German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has ended his first-ever visit to Bangladesh with promises of assistance to a country which has become strategically important to Berlin.
Schoolchildren in a slum in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, put their best feet forward to greet German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during his trip. Some stood dressed in their finest clothes and sang songs; others lined the narrow alleys, ready to present him with flowers.
Westerwelle may have recalled their faces as he stood in a five-star hotel that evening to deliver his speech commemorating 40 years of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Germany. The contrasts between rich and poor are apparent to all in Dhaka.
The foreign minister's speech took up the theme of what Bangladesh can do for its poorest residents. Education and training programs are key, Westerwelle said, stressing that Germany was prepared to help Bangladesh expand its programs in these areas.
But at a joint press conference held after Westerwelle's speech, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni expressed frustration with the wealthy West and its will to assist Bangladesh. He observed that hundreds of billions of euros could be provided on short notice to struggling private banks, but when it comes to global problems, like climate change - a key issue for low-lying Bangladesh - the West seems to see far less urgency.
An imbalanced relationship
As Germany and Bangladesh prepared to commemorate the anniversary of their diplomatic relations, a number of Bangladeshi ministers and state officials have traveled to Germany. Most notably, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid a visit in fall of 2011.
However, German state representatives have seemed less interested in reciprocating. Aside from former presidents Richard von Weizsäcker and Christian Wulff, only the former foreign minister Joschka Fischer and current development minister Dirk Niebel have visited the country.
Germany's sparing visits made Westerwelle's trip stand out that much more. There was enormous interest from the media in his visit, and it topped evening news broadcasts.
Turning point in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is currently in a critical phase. It is unclear whether the next parliamentary election will even take place under normal conditions. The two major parties are divided over an unusual regulation that up to now has ensured that the elected government steps down shortly before the vote, passing power on to a "neutral" transitional government. The goal is to protect the voting process from political influence.
However, the current government got rid of this regulation after the experiment went poorly. The last "neutral" transitional government ruled in two phases with the support of the army well past when it was supposed to hand over power, and it put the two most important party leaders under house arrest. In spite of this bitter experience, the opposition coalition has demanded reinstating the regulation, or offering a comparable solution.
The international community has grown concerned about escalation in the South Asian country with a Muslim majority in which Islamist powers have tried repeatedly to get rid of the secular constitution.
It is not entirely clear whether these issues came up during Westerwelle's diplomatic talks. Germany is known for a reserved diplomatic style in which controversial topics are broached behind closed doors rather than in front of a large public. In the best case, that approach can reduce political showmanship in favor of reaching solutions.
Author: Sanjiv Burmann / gsw
Editor: Gregg Benzow