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Dhaka Tribune

Becoming a bigger player

Update : 31 Mar 2017, 05:05 PM

It is not a secret anymore that the ASEAN region is becoming a major economic force in Asia and a key player in global growth.

Even Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, which have not performed well in the past few decades, are experiencing more than expected GDP growth due to industrialisation, infrastructure developments, rise in exports, and tourism industry.

By 2030, the ASEAN region is expected to become the fourth largest market after the European Union, United States, and China.

To continue the strong economic growth of the recent years, it is important for Bangladesh to avail the economic opportunities in the ASEAN region and develop stronger diplomatic ties with the ASEAN countries, especially with neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

Although, Bangladesh is one of the most secular countries in the world, as a predominantly Muslim country, there is an interfaith and cultural disconnect with Bangladesh and the neighbouring ASEAN countries. In fact, for quite some time, this interfaith and cultural disconnect has been an obstacle in integrating with certain countries. Even though, majority of the people in Bangladesh are now Muslims, Buddhism was the predominant faith of the region up until the 11th century.

The country is home to several ancient Buddhist Viharas or Buddhist monasteries which can be dated back to the eighth century. In fact, the country has a rich history of Buddhism.

A strategy that can be taken to boost diplomatic relations is by promoting Buddhist circuit tourism and inviting foreign delegates from these countries to visit the major Buddhist settlements in the country

A brief description of some of the major Buddhist monasteries and temples in the country are provided below. Built by the second Pala King, Dharmapala, during the 8th century, the Somapura Mahavihara, covering 27 acres of land in Paharpur of Naogoan district is one of the best known Buddhist Viharas in South Asia.

In terms of the land area, it is considered as the largest of the Mahaviharas. The site consists of 177 cells and a traditional Buddhist stupa in the centre. This monastery is believed to be an intellectual centre for Buddhism, Jain, and Hinduism.

Although located in South Asia, the design of the temple here resembles the temples of Myanmar, Java, and Cambodia.

There are more than 50 ancient Buddhist settlements in Mainamati, located in the Comilla district. These settlements can be dated between the eighth and 12th century. Shalban Vihara is the main Buddhist settlement in Mainamati. Consisting of 115 cells, it is built around a spacious courtyard with a cruciform temple in the middle. The design of this temple resembles the temple of the Somapura Mahavihara.

Built in 2000 in accordance to the Arakanese architecture, the Bandarban Golden Temple, located on a hill in Bandarban, one of the most picturesque parts of the country, is the largest Theravada Buddhist Temple in Bangladesh. The significance of this temple is that it has the relics of Buddha.

A strategy that can be taken to boost diplomatic relations with Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia is by promoting Buddhist circuit tourism and inviting foreign delegates from these countries to visit the above mentioned historic and major Buddhist settlements in the country.

Taking such measures will encourage nationals of these countries to visit Bangladesh and learn about the rich history of Buddhism in Bangladesh and also learn about the culture and tradition of Bangladesh, which in many ways are very similar to the neighbouring ASEAN countries such as how Pohela Boishakh is celebrated.

Pohela Boishakh is celebrated in a similar way at the same time of the year in the neighbouring countries but with a different name such as Thingyan in Myanmar, Songkran in Thailand and Laos, and Choul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia.

This may help to reduce the gap and enhance the commonalities between Bangladesh and the aforementioned countries.

As a result, it may help Bangladesh to better integrate and enhance diplomatic ties with Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. As an added advantage, this will ensure regional peace and security in the region.

Most importantly, finally, Bangladesh may be able to export workers to these countries, the countries where a severe under-supply of workers in the coming years is expected.

Ridwan Quaium is a transport engineer working in Thailand.

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