The following article was contributed by Pathik Hasan, The Korea Post correspondent in Bangladesh. The Korea Post is 36 years old this year, and owns and operates 5 news media, 3 in English and 2 in the Korean language.—Ed.
President of Bangladesh Hamid emphasized the importance of increased bilateral ties between Bangladesh and Korea. He has asked the new Bangladesh ambassador to Korea to work for the development of bilateral relations, including increased Korean investments in various fields, including agro-processing and IT sectors.
The President came up with the directives as the newly-appointed ambassador to South Korea Muhammad Delwar Hossain met with him at the Bangabhaban on Tuesday, President’s Press Secretary Md Joynal Abedin said.
During the meeting, President Hamid said Bangladesh's trade and investment relations with Korea are very good.
The Head of State asked the ambassador to increase the existing bilateral ties in different issues.
He also assured the Korean envoy of providing necessary cooperation in discharging the new assignment in Korea as the ambassador sought the guidance and cooperation of the President.
The Ambassador noted that the shining accomplishment that Bangladesh has shown not only to its people but the entire world is something that offers many opportunities ahead.
Both Chairman Sung and Ambassador Lee welcomed the members of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association Bangladesh (DCAB) at the KEPZ to show the facilities there. KEPZ President Jahangir Saadat was also present at the event.
Referring to Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun’s recent remarks, the Korean envoy said his prime minister’s message captured all the elements of the bilateral relations and Korea’s assessment over the future of bilateral relations.
"We'll be the most trusted friends to Bangladesh, ushering in a shining future together," said Korean Prime Minister Chung, adding that Bangladesh, with its remarkable economic development and rapid emergence in the heart of Asia, is echoing the miracle on the Han River, a major river in South Korea.
Lee says, “The future of Bangladesh-Korea relations looks very bright and will get brighter with diversified success stories with a significant one already created by Youngon.”
He also said the international community has been deeply impressed to see that Bangladesh, even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic when the world economy has slowed down, succeeded in achieving the greatest level of economic growth.
“We’ve enjoyed an excellent relationship in the past decades. Our future relationship looks much better,” said Korean Ambassador Lee, adding that both Bangladesh and Korea achieved remarkable economic growth even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
KEPZ is a symbol of Korea-Bangladesh cooperation and relations and Youngone came here 40 years ago setting a shining example, he added.
Inspired by his love of nature and outdoor pursuits, Kihak Sung founded Youngone Corporation in 1974.
“The relations between Korea and Bangladesh are very unique in many senses, especially in terms of the RMG sector it is very, very unique,” said the ambassador.
He said the Korean companies have grown up together with Bangladesh and the readymade garment or RMG is already the main industry of this country.
Showing around the facilities at KEPZ, Youngone Chairman Sung said some Korean companies are very interested to come to this zone.
“I’m pursuing them to come and contribute to the industrial development of Bangladesh.”
He said infrastructure in and around Chittagong is progressing very well.
“I must say I’m very optimistic that we’ll be doing much better. We’re doing a very good job in bringing more investment.”
Responding to a question, the Korean Ambassador said the future of Bangladesh lies in ICT development.
Talking about the demographic dividend of Bangladesh, the Korean envoy said Bangladesh has a large number of young people which is an advantage for the development of ICT.
“Korea can be the very natural partner of Bangladesh in ICT development.”
The Ambassador also said he will focus on ICT cooperation and they are currently working on the digitalization of the local government in Bangladesh.
The Korean Export Processing Zone, which is a symbol of bilateral economic cooperation, has embarked on a project to build a Hi-Tech Park with the Bangladesh government.
The Korean prime minister recently said the Hi-Tech Park will emerge as a “hub for ICT-centric innovative growth” in tune with the digital transformation in the post-Covid era.
The areas of cooperation, which had been more focused on the textiles and garment industry, have now expanded to encompass a diverse range of fields such as ICT, construction, energy and culture, thereby creating more windows of opportunity.
The KEPZ Hi-Tech Park will introduce an IT park and provide essential support in the form of education, technical training and human resource development.
Keeping with the national objective of achieving a digital Bangladesh, IT facilities will be designed so as to facilitate the software revolution in Bangladesh.
Diversification of Cooperation:
Ambassador Lee said RMG is still dominating in their collaboration with Bangladesh which played a very important role.
“Our future relations should go beyond the RMG sector and should be much more diversified. We’re seeing very good signs and symptoms in recent years. More Korean companies are participating in infrastructure development in this country. There’ll be much more,” he said.
The Ambassador mentioned that there is much more potential between the two governments to create as many as success stories.
“Youngone is one of the success stories we’re showing all around the world. If we’ve more and more success stories like Youngone and KEPZ, more investors will come up,” he said.
Once Youngone is more successful and more comfortable here in Bangladesh, there will be many other companies to join and make a big investment, he added.
“That’s a brighter part of our future. You need jobs,” Sung said, adding that young people in Patiya and Anwara upazilas are more prosperous than ever, which is also a good thing.
“I can’t emphasize more how it’s contributing to the economy of Bangladesh.”
He said there is a need to work really very hard to make better infrastructure – be it physical, electrical, administrative and customs.
These infrastructures should be improved so that RMG or similar factories can compete better in the global market, make money, and invest and diversify the industry.
Responding to a question, Sung said the best thing is to learn from one’s competitors.
There are already more than 200 Korean companies operating in Bangladesh contributing to the economic development of the two countries. The volume of bilateral trade reached around $1.6 billion.
Under the special arrangement between the two countries, more than 10,000 Bangladeshis are working in Korea under the Korea’s Employment Permit System (EPS).
Ambassador Lee has a very high opinion of Bangladesh and her people as well as the leadership. Here are excerpts from his view of Bangladesh and bilateral relations:
Bangladesh is situated in a geographically critical region where it serves as the corridor between Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia. With an annual average growth rate of 6 percent since 2010 and above 8 percent in 2019, it is poised to rise as the next-generation market. In contrast to the widely-held image of it being an underdeveloped country, Bangladesh is growing rapidly as a newly-rising developing country, meeting the Least Developed Country (LDC) graduation criteria in 2018. It also has boundless growth potential with 70 per cent of its 160 million population under age 35.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Republic of Korea and Bangladesh in 1973, we have been enhancing our cooperation in various fields, such as politics, economy, culture, development cooperation and human exchange. Additionally, more than 150 Korean companies are present in Bangladesh, making the Republic of Korea the largest investor in Bangladesh's garment sector. Their investments in recent years have been diversified into infrastructure, energy and consumer goods, which I am positive would lead to further development of our bilateral cooperation.
Editor’s note: The writer, MD Pathik Hasan, is a Dhaka-based NGO activist and a freelance writer (particularly on current international issues).