Myanmar can use Bangladesh to reach the markets of Bhutan, Nepal and India’s Northeast easily
Dear respected policymakers of Myanmar,
We Bangladeshi citizens want friendly relations with Myanmar. You should strengthen bilateral ties by resolving problems such as the Rohingya crisis. Our strained relations need to be smoothened.
When we celebrated 50 years of freedom, it is a matter of sorrow that Myanmar didn’t congratulate Bangladesh. Why? Because bilateral relations are strained. Despite many possibilities, the two countries have not been able to build a real relationship. People from both sides are deprived of enjoying neighbourly advantages.
Better ties can ensure some common regional advantages. Geographically, Myanmar is located in the eastern part of Bangladesh. Strategically, it enjoys a distinct position between the two Asian giants, China and India. The same applies to Bangladesh. Basically, Myanmar and Bangladesh can be a gateway between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Myanmar can use Bangladesh to reach the markets of Bhutan, Nepal and India’s Northeast easily. Bangladesh and Myanmar share some regional common platforms. If Bangladesh and Myanmar improve their relations, their dependence on China and India can be reduced.
In bilateral relations, there were two issues that have caused some annoyance. The first was the demarcation of the sea boundary. It is a matter of satisfaction that the matter was settled peacefully in March 2012.
The second is the Rohingya refugee issue. Between August and November 2017, a military operation in Myanmar forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to cross into Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government has faced the Rohingya crisis many times. In 1978, an anti-insurgency operation by the military government of Myanmar in Rakhine State resulted in a brutal crackdown, with some 300,000 Rohingya entering Bangladesh. Again in 1991-92, a second wave of more than 250,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to escape military repression. The two countries have resolved these issues peacefully through talks.
But the 2017 Rohingya crisis needs a fruitful sustainable solution. This can contribute to the growth of trade and investment relations with ASEAN and BIMSTEC countries.
There are other routes to bilateral cooperation. Myanmar is rich in natural resources such as tin, zinc, copper, tungsten, coal, marble, limestone, natural gas and hydropower. Myanmar can be a major source of energy for Bangladesh.
Myanmar is also a major supplier of natural wood to the world. While it has traditionally eyed foreign investment in the oil and gas sector, the country has recently shifted its focus to attract production-based investment.
Religious tourism can also help. There are many Buddhists in Bangladesh. There are a number of magnificent modern-era Buddhist temples in our country. The Golden Temple at a hilltop in Bandarban district is probably the most charming one. Gigantic Buddha statues in Dhaka, Chittagong and other areas are special attraction for devotees and tourists. There are also a number of Buddhist learning centers and pilgrimage spots in Bangladesh.
The two countries can jointly explore oil and gas fields in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh can contribute to the development of Myanmar’s infrastructure.
The proposed construction of the Asian Highway, funded by the Asian Development Bank, can increase land connectivity between the two countries and increase trade in products such as fertilizers, plastics, cement and furniture. Bangladesh is set to complete its Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway line. This can be extended to India’s northeast, Nepal, and Bhutan and also to China and Myanmar.
Myanmar can import electronics and pharmaceutical products that are readily produced from Bangladesh and benefit from technology transfer.
Apart from adopting joint investment projects, Bangladesh can increase imports of various agricultural products. Enhanced ties between Bangladesh and Myanmar can contribute to trade and investment relations with ASEAN and BIMSTEC countries. This will create an opening to solve the Rohingya problem and stop militant activities.
Myanmar and Bangladesh can set up border hats (border markets) and boost trade. India and Bangladesh are benefitting from such border hats. Thus, strengthening people-to-people contacts can help mend the strained ties between two neighbours.
On behalf of the Citizens of Bangladesh
(The author is an educator-researcher who did her Master's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Views are personal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)