LAURA STONE, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR INDIA, BANGLADESH, NEPAL, SRI LANKA, BHUTAN, AND MALDIVES
BUREAU OF SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIAN AFFAIRS
SEPTEMBER 15, 2020
Moderator: Good afternoon from the London Media Hub, and good evening to our participants in Dhaka. My name is Zed Tarar and I’m the deputy director of the media hub. And welcome, everyone, to this special online briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary Laura Stone and Deputy Chief of Mission JoAnne Wagner. Note that this briefing is being recorded, and that the recording and a transcript will be sent to all attendees.
Simultaneous interpretation in Bangla is available.
With that, I’d now like to turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Laura Stone.
DAS Stone: Wonderful. And thank you so much for joining us today. This is a really wonderful opportunity, and so I thank all of you for coming. And I thank our embassy and the London Media Hub for putting this together.
So I think this is a great opportunity to talk about the vision that the United States has for the Indo-Pacific region. This is a vision in which all nations are independent, strong, and prosperous. The vision prioritizes support for principles that lead to peace and prosperity, so sovereignty, secure communications networks, freedom of navigation and overflight, standards of trade and investment, free flow of data across international borders, respect for human rights and rule of law, and transparency of military activities.
And if I want to leave you with one key message today, it’s that our efforts in the Indo-Pacific are rooted in developing sustainable, creative solutions that maximize the enormous potential of this region. And I think this is particularly true of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a relationship with enormous potential and a country with enormous potential, and we really do hope to grow on that.
So the administration is looking to grow our relationship with Bangladesh as a key Indo-Pacific partner. The United States and Bangladesh have a long, shared history of cooperation, and we continue to support a tolerant, democratic Bangladesh that serves as a bridge for commerce and an anchor for stability and prosperity in the region. Bangladesh is strategically located at a crossroads between South and Southeast Asia, and plays an important role in our Indo-Pacific vision, and shares our goals of building a more prosperous, secure, and interconnected region. With a dynamic and, as you know, fast-growing economy in normal times, Bangladesh is a development success story. Future success will be fueled by deepening its democratic institutions and governing structures.
So I’d like to begin with some highlights of the ways that the Indo-Pacific strategy focuses on promoting prosperity for the nations in South Asia and beyond, and specifically in areas as supply chain diversification and energy cooperation.
So the Indo-Pacific strategy reinforces the market-based economic systems, private sector finance, and open investment environments that have driven the region’s economic success. Sometimes it’s hard to – or people forget, but the United States is the largest source of foreign direct investment in the region. U.S. foreign direct investment more than doubled from 2007 to 2017, which is the last year we have numbers. It’s now almost a billion – almost a trillion dollars, 940 billion. In 2019 we conducted over 1.9 trillion in two-way trade in goods and services with the region, and we supported more than 3 million jobs in the United States and 5.1 million jobs in the Indo-Pacific.
The U.S. private sector is our biggest strength in contributing to high–standard development, transparency, and rule of law. This contrasts with other states that they promote state-dominated, directed investment that often results in corruption and unevenly distributed economic growth.
Now, COVID has presented an unprecedented challenge to the United States, but our coordination on the COVID response has elevated our cooperation and deepened our partnership. It’s reinforced our common interest in working together with like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific to support COVID-19 response and facilitate economic recovery. And this is going to be a big focus as we go forward with Bangladesh. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the United States has provided $56 million in assistance to Bangladesh, including $21 million in health and humanitarian assistance. This really does build on the nearly $4 billion in U.S. health assistance over the past 20 years – or, excuse me, in total U.S. assistance over the last 20 years, including a billion dollars in health.
Energy cooperation is also a huge area that we are really looking to focus on. We are looking at areas of renewable energy integration, power sector development, procurement reform, and advanced technologies. In Bangladesh the United States is supporting projects that include power plants, LNG import terminals, and joint ventures to supply electricity for decades to thousands of homes. I know that DCM Wagner will speak a little more to that.
And I also want to commend Bangladesh’s regional leadership through platforms like BIMSTEC. The outgoing secretary general has played a significant role in advancing the organization, and we are definitely ready to support BIMSTEC and Bangladesh in South Asia’s regional integration and connectivity.
