Shubho oporannho. (Hello.) Ami ekhane ashte pere anondito. (I’m very happy to be here.)
I am delighted to address the Dhaka Reporters Unit this afternoon, the last day of the Bengali winter – my favorite season.
Free media is the cornerstone of a free society. The role of the press in holding the powerful to account – even in uncomfortable ways – is an essential checks and balances to corruption and vested interests.
As George Orwell said, “freedom of the press, if it means anything, means freedom to criticize and oppose”.
I am therefore constantly impressed by the courage and commitment of journalists in Bangladesh despite the many challenges I know you have, and I am delighted that we are able to support you with training and programmes.
Along with other similar partners, we lead the Media Freedom Coalition and this will continue to be a key part of the work of the High Commission in Bangladesh.
It’s a great time to be British High Commissioner in Dhaka.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UK and Bangladesh, following Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historic press conference at Claridges Hotel, his meeting with Prime Minister Edward Heath and his return to a Bangladesh newly liberated by the Royal Air Force. .
Over the next half-century, the relationship transformed.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Brit Bangla Bondhon, we build on all the links that exist between Bangladesh and the UK, including the diaspora, the 600,000 people living in the UK with Bangladeshi heritage and the much wider range of ties that exist between us. on security, defence, climate, COVID-19, trade and a host of issues that we are working closely with friends and partners within and beyond government in Bangladesh.
We do this in accordance with our overall strategy. Last year we published an Integrated Review of our foreign policy after leaving the European Union. A key element is what we call an Indo Pacific Tilt, a rebalancing of our politics, in which Bangladesh plays an important role.
The Indo-Pacific is the fastest growing economic region in the world, a crucial transit point for global trade.
The UK has the broadest and most integrated regional presence in Europe, supporting stronger trade links, shared security priorities and shared values.
We engage deeper in the region on many of the world’s most pressing challenges – from climate and biodiversity to maritime security and geopolitical competition over rules and standards.
And these standards have never seemed more important or more threatened than today. An unprovoked Russian aggression against Ukraine would be a disaster for everyone, including Russia.
British ministers have been at the forefront of international efforts to find a diplomatic solution, and the UK has provided Ukraine with the weapons and training it needs to defend itself.
Here we are working with UK businesses to build a trade and development relationship as Bangladesh transitions this decade from a less-developed to a middle-income country.
This is an extraordinary national achievement, based on decades of good policy development. I am delighted that the Prime Minister and other senior officials promoted the opportunities at a roadshow in London and Manchester last year.
Graduation is a milestone, not a finish line and we are helping Bangladesh achieve smooth and successful graduation and continue its export-led growth by providing duty-free and quota-free access to the UK market until ‘in 2029.
We are Bangladesh’s second largest investor and will continue to work with Bangladesh to ensure free and fair trade by improving the functioning of the WTO and modernizing global trade rules.
The past year has been significant for UK-Bangladesh trade relations with the inauguration of the UK-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Dialogue.
This was to tackle barriers to market access and improve the business environment to promote free and fair trade between the UK and Bangladesh, and to help UK businesses to realizing the potential of Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth, for the benefit of the prosperity of both countries.
As Bangladesh prospers, we hope to see the market become more open to international investment, particularly for high-value financial, education and health services where the UK is the world leader.
I see a particular opportunity for universities if the rules of cross-border higher education can be implemented. UK universities are interested in the opportunity in Bangladesh and would like to establish the kind of presence they have in Sri Lanka or Malaysia.
This would give young Bangladeshis access to world-class education at a competitive price. And that would give Bangladesh the skills to thrive as a middle-income country.
More generally, our view is that long-term stability and economic growth flourish best in open, democratic societies with strong institutions, public accountability and competitive elections.
Thus, with international partners, we support the pluralistic and transparent democracy in Bangladesh provided for by the Constitution, in particular by calling for a fair and credible process for the elections scheduled for the end of 2023.
This means first of all that all the parties must be allowed to organize themselves and be heard before the election so that there is a real debate on the future of the country. Second, it means everyone can vote freely. Third, it means votes are reliably and transparently counted. And finally, it means that credible results are accepted by all parties, including those who did not win.
Milestones such as the process of forming the Electoral Commission send a signal on the trajectory of this administration. Strong commitments from all parties to a free and fair process would help set the tone, including inclusive and non-partisan oversight of the Electoral Commission for the contest scheduled for next year.
The strongest, safest and most prosperous societies are those in which everyone can live freely, without fear of violence or discrimination, and where all citizens can play a full and active role. This year, the UK will host a global conference on equality to promote the basic human rights we all share. This includes empowering women and girls and standing in solidarity with those who uphold tolerance and religious freedom, as enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh, which enshrines freedom of expression and religion.
We stand with those who uphold tolerance and religious freedom, as enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh, which enshrines freedom of speech and religion.
We also work together on regional security, including the Rohingya crisis. Our common goal is to see the voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya as soon as conditions in Myanmar permit.
Bangladesh continues to be extraordinarily generous in its response. Refugees have access to health care, food, shelter, water and sanitation.
We have seen generosity in the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines for refugees. However, despite the progress, the situation remains difficult both for the Rohingya, especially for the women, and for their hosts in Bangladesh.
We are the leading donor to the international response to the Rohingya refugee crisis, having contributed over £320 million since 2017 to support both refugees in camps and host communities, including building resilience against COVID-19.
At the same time, the Rohingya crisis is a tragedy for everyone involved. No one chooses to live in a refugee camp or host a massive influx of displaced people. Like so many other refugees around the world, the vast majority of the Rohingya population say they want to return home.
We are ensuring that the Rohingyas and Bangladesh are not forgotten. We are raising the plight of the Rohingyas on the international stage, including at the United Nations Security Council. As ASEAN’s new dialogue partner, we support the efforts of the ASEAN Special Envoy.
We support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh. We are supporting the Ministry of Health in Bangladesh to develop a well-coordinated national response plan, funded by all development partners and the Government of Bangladesh.
Last December, we supplied 4.1 million vaccines through the COVAX facility. We hope to provide more soon.
And 2021 has been a good year for UK-Bangladesh defense relations as a Royal Navy ship sailed to Chattogram after 13 years as part of our Carrier Strike Group (CSG21) deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.
The visit highlighted our bilateral defense relationship, echoed this week by strategic level training provided by the UK at the Bangladesh National Defense College.
I look forward to talks soon to put this relationship on a more strategic footing.
The UK-Bangladesh Climate Partnership launched in January 2020 strengthens cooperation on all COP26 priority themes: adaptation, clean energy, nature financing and clean transport.
We will continue to exchange our expertise, share our technologies, facilitate partnerships and identify practical solutions to common climate challenges, with the common goal of delivering the real change we need to keep rising global temperatures in check. below 1.5 degrees.
I think we can do more in this area as well.
It is therefore an exciting time for the UK here, as we work with an increasingly confident and outward-looking Bangladesh, tackling common challenges and seizing shared opportunities as we move together towards the next 50 years.
I am delighted to be here as High Commissioner leading the effort in Dhaka.
Apnader jonno shubho kamona roilo (Best wishes) Sobaike onek dhonnobad. (Thank you everybody.)
British High Commission in Dhaka
United Nations Road
Dhaka – 1212
Email: [email protected]
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