Will discuss Rohingya issue, Russian crude oil import with EAM Jaishankar, Bangladesh FM Momen

Written By: Sidhant Sibal WION
New Delhi, India Updated: Jun 18, 2022, 11:35 PM(IST)

In this picture, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen can be seen with WION's correspondent diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal during an exclusive interview Photograph:( WION )

Story highlights

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Momen is in Delhi for the seventh meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC)

In an exclusive conversation with WION, visiting Bangladesh foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has said that he will discuss the Rohingya issue with External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on Sunday.

The Bangladeshi FM is in Delhi for the seventh meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC). Speaking to WION's diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal, the FM Momen said, "if Bangladesh, India and Myanmar work together we can resolve it. We can have sustainable solution to it." Sunday's Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meet will be the such first physical meet of the mechanism since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, with the previous edition taking place virtually in 2020.

Asked on import of Russian crude oil, he said, " we got some offer to buy but have not because of sanctions, sanctions from Russian oil. We have not bought it". He explained, "I understand India has bought it, they are good friends, we may discuss it. Friends talk about issues but as such it in not a big issue." The FM was in Assam last month for Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence (NADI) meet. He also responded on other issues like China's debt trap diplomacy, Dhaka's support to Sri Lanka and the mega infrastructure project--Padma Bridge to be inaugurated later this month. 

Also read | Sri Lanka schools, govt offices to shut as transport grinds to halt

WION: How do u see India, Bangladesh relationship? It's being termed as shonali adyay or the Golden age of ties, we saw all though last year, high level visits from India to your country, The PM, The President
Dr AK Abdul Momen: We have a wonderful relationship, and PM Modi has termed it Sonali Adhyay, Golden chapter, and really it is so, it's a Golden chapter because we have resolved most of our critical issues through dialogue and discussion without a single bullet, we have resolved our border demarcation problem, through dialogue and discussion, we have resolved our maritime boundary situation, we have also resolved the water sharing, some critical issues we resolved via dialogue and discussion. Still, we have some outstanding issues , good thing is we can talk about them very freely and without any reservation, this is a unique relationship. This should be studied by students of Diplomacy, how we have developed, during the last year we observed 50th anniversary of our independence, and also 100th birth anniversary of father of our nation and luckily last year UN declared Bangladesh has met graduation from LDC to developing country. Last year we also observed 50 years Diplomatic relationship with India. You cannot believe, PM of India, President of India, we were very lucky they visited Bangladesh and had wonderful time. Not only that, we observed you the Friendship day or Moitri Diwas in 18 missions across the world, India and Bangladesh together. It's because in 1971, it was India that supported us, helped us, trained us, for our Independence movement. We have rock solid relationship, historical, we have gone through same challenges, by and large same history. It's people to people relationship. When you look, I cannot differentiate much if your Bangladeshi or Indian. That is the relationship we have, and for next 50 years, we look for better relationship. My feeling is next 50 years, we have more solid relationship. The way it was in early 90s, or in past, mobility was free. People of the sub-continent used to do many things together. So, I thought I future we will have borderless mobility between India and Bangladesh, we should move around without any passport in the whole region. I am looking forward to that.

WION: High level visits, when can we expected Bangladesh PM to visit India. Recently she sent Mangoes to Indian President, PM
Dr AK Abdul Momen: We have a lovely mango, Bangladesh produces plenty of Mangoes and one special kind of Mango PM of India likes it, now we have sent it, we did it last year. We sent it to PM and other leaders of India, to develop better taste Bangladesh.

WION: Mango diplomacy, but focus also on connectivity, inland waterways, railways.
Dr AK Abdul Momen: Bangladesh is hub of connectivity, our prime minister believes, connectivity is productivity. In this inter connected world, we are all inter-dependent, Bangladesh looks forward to connectivity, particularly regional connectivity. Because if we have good connectivity, our trade, our development flourishes. Particularly with our Neighbours we have policy that we want friendship with everyone, malice to none. We have special focus to have solid relationship with our Neighbours, in order for that we want people to people connectivity. We have opened up our road system, we have wonderful road communication between the 2 countries. We have air communication, we want to make water communication better, we have started railway communication. We used to have those communication, but was distributed during war in 1965, so we resuming that. This is good for both countries. This is because, if we have good connectivity, around 1.4 million Bangladeshis have visited India as tourist. We are the largest tourist of India. India is a big country and tourist from Bangladesh are the largest because we have good connectivity. When tourist come, we make money, and large number visit India for medical reasons. So, you get lot of help, Kolkata, Mumbai, large number of people from Bangladesh come for shopping. Large number of Indians working in Bangladesh, few thousand Indians are working in professional jobs in Bangladesh and they are contributing in our development and at the same time they sending back money. Bangladesh is the 4th largest remittance; Indians are receiving from Bangladesh. It's helping both countries and we like to have more connectivity. In fact, we need to open up more of the rivers. We have to work together; we have 54 rivers that come from India to Bangladesh and right now I am talking I have a devasting flood in my own constituency in Sylhet. It came from Assam and Meghalaya. I am looking if we can develop a better system management and regulations of water, we can avoid lot of damages and surprises. We will like to share our expertise and data so that we have early warning about this sort of disaster. Before Pakistan was created, we used to have flood, but not as devastating as we used to have now.