Now, I’d also like to turn to ways that our vision for the Indo-Pacific promotes regional security. The Indo-Pacific region has a number of common threats that require strengthening longstanding security alliances and partnerships and encouraging a more networked approach. These areas include maritime security, regional stability, freedom of navigation. It’s definitely expanding humanitarian assistance and disaster response, peacekeeping operations, and countering transnational crime.
The United States and Bangladesh cooperate closely on security issues of mutual interest, ranging from counterterrorism to peacekeeping, and we’re looking to deepen that partnership. I think, as you know, Bangladesh has been one of the top troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping. And so we are very grateful for Bangladesh’s commitment to these missions around the world, and we look to support Bangladesh’s participation. Both the United States and Bangladesh joined the “smart pledge” for operational–level unmanned aerial systems during the March 29th, 2019 UN peacekeeping ministerial in New York. That’s just one area of cooperation.
Our regional security assistance is incredibly broad, and we do look to continue that. It’s also very much of mutual interest, with full respect for Bangladesh’s sovereignty and independence of action. We’re looking to partner with Bangladesh in developing capabilities to advance shared maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response, counterterrorism, and peacekeeping.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative is a central feature of the Indo-Pacific strategy. Since 2018 we’ve provided more than $147 million in foreign military financing alone to enhance capability in Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to share air and maritime domain awareness and information with partners in the region to improve detection and response to disasters and emerging threats like counter-narcotics smuggling.
Now, the Indo-Pacific strategy also has an important element of promoting good governance. We know transparency is an absolute essential basis for sustainable governance solutions and its ability to be responsive to citizens. So the – State and USAID committed over $263 million towards governance in our Indo-Pacific strategy last fiscal year. The Indo-Pacific transparency initiative is an effort involving over 200 programs by range of U.S. government agencies focused on anti-corruption, fiscal transparency, democracy assistance, youth and emerging leader development, media and internet freedom, and protecting fundamental freedoms and human rights. As competitors seek to undermine openness, innovation and free speech, and access to information, our goal is to provide our partners with tools to resist economic and political exploitation.
And finally, and most importantly, I’d like to turn to another element of the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is in many ways the most important one, our people-to-people ties. I’m incredibly proud of the investment in developing future leaders around the world. I know that Embassy Dhaka tells me that some of the journalists participating today are alumni of some of our programs. We have spectacular cultural outreach centers, some – and we can discuss a little more about this – located in Dhaka. And during the COVID-19 crisis, we’re thrilled to see that our Dhaka programs have expanded the use of virtual programs, and we’ve adjusted our programming to help Bangladeshis prepare for a post-COVID world.
I think our EMK center has organized youth employment campaigns called the Future of Work Post–COVID-19 to build a sustainable, post-pandemic future for our youth. And we know that the Bangladeshis are the future of your country, the Bangladeshi people, but also the future of ours. We have an enormous and welcome group of Bangladeshis that contribute to U.S. society, and we are looking forward to continue our engagement with the people of Bangladesh.
So to summarize before I turn it over to DCM Wagner, our Indo-Pacific vision is rooted in the fact that the United States is an Indo-Pacific country. We will continue to prioritize efforts that lead to peace and prosperity. These include sovereignty, freedom of navigation and overflight, standards of trade and investment, respect for individual rights and rule of law, transparency of military activities.
So I leave it to DCM Wagner to provide further information on the outstanding work that our embassy in Dhaka is doing in these important areas, and I look forward to taking your questions. Thank you.
Ms. Wagner: I think I’m good now. Right? So thank you so much, Laura. That was a terrific overview. And to everyone here, as-salamu alaykum and shuvo shondha. [In Bangla.] Many, many thanks to everyone for joining us tonight.
I’d like to take just a very quick minute on behalf of Ambassador Miller, all of us at Embassy Dhaka, and our D.C. team as well, to note that our hearts go out to all those who are suffering because of the coronavirus. We will continue to partner with the government and the people of Bangladesh to fight this pandemic, while tangibly demonstrating our gratitude to those heroes on the front lines who are working to keep us safe and healthy.
So as to the Indo-Pacific, as was already mentioned, Bangladesh has an essential role to play by expanding our economic ties with free markets throughout the region, acting as a stabilizing force in terms of security, defending human rights, promoting good governance. The United States and Bangladesh partner together to advance the goals and the ideals of the Indo-Pacific strategy. And I’d like to just touch on a few specifics of that work here in Bangladesh.
