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2024-06-13 15:26:44

Will work together to achieve the common goal of fighting corruption: Donald Lu

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Will work together to achieve the common goal of fighting corruption: Donald Lu

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu visited Bangladesh in mid-May. During his visit, Lu met Bangladesh's Foreign Minister, State Minister for Information, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Private Industry and Investment Adviser and other higher officials. Apart from this, he exchanged views with the civil society members of Bangladesh. During the visit, expressing hope to strengthen the bilateral relations between the United States and Bangladesh by working together on issues of common interest, he said, “We want to look forward, not backwards.”   

He also highlighted the commitment of the United States (US) to working with Bangladesh in the fight against corruption. 

On May 20, 2024, shortly after Donald Lu's Bangladesh visit, the US administration announced a "public designation" (A type of sanction) against Bangladesh's former Army Chief General Aziz Ahmed under Section 7031(C) for his involvement in massive corruption. 

Later on May 23, Sheikh Hasina at a meeting, without mentioning any country’s name said that she had been offered a trouble-free re-election in last January in exchange for setting up an air base in Bangladesh.

Sheikh Hasina said, "If I had allowed that country to construct an airbase in Bangladesh, I would not have had any problem."

Although the Bangladeshi Premier did not name any specific country in this regard, it was widely reported in Bangladeshi and South Asian media that she made the statement hinting at the United States.

Donald Lu had come under heavy criticism from opposition parties and sections of civil society for not meeting representatives of Bangladesh's anti-government political parties, who boycotted the January 7 election, during his visit. Voice of America (VOA) Bangla takes a written interview with Donald Lu on June 10, 2024, about the role and importance of Bangladesh in the US-Bangladesh bilateral ties and the Indo-Pacific policy of the US.     

In the interview, Lu answered various questions about the achievements of his recent visit to Bangladesh, the fight against corruption, economic cooperation, dealing with the climate crisis, women's rights and development, and the commitment of the US to work together with Bangladesh on issues of democracy and human rights.

Lu also clarified his government's stance on not meeting representatives of the opposition parties during his recent visit and criticised about the "flexible" policy of the US towards the Bangladesh government on national election issues and incidents of democracy and human rights violations.  

The interview was conducted by Satarupa Barua on behalf of Voice of America Bangla

Question: During your recent visit to Bangladesh, you said that some kind of tension was created between the two countries due to some initiatives of the US administration to ensure a free, peaceful and neutral parliamentary election held in on January 7 and to encourage democratic trends in Bangladesh. You also talked about working together to bring back the place of trust in the relationship between the United States and Bangladesh by moving forward instead of looking at the past.

Is this an indication of a change in US foreign policy towards Bangladesh, where you want to focus more on geopolitical, economic, environmental and strategic bilateral issues instead of protecting and promoting democracy in Bangladesh including free and fair elections?

Donald Lu: Thank you very much for inviting me for this interview. I have great respect for the work of VOA in Bangladesh.

As I said during my recent visit to Dhaka, we are looking forward, not past.

We are ready and eager to move forward with our partnership with Bangladesh on a wide range of issues. We hope our trade relations with Bangladesh will deepen further. We want to advance our common interest in women's economic security. We are already working together to tackle climate change. We look forward to working together on a partnership basis on our common priorities.  Besides, improving the democracy and human rights situation in Bangladesh is a priority for us. We will continue to support the important works of civil society and journalists and continue to support democratic processes and institutions in Bangladesh as in many countries across the globe.

Question: Bangladesh's opposition political parties and a section of civil society have criticized the US administration for taking a "flexible" role towards the current government of Bangladesh on the issue of the January 7 election, which includes human rights violations. What do you say about this criticism?

Donald Lu: The US strongly supports free and neutral elections and is strongly committed to ensuring respect for human rights. Throughout the election cycle, we have regularly engaged with the Bangladeshi government, opposition parties, civil society and other stakeholders to create an electoral environment, urging them to work together towards a free and fair election. We have been vocal in our condemnation of the violence that marred the electoral process and we have also urged the Government of Bangladesh to credibly investigate the incidents of violence and hold those responsible accountable. We will continue to communicate (With stakeholders) on these issues.

Question: In your recent visit to Bangladesh you met members of civil society but did not meet representatives of the opposition parties who boycotted the election. Why did you decide not to meet members of the opposition?

Donald Lu: It is true that before the election last year, I had the opportunity to have a round table meeting with the leaders of various political parties. But my last visit was not the pre-election period. That’s why, I did not meet the political parties during this visit.

During my stay in Dhaka, I had an opportunity to meet representatives of various groups of Bangladeshis. These groups include civil society representatives to government officials. I also met the Bangladesh National Women's Cricket Team, who taught me about the basics of bowling and batting.

Question: You have outlined your government's plan to work together with Bangladesh to fight against corruption and ensure financial governance. Is the recent ban against Bangladesh's former Army Chief General Aziz a part of the fight against corruption?

Are you satisfied with the willingness of the Bangladesh government to cooperate in resolving these issues (Corruption related)?

Donald Lu: When I was ambassador to Albania and the Kyrgyz Republic, we issued sanctions against corrupt officials. It was not popular with the then-Albanian government. But now all of those banned former corrupt officials are in prison. World society is eager to see the justice of corruption.

We are committed to working with Bangladesh to fight corruption, and on May 20, we announced a “public designation” against former General Aziz Ahmed under Section 7031(C) for his alleged involvement in corruption. Bangladeshi ministers have made separate statements that a full investigation will be conducted regarding these allegations of corruption. We welcome this matter.

Question: Will we see other high-profile Bangladeshi nationals being subject to similar corruption-related sanctions in the near future?

Donald Lu: When we have credible information about corruption, we take action in the form of sanctions and visa restrictions around the world. Our laws have been formed to prevent corrupt individuals from travelling to the US or using the US as a destination for their corrupted money. I hope we will work together with the people of Bangladesh to achieve the common goal of fighting all forms of graft.

Question: On May 23, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina alleged that a conspiracy is going on to separate parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar to form a 'Christian' nation-state like East Timor.

She also claimed that she was offered a trouble-free re-election last January if she had permitted a country to set up an air base in Bangladesh. Although the prime minister did not name any specific country, it was widely reported in Bangladeshi and South Asian media that he was hinted to the United States. Sheikh Hasina said, "The offer came from a white man... If I had allowed a certain country to construct an air base in Bangladesh, I would not have had any problem," she added.

Has the US ever expressed interest in setting up an air base in Bangladesh?

Donald Lu: These allegations are completely false. We respect the sovereignty of Bangladesh. Our priority during the election was to work with Bangladesh to hold a free, fair and peaceful election.

Question: You have offered Bangladesh to use satellite data for free to monitor the effects of climate change. What was the reaction of Bangladesh in this regard? In your opinion, what areas should be prioritized for climate change cooperation between the two countries?

Donald Lu: In May, I felt the impact of climate change along with the Bangladeshis during the scorching heat in Dhaka. We are committed to working in partnership with Bangladesh to address the climate crisis.  We are focusing on building clean energy capacity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in sectors such as agriculture and power, maintaining biodiversity and protecting the environment to mitigate climate change risks. Our discussions about these issues with the Bangladeshi officials were very positive.

Question: How can Bangladesh play an important role in the US's Indo-Pacific policy? What are your priority areas in seeking the cooperation of the Bangladesh government in this regard?

Donald Lu: An Indo-Pacific region, free and open, connected, prosperous, secured and stable. The US and Bangladesh share a common attitude about the Indo-Pacific region.

We are focusing on enhancing inclusive economic growth in the region as well as working with our Bangladeshi partners to enhance security cooperation, address climate change and promote democracy and human rights. Coordination of these issues, along with others, will bring benefits to the people of both our countries.

Source: Voice of America (VOA)

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