Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

Bangladesh and Bangladesh-U.S. Relations *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

Bangladesh and Bangladesh-U.S. Relations *

Article excerpt


The United States and Bangladesh have generally enjoyed a positive working relationship. The United States has sought to help Bangladesh with its development goals, including in the areas of sustainable development, health, education, poverty reduction, disaster preparedness, and food security. In recent years, the rise of Islamist militancy has been a cause of concern to the United States and to Bangladesh's Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, and her government. The two nations hold an annual Partnership Dialogue and a Security Dialogue and have developed a cooperative relationship over the years to meet shared concerns.

Bangladesh in Brief

Land area: 130,170 sq. kilometers, slightly smaller than Iowa

Climate: tropical

Capital: Dhaka

Geography: most of the country is low-lying delta

Resources: natural gas, arable land, timber, coal

Natural hazards: droughts, cyclones, extensive flooding

Ethnicity: 98% Bengali (2011 est.)

Religion: 89.1% Muslim, 10% Hindu, 0.9% other (includes Buddhists and Christians)

Population: 156.19 million (2016 est.)

Life expectancy: 73.2 years (2016 est.)

GDP per capita: $3,900 (2016 est.)

GDP growth: 6.9% (2016 est.)

GDP by sector: agriculture 15.1%, industry 28.6%, services 56.3% (2016 est.)

Exports: garments, knitwear, agricultural products, frozen food, jute, leather

Export partners: U.S. 13.9%, Germany 12.9%, United Kingdom 8.9%, France 5.0%, Spain 4.7% (2015)

Population below the poverty line: 18.5% living on less than $1.90 per day (PPP) (2014)

Sources: CIA, World Factbook; Economist intelligence Unit; U.N.; Asian Development Bank

Bangladesh faces-and will continue to face-major challenges in the coming years. Bangladesh is undergoing a political struggle between those that would emphasize Islamic religious identity over a relatively more secular identity based on Bengali nationalism. This tension manifests itself through demonstrations, political gridlock, and at times violent street protests. Rising conservative Islamist sentiment may also increasingly become linked to militant organizations and international Islamist movements. A growing population, when combined with environmental stress brought on by natural disasters and climate change, may pose further challenges for Bangladesh, particularly given its already high population density. While the geopolitical rivalry between China and India may present opportunities for Bangladesh, it may also create new tensions or place new demands on the country in the years ahead. The recent arrival of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Burma is a potential source of instability and will likely have humanitarian, diplomatic, security, and geopolitical implications for Bangladesh.

Recent Developments


To date in 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have crossed the border from Burma into Bangladesh. The predominantly Muslim Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Burma for years- especially in Burma's Rakhine State-and an estimated 582,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017.1 Bangladeshi authorities have struggled to accommodate the new arrivals, and Sheikh Hasina has called on Burma to take back the displaced Rohingya.2

Political Dynamics

Political instability likely will remain a problem in Bangladesh and could further erode democracy in the country, according to some observers. Some view the risk of social unrest as rising as the 2019 parliamentary election draws nearer.3 A major source of instability is the rivalry between Prime Minister Hasina, of the governing Awami League (AL), and Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). That rivalry, observers suggest, shows little sign of abating.4 Some observers see few paths to get beyond the current political stalemate, and the BNP likely will resort to further protests to pressure the AL government to hold the 2019 election under a caretaker government. …

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