First, in terms of promoting economic prosperity, the Asian Development Bank estimates that the Indo-Pacific region is going to need 26 trillion, with a “t”, trillion dollars in investment by 2030 in order to properly and appropriately develop its infrastructure. And clearly, no one country, no one government, can provide such funding. So the private sector has to play a very, very key role in that.
So through the IPS, we are focused on helping the U.S. private sector do what it does best, and that is sparking innovation, sparking growth, and sparking long-lasting prosperity. And here in Bangladesh we’ve launched a number of initiatives to accelerate private investment here. We’re focusing particularly on energy, on infrastructure, and on the digital economy as particularly crucial sectors. And we’re using grants and technical assistance and studies on diversifying Bangladesh’s export sector. We’re using collaboration with the private sector, and we’re working side by side with our Bangladeshi counterparts on these programs, which will help improve market access and open the investment environment.
So I’ll give you an example of that that DAS Stone talked about. We’ve got the Asia EDGE program, and that’s something that the U.S. Government is using to help improve energy security and to bring reliable, affordable energy to Bangladeshis throughout the country. And we’re doing this while reinforcing market-based mechanisms. So that’s very important. We’ve supported some signature projects like Bangladesh’s very first liquefied natural gas import terminal, and that was commissioned by Accelerate Energy in Maheshkhali. And similarly, we’ve got some programs with power plants using GE Power technology. And these kinds of programs, this kind of technology, these kinds of joint ventures, we think will help ease Bangladesh’s transition from coal to gas-powered energy and will help supply electricity for decades to hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi homes. And that changes lives.
We’re growing our commercial ties despite the pandemic. I mean, who would have thought a year ago that the U.S. clothing giant Hanes would buy, and the Bangladeshi company BEXIMCO would deliver, six and a half million pieces of personal protective equipment and turn this around in less than two months. And now Bangladesh is part of a very small group of world-class, large-scale PPE manufacturing nations, and Bangladesh is quickly becoming a major global player in that sector.
Let me turn now to promoting security. Whether we are working together to guarantee freely navigable trade routes, or developing greater capacity to respond to natural disasters, or combatting trafficking in persons or transnational crime, a secure Indo-Pacific supports a prosperous Indo-Pacific.
So as part of our IPS partnership, for example, the U.S. Coast Guard transferred some vessels, or a vessel, under the U.S. Excess Defense Article Program, and this has helped Bangladesh not only exercise sovereignty over its coastline and over its exclusive economic zone, but it also helped not only counter crime, but it allowed Bangladesh to assist its neighbors in need. In April, one of the Bangladesh navy frigates, which was formerly a U.S. Coast [inaudible]. So I think it’s important to emphasize that public health disasters are also security challenges, and DAS Stone mentioned just how much the United States is putting into helping Bangladesh respond to the COVID crisis.
I want to highlight just one small program in addition to the very, very large things that we’re doing in helping promote the response to COVID, training literally thousands of healthcare professionals to provide results. We also have a program here in Dhaka to provide food, nourishment to the urban poor in Dhaka, who are most affected by the pandemic. And I think that’s a very important illustration of the overall comprehensive view that the United States is taking to partner with Bangladesh on health.
With respect to good governance, again, a free, open, prosperous Indo-Pacific also requires promoting respect for the rule of law, for transparency, for good governance [inaudible] —
Moderator: Apologies for our listeners. We may have some issues connecting with Dhaka. We’ll give them just one second.
Ms. Wagner: — protect intellectual property rights. And when companies, wherever they are, see weak institutions or corruption or poor human rights conditions, this deters investments and companies look elsewhere when they’re faced with such risks. So we’re partnering and working very closely with the Government of Bangladesh and various aspects of the Government of Bangladesh to promote worker safety, for example, and we’re also working with the judiciary, legal aid organizations, vulnerable groups, to improve access to and awareness of and the delivery of legal services in Bangladesh. And again, these programs not only affect individual lives, but they increase confidence in public institutions and they also help to counter violent extremism. And those are very, very important contributions.
