to point at the same atrocities which have been driving the Rohingyas out of Myanmar since August.
According to the United Nations, the total number of refugees in Bangladesh since the start of the crisis in August now stands at around 700,000. But Bangladesh has been a shelter for the Rohingyas, a huge majority of whom are Muslims, even before. There were already over 300,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh who arrived during similar periods of persecution since 1980s. In mid-January, Bangladesh had registered over a million Rohingyas living in various refugee camps in the country, most of whom are concentrated in Cox’s Bazar district in south-eastern Bangladesh. It is this district which serves as the new ‘home’ of the Rohingyas and is the focal point for rights bodies, administrations and the media who want to document the horrors faced by the persecuted community.
According to Mr. Abu Noman Mohammad Zakir Hossain, Deputy Director of Bangladesh’s Passport and Immigration Department, that one-million-mark is 95 percent of the total number of Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
So, this brings us to the question: How will Bangladesh, a densely- populated and economically struggling nation, deal with the Rohingya crisis?
Dhaka and Nay Pyi Daw had in November 2017 reached an agreement on repatriation of the Rohingyas. They had then agreed that the repatriation of the Rohingyas who arrived in Bangladesh since last August will commence within two months. It was estimated that all of the Rohingyas will be resettled in Myanmar in the next two years. Following the news of the agreement and the registration of Rohingyas, hopes of a positive future rose in the hearts of those looking for peace and settlement of the crisis. But on January 22, Bangladesh said that the process will be delayed. Dhaka cited lack of preparations on the ground for the safe return of the refugees.
According to Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mr. Abul Kalam, Dhaka still had to “build some physical infrastructure, a transit camp and prepare the list based on family and village”. He had also said that Nay Pyi Daw, too, had to “do a lot to ensure a safe repatriation” even though Myanmar claimed that it was ready. According to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper the government was making final preparations to house the repatriates at a camp near Maungdaw in western part of Rakhine.
Yet rights groups, too, have expressed concerns about the fate of Rohingyas after they return to Myanmar. Gilmour had raised doubts over the repatriation of the refugees under “current conditions”. The Rights groups and Bangladesh are not the only ones with concerns. The Rohingyas themselves have a lot to say. In January, some leaders of the community showed a list of demands to a Reuters journalist they said should be fulfilled before the repatriation process. Among the demands are release of “innocent Rohingya” the Army detained during the operations against ARSA and a call to hold the military accountable for the alleged crimes.
And even if the repatriation takes place according to the agreement in the near future, where would the Rohingya go? According to the non-profit Human Rights Watch, the Myanmar government has been razing houses in abandoned Rohingya villages. The HRW says that the villages should be “preserved” so that UN experts can document the abuses on the Rohingyas.
So, we are back to square one. For whatever reasons, Bangladesh is unable to repatriate the Rohingyas, and that could translate into a major problem for both Dhaka and the Rohingyas.
Hossain had said that the primary goal of registering the Rohingyas – for which fingerprints, too, were taken – was to prevent them from taking Bangladeshi passport. This means that Bangladesh is in no mood to give the refugees permanent residency and citizenship. Of course, Dhaka has the right not to. The governments of Malaysia and Indonesia – both Muslim-majority nations – do not recognise the Rohingyas living in their countries. But they have been at the forefront of the voices calling for return and rehabilitation of Rohingyas in Myanmar.
There are also some hard truths about Bangladesh. With over 1251 persons per square kilometre, Bangladesh is the world’s most densely-populated country among nations where the population is more than 10 million. Though Bangladesh has steadily clocked a modest GDP growth rate of around 7 percent, a sharp rise in population of the magnitude witnessed in the refugee crisis can go terribly wrong for an economy if not handled deftly.
Early in January, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Rohingya Emergency Vulnerability Assessment had raised a red flag over under-nourished refugees in Bangladesh’s camps who, at the time, were over 90 per cent of the recent refugee arrivals. And while praising Bangladesh’s humanitarian response, Gilmour had also pointed at the danger lurking in the form of approaching rainy season which have the potential to turn the camps into breeding grounds for diseases.
And then there is always the threat of radicalisation looming large in Bangladesh, which poses a direct threat to peace in the region. Bangladesh’s road transport minister in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet, Obaidul Quader, had in December 2017 claimed that Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was plotting with terrorist elements within the Rohingyas to create disturbance in the region. His concern doesn’t appear misplaced given the fact that the ARSA is led by Karachi-born Ata Ullah.
