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Asian Economic Powerhouse In The Making

Asian Economic Powerhouse In The Making

What exactly leads a country to prosperity? Is it all about hefty tax revenue, a massive population, or bountiful natural resources? And what if a country lacks these elements? Common sense might suggest it would struggle in poverty, unable to meet the basic needs of its people. But look at the world map, and you'll find a country defying these odds, surpassing others in wealth without the typical geographical advantages. 

Enter Singapore, a 20th-century success story. From destitution to affluence, this tiny nation evolved from a poverty-stricken third-world state to an industrial powerhouse in Asia over 58 years. Despite starting in a tumultuous environment, Singapore boldly declared independence on August 9, 1965, transforming into one of the world’s wealthiest and safest countries.

Similarly, Bangladesh, born during the Cold War, navigated complex geopolitics. Entangled in the rivalries of powerful states, from India-Pakistan animosity to Cold War tensions and now competition between China and the Western world, Bangladesh has undergone a remarkable transformation since its violent birth in 1971. 

Phoenix From The Ashes 

In 1973, Austin Robinson, a Cambridge economist, wrote: “At present Bangladesh is the text-book example of Malthusian stagnation... I can't see an escape from extreme poverty with the present rate of population growth in Bangladesh.”

Fast forward 50 years, Bangladesh defied all odds. Once deemed a "bottomless basket," it emerged as one of Asia's success stories. The World Bank and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen praised its remarkable progress in rural development, education, and health.

Economist Kaushik Basu hailed Bangladesh's transformation into an aspiring "tiger" economy. The country's per-capita income soared from $70 to over $2000, proving forecasts wrong. The UN recognized Bangladesh for cutting chronic hunger, turning it from a food basket case to a model for hunger reduction.

The growth story continued, with Bangladesh achieving record economic growth and reaching lower-middle income status. Despite hurdles like political instability and natural disasters, the country aspires to be an upper-middle income country by 2030.

The success is attributed to factors like readymade garment exports, remittances, and increased food production. Challenges persist, including inequality, poor governance, and environmental degradation. However, Bangladesh's resilience, demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, fuels hopes for a faster recovery compared to other nations.

Notably, the completion of the Padma bridge, a $4 billion project funded internally, showcases Bangladesh's financial capability. As the nation approaches its golden jubilee of independence, the indomitable spirit of its people shines bright.

Despite ranking low in global governance indices, Bangladesh's humanitarian efforts, such as sheltering Rohingya refugees, deserve recognition. The country has proven that with determination, major roadblocks can be minimized, leading to a brighter future.

52 years post-independence, Bangladesh is on track to join the world’s 25 largest economies by 2035.

Sea-Ports: Powering Bangladesh’s Global Trade

Singapore's efficient transportation system is visible in its extensive network of roads, rail, and air connections through Changi International Airport. The bustling Singapore port, the world’s busiest container port, solidifies its status as a global trade hub. Originating as a vital node in the British Empire’s trading routes, Singapore's strategic location between Europe/India, China, and the Malay Archipelago drives its modern economic prowess.

Similarly, Bangladesh's geopolitical influence is shaped by its geographical location, serving as a vital link between South Asia and Southeast Asia. With land borders shared with Myanmar and India and control over ports like Chattogram, Mongla, and Payra, Bangladesh plays a crucial role in any regional coordination between the trade blocs of ASEAN and SAARC.

Alfred Thayer Mahan’s “Sea Power” theory emphasizes the strategic importance of maritime control. In a Sino-Indian military conflict, China could close the Siliguri Corridor, compelling India to rely on Bangladesh. India's proposal for connectivity between its northeastern region and China through the Chattogram port enhances regional integration. Chittagong port, handling over 90% of Bangladesh's import-export operations, contributes significantly to the country's foreign trade and supports various developmental initiatives.

The Malacca Strait, connecting the South China Sea to the Bay of Bengal, holds significant importance for China and Japan. Matarbari sea port, the first deep-sea port and the fourth sea port in Bangladesh, is poised to reduce transportation costs and time, making it possible for goods to reach America in just 23 days by December 2026.

Bangladesh’s Strategic Location and the Belt and Road Initiative

Bangladesh is a key player in China's proposed “String of Pearls” strategy and the “Maritime Silk Road.” As part of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor, Bangladesh stands in the middle of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). President Xi Jinping calls BRI the “project of the century,” connecting continents through a network of roads and sea routes. Over 120 countries have joined BRI as signatories. One of the maritime corridors of BRI, connecting Kunming to Kolkata, goes through Bangladesh.

This corridor has the potential to lower transport costs, benefit Bangladesh through increased trade and investment, and improve its competitive advantage globally. China's significant investments in Bangladesh, totaling billions, and various projects under the BRI have further strengthened this collaboration.

The implementation of BRI projects necessitates trade facilitation reforms. Measures include standardization and harmonization of procedures and regulations, improvement of trade facilitation and logistics at borders, cross-border electronic data exchange, quick customs clearance, customs cooperation, and measures to ensure the security of people, vehicles, and cargo.

Asian Highway Dream Coming True with Padma Bridge

Bangladesh joined the UN-initiated network in 2009, aiming to establish regional connectivity through a highway system spanning 32 countries and over 145,000 km of roads. The Asian Highway connectivity network, consisting of 88 different routes, links dynamic countries of Asia to Europe. Bangladesh has three Asian Highway routes, connected by the recently inaugurated Padma Bridge, transforming it into a potential hub for regional trade and connectivity.

The Padma Bridge is expected to increase the country’s GDP and the southwestern region’s GDP, reduce poverty, and make Kuakata a major tourist attraction. It provides road transportation to Mongla, the second-largest sea port in Bangladesh, and connects other sea ports like Payra, boosting business and international trade in various regions.

Trans-Asian Network: Connecting Asia and Europe by Rail

The demand for long-distance rail connections between Asia and Europe has grown with booming Asian trade. The Trans-Asian Railway Network, covering 114,000 km, connects Asia and Europe. Bangladesh's involvement in this network, particularly the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, enhances rail connectivity and promotes trade and economic growth.

Bangladesh Railway’s “Padma Bridge Rail Link Project (PBRLP)” aims to connect the capital and Jashore with a 169 km rail line via the Padma Bridge.

Terminal 3: Bangladesh as a Global Transit Hub

As Bangladesh’s economy grows, so does the demand for air travel. Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, expected to face a surge in annual passenger traffic, recently launched Terminal 3. This terminal enhances the airport’s capacity to manage increasing passenger and cargo traffic.

The new terminal offers modern facilities, increased boarding bridges, and improved cargo handling capacity. It positions Bangladesh as a crucial airport transit point, potentially rivaling countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. With a prime location, Bangladesh can serve as an optimal stopover for long-haul flights, reducing travel times and resulting in fuel savings.

Lastly, the world is taking notice as Bangladesh unfurls its potential, confidently stepping into the limelight as a rising economic giant. From powerful industries to vibrant tech hubs, Bangladesh transforms challenges into opportunities.

Sayed Hasan Al Manzur
Author

Sayed Hasan Al Manzur

Editor

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