WION: You meet EAM Jaishankar on Sunday, key issues you will talk about, including perhaps high-level visit from Bangladesh?
Dr AK Abdul Momen: We have been meeting with Dr Jaishankar, I have meet him number of times, only recently we met in Assam and issues we would like to discuss. Well, we do joint consultation, and outstanding issues we have, we try to resolve it. Prior this we have several, departmental meetings and resolve most of the issues. This time we shall be raising, water sharing issue , water management, we will discuss that. We will talk about Rohingya issue, it's a big issue. India is good friend of Myanmar and great friend of Bangladesh. We would like to work on that and how we can help to resolve it, the outstanding problem. We will discuss connectivity, railway has started to move recently, but have allowed out Mongla and Chittagong port to be used by Indian ships. We have some border issues; good news is border killings have reduced dramatically. Currently at border areas we follow international regulations and we want to see we do follow them. We would like to talk about trade, and we are lucky that trade is flourishing and Indian exports to Bangladesh are a 10-billion-dollar, largest trade India has in whole of the area, south Asia. But more potential. One area we need to improve is India has put dumping in the jute products, and it's should have been withdrawn and we will talk about it. Additional taxation on it. We will talk about investment. Bangladesh is land of opportunity; we have wonderful investment package and we will naturally invite Indian companies. Indian companies in Bangladesh are winners, they are making good money, we will invite others to take advantage. The country is doing well, anything produce in Bangladesh has Market. We are 35 million people, who have strong purchasing capacity. We have 165 million people in Bangladesh. We will talk international and regional issues. What our priority is, our PM believes to have sustainable economic development you cannot do it alone, whole region has to prosper together.

WION: What about the Rohingya issue? What do u expect from India, and for month on this Issue no movement from Myanmar
Dr AK Abdul Momen: 5th year, but you see, if there is a commitment. I'm an optimist and if there is a commitment, where there is a will, there is a way. So, if Bangladesh, India and Myanmar work together we can resolve it. We can have sustainable solution to it. The Rohingya issue was created by Myanmar and solution also lies with Myanmar. So, if we work together with support of India ,other friends, we can resolve the issue for the betterment of all. Reason is if this problem is not resolved, the problem is , there could be pocket of radicalism and terrorism. If there is radicalism and terrorism, it may create uncertainty in the whole region. The other day, I was in Assam, the CM of Assam said they have done great improvement in development in last few years. One reason is, there is no terrorism, PM Hasina's declaration of zero tolerance to terrorism. Bangladesh cannot be hub for any sorts of terrorists' activities and that helped the economic development of Assam and Meghalaya. So, if Rohingya problem is not resolved, it will create uncertainty so we have to work together for the benefit of the region, and for humanity.

WION: How has Russian invasion of Ukraine impacted your country, especially in terms of price of commodities
Dr AK Abdul Momen: You see, we are highly interconnected with rest of the world, so if there is uncertainty in the developed countries trade and investment suffers. The Ukraine issue is an important issue, the energy cost has gone up. We are energy dependent country, we bring energy from abroad, so if energy cost goes up, very high, 5 times. If it goes up, then major problem is our transportation cost goes up. In addition, we buy some of the items from that part of the world , those are now, you cannot get now. So, we have to procure from other places and it is costly. So, impacts, and it impacts all the countries of the world and it is impacting Bangladesh. We had covid , already many countries of the world suffering and before we can recuperate, the new problem came up. It is costing the whole world and cost of living.

WION: Will you buy cheap Russian Crude oil?
Dr AK Abdul Momen: We buy crude oil, oil from others , we got some offer to buy but have not because of sanctions, sanctions from Russian oil. We have not bought it. I understand India has bought it, they are good friends, we may discuss it. Friends talk about issues but as such it in not a big issue.

