Lauding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to reach out to all of India’s neighbours, a top American diplomat has said the US shares India’s desire for a South Asia that is better and more interconnected.
“It is refreshing to see that Prime Minister Modi has reached out to all of India’s neighbors as its first acts, and I think that those are very positive signs,” Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, nominee to be the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, told Senators during her confirmation hearing.
“We share with India a desire for a region that is better and more interconnected because it is the least interconnected region, particularly from an economic standpoint,” she said.
“We share also with India a desire to see Bangladesh be a strong, pluralistic democracy that is free of political violence and that, of course, is stable. So we work constantly with India as well as other diplomatic partners to that end. I think Prime Minister Modi’s early actions are very encouraging in that regard,” Bernicat said in response to a question from Senator Time Kaine, who chaired hearing.
“They certainly are encouraging in terms of his own actions, and they were received that way in Bangladesh as well,” Kaine said, referring to the recent steps by the Modi government towards Bangladesh; which was the first solo foreign trip of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
In her testimony, Bernicat said as the world’s eighth-largest country by population and third-largest Muslim-majority nation, Bangladesh is known for its moderate, secular, pluralistic traditions.
“With a consistent annual economic growth rate of roughly 6 per cent, Bangladesh aspires to become a middle-income country and is an increasingly important trading partner and destination for US investment. Strategically situated between a growing India and a newly opening Burma, it is well-positioned to play a key role in linking South and Southeast Asia,” she said.
Noting that labour rights and workplace safety remain a top US priority, she said US wants Bangladesh to ensure that there will be no more heart-rending tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse or the Tazreen Fashions factory fire.
“With support from the United States and other international partners, Bangladesh has begun to make progress in transforming its garment sector,” she said, adding that Bangladesh is the largest recipient of US foreign assistance in Asia outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“It is a focus country for three of the president’s key development efforts: global health, global climate change and Feed the Future. The US also works closely with Bangladesh to combat trafficking in persons; mitigate the threat of natural disasters; strengthen counterterrorism, maritime security and peacekeeping efforts; and combat trafficking in drugs and arms,” she added.