French president clinches Airbus deal during historic trip to Bangladesh

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
French president clinches Airbus deal during historic trip to Bangladesh French President Emmanuel Macron (left) speaks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a ceremony at Hasina’s office in Dhaka, Sept. 11, 2023.
Handout photo/Prime Minister’s Office

French President Emmanuel Macron secured Bangladesh’s commitment Monday to buy 10 Airbus planes, while concluding a historic visit to Dhaka where he proposed that both countries pursue a “third way” to safeguard their sovereignty from “external pressure” by big powers.

During a joint news conference after meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, he reiterated France’s vision of a “free, open, inclusive, secure and peaceful Indo-Pacific,” while expressing interest in working with like-minded countries.

At the news conference, Macron thanked Hasina’s government for committing to purchase the new A350 passenger planes from Airbus, the aviation manufacturing giant based in southwestern France and main global rival to the U.S.-based Boeing Co.  

Macron, the first of France’s presidents to visit Bangladesh in 33 years, spoke in French during the news conference with Hasina. But to the befuddlement of the Bangladeshi press corps who were in the room, they could not understand what Macron was saying.

The public address system apparently was not transmitting the interpreter’s translation from French to Bengali. Hasina was able to hear it through an earphone, which the French leader had handed to her.   

“France thanks Bangladesh for its commitment concerning the acquisition of 10 A350 from Airbus. The two countries underline as well the importance of continued cooperation on improved air traffic management in all airports of Bangladesh,” read a joint statement issued Monday evening, hours after Macron had departed from Dhaka.

The national carrier, Biman, has a fleet of 16 aircraft manufactured by Boeing and five manufactured by De Havilland Canada.

“In May, France offered us 10 Airbus aircraft by 2030. In July, they communicated to us that they could provide two planes in the coming years,” Biman CEO Shafiul Azim told BenarNews.

“Our technical and financial experts have been working on their proposal to come up with the price and other associated issues. We want to prepare a specific procurement plan for the two aircraft as soon as possible.”

Airbus A350 of Air France
A new Airbus A350 of Air France is pictured during its first flight from the Airbus delivery center in Colomiers, southwestern France, Sept. 27, 2019. [Pascal Pavani/AFP]

R.A.M. Obaidul Muktadir Chowdhury, chairman of a parliamentary committee on civil aviation, said the government had not planned on switching from Boeing aircraft.

“Boeing is a … leading aircraft maker. We have Boeing planes in the Biman fleet. Now the government wants to buy more good quality planes at competitive prices,” he told BenarNews.

“In line with the plan, the government moves to procure aircraft from Airbus. This is an open market,” he said. “Procuring Airbus planes does not mean that we are shifting from Boeing. The government has not made such a decision.”

‘A common desire’

While commenting on their countries’ strategic interests, the French president said that France and Bangladesh had similar goals for the Indo-Pacific – specifically the Indian Ocean, where France has island territories off East Africa.

Since Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971, “we share the same attachment to democratic values, the rule of law, and human rights,” Macron said as he paid tribute to Hasina’s father, Bangladesh’s founding leader who was assassinated in 1975.

“In fact, we have a common desire to preserve the independence of our countries, to not give in to any external pressure, and, despite the conflicts in progress, to basically guard the liberty that goes with sovereignty,” he said. “I defend, as you know, this third way in the Indo-Pacific, founded on the respect for sovereignty and the strategic autonomy of our partners.”

He said he believed that Hasina shared the same desire “and to safeguard the Indo-Pacific, in particular the Indian Ocean region, from all the geopolitical tensions.”

Macron was clearly referring to the military and economic competition between rival superpowers the United States and China, which are competing for influence in both the Indian and Pacific oceans as well as Southeast Asia.  

Given Russia’s war of “imperial conquest in Europe, more than ever, it is therefore our responsibility to continue to construct partnerships with our old friends and to propose durable alternatives. This is the path that we want to pursue with Bangladesh,” Macron said. 

While France is a longtime ally of the United States, Macron has not seen eye-to-eye with the Biden administration for pressing European countries to toe Washington’s policy on the war in Ukraine, according to news reports.

During a visit to China in April, he rankled the U.S. for urging other European Union countries to resist being pressured into becoming “America’s followers,” and for seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s help in bringing the Russians to the table for peace talks with the Ukrainians.

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron (center) takes a selfie with Bangladeshi locals and members of an NGO after a boat ride during his two-day visit in Dhaka, Sept. 11, 2023. [Ludovic Marin/AFP]

Hasina, for her part, has complained bitterly about sanctions imposed by Washington on her country’s elite Rapid Action Battalion as well as U.S. criticism of her government’s human rights record and the climate for free speech in the run-up to the Bangladesh general election, which is months away. 

In her statement, Hasina said ties with France had reached a new dimension, according to state news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS).

“Today is a historic day in our bilateral relationship between France and Bangladesh which has been evolving for more than five decades,” she said.

“We both hope that this new strategic move between Bangladesh and France will play an effective role in establishing regional and global stability and peace,” she said.

While Macron spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, his statement was directed at Beijing as well, according to Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi foreign secretary. 

“Over the last couple of years, we have been observing that the Western countries blamed the actions and behavior of China and Russia as being imperialist in nature. On the other hand, China and Russia have been accusing the U.S. and the Western countries of being imperialist states,” Chowdhury told BenarNews.

“France governs some small islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, the joint statement refers to France as a resident of the Indo-Pacific region. France would not like to see China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

To him, the most important point contained in the joint statement was the clause that touched on the war in Ukraine but made no mention of a Russian invasion.

“The war in Ukraine constitutes a violation of international law, in particular of the United Nations charter and is a serious threat to the rules-based international order,” an excerpt read.

Chowdhury noted that Macron’s statement came just a few days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had visited Dhaka.

Munshi Fayaz Ahmad, a former ambassador to China, discussed the leaders’ call for a free, open, inclusive and secure Indo-Pacific.

“My hunch is that the term ‘inclusive’ has been included in the statement due to Bangladesh’s preference as it would help Bangladesh maintain a balance in her relations with the U.S. and the Western countries and China at the same time,” he said.

“France wants to be an active force in the anti-China strategy such as the Indo-Pacific,” he said.


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