Strengthening Bangladesh-Myanmar relations will accelerate regional peace and prosperity

Bangladesh and Myanmar are neighboring countries with 271 km border between them. Although historically

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Strengthening Bangladesh-Myanmar relations will accelerate regional peace and prosperity

Bangladesh and Myanmar are neighboring countries with 271 km border between them. Although historically and socially the two countries are close to each other, there is a lack of close contact between the people of the two countries. NafRiver flows through Bangladesh and Myanmar. After August 2017, the tortured, oppressed, expelled Rohingyas fearing for their lives crossed this Naf River and took refuge insideBangladesh. Keeping aside that tragic incident, trade between the two countries can continue on this river route, cargo ships can crowd the river ports. Boats full of tourists can cruise on the river where tourists can see the sights of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Despite the ongoing Rohingya crisis being an obstacle, initiatives should continue to improve the relationship between the two countries. 

After independence, Burma (now Myanmar) recognized Bangladesh on January 13, 1972, as one of the first countriesSoon after this, formal diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar were established on 21 March 1972. As a result of Bangladesh's successful diplomatic initiatives, President Ne Win visited Bangladesh in April 1974. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spent a genuine and prolific time with President Ne Win. River cruise diplomacy of Bangabandhu ushered in a new horizon in Burma-Bangladesh relations through a successful and warm sea voyage. In a joint manifesto at the time of farewell, both leaders expressed their hope that the Bangladesh-Burma border will always remain a border of peace and goodwill and will reflect the eternal friendship of the people of the two countries. To develop Bangladesh-Myanmar relations, strategic, diplomatic, military, economic, commercial, and integrated multifaceted long-term programs should be emphasized.

Bangladesh, in the 21st century, must move forward in the fields of trade, communication, diplomacy and security by developing relations with neighboring and regional countries and organizations. Myanmar as a neighboring country can facilitate communication links between ASEAN countries and China with Bangladesh and can also help Bangladesh to increase its communication with Seven Sisters of India. The only obstacle in the way of these developments and progress is Myanmar's ongoing civil war and years of ethnic conflict. 

There is no direct communication between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Although there are about 20 bilateral agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOU) between Myanmar and Bangladesh, there is no progress in those, which is unfortunate. Myanmar's trade relations with Bangladesh are negligible compared to other neighbouringcountries of Myanmar like India, Thailand, and China. To boost trade and economic growth, a MOU was signed in 2007 between Bangladesh and Myanmar for constructing a direct road link. Till now no significant development took place regarding this. Efforts to develop connectivity with Myanmar should be continued to exploit mutual benefits and both China and India should be considered for connectivity through Myanmar.

A road link can be established between Bangladesh and Myanmar from Chakoria through Alikadam and Madak inside Bangladesh to Kaletwa inside Myanmar. This road will connect the Kyuktao-Paltwa road of the Kaladan Multimodal Project which connects Mizoram of India with Chin and Rakhine State in Myanmar. If the road is built, communication between Bangladesh with ASEAN countries including Myanmar, and China will be easy. It will reduce the cost and time of trade between Bangladesh and Southeast Asian countries including China. This in turn will contribute to the economic and social development of the area. The Asian Highway, if opened, will improve land connectivity between the two countries and help expand trade in fertilizers, plastics, cement, furniture and other goods along the route.Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway line from Chittagong to Cox's Bazar will be inaugurated soon. It is possible to improve inter-country connectivity by extending this railway line to Nepal, Bhutan and Northeast India. As part of the proposed Trans-Asian Railway and Asian Highway Network, the entire region will benefit if this route connects the three countries through Gundum, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.

The existing bilateral trade relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh are also not significant. Both countries can greatly benefit from improved trade relations. Bangladesh and Myanmar are members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sector Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). If Bangladesh and Myanmar increase their bilateral relations, their dependence on China and India will decrease and their trade with Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Southeast Asia and South Asia countries will expand. Bangladesh can act as an important link between ASEAN and SAARC. If relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar improve, Myanmar as an ASEAN member will be able to increase trade in the SAARC free-trade zone through Bangladesh. Bangladesh and Myanmar can play a significant role in connecting these two regions of South and Southeast Asia. By using Bangladesh as a transit, Myanmar will be able to access the markets of Bhutan, Nepal and India. Myanmar's Rakhine region can serve as a trading hub for Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Rakhine state of Myanmar needs a sustainable market for agricultural products and Bangladesh can be an ideal market.Bangladesh has experience in garment and agriculture industries. Myanmar can benefit from Bangladesh's knowledge and experience in this regard. Myanmar and Bangladesh may organize trade fairs in Dhaka, Chittagong or Rangoon at regular intervals. Myanmar can benefit from technology transfer with advanced manufacturing facilities and imports of electronics and pharmaceuticals from Bangladesh. Joint ventures between Bangladesh and Myanmar can contribute to increasing agricultural productivity. The pharmaceutical industry of Bangladesh is playing a dominant role in the country's economy and the pharmaceutical industry of Bangladesh has earned the glory of being an exporting country. In the last financial year, this medicine was exported from Bangladesh to 140 countries of the world and the largest export was to Myanmar. Medicines exported from Bangladesh to Myanmar were worth 2.76 million dollars which is about 15 percent of the total medicine exports. Despite the Rohingya issue and on-going internal crisis, Myanmar's pharmaceutical exports have increased. With only 5 percent of Myanmar's total pharmaceutical demand met by exports from Bangladesh, there is scope for increasing exports from Bangladesh in Myanmar's pharmaceutical sector.