Turning to investing in Bangladeshis for the future of the country, since 1971, as DAS Stone mentioned, the United States has invested more than $7 billion in development assistance in Bangladesh, and that’s important. Private sector investment is also vital to building pipelines or bridges or production facilities, but this is not enough to ensure sustained prosperity. To invest in the future, you have to invest in people. And to take a little bit of a different tack on this, I’m very proud of what American companies are doing to contribute to the people of Bangladesh. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
Chevron, for example, not only provides about not quite half of the natural gas in Bangladesh, and this is something that really fuels Bangladesh’s very, very impressive economic growth, but it employs thousands of Bangladeshis – 95 percent of the workers for Chevron in Bangladesh are in fact Bangladeshis. But Chevron also offers hundreds of scholarships and teacher training and educational supplies through its quality education support initiative.
Coca-Cola, who by the way recently announced a $200 million, five-year program, investment program in Bangladesh, Coca-Cola supports women entrepreneurs through its women business centers.
So people-to-people ties, whether it’s through the private sector or whether it’s through the U.S. Government, I think this will always be at the heart of U.S.-Bangladesh relations. And to give you a couple of examples of how the U.S. Government invests in this, every year we sponsor about 110 Bangladeshi students and professionals to participate in exchange programs with the U.S. And in fact, the founding father of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was one of the very first Bangladeshis to participate in a U.S. Government exchange program, and we’re very proud of that. And we also have programs where about 1,200 Bangladeshi youth from across the country have graduated from our English Access Microscholarship Program. That’s a program that takes place right here in Bangladesh, and it’s a two-year program that focuses on English language, leadership development, and community service programs for disadvantaged students.
So to conclude, for five years – excuse me, five decades, much more than five years – our nations and our people have developed and deepened close, close ties between our two countries. And as an example, just last week the honorable prime minister and the U.S. Secretary of Defense spoke about their shared commitment to a free, prosperous, open Indo-Pacific. This month, at the end of this month, the U.S. and Bangladesh will hold our very first economic growth dialogue. The third annual Indo-Pacific Business Forum is going to take place virtually in October, at the very end of October, and this will provide a great opportunity for government and business leaders from the U.S. and Bangladesh and the Indo-Pacific region to talk about energy and infrastructure, the digital economy, market connectivity, health, and how we’re going to work together to recover post-COVID.
So as we work together to promote openness and prosperity and peace in the Indo-Pacific region, I am absolutely confident that the United States and Bangladesh will only grow closer, only deepen our partnership, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work together to turn those goals into reality. [In Bangla.] Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you to both of our speakers. We will now open it up for questions. I will begin with a pre-submitted question. This comes from Tanzim Anwar of BSS, who asks, “As security is one of the focuses of the Indo-Pacific strategy, does the United States think a prolonged Rohingya crisis is a security threat to the entire region, and if so, how can the IPS help resolve ethnic crises in the Indo-Pacific?”
Ms. Wagner: Laura, would you like me to take that one?
DAS Stone: Sure, you can start with the Rohingya and then I can talk about the IPS and the humanitarian elements.
Ms. Wagner: Great. Well, the Rohingya crisis remains a really important priority for the United States and it’s something that our embassy works on constantly. And this is, frankly, even more of a focus since COVID-19 has hit. I do want to note the incredible generosity of the Bangladesh Government and people for opening their hearts to people who have been fleeing such tremendous horrors. The United States – well, I’ll let you talk, Laura, a little bit about some of the contributions that the United States is taking – but we’re absolutely committed to finding solutions to help the Rohingya return to Myanmar, return to Burma, and we are pressing – continuing to press the government there to create the conditions so that it’s possible for the Rohingya to have a safe, voluntary, dignified, sustainable return to that country. We’re working with international partners, international community, to press the government through things like sanctions and other measures through international organizations in New York, in The Hague, and in Geneva to go for a meaningful ceasefire and, again, to create those conditions that make it possible for the Rohingya to turn – return home.
But the work isn’t done. The Bangladeshi – sorry, the Rohingya people deserve an opportunity to return safely to their home, and that’s what we’re working very closely with the international community and the government here to help make sure that happens.
Over to you, Laura.
