On August 28, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced to step down from his post on health grounds. The 65-years-old great leader has been suffering from ulcerative colitis for many years and recently his physical condition is believed to have deteriorated.
Shinzo Abe has been the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japan's history, since his victory in the 2012 national election. Before that, at the age of 52, Shinzo Abe became Japan's youngest prime minister in 2006.
But due to several reasons, including his party's defeat in the upper house of parliament, the corruption in his cabinet, and his illness ultimately forced him to resign.
However, in 2012, Abe came back differently, promising a strong and a restructured economy, known as "Abenomics", and aimed at amending the constitution.
Due to the frequent changes of government in Japan from 2007 to 2012, the country did not have strong bilateral relations with other nations.
After Shinzo Abe came to power for the second time, he focused on improving diplomatic relations with other countries, especially the developing countries of Asia.
Bangladesh was one of Abe's interest from the beginning and he visited the south Asian delta in 2014. This is the first visit a Japanese Prime Minister in Bangladesh since 2000.
Earlier, Yoshiro Mori visited Dhaka in 2000 as the last Japanese Prime Minister. The visit of Shinzo Abe was long-awaited and truly historic, as the future of multidimensional partnership was built on this visit.
Before Abe's visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Japan, which is marked as the "new comprehensive partnership" between the countries.
On the economic and social development front, under his leadership, Japan came forward with several commitments boosting Bangladesh's development since 2014.
During the visit of PM Hasina to Japan, Shinzo Abe and his government pledged to provide $6 billion for the infrastructure development of Bangladesh.
Later in 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid a state visit to Japan. During that visit, Abe's government has signed a $2.5 billion development assistance agreement with Bangladesh to finance several development projects, including Matarbari Seaport development, Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Line-1, Energy Efficiency, and Conservation Promotion Financing Project (phase-II), Matarbari Ultra Super Critical Coal-Fired Power Project (V), and Foreign Direct Investment Development Project (II).
Even at the end of the visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her desire to build Bangladesh like Japan.
After the bilateral meeting with Shinzo Abe, Sheikh Hasina and her Japanese counterpart in a joint statement said that Abe has assured to support and provide with the necessary assistance towards Bangladesh's 2041 plan to be a developed country.
Again, due to Abe's interest, the number of Japanese companies are increasing in Bangladesh. While in 2008 around 70 Japanese companies were operating in various types of business and trade in Bangladesh, this number has increased by a big rate since 2014.
At present, about 350 Japanese companies are working in Bangladesh. Besides, Shinzo Abe's role behind Japan's mega-project –Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) –in Bangladesh is also undeniable.
In addition to G2G cooperation, under the leadership of Abe, Japan has provided various types of assistance and cooperation through Jica, aimed at assisting to promote inclusive and sustainable development.
Recently, on August 12, Jica signed a loan agreement with Bangladesh to provide ODA loans of up to 338,247 million yen to operate seven mega projects in Bangladesh.
These seven projects include 1) Jamuna Railway Bridge Construction Project (II), 2) Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport Expansion Project (II), 3) Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (IV), 4) Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (Line 5 Northern Route), 5) Chattogram-Cox's Bazar Highway Improvement Project (E/S), 6) Food Value Chain Improvement Project and 7) Urban Development and City Governance Project.
Another great example of Shinzo Abe's cooperation was found in the aftermath of Holey Artisan Bakery attack in 2016.
It is worth mentioning that seven Japanese nationals were among the foreigners killed in the terrorist attack on Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan on July 1, 2016.
Terming the occurrence as "unfortunate", Abe called his Bangladeshi counterpart and offered to support the Bangladeshi government in fighting terrorism. He also reaffirmed Japan's support to the socio-economic development of the country in the post-Gulshan incident.
Recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the two countries agreed to work together and Abe offered $329 million loans to Sheikh Hasina to combat the crisis.
Even, in his last phone talks with Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Abe guaranteed that Japan will continue to assist Bangladesh's economic development and strengthening bilateral relations between the two friendly nations.
Besides, Abe has assured PM Hasina that he would talk to Myanmar to resolve the current Rohingya crisis.
It should be noted that Myanmar has a lot of investment from China and Japan. The island country is a key player in this region. Like China and India, Japan has been supporting Myanmar for a very long time.
Even, amid the international criticism of Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and ongoing case against the country's genocide at the International Court of Justices (ICJ), Japan became the first country to voice support for Myanmar.
However, Shinzo Abe's recent telephone conversation with his counterpart showed Japan's sincerity in resolving the Rohingya issue, but his sudden resignation is going to make that possibility difficult.
In this case, Bangladesh must proceed with extreme caution, particularly in establishing good relations with the new Prime Minister of Japan.
After all, historically Japan is a friend of Bangladesh and one of the first countries who came forward in the socio-economic development of Bangladesh after the 1971 liberation war.
Bilateral relations between the two counties have intensified in recent times, and the role of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unparalleled building the relations.
However, the post-Abe relations between the two friendly countries would be very significant as several big projects, financed by Japan, are working in Bangladesh.
Besides, the Rohingya crisis would be another important issue where Bangladesh largely needs Japan's support.
In this case, there is no alternative for Bangladesh to play a leading role to strengthen the bilateral relations under the new leadership in Japan.
However, Shinzo Abe will always be considered a friend to the Bangladeshi people. As a Bangladeshi, we wish him a speedy recovery.
We hope his worthy successors will give Bangladesh the same importance as him, complete his unfinished tasks, and take proper initiatives to accelerate the bilateral relations between these two countries to a new height.
The author is a teacher of Japanese Studies Department at the University of Dhaka.