WION: Have you spoken about it with Indian side?
Dr AK Abdul Momen: If you have better idea, let me know.

WION: Let's talk about the mega infrastructure program, the Padma bridge, how it helps your country. And Indian support you got when it comes to the development of bridge
Dr AK Abdul Momen: It is historic moment for us, 25th of June, we will inaugurate the historic Padma bridge. This is not a long bridge, just 6.1 KM long, but the most important thing is it is on the most ferocious river of the planet earth. The current is very deadly, and putting structure is difficult. 40 Storey building underneath the water... anyway, another story to it. We have been planning to build the bridge for a long time, and some development partner and institutions like World Bank, the ADB, JICA. They agreed to provide partial payment for this and we have never done project of this size and being an LDC forget it. But our PM had courage. She decided to go for the project. Initially World Bank was not interested, then on their own, volunteered to join the program. They joined it but suddenly at the last minute they withdrew on fictitious charge, that they are apprehending some conspiracy of corruption. No money was exchanged, no document signed but they feeling some conspiracy of corruption. Eventually there was court case and Canadian court found that this is fairly tales. But world withdraw and naturally ADB, JICA withdrew. So, PM decided, we will build with our own money. Did not take penny from others. But some companies, foreign companies, they are involved in constructions, as contactors, we engaged with them. This bridge according to estimates, GDP will increase between 1.5 to 3%. It's a huge margin, huge amount, it will help improve GDP by connecting 19 districts of Bangladesh. 30 million people of southern area will be benefitted. The distance of travelling will improve enormously. That area, you go to India, our connectivity will improve and hopeful many Indians will use the beautiful bridge.

WION: How India supported the development of the bridge, how do u see that as.
Dr AK Abdul Momen: See India is a development partner, good friend, and we are maintaining our stability and in the process India is helpful. As such, we did not get any money for particular project, what should I say materials. We used our own material for the bridge, cement, iron and everything of our own.

WION: You issued a statement, clarifications on Chinese role in the project, why was the need for clarification?
Dr AK Abdul Momen: Because it was said, some people for one reason or other, I don't know what is the reason behind. But it is the part of belt and road initative. Nothing to do with it. We have been thinking of doing this for a long time. So, it's nothing, some people are putting this story so we thought we should put the facts straight. We built it with our own money, of course we had contractors, contractors from China, European countries, and all across. Many people have different types of expertise, provide those and we paid for that.

WION: China has a role in region. Debt trap diplomacy, Sri Lanka for an example, Pakistan might go that way, how do see Chinese role and it's debt trap diplomacy.
Dr AK Abdul Momen: No no, it depends on country specific you see, China is an emerging developed country and they have plenty of cash reserves. They want to help neighboring countries and they have been supportive. Many of our development partners are shy of resources, and they spend more of resources in defense expenditure so they, help you with investment, more so in infrastructure. They are very shy, so from time to time some countries get money from China. We are very prudent country, we decide everything. We do cost benefit analysis, and if it's beneficial to us. What happened in Pakistan or Sri Lanka, that is not going to happen. They have their own problems also, but in our case they total amount of Foreign borrowing is very low, it's around 16%, out of that Chinese amount of borrowing is miniscule. Our largest borrowing is from international institutions like World Bank, ADB. Chinese are very little. Among individual country, Japan provides maximum financing. This is out question, Bangladesh is, must say, we are going well, our export-- Sri Lanka is 21 million people and they export 11 billion dollars, our export is 47 billion dollars, even during covid our remittance were 25 billion, they don't have that. Their income was from tourism, and they import a lot from abroad. We don't import, we are self-sufficient country in food, fish and vegetable. This comparison is out of question.  

WION: In South Asia, an obvious question, who do u support. India or China.
Dr AK Abdul Momen We have a policy, friendship towards all, malice towards none, that is cardinal principle. We also have policy; we will always be more supportive and cooperative with our Neighbours. Now, we make a good balance between China and India. Balance in the sense that, India is our historical friend and we have strong relationship with India and China is our development partner and supporting us in many of our projects.

WION: How are u supporting Sri Lanka?
Dr AK Abdul Momen: We have been supportive of Sri Lanka, the financial difficulty. We provided funding of around 250 million dollars, provided food, gift of 25000 tones of potato, and few thousand tons of medicines and we are ready to help them as much as we can.

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