H.E. Mr Pham Binh Minh, Honorable Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam and Chair of ASEAN Regional Forum
Hon. Foreign Ministers,
Excellencies and Distinguished Colleagues,
At the outset, let me convey my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Chairman, his team and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam for organizing this meeting amid this trying times.
Year 2020 marks the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the greatest Bengali of all times. We have planned many events of significant socio-cultural and developmental importance for observing the year. However, due to the global pandemic situation, our Prime Minister decided to hold the events virtually maintaining proper health-related guidance.
It is a difficult year for all of us. But the entire humanity has come under the same umbrella in the fight against an invisible enemy called Covid-19 that defies frontiers. The wave of Covid-19 has also affected Bangladesh like all other countries of the world. Thanks to Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for taking timely actions, we have successfully managed to contain the spread of the Covid-19 infection and fatality rate. As of today, the death toll is only 4,668. We were afraid, the Covid-19 might badly affect 1.1 million Rohingas, the displaced people of Myanmar, that live in a highly congested area. Fortunately, minimal got affected due to multiple targeted initiatives.
Despite the threat to our economy, ecology, and overall societal impact, Bangladesh gave shelter, on a humanitarian ground, to nearly 1.1 million persecuted people fleeing massacre in Myanmar, their homeland. Bangladesh is keen on solving the crisis through constructive diplomacy with good neighbourly spirit. Myanmar is our friendly country and therefore, Bangladesh signed 3 instruments with Myanmar for repatriation. Myanmar agreed to take back them after verification. They also agreed to create a conducive environment for their voluntary repatriation and they agreed to ensure safety and security of the displaced people. But unfortunately till today, none went back and instead of creating conducive environment, fighting and shelling is ongoing in the Rakhaine state.
Excellencies, our fear is that, if this problem is not solved quickly, it may lead to pockets of radicalism and since terrorists have no borders, no faith, there’s a high possibility of creation of uncertainty in the region which may frustrate our hope for a peaceful, secure and stable region.
Rohingyas are not returning to their homeland primarily because they do not trust their government of safety and security. In order to reduce trust deficit and confidence building, we suggested Myanmar to engage non-military civilian observers from their friendly country like ASEAN, China, Russia, India or other friends of their choice. Such may reduce trust deficit for a sustainable return. We solicit support from our ARF partners so that these hapless Rohingyas can return to their home in safety, security and dignity, resettle there, and reintegrate in their society. Once they return to their homeland they could be contributing members in the development of Myanmar.
Excellencies, apart from a regional crisis such as the Rohingya issue, there exist a good number of other problems which are common. Terrorism, climate change, irregular movement of people, drug trafficking, transnational crimes are some of those which can only be adequately and effectively addressed through mutual trust and cooperation underpinned by multilateral arrangements like ARF. Bangladesh will always support the ARF initiatives regarding these issues.
Asia-Pacific is the most dynamic region in the world in terms of economic growth. The center of the world’s economic gravity is shifting towards this region. The main challenge of the ARF is to sustain the growth momentum. But the Pandemic now is a big challenge as every economic activity has got impacted by restrictive measures and our country has also suffered.
The challenges posed by COVID-19 made us to depend on digital technologies for efficient functioning of economy. Driven by ‘Digital Bangladesh-Vision 2021’ of Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh, today, is a reputed name in the global ICT landscape. We have over 125 million mobile phone users, 43 million internet users, 14 million Facebook users and 99% geographical coverage in voice and data connectivity, the country is on the fast track towards massive digitization. Registered mobile money accounts in Bangladesh are growing faster than in any other country and contributing immensely to large scale financial inclusion. Within ARF ambit we wish to contribute in digital economy sector.
Covid-19 showed us that accumulation of stockpiles of weapons can not save human lives. Rather investment in medical and social areas can protect us from this Covid. Covid pandemic created fear and it lockdown us for weeks.
May I draw your attention that once vaccine is developed, it must be available to all without discrimination.
I also like to draw your attention, that erratic climate changes could be bigger challenge for us unless countries aggressively persue their NDCs and agree on loss and damages, adaption, mitigation issues and also on `Climate migrants’ people become floating people being uprooted from their homes due to sea level rise or river erosion. Due to climate change, the global leadership may face more serious challenges. Therefore, we all must walk together in collaboration and in partnership to save our planet from the upcoming `planetary emergency’. We cannot look for plan B, as we have no other planet B. We must save this planet.
Let us work together to enhance the role of ARF in this trying time so that it can serve as the premier regional security forum in the Asia-Pacific region.
I thank you all.
Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu.