The U.S. is not concerned about China’s growing economic role in Bangladesh as infrastructure development is a “good thing”, the U.S. Ambassador in Dhaka, Marcia Stephans Bloom Bernicat, has said. Bernicat, who recently visited Kolkata spoke to The Hindu on a wide range of issues from Bangladesh’s elections to ties with India.
Q: The Bangladesh government has taken strong action following the July Gulshan attack. What do you think about the government’s action?
Bernicat: Prime Minister [Sheikh Hasina] has acted on her policy of zero tolerance towards terrorists from the time she came to office. She has worked very closely with the government of India and we are finding her and her government excellent partners in the fight against terror.
Bangladesh was threatened by al-Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State) who publicly declared that… [they] want to attack foreigners, government officials and bloggers. Bangladesh has responded to those earlier killings and now… there were strong actions, a new city unit has come up, various services ordered to work closely… and Bangladesh’s friends —India and the U.S. — and many countries stepped forward [to help]. There is a team arriving soon in Bangladesh [from U.S.] to look into what more we can do… in terms of training and material.
Q: The national election is in 2019. Is the U.S. hopeful that it would be fully participatory, unlike in 2014? Is the U.S. engaged in any kind of effort to initiate a dialogue between the two main parties?
Bernicat: We are hopeful that the elections will be inclusive. Much more important is that the Prime Minister herself, at the end of AL’s [Awami League] Party Council, said she intended to see elections in 2019. To ask the question about dialogue between the two parties is too limiting. Yes these [AL and Bangladesh Nationalist Party] are the two main political parties by every account… but there are lots of other parties in Bangladesh.
I think, holding credible elections will be dependent in part on having a countrywide discussion, not just among parties but also with the citizens. Bangladesh has a strong Electoral Commission. The very first tangible sign to have a good election will be how the new Commission is formed.
Q: Is the U.S. concerned about India’s growing influence in Bangladesh?
Bernicat: Our interests are really well-aligned. We define our interest and our well-being based on security and prosperity of Bangladesh. I think we both suffer from various historical memories that at times have made the Bangladeshis — if not the government, although different governments have behaved in different ways — sceptical about our influence and our interests.
Bangladeshis are fiercely independent and any time either of our countries, the government, the businesses or the key individual players appeared to be trying to unduly influence their ability to make their own decisions we do it to our own peril.
Q: Huge Chinese investments are proposed in Bangladesh recently. Does that worry the United States?
Bernicat: What is the most expensive development work — infrastructure. I say and the U.S. says, if China wants to be part of that solution, it’s a good thing. What we ask of every player around the world, whether we are talking of AIIB [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank] or the Chinese government, please be a responsible player. Recognise that over time the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other banks have built up a system that meant to be transparent, meant to be efficient, meant to be inclusive and that if you offer opportunities — respect those international norms — everyone would be stronger as a result.