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Bangladesh a country with international outlook: Australian envoy

Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer has said Bangladesh is a country with an international outlook that has also achieved “extraordinary and sustained” economic growth.

“We want to see mutually beneficial trade continue to grow as our economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote in an article marking 50 the years of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Australia.

It was on this day (January 31) 50 years ago that Australia’s Foreign Minister Nigel Bowen announced that Australia had recognised the government led by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the government of the new state of Bangladesh.

Whilst the announcement was made on January 31, the Australian cabinet made the decision to recognise Bangladesh some days earlier on January 25 itself.

In his article written marking the 50 years of diplomatic relations, the High Commissioner said Bangladesh is a major contributor to international peacekeeping efforts and a key voice for countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

He said trade between Australia and Bangladesh has grown by 550 per cent over the last decade. “By 2019-20, our two-way trade in goods and services reached nearly AUD 2.6 billion.”

High Commissioner Bruer said Australia is proud to count itself as a close friend of Bangladesh. “Those of us who have had the privilege to work for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are reminded of our close history with Bangladesh and Bengal each time we enter our diplomatic headquarters in Canberra, the RG Casey Building.”

As the two countries celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations, the High Commissioner particularly acknowledged the people-to-people links that have made the relationship “so strong, warm and enduring”.

Quoting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he said, “With such enormous goodwill between us, I hold much hope for the years ahead.”

As many readers would know, the High Commissioner said, Richard Casey was Governor of Bengal from 1944 to 1946. He also served as Australia’s Foreign Minister and Governor General.

“When he was Governor of Bengal, his secretary was James Lawrence Allen, who was an Australian born in British India and spoke Bangla and Urdu. On this day 50 years ago, JL Allen became the head of our inaugural diplomatic mission in an independent Bangladesh.”

The High Commissioner mentioned that Australia was not a passive bystander to the liberation struggle and is proud to be one of the first countries to have recognised Bangladesh’s independence.

During the liberation struggle Australia’s Prime Minister, William McMahon, wrote to General Yahya Khan four times urging a political settlement based upon negotiation with the Awami League and its leaders, particularly Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The fourth letter was written after McMahon’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Washington DC on 4 November 1971.

“On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations we commemorate the long and arduous struggle for Bangladesh’s independence. Our thoughts are with all the soldiers, men, women, and children who suffered during the liberation,” the envoy wrote.

He remembered the contribution of Dutch-Australian William A S Ouderland, who fought in the Liberation War and was the only foreigner to have been awarded fourth-highest gallantry award, the Bir Pratik, by the Bangladesh government.

Ouderland organised and trained the guerrilla fighters of the Mukti Bahini and provided them with food and shelter and medicine.

The High Commissioner also acknowledged Australian Dr Geoffrey Davis who in 1972, at the request of WHO and International Planned Parenthood Federation, travelled to Bangladesh to support the hundreds of thousands of Birangonas. “This is a stark reminder of the scale of the suffering and the civilian cost of the war.”

The envoy said, “While we remember the struggle and the fallen, we also take stock of how much has been achieved in these past 50 years and look towards the future.”

When Australia recognised Bangladesh and its government led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Foreign Minister Bowen noted that ‘…as a country of 75 million people bordering the Indian Ocean, Bangladesh was likely to play an increasingly important part in the affairs of South and South East Asia.’

“Perhaps it would be fair to say that, like so many people at that time, Bowen might have also underestimated Bangladesh.  Over the past 50 years Bangladesh has demonstrated that its role in international affairs extends well beyond our shared Indo-Pacific region,” said the High Commissioner.

In September 2021, the two countries signed a new Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA).

Under the TIFA the two countries look forward to exploring how their governments can work together to boost the recovery of the private sector and lead economic growth.