Bangladeshi fans of Argentina celebrate in Dhaka, Bangladesh, after the World Cup semi final soccer match between Argentina and Croatia in Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.
Credit: AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu
During the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships, a 19-year-old American player named Glenn Cowan accidentally boarded a shuttle bus transporting the red-shirted Chinese national team. The team’s star player, Zhuang Zedong, approached Cowan to shake his hand, converse with him via an interpreter, and give him a gift. The U.S. team