Thursday, September 29
Good morning and thank you to the Center for Governance Studies and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bangladesh Foundation for organizing this event and for having me here today.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak with you today and to share with you the United States’ five key objectives for our relationship with Bangladesh.
These objectives form the core of what our Embassy does every day.
And just to be clear, these are not just my goals, or the Embassy’s goals.
These are the United States’ goals. They were developed across all parts of the United States government.
And they are not secret. You can find them on the State Department website. Just Google “Integrated Country Strategy Bangladesh” and it will be the first thing that comes up.
So let me go through those goals one by one and speak a little about how we are advancing each of these objectives.
Goal Number One: A more peaceful and stable Bangladesh, better able to provide for its own security, counter threats to U.S. interests, and serve as a growing security contributor in the Indo-Pacific and globally.
Last year, the Honorable Prime Minister shared her vision for a free, open, peaceful, secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, based on international law and shared prosperity for all.
U.S.-Bangladeshi military cooperation plays a critical role in advancing that vision.
The U.S. military regularly works with the Bangladeshi military to strengthen Bangladesh’s defense readiness, to increase its ability to respond to humanitarian disasters, and to reinforce the partnership between our military forces.
Here is just one example of our forces working together: Earlier this month, Bangladesh and the United States co-hosted the 46th annual Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar in Dhaka.
This gathering was the largest land forces conference in the region.
It provided a forum for senior level officers from regional land forces to exchange views and ideas on how to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. It also established the Bangladesh Army as a key regional leader.
We want our security relationship to grow.
In order to do so, we are seeking to sign two foundational defense agreements – one which will allow our militaries to provide logistics support, supplies, and services to each other.
The other will allow our militaries to share confidential information with each other – if they want to – in the knowledge that the other country will protect the information.
Goal Number Two: Bangladesh is committed to democracy, transparency, pluralism, tolerance, good governance, and respect for human rights.
Simply put, democracies tend to do a better job of protecting human rights and generating and sustaining prosperity than other governance regimes.
The promotion of democracy is particularly relevant as Bangladesh looks toward the upcoming parliamentary elections.
I want to make one thing very clear: the United States does not favor any particular political party.
What we want is a free and fair election conducted in accordance with international standards where the people of Bangladesh can freely choose their own government.
Ensuring free and fair elections is everyone’s responsibility.
From the Election Commission to the government, from the media to law enforcement agencies, from civil society to political parties, everyone has an important role to play.
If any one of them fails to fulfill their responsibility or if any one of them prevents another from fulfilling their responsibility, free and fair elections would become nearly impossible.
The recent violent clashes at political rallies and demonstrations here in Bangladesh remind us of this fact.
Free and fair elections simply cannot take place in an environment with political violence.
It is important for everyone – demonstrators, political parties, the government, and law enforcement – to respect the rule of law and to refrain from violence, harassment, and intimidation.
Goal Number Three: Bangladesh is a socially and environmentally resilient country.
The ability to respond effectively to things like climate change and pandemics greatly impacts economic growth.
As you all know, Bangladesh’s geography on a low-lying river delta, with a long coastline and large floodplains, makes it extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Increasing temperatures raise the threat of cyclones, floods, crop destruction, food shortages, respiratory illnesses, and mosquito-borne diseases.
The United States applauds Bangladesh’s leadership in addressing climate change and is a proud partner in addressing this problem.
Addressing climate change is a core priority for the Biden administration.
In April 2021, the President released the first-ever U.S. International Climate Finance Plan and announced a quadrupling of the U.S. international climate finance pledge at the UN General Assembly, including the largest U.S. commitment ever made to reduce climate impacts on those most vulnerable to climate change worldwide.
Another great example of our cooperation is the fight against COVID-19.
Since 2020, the United States has donated over $140 million in assistance and nearly 88 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Bangladesh.
In my recent meeting with the Honorable Prime Minister, I commended Bangladesh’s effort to vaccinate over 70 percent of its entire population, a higher rate than in the United States.
I also told her that one of our proudest joint achievements was in how we worked together to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
In fact, last Friday, our governments co-hosted the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the COVID-19 Global Action Plan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
We committed to filling remaining gaps in the pandemic response and building better health security to prevent and respond to future health threats.
Goal Number Four: Sustainable and broadly shared prosperity, and improved labor standards expand and diversify Bangladesh’s economy and opens it to greater regional and global trade and connectivity.
Of all the areas of our bilateral cooperation, I am convinced that we can go furthest and fastest on economic issues.
We celebrate Bangladesh’s tangible and truly extraordinary economic achievements. The United States is proud to have partnered with Bangladesh during this journey by providing over $8 billion in assistance
In just the past 20 years, the number of people living below the national poverty line in this country has been cut in half.
That is roughly 40 million people who have risen out of poverty.
Bangladesh will soon graduate from Least Developed Country status and is progressing toward becoming a middle-income country.
I was pleased to see Sheikh Hasina’s recent invitation to U.S. companies to invest in Bangladesh.
Many U.S. businesses would like to expand in the region, and we are ready to help Bangladesh create a business climate that is as welcoming as possible to foreign investment.
As a testament to the importance we give this, the U.S. Embassy will welcome our first ever full-time attaché from the U.S. Department of Commerce this coming year.
This step—frankly long overdue—will provide a direct liaison between U.S. and Bangladeshi businesses.
Goal Number Five: Bangladesh meets international standards for humanitarian protection of the Rohingya refugees and continues to host them until a safe, voluntary, and dignified return to Burma is possible.
We recently passed a sobering milestone: the five-year anniversary of the genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya and their flight from Burma to Bangladesh.
During this time, Bangladesh has shown incredible generosity and compassion in welcoming them into the country and giving them shelter. We are aware of the financial burden this has imposed on Bangladesh.
In support of this incredible hospitality, the United States announced last week that we will provide an additional $170 million to support Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host communities.
With this new funding, our total assistance to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis has reached nearly $1.9 billion.
We collaborated in this effort in the hope that Rohingya would soon be able to return to their native land in a safe and dignified manner.
Unfortunately, conditions in Burma, especially after recent incidents, do not allow for a safe, voluntary, dignified, or sustainable return.
Sadly, it does not look like they will any time soon.
The United States is ready to work with Bangladesh to transition from an emergency response to a more sustainable one.
We want to work with the Government of Bangladesh and the rest of the international donor community to provide the refugees with better access to education, better opportunities to earn a livelihood, and greater security within the camps.
In conclusion, these five goals set the agenda for my team at the Embassy and the work we do every day with the people of Bangladesh.
We believe that they are all mutually reinforcing – and that to the extent we are successful across all five fronts, the stronger U.S.-Bangladeshi relations will be.