DAS Stone: Thank you. And in terms of the overall U.S. policy on humanitarian issues, yes, the Indo-Pacific strategy is a comprehensive policy on behalf of the United States. So the policy does incorporate humanitarian assistance, does incorporate refugee principles. We are very aware of the burden that Bangladesh has assumed in hosting the Rohingya, and we do try to be a good partner, both as a direct donor to support the Rohingya, but also as a leader among donor nations to try to encourage the contributions to the Rohingya crisis. So those are all elements of the Indo-Pacific strategy. And we also recognize that it is not exclusively a Bangladesh problem. There are refugees in many places; there are Rohingya camps in other countries. And so we do work to make sure that both the burden and the eventual solution is spread among a variety of countries, with the understanding that the ultimate burden really does have to be on Burma.
Ms. Wagner: Laura, if I could just add a tiny bit to that. The United States remains the largest single humanitarian donor. We’ve contributed about $800 million so far to support these refugee efforts, and we’re continuing to look at increasing those contributions in 2020, and this is – this encompasses specific funding for the refugees, but it also includes support for host communities as well, and also includes addressing COVID-19 in the camps and in the Cox’s Bazar District as well. Thanks.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes from Humayun Kabir. Humayun, if you could please state your media outlet.
Question: All right. My name is Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan. I work for Dhaka Tribune. It’s an English daily that is published from the capital. I have actually – my question has two parts to Ms. Stone in the USA. Number one is that, how do you feel that with the Rohingya crisis which is affecting the whole region? And, I am afraid, with the lingering of the crisis, the situation will get worse, and our government cannot rule out radicalization. How a peaceful, successful Indo-Pacific strategy is possible with this type of problem in place? Number one.
Number two is that, why is Bangladesh so important in your strategy? Is it – is it to contain China as part of U.S. – as a geopolitical interest, or some other thing? Thank you very much.
DAS Stone: All right. Well, great. So on the Rohingya question about the impact on the relationship, the United States is acutely aware of the need for a long-term, durable, sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. We do understand very clearly and we have worked with many people in Bangladesh to better understand the need for both short-term relief but also a long-term solution. So I agree with you completely that this is not – the current situation is not one that can be allowed to perpetuate indefinitely. And so we are in communication with the governments involved to push forward a long-term, sustainable solution that does maintain the basic principles of the humanitarian relief, but also the need for a voluntary and safe return of the Rohingya to their place of origin.
With regards to why Bangladesh is so important, so Bangladesh in part is important because of its enormous potential. It is important because of the incredible population that you have that does seek to develop in a very concrete way. The Indo-Pacific strategy is not a containment strategy, it is a U.S. policy towards the region. It is – you can’t join the Indo-Pacific strategy; it’s just a U.S. policy. But it’s an extremely important policy, and it’s important because of the way it’s been articulated. The – it is articulated in a way that it’s not – it’s not an East Asia strategy; it’s a strategy that really does seek to knit the entire region together. It doesn’t contain any one country. It is not aimed at any one country. And in fact, the – it’s baked into the name: it’s free and it’s open. Any country that wants to abide by the principles of freedom and openness can have the Indo-Pacific strategy applied to it by the United States. And the Indo-Pacific strategy is mostly about ties, it’s about relationships, it’s about building up in a wide variety of areas the relationships between the region and also with the United States.
So it’s a very positive strategy. It is not negative. It is not a reflection of any kind of aim to respond to another country’s policies or strategies. And in that sense, Bangladesh has enormous potential and has an enormous opportunity here to really welcome the kinds of benefits the United States and its companies and its partnership brings.
JoAnne, do you want to add anything?
Ms. Wagner: No, I think you’ve really covered it. There’s a strategic location, there’s a large population, there’s this incredible manufacturing base, there’s strong financials. This is a real draw for American companies and businesses that want to partner with Bangladesh. And we’ve already seen how nimble Bangladesh can be in terms of responding to the COVID crisis. So those opportunities that are there – there’s a recognition that Bangladesh has incredible human capital to share as well – I think just show how many opportunities there are and why it is important for the U.S. to work with Bangladesh through the Indo-Pacific strategy to, as Laura mentioned, knit together the countries here for the prosperity of all. Thanks.
Moderator: Our next pre-submitted question comes from the Daily Ittefaq. There is – apologies. “There is a popular perception that the Indo-Pacific strategy was created to counter China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Would you please clarify?”
DAS Stone: Yeah, that’s easy. It’s not. [Laughter.] The Indo-Pacific strategy is a policy for the United States. Because of the U.S. location, we’ve also – we’ve had a tendency to look to the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Rim as a sort of natural trading partner and natural people-to-people partnerships and things like that. And I think there’s been a recognition that that was not – that didn’t encompass well enough the extent of the region.
