Pressure on Myanmar must continue for safe Rohingya repatriation, he says

US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R Miller has said the Bangladesh-US relations will only get stronger with no major changes under the new Biden Administration.

"I think the relationship between the US and Bangladesh will only grow from strength to strength. I don't see any major changes at this point," he told Dhaka Courier in an interview.

US President Joe Biden and his team took over office on January 20, 2021.

Ambassador Miller, however, said they will have to see what the new Administration's policies are and mentioned that many of the people who will be moving to cabinet positions are quite known to him. "Many of them have real focus on the Indo-Pacific region, especially in South Asia."

Asked whether President-elect Joe Biden will take forward the Indo Pacific Strategy (IPS), the US envoy who also served as US Marine Corps officer said, "I think so. No matter what it is called, how it is rebranded, the focus of the United States will continue to be very strong in this region."

Outgoing US President Donald J. Trump made US engagement in the Indo-Pacific region a top priority of his Administration. In November 2017, in Vietnam, he outlined a vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all countries prosper side by side as sovereign, independent states.

Free, fair, and reciprocal trade, open investment environments, good governance, and freedom of the seas are goals shared by all who wish to prosper in a free and open future.

Ambassador Miller said he does not necessarily see IPS as something countering the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). "IPS is just US' philosophy that the region should be governed by the principles of good governance and freedom of the seas."

The envoy, also the recipient of numerous US government honors, including the Department of State's Award for Heroism, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Shield of Bravery, said Indo Pacific countries can certainly benefit from trillions of dollars of investment as there is untapped potential and that is why the investors will look towards countries like Bangladesh.

Put Pressure on Myanmar

Ambassador Miller said joint efforts should be there to continue to put the pressure on Myanmar to produce the circumstances on the ground so that all the Rohingyas can return to their homeland in a "safe, dignified and voluntary" manner and that has to begin soon.

Bangladesh has said Rohingyas will "jeopardize regional and international security" if the 1.1 million Rohingya people are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their homeland.

Bangladesh, Myanmar and China will hold a tripartite meeting on Rohingya repatriation in Dhaka on January 19 as Dhaka finds the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar as the only solution to the crisis.

Responding to a question on the tripartite mechanism, the US Ambassador said any country can do it to help resolve this crisis and it is useful.

"The pressure has to be on Myanmar. It's not fair for Bangladesh to shoulder this enormous burden. There're many donors in the international community who have stepped up. We would like to see others join us," he said adding that the US would like to see other countries be more vocal in supporting Bangladesh and Rohingyas on the international stage including in Geneva and at the United Nations.

The US is the leading contributor of humanitarian assistance in response to the Rakhine State crisis, providing nearly $1.2 billion since the escalation of violence in August 2017, of which nearly $962 million is for programmes inside Bangladesh; these programs provide support to host communities, as well as Rohingya refugees.

"We'll continue to be a stronger partner and supporter of Bangladesh (while dealing with the Rohingya crisis)," said the US Ambassador adding that they have enormous admiration for Bangladesh which set an example for the world by opening its hearts and borders to this persecuted community.

People-to-People Ties

The US Ambassador said they are going to work very closely with Bangladeshi friends to continue to strengthen the ties between Bangladesh and the US. "It'll continue under the Biden Administration."

He referred to the then US Senator Edward M. Kennedy who delivered a speech at Dhaka University on February 14, 1972 highlighting people-to-people relations when he had visited the war-torn Bangladesh.

"The real foreign policy of America is citizen to citizen, friend to friend, people to people, foreign bonds of brotherhood that no tyranny can diminish," Ambassador Miller quoted Senator Kennedy as saying.

The Ambassador said this year is so ripe with possibilities and opportunities for all as Bangladesh is celebrating the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and will celebrate 50 years of independence of this remarkable country.

Engaging Youths

Ambassador Miller said they are thinking about what is the best way for the US to applaud the remarkable journey of this country over the last five decades. "We've lots of ideas."

He laid emphasis on continuing to engage with the young people and mentioned that this would be one of the great opportunities they have during this year of commemoration and celebrations.

He said he has never seen so much energy in any country and enthusiasm for the future by the young students he finds here in Bangladesh.

"Bangladeshi students are absolute superstars on American campuses and they really excel on all aspects of experience in the US. I tell them and I mean that from the bottom of my heart," Ambassador Miller said.

Growing importance of Bangladesh

He said the world is becoming more and more aware about the importance of the country like Bangladesh, not just for its geopolitical importance or location, but for the opportunities it offers here, to come here and talk to the young Bangladeshis. "It's fascinating to see what's happening in Bangladesh now and what is going to happen in the future."

The US has provided $68.7 million to Bangladesh for Covid-19 management since the outbreak.

Bangladesh will celebrate 50 years of independence in March this year while the US looks forward to celebrating 50 years of Bangladesh-US diplomatic relations in 2022.

Over almost five decades, the United States and Bangladesh have expanded cooperation based on people-to-people ties and friendship grounded in mutual respect.

In security, development, trade, health care, education, and energy, Bangladesh and the US work together with a shared commitment to peace, prosperity, and a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific region.

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