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 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 15:23 GMT
Bangladesh looks east
Khaleda Zia (L) with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
Khaleda Zia recently visited her Thai counterpart


Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has said her government is now looking to the East as part of a new foreign policy focus.

The doors are open to us for west, east, north and south

Khaleda Zia
Bangladesh PM
She says this is for the benefit of the country and its people, but she insists her government will maintain good relations with its neighbours and Western countries.

Analysts say the announcement is the clearest signal yet that her year-old administration wants to reduce Dhaka's dependence on traditional allies like India.

The announcement came days after Mrs Zia's back-to-back visits to Thailand and China, and a visit to Dhaka by the Burmese ruler, General Than Shwe, last month.

Government leaders have been talking for some time about a "Look East" foreign policy in pursuit of trade with the countries of eastern and south-eastern Asia.

'Indian dominance'

Dhaka also wants Bangladesh to become a dialogue partner of the Asean (Association of South-East Asian Nations) regional forum.

Khaleda Zia told a gathering in Dhaka that her government was marching towards the East because "it would bring good for us at this moment".

"The doors are open to us for west, east, north and south," she said on Thursday.

"We will strengthen relations with the countries from which the country and people will derive more benefits."

Mrs Zia insists on a desire to maintain good relations with all countries, but analysts say the "Look East" policy is directed against India's dominance of South Asian regional politics.

Frustration

This became clear when she accused her predecessor, Sheikh Hasina, of pursuing a subservient foreign policy dictated by a particular country.

She did not name the country, but analysts say she was referring to India.

They say Dhaka will try to further improve relations with Western countries because they are its principal markets and aid donors.

The "Look East" policy, says analyst CR Abrar, is a result of Dhaka's frustration over the slow progress in the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (Saarc) compared to the success of other regional bodies.

Continued tension between India and Pakistan has stalled Saarc's activities.

Trade deficit

"Also, a series of accusations from the top Indian leadership that Bangladesh is a safe haven for Islamic extremists has angered the present government," said Mr Abrar, a professor at Dhaka University.

But he says that Dhaka is perhaps more concerned over Delhi's unwillingness to reduce Bangladesh's trade deficit, which has now crossed $1bn.

He said several pleas by the Bangladesh Government in this regard have so far been largely ignored by India.

Even the Indian business community's suggestion that Delhi offer Dhaka some trade concessions have changed nothing, he said.

However, Foreign Minister Morshed Khan appeared to question that assumption.

"We have very good ties with India, despite occasional irritants," he said. "And we look forward to solid ties with all members of the Saarc."

See also:

18 Dec 02 | South Asia
17 Dec 02 | South Asia
09 Jul 02 | Business
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
25 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
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