Radicalisation of Rohingya refugees in the camps has been a concern of many given the rise of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Though the Bangladeshi government has always championed secularism in the country, it has failed in protecting scores of liberal bloggers and writers from fundamentalists in the recent past.
Aware of the risks faced by her country, Sheikh Hasina had in February urged India to “put pressure” on Myanmar to make them take back the refugees quickly. India, too, has expressed concerns over risk of radicalisation of the 40,000 Rohingyas who live in world’s largest democracy. That there is a risk to Bangladesh can be read from Myanmar’s January demand asking Dhaka to arrest and extradite over 1,300 Rohingyas suspected of taking part in the assault in August 2017 on checkpoints which triggered the aggressive retaliation by the military.
And how will Bangladesh feed the lakhs of mouths who will obviously multiply in the future? Dhaka depends on international funding for providing relief to the refugees. But, as Nazneen Ahmed pointed out, funding will not go on forever. The BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, staff member wrote in The Daily Star that amount of humanitarian assistance is at the discretion of the donor, will continue till the next big crisis comes up, and is dependent on changing patterns in global economy. So, in short, Bangladesh cannot keep the Rohingyas forever by relying on international aid alone.
The pressure on Bangladesh is so intense that it will take the entire international community’s coordinated efforts to lift it off Dhaka’s shoulders. But is the international community doing enough to find a permanent solution to the problem? Will Bangladesh bear the weight all alone and if it does, will it follow Malaysia’s example? What about the security risk to the region if the Rohingyas, many of whom must be harbouring resentment towards Buddhists, are not repatriated? What about Myanmar’s concerns regarding ARSA and how should the UN deal with Nay Pyi Daw? And what about UN Security Council’s consensus on the matter given that Russia and China – two Veto powers – are on a slightly different tangent with regard to Myanmar?
There are a lot of questions but the biggest one is: Will the Rohingyas continue to remain the lesser humans?
Manas Sen Gupta is a journalist who writes avidly on International Relations and Foreign Policy
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters.
Honoured as the Chief Guest at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium Multilateral Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise Forum (IMMSAREX)-2017, Bangladesh President Mr. Abdul Hamid, upheld the need to build robust bridges along the Indian Ocean shoreline for security and safety measures.
Addressing the inauguration at Cox Bazar’s hotel Royal Tulip, he highlighted Bangladesh’s undeterred commitment in maintaining peaceful bilateral relations with the neighbouring countries. Bangladesh’s capabilities in overcoming maritime disputes in an affable manner were brought to light too.
Realising the sheer importance of maritime sector for the economy of Bangladesh, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) was formed in 2008 with 23 countries of the Indian Ocean, to facilitate maritime trade and commercial activities, and also to promote better and viable livelihood opportunities, ensuring job sustainability and economic growth. Thus, maritime sector’s security from criminal propensities and untoward element was emphasized at the forum.
While stressing on the significance of generating sustainable value and economic benefits from ocean resources, he alluded to the concept of Blue Economy and expressed “We all are aware of the fact that Indian Ocean in contemporary times has the greatest strategic and economic value. It carries huge prospects and potentials to facilitate maritime trade and commerce.”
For the first time, multiple military drills of the forum were showcased in the Bay of Bengal. These exercises ranged from rescue and firefighting operations to discovery of missing fishing trawlers and bringing the accidental ships back to the harbour. Efforts to protect the lives of the people at sea was specifically communicated with the responsibility being shared regionally. Twentythree countries comprising France, Indonesia, Oman, Pakistan, Australia, Bangladesh,Iran, Kenya, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sicilia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Timur Leseth, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom participated at the forum. Apart from this, nine countries were felicitated as observer countries – China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain.
The forum was attended by IONS Chairman Admiral Mr. Nizamuddin Ahmed,Bangladesh Army Chief General Mr. Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq, Bangladesh Air Force Chief Marshal Mr. Abu Esrar, Malaysian Naval Chief Admiral Mr. Kamarulzaman, Myanmar Naval Chief Admiral Mr.Tin Aung San ,and naval and maritime experts. It also had participation of the naval fleets from India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran
While congratulating Bangladesh as a peace-loving country, Mr.Hamid remarked,“Being one of the highest troops contributing nations in the UN peacekeeping operations for the last two decades is a true manifestation of our commitment towards world peace.”
To ensure enhancement in trade and ease in the connectivity of the two neighboring countries; India and Bangladesh, the decision to construct a bridge over Mizoram’s Khawthlangtuipui River has been given a green signal.