Initiatives can be taken to develop the relationship by identifying other possible areas for bilateral cooperation between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Myanmar has natural resources like timber, tin, zinc, copper, tungsten, coal, marble, limestone, natural gas, hydropower etc. Bangladesh can get energy assistance from Myanmar and import essential minerals. Myanmar has limestone and bamboo, Bangladesh can set up cement factories and paper mills in Myanmar.Bangladesh and Myanmar can jointly invest in fish, wood processing, clinker industry, gas and mineral extraction, textile and agro-based industries. Myanmar is also a major producer of agricultural products. During Bangladesh's onion crisis in 2019, Myanmar supplied onions to Bangladesh. If Bangladesh-Myanmar relations develop, interdependence in these areas with third country will decrease. Myanmar can legally send cattle to Bangladesh to earn foreign exchange and both countries will benefit from it. In Bangladesh, Myanmar products are known as Burmese products, there are buyers for these products in this country. To increase bilateral trade and economic cooperation, the establishment of border Market (Haat) between Myanmar and Bangladesh will increase communication between the people of the two countries and expand trade.

Bangladesh has several notable interesting Buddhist temples, Buddhist educational centers, pilgrimage sites, Buddhist archaeological sites and historical sites. Bangladesh government has organized an international program in association with World Tourism Organization to attract international visitors. Golden temple in Bandarban district is the largest Buddhist temple in Bangladesh. The traces of Buddhist presence in Dhaka, Chittagong and other parts of Bangladesh are a major attraction for Buddhist worshipers and tourists. Religious tourism in Myanmar can be arranged for Bangladeshi Buddhists and for Myanmar people to visit Bandarban Golden Temple, Mainamati Buddhist ViharaRamu etc. There is a huge potential for development in the tourism sector between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Beaches in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar and Myanmar's Rakhine state can be turned into attractive destinations for local and foreign tourists. Tourists of both countries can get the experience of two countries while visiting one country through mutual agreement. The two countries can sign effective agreements for the development of tourism.

Student exchange programs, education scholarships, sports and cultural events can be organized to improve the relations between the people of the two countries and can contribute to the gradual development of warm relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Communication between Myanmar and Rakhine people, political parties and civil society can play an important role in building the foundation of trust and relations between the two countries. Both countries will benefit in many ways if the engagement between academics, students, businessmen, civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is strengthened.

Bangladesh can support Myanmar's human resource development and simultaneously work together on microfinance, education and women's empowerment. If the Rakhine region of Myanmar is developed then both countries will be benefitted and peace and stability will prevail in the region. Internationally renowned NGOs of Bangladesh can help Myanmar's human resource development by providing vocational training in Myanmar. Bangladesh has a wide range of experience in disaster and relief operations, Bangladesh can share this experience with Myanmar in dealing with climate change and disasters and provide training in this area. Through information sharing on cross-border and international terrorism, human, arms and drug trafficking both countries can strengthen the existing situation further. Myanmar and Bangladesh can work together to address non-traditional security challenges in the Bay of Bengal, such as piracy control, drug and human trafficking, terrorism and ensuring environmental security.

On the occasion of Myanmar's Independence Day on January 4, 2023, Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing thanked China, India, Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh for promoting cooperative relations despite various challenges. The people of Bangladesh extended warm greetings and congratulated the people of Myanmar on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Myanmar's independence and wished them inclusive peace and prosperity. There is great potential for the development of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Both countries can benefit from the development of political, social, commercial, diplomatic, military and people-to-people contacts. It is hoped that with the return of peace and stability in Myanmar, such initiatives will add new dimensions to the development and prosperity of the region.




From: Brig Gen (RetdHasan Md Shamsuddinndcafwcpsc, MPhil, Researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs. Dhaka, Bangladesh.


Copyright: Fresh Angle International (
ISSN 2354 - 4104

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