And so we looked at – started looking at the Indian Ocean and it was a recognition of both our ties to the Indian Ocean region, so Indo-Pacific, the – but also an awareness that the United States needs to devote more time, energy, and resources to the region and to building up those partnerships because of their importance to us economically, in terms of security, in terms of counterterrorism, counternarcotics, people-to-people ties, the enormous number of Bangladeshi Americans and Bangladeshi citizens in the United States, the need for better transportation ties, but also an awareness that the way the United States works, we are not necessarily always engaged bilaterally with – on every issue. We need those ties to go across countries, and many, many of our challenges and our opportunities in terms of economics involve cross-border exchanges.
So for us it was very important to also put together a regional strategy that looked at the area regionally. You can even look at something like an iPhone and the number of different places that contribute to the final value of the phone. It’s essential to U.S. private business and investment that we take a more comprehensive look at the region. And so that’s what it is. It is not aimed at Belt and Road. It is not – we have an awareness that we need to spread better information about the fact that the United States is the largest foreign direct investor in places like South Asia. I think that that was fairly – we just did it naturally. We weren’t trumpeting our horn, but there is a little bit of a need to publicize that so people are aware that those are the kinds of things that are also happening.
So that’s also part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, is facilitating those kinds of communications and also investments.
Moderator: Excellent. Our next question is a live question. It is from Abu Anas. Mr. Anas, if you could please state your media outlet.
Question: Hi. Can you hear me, please?
Moderator: You’re coming in a little faint, so if you’ll speak up we can – we can hear you clearer that way.
Question: Okay. Okay, I have written the question. So, how important is smaller countries like Bangladesh is in the U.S. foreign policy? As people perceive your country – I mean that Washington always favors the countries which have geopolitical relevance. Is it true? If not, please explain.
DAS Stone: I couldn’t hear the very end of the question.
Question: Oh. People perceive that you always favor the countries which have geopolitical relevance or are an actor, geopolitical actors, and the all – countries like Bangladesh are always marginalized in your foreign policy. Is it true? How far do you agree or disagree?
DAS Stone: Right. So I think that that’s a really interesting question, and it’s certainly not our intention to marginalize smaller countries. And in fact, Bangladesh is not a smaller country. Bangladesh is actually quite a huge country. But the intention, I think, is that we very much hope that we can build on our relationship with Bangladesh, that this is a relationship that has enormous areas that are – we can grow into. I look at a country like Vietnam that has really taken advantage of the opportunities created by the desire for manufacturing to diversify, for supply chains to diversify, for partnerships to diversify. And those are all areas that Bangladesh is absolutely ripe to grow into.
In terms of the nature of the United States, I think it just gets more attention when we’re dealing with these – the true super, super countries in the world. There aren’t that many of them and they just get a lot of news. And so this is part of our desire here to make sure that people do understand that we devote a tremendous amount of resources to Bangladesh and we want to make sure that we – that that is understood.
The United States focuses quite a lot on Bangladesh and we just need to make sure that everybody is hearing that and understanding it. And we intend to – as the DCM already suggested, we intend to launch an economic growth dialogue hopefully aimed at some kind of economic partnership that makes it clear that – to private investors as well as to business people and the people of both of our countries, the incredible importance that we do devote to – or that we – the incredible importance that we do see in Bangladesh-U.S. relations.
Ms. Wagner: If I can add to that, as DAS Stone already mentioned, Bangladesh is not a small country. In fact, Bangladesh is the eighth largest country in the world. And I think that in the United States and elsewhere, people are waking up to that fact because if you plopped a country of 165 million people, for example, in the middle of Europe, that would cause quite a stir. And I think it’s something that folks are recognizing. Businesses are recognizing it.
And to add to the things that I mentioned earlier about Chevron and Coca-Cola, Oracle opened its first office here in Bangladesh in March. Not only did Accelerate Energy build the first LNG import facility here, there is a firm, U.S. – sorry, DSC Dredge. It is building state-of-the-art dredging equipment right here in Bangladesh, providing jobs for Bangladeshis and also transferring technology. And together they’re supporting the government’s inland water transport and river dredging work, and creating a genuine partnership. And other firms and other companies are seeing this beneficial partnership between U.S. and Bangladeshi companies. We’re also working through USAID to help promote public-private partnerships in areas that are ripe for Bangladesh to diversify its exports.
