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Why is the French president going to Bangladesh?

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French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Dhaka on September 10, after attending the G20 summit in New Delhi. This visit will be the first by a French president to Bangladesh in the last three decades, with former President Mitterrand’s previous visit taking place from February 22 to 24, 1990.

On September 5, 2023, the French Embassy announcement that the President of the French Republic will continue the implementation of the French strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. This visit is an opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations with a country in full economic development, with the support of France, and seeking to diversify its international partnerships.

Bangladesh and France share common perspectives on global challenges, particularly regarding the Paris Agenda for People and Planet, which Bangladesh actively supports. Given Bangladesh’s increased vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, President Macron will reaffirm France’s commitment to supporting the country, particularly in the face of recurring flooding problems. Additionally, Bangladesh plays an important role in international solidarity efforts, both by participating in peacekeeping operations and providing shelter to Rohingya refugees.

The French Embassy also tweeted about its investment in Bangladesh, mentioning “The fight against #climatechange is one of our priorities. In comics, this interest comes through the action of @AFD_France which has almost tripled its annual commitments over the last 5 years. Emmanuel Macron’s next visit will bring a new dynamic to this commitment.” The tweet from the French Embassy clearly underlines its commitment to making the fight against climate change a top priority in its bilateral relationship with Bangladesh, highlighting the role of the AFD and hinting at collaboration and increased investments in this critical area during President Macron’s next visit.

Against the backdrop of the war between Russia and Ukraine and the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh, diplomatic analysts consider the visits of politicians from two key countries significant.

France is currently focusing on strengthening relations with countries in the Indo-Pacific region, with Bangladesh occupying a central position in this geographical context. In recent years, France-Bangladesh relations have experienced considerable growth, characterized by a notable increase in bilateral trade, which currently amounts to more than three billion euros. In June 2023, the French envoy guest Bangladeshi companies will invest there.

In early July this year, a French Navy ship paid a goodwill visit to Chattogram and participated in a joint exercise alongside the Bangladesh Navy. This visit was accompanied by a statement from the French Ambassador to Bangladesh, Marie Masdupuy, who stressed that the presence of the ship underlines France’s political commitment to Bangladesh. It also recognizes the strategic importance of Bangladesh in the wider Indian Ocean region.

France needs new allies

France needs to forge strong ties with Bangladesh as it seeks to establish new alliances, particularly in light of its waning influence in African countries that were once its colonies or allies. Following the situation in Niger in July 2023, Gabon experienced a similar crisis, with President Ali Bongo detained in the same presidential palace that French President Emmanuel Macron had visited six months previously. This marks the eighth military coup in a former French colony for the past three years.

The series of coups was propelled by escalating anti-French sentiment, a sentiment that Russia was eager to seize and exploit for its own strategic interests. Resentment toward colonial rule became increasingly evident as East-West geopolitical rivalry exacerbated pre-existing tensions. Many countries find themselves forced to align themselves with one side or the other. For most African countries, the decision is relatively simple. Russia stands out in particular as one of the rare countries to have never established colonies in Africa. Additionally, Russia actively supported various independence movements during the Cold War, which contributed to the formation of current governments in many African countries.

In April, when the French president visited four African countries, he was greeted with protests outside the local French embassy denouncing French colonialism, and he was even roasted live on television by Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As a result, the French president’s upcoming participation in the G20 summit is expected to be crucial, as it will provide an opportunity to strengthen relations with India and Bangladesh. This effort will require increased investments aimed at maintaining these strengthened links. Beyond the areas of economic cooperation, climate change and security considerations, France is committed to strengthening its relations with Bangladesh. This engagement is part of the broader context of the Indo-Pacific region’s ascendancy as a central focus of global geopolitics. Given France’s central role in the Indian Ocean, concerted efforts are being made to strengthen its presence and influence in this strategically vital area. Bangladesh’s geographic location along the Bay of Bengal further highlights its importance as a key partner in advancing France’s strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific region.

Upcoming elections in Bangladesh

The upcoming elections in Bangladesh are of vital importance in the current context. The scheduled election date is January 2024. About three months before this pivotal event, the French president, a key ally of the United States, is expected to visit Bangladesh. Therefore, discussions around the principles of free, fair and credible elections should take place. It is worth mentioning that the opposition parties in Bangladesh have been demanding for the resignation of the Prime Minister and a new interim government for the conduct of free and fair elections.

Notably, relations between Bangladesh and the United States have become strained in recent times, mainly due to concerns surrounding the electoral process. The United States has taken steps such as impose sanctions on individuals involved in human rights violations, including the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a specialized unit of the security forces in Bangladesh. The imposition of sanctions was seen as a mechanism to hold accountable those responsible for such abuses in Bangladesh. It is worth noting, however, that Bangladesh’s foreign policy orientation shows a discernible trend in favor of the Sino-Russian alliance. This trend is reflected in the country’s desire to forge closer ties with these nations, although early discussions regarding Bangladesh’s potential membership in the European Union BRICS did not work out.

Additionally, there are allegations that Dr. Mohammad Yunus, a Nobel laureate from Bangladesh, is being harassed by the current ruling party government. The United Nations human rights body has expressed its concerns regarding the continued harassment and detention of human rights defenders in Bangladesh. This includes prominent figures such as Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus and leaders of the renowned human rights organization Odhikar. In August 2023, an open letter signed by more than 170 world leaders, including more than 100 Nobel laureates, was addressed to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The letter demanded an immediate halt to ongoing legal proceedings.

The fact remains that Dr Yunus maintains strong links with France. In 2011, when he was dismissed from his position at Grameen Bank, France expressed deep concern. President Sarkozy publicly expressed his unwavering support for Professor Yunus in a speech letter published in the French press by the Friends of Grameen, a voluntary organization created to promote the microcredit initiatives of the bank and its affiliated institutions. The President explained that the establishment of the Grameen Bank represented “a bold initiative” and continued to serve as a lasting source of inspiration for the global community.

Furthermore, President Sarkozy acknowledged the challenges that Dr. Yunus was facing at this particular juncture and expressed confidence that Bangladesh’s institutions would ultimately arrive at a just solution. He affirmed the French government’s commitment to closely monitoring the situation and working with the Bangladeshi authorities to resolve this issue in the coming days.

It is therefore obvious that discussions regarding the Nobel Prize winner will be an important topic of conversation at the next meeting. The President can be expected to request the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to take concrete steps to achieve a just solution to the challenges faced by Dr Yunus.

Therefore, the French President’s visit to Bangladesh is of strategic importance to strengthen Indo-Pacific ties, address global issues such as climate change and security, and navigate evolving geopolitical dynamics. The visit will also address concerns over the upcoming elections in Bangladesh and the alleged harassment of Nobel laureate Dr Mohammad Yunus. The results of the visit will shape bilateral relations and regional dynamics.

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