Invitation from India as G20 guest shows growing importance of Bangladesh economy: Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam

Bangladesh is seeking more energy from India, refined crude from Russia, says Bangladesh’sMinister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam

Updated - November 29, 2022 08:03 am IST

Published - November 27, 2022 05:19 pm IST - DHAKA, BANGLADESH

Bangladesh’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam. File

Bangladesh’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam. File | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Out of all of India’s neighbours, the Indian government has invited only Bangladesh as one of 10 guest countries during its Presidency of the G20 beginning on December 1. Ties are likely to strengthen as a result of the invitation, which comes amidst a number of energy and connectivity projects between the two countries, says Bangladesh’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, who spoke to The Hinduabout plans to source energy needs from Russia also, for the first time, and a possible strain in ties with the West.

What are the issues you would like to see on the G20 agenda next year?

We are grateful to India for inviting Bangladesh. And that also shows the growing importance of Bangladesh as one of the world’s fastest growing economies — already the 41st largest economy, which is going to be the 32nd largest by 2030. Bangladesh would like to share its experience with other member states on climate change. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have identified poverty as the most common enemy. I think climate change and economic prosperity for our citizens are the priorities for us.

What is your reaction to the COP27 deal, for a Loss and Damage Fund for most vulnerable countries that have been hit by climate change?

This was a very welcome development, especially for the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) that was set up with PM Sheikh Hasina as co-chair. CVF countries, including Bangladesh, are the ground zero of climate change. So of course, we are happy. We just hope that they will deliver on their promises because, you know, everyone is short of funds at present. So, immediately after COP27, we need to start working, encouraging major economies to contribute more and exceed the original outlays.

During PM Hasina’s visit in September, India and Bangladesh agreed to a number of energy projects, including a high speed diesel pipeline. What is the progress in these agreements?

The pipeline is one of them. The other major one is the Rooppur nuclear power plant that we are setting up with the help of the Russian technology and funding. India is funding under an LOC (Line of Credit) the distribution, the transmission lines, alongside Bangladesh’s own funding. The Adani electricity plant [in Jharkhand] is ready for integration on 16th December, and during this time of power shortage or energy shortages in the oil market, that will surely help. We are also working with India on proposals for renewable energy, bringing solar energy from the Indian grid.

There are also reports of Russian energy supplies coming to Bangladesh — is that something also that you are speaking to India about?

When the [Ukraine] war broke out, [and sanctions began] Russian energy sounded like a very cheap option, and India has made very good use of that. So we explored [importing Russian oil], but unfortunately, Bangladesh has just one large refinery, and that is not suitable for Russian crude. So that’s not going to happen. What we are discussing with the Russians now is the supply of refined products, and Russian LNG.

Could this impact ties with the U.S. and EU countries, that have seen some strain over human rights issues?

Energy and food are considered to be essential commodities that a nation is entitled to procure in its interests. Beyond that, we have defence cooperation with Russia, and these are historical, need based, and bilateral in nature. I wouldn’t call it a strain [in ties with the West]. Our engagement, bilateral engagement with the U.S., has increased, and we have a dialogue on promoting private sectors, which we could only do if we had some comfort in the relationship. On some of the comments [made by the U.S., EU, and Japan about Bangladesh], I think we made our position absolutely clear that... Ambassadors and foreign diplomats should be mindful of their duties, and limitations and boundaries...We are not going to succumb to any pressure.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan met with Indian Home Minister Amit Shah recently, who raised concerns over the attacks on the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh. What is your response?

During [Durga] Puja this year. Bangladesh had the highest number of about 32,000 mandaps (pandals). I represent a constituency of 10-plus percentage of Hindu community and I see growth in number of minorities every year. When there was an incident last year [attack], Prime Minister Hasina herself paid a visit to the spot, and we pursued an inquiry. We have seen [BNP] governments that promoted fundamentalism and extreme right wing ideas. But I think Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was successful in bringing that harmony back and we have conveyed that.

You are saying that it’s a problem of the past. Yet in its affidavit on the Citizenship Amendment Act just a few weeks ago, the Indian government said that Bangladesh, like Afghanistan and Pakistan, does not protect its minorities. How do you respond?

I can’t respond to what [the Indian government] says in court. We will only voice our opinion if they raise it with us. The court order is the [Indian] government’s problem, they are the ones who will have to communicate this to us, and then only we will react. In this world of 8 billion people, there will always be some issues somewhere. But it’s how the government is reacting and whether enough policies are in place to ensure that rights of all individuals is upheld. I think that’s what we are doing.

The Teesta issue between India and Bangladesh continues without resolution. But recently, we’ve seen a project by the Chinese to build a dam in the Teesta basin. Has India objected?

Well, as far as the Teesta is concerned, I think the solution lies with India. We are not going anywhere with that, you know, there will always be interest of other countries and as the country [is] progressing, growing. We’re mature enough to understand that these are politically sensitive issues. Probably, they [the Chinese] have submitted proposals, but it’s not the Government of Bangladesh that is committed in those projects. I am not aware of any such projects.

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