With Bangladesh, India shares the largest international land boundary; 4096 km, most with any of its neighbors.
Rowshan Ara Khanam, an official from Bangladesh shared, “The proposed bridge would be an important linkage between India and Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government has taken a number of steps to make it a reality. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Ms. Sheikh Hasina has given the approval to construct the bridge and link roads.”
It has been suggested to construct the bridge nearest to the land customs station in Bangladesh. The effort aspires to strengthen ties between the working of both the countries; hassle-free road connectivity and smooth communications.
The meeting to roll out this decision was arranged at the Tlabung town, Mamit district in Mizoram which lies in close proximity to the Khagrachari district of Bangladesh.
The Moheshkhali Floating LNG project will be Bangladesh’s first LNG import terminal, located off Moheshkhali Island in the Bay of Bengal. The project’s purpose is to meet clean energy demands of the country by generating natural gas in enhanced capacities; by up to 20%.
US$ 179.5m has been secured by IFC (International Finance Corporation) and Excelerate (Excelerate Energy Bangladesh) to fund the project.
Excelerate’s Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Nick Bedford, believes, “Excelerate takes great pride in helping bring sustainable energy solutions to countries with high energy demand, and we expect this project to have a great impact on the wider Bangladeshi economy.”
On implementation, the project anticipates an increase in the natural gas supplies of the state-owned energy company – Petrobangla, by up to 3,000MW.
The construction of the terminal has been slated to begin in the later months of 2017 and shall be put to practice in the succeeding year of 2018. Excelerate shall be responsible for the project in its entirety; development, designing, construction, installation, finance, and operations. The Moheshkhali Floating LNG terminal is being regarded as the first fully integrated turnkey floating LNG terminal of the world.
Excelerate Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Rob Bryngelson remarked, “Excelerate is the only FSRU provider capable of delivering a comprehensive end-to-end floating LNG import solution and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with Petrobangla in Bangladesh.
Post 15 years of providing its services, the project’s ownership shall be transferred from Excelerate to Petrobangla.
The structure of the terminal shall encompass Excelerate’s Floating Storage and Regasification Units (FSRU), port service vessels and subsea buoy system.
The development of the LNG terminal seeks to strengthen and support the power industry by tapping into diverse sources of natural gas reserves present in the global market. This may enable utilization of domestic natural gas reserves in a manner more efficient and sustainable and also aid in elevating economic growth levels through the creation of job opportunities and infrastructure in the region while shielding the Bangladeshi economy from the drastic impacts of climate change.
To accelerate business and bilateral relations between China and Bangladesh, an Investment Forum highlighting the business climate of Bangladesh underscoring potential investment sectors, policy regulations, trade opportunities and expansion possibilities, will take place in the last quarter of August.
Sponsored by Bangladesh’s leading bank- The City Bank Limited and the Standard Chartered Bank, and organized by one of the most premier financial publications across the globe – Euromoney, the China-Bangladesh Investment Forum will be an attractive and a promising business crusade, bringing together institutional investors, portfolio managers, multilateral financiers , government officials, and global asset managers to explore potential business opportunities in Bangladesh and bolster the ChinaBangladesh trade relations as an outcome of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Bank Bangladesh Mr. Abrar A. Anwar shares his view with regards to Bangladesh’s massive economic capacity, “There are a lot of investment opportunities coming out in Bangladesh, Asia and also around the globe. China is a major economy, so we believe that private sectors in China would be looking at opportunities outside China.”
Bangladesh plans to promote itself as an avid investment destination and welcome China’s investment interests while acknowledging China’s continued business cooperation with them.
An informative podium engaged with discussions pertaining to capital and financial markets, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), infrastructure and the like are anticipated. It has been highlighted that participation by Chinese private business companies will considerably push Bangladesh’s development strategy. However, to increase and ensure continued Chinese investments in Bangladesh, incentive generation and elimination of procedural bottlenecks have been insisted upon.
This forum is monumental in attracting investments from China, which is being credited as the world’s largest source of FDI. This economic conference also aspires to deepen economic cooperation between the two countries, fueling long-term business impact and bilateral relationship.
Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) has bagged its largest-ever export order which is valued at Rs. 10,000 crore. This order is for setting up a thermal power project in Bangladesh. The Indian company was able to win this contract in spite of very hard and competitive bidding. The order has been secured from Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Limited (BIFPCL) which is a 50:50 joint venture between NTPC and Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB). BHEL is India’s largest power equipment manufacturer. The company has arranged debt financing for the project from Exim bank for which loan agreement between Exim bank and BIFPCL was signed in March 2017.