So, for example, USAID has done a couple of studies and identified areas like IT, engineering and light manufacturing, tourism, agribusiness, pharmaceutical industry, as areas that are really ripe for U.S. companies to come in and partner with Bangladeshi firms to the benefit of both countries. And it may very well be that some of those projects – cold chain projects, et cetera – will involve public-private partnerships.
So the U.S. is certainly waking up and recognizing that Bangladesh is a very important country. Thank you.
Moderator: All right. Our final question was submitted in advance, and it comes from Morshed Hassib of Channel24, who asks, “While India is your strong partner in the strategy, do you believe Bangladesh will be able to work within the Indo-Pacific strategy freely, given that recent Chinese investment in Bangladesh is much greater than the investment from the United States?”
DAS Stone: So I’ll – I can start there. The – first of all, the investment from the United States doesn’t – you have to be very careful about the data. The Indian relationship is obviously important, but it – there’s no intention to have that overwhelm the relationship with, for example, Bangladesh. The United States is not seeking to create an India that is a – is not seeking to create a relationship with India that would in any way exclude or be problematic for other countries. But we are seeking to support India as it deals with some specific regional challenges, and those are the kinds of things that I think just a good partner does.
In terms of specifically the investment of China versus the United States in any country, so because of the way China does investment, that it’s state-directed, it’s very high-profile, it is not necessarily always contributing to an even distribution of growth, but it – they build high-profile things that they can sort of stick their brand on. U.S. investment is actually larger, but it is not driven by the United States. So, for example, it’s always very hard to tell U.S. investment because often it goes through third parties, third countries, and it will often be driven by U.S. consumers’ purchasing, and things like that, but maybe it’s a South Korean company or a European company that’s actually doing the manufacturing, or the – a Bangladeshi company that is doing the manufacturing. And so you have to understand that the – even though the United States is by far the largest driver of investment and often the largest source – ultimate source of investment, it’s something that doesn’t show up exactly in the data.
So I don’t think that there’s any conflict there at all. In fact, the United States is a much, much, much stronger driver of investment around the world and in Bangladesh. And so just because something is high-profile and has a bridge or something with a big “China” stamped on it does not necessarily mean that that’s really what’s driving your future and what is going to be driving U.S.-Bangladesh economic relations going forward.
We’re very, very positive about this. This is something that the United States hopes to continue to partner commercially and economically with Bangladesh going forward. We seek to be as communicative as possible about the kinds of investment climate that is most conducive to creating this sort of natural flow of investment and trade. And that’s our – that’s our vision. That is what we’re seeking to achieve. We’re seeking to achieve natural, non-coercive economic and security relationships that fully respect the sovereignty and freedom of action of the countries that we partner with.
Ms. Wagner: And if I can add to that, again, the Indo-Pacific strategy, the Indo refers to the Indian Ocean, not to India. And I think that while India certainly has a role to play, it’s very, very clear that Bangladesh is a regional and global leader in its own right with its own distinct foreign policy, its own global interests, and our relationship with Bangladesh is based on that as well as the regional overview that we’ve talked about through the Indo-Pacific strategy.
So we are very, very excited about working with Bangladesh under the auspices of the IPS, but also in terms of our bilateral relationship to find ways, for example, through our energy projects, that Bangladeshi citizens, people living here, have better access to electricity, that Bangladeshis, through our health programs, lead healthier lives, that we together work on a COVID response that answers needs in Bangladesh. And unlike – or, sorry, like many of my colleagues here, I actually lobbied to come to Bangladesh because I think the opportunities are incredible. And it’s a very, very exciting time to be here, to work together towards that free and open Indo-Pacific that we believe can only add to prosperity to all the countries involved, including Bangladesh. So thank you.
Moderator: Thank you to our speakers and thank you to our attendees for this special briefing. I’m sorry, we’ve run out of time at this point. I understand that we didn’t get to many of your questions. But once again, thank you for your time. Thank you again to Deputy Assistant Secretary Laura Stone and to Deputy Chief of Mission JoAnne Wagner. Good evening in Dhaka, and good afternoon here.
Ms. Wagner: Dhan’yabada. Thank you very much.
DAS Stone: Thank you so much.