BHEL’s scope of work in the project includes design, engineering, manufacture, supply, construction, erection, testing and commissioning of the 1320 MW thermal sets with ultra-supercritical parameters on turnkey basis. It will also set up a jetty and a river-water intake system. The main equipment to be used by the project will be manufactured at BHEL’s Trichy, Haridwar, Hyderabad, Ranipet, Bhopal, Bangalore and Jhansi plants. The responsibility for the construction and installation activities at site will lie upon the company’s power sector construction division. BHEL has done some projects in Bangladesh earlier as well which include 100 MW Baghabari Gas Turbine Power Project and 2×120 MW Siddhirganj in Bangladesh. It has also set up 220 KV Baghabari & Ishurdi substations.
Bangladesh is hopeful that the Indiaassisted developmental projects in the country will be implemented quickly. “The hope has risen after the Indian Government announced a fresh US $4.5 billion aid package”, stated Mr. AbulMaal A. Muhith who is the Finance Minister of Bangladesh.
The announcement for this line of concessional credit was announced by India’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi during Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Ms. Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in April 2017. India previously promised financial aid of US $1.5 billion and adding this new amount it takes the total to US $6 billion. Mr. Muhit said that the implementation of projects under the previous assistance package took longer than expected but he hopes that this time these projects will be implemented quickly.
The bilateral aid package and projects associated with it were discussed in a bilateral meeting with visiting Indian Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley. This meeting was led by Mr. Muhith and various important issues and topics were discussed in detail. Mr. Muhit said that Bangladesh getting a US $6 billion credit line from India is quite a remarkable event. He further stated that even though the financial aid from China is much more and amounts to US $ 22 billion but Indian projects are time oriented and implemented quickly while there is no such timeline for Chinese aid. He also expressed his happiness at seeing that Indian private sector investment is now flowing into Bangladesh.
The Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) is eyeing to sell at least 500 MW power to Bangladesh. DVC is a three-way joint venture of the West Bengal, Jharkhand and Indian governments. Officials from the corporation have stated that at present selling power to Bangladesh is offering better returns than the Indian power market. A proposal has already been sent to the Government of Bangladesh by the corporation. DVC currently has a power surplus of 1200 MW and additionally its new unit in Bokaro, Madhya Pradesh is also going to get commissioned soon. Bangladesh first expressed interest in importing power from India in the year 2013. At that time DVC was not in the picture and the bidding was done by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the West Bengal Power Development Corporation (WBPDC).
At present India is already supplying 500 MW of power to Bangladesh through the Berhampur-Bheramara grid link. DVC believes that another 500 MW can easily be supplied through the same link and this power will prove to be much cheaper as compared to other alternatives for Bangladesh as well. Bangladesh is deeply interested in importing power from India to meet the existing wide gap between the demand and supply of electricity. The country also wants to get rid of its expensive and highly polluting diesel-fueled power generation units and replace their output with the power obtained from India instead.DVC is currently facing a debt crisis which has halted its plans to become a 10,000 MW power company. The coming to fruition of DVC’s plans will be a win-win for both parties as the corporation will get an opportunity to earn some revenue while Bangladesh will be able to lessen its power deficit at a cheap price.
Bangladesh’s Central Bank received a big jolt when some hackers succeeded in using stolen bank credentials to steal
US $ 81 from its account at the New York Federal Reserve in February 2016. Hackers used the stolen information with hopes to try to steal US $ 1 billion by sending three dozen SWIFT messages. All of their attempts were not successful but they still succeeded in transferring US $ 81 million to four accounts at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. in Manila. Most of this money has already been laundered through the casinos located in Manila, Philippines. However, US $ 30 million out of this amount remains frozen at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.
This case was brought up in the Philippines’ Supreme Court and it has already been proved that the transferred amount of US $ 81 million belongs to Bangladesh Bank. A team from Bangladesh was to visit Philippines in October, 2016 in order to get the process of getting back the frozen US $ 30 million back but the tour was canceled due to some internal reasons. On November 11, 2016 Philippine authorities began the process of handing over $ 15.25 million to Bangladesh. The Deputy Governor of Bangladesh Bank, Mr. Abu Hena Mohammad Razee Hassan, who also heads the bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit has stated that he is hopeful in getting back the full US $ 30 million which was frozen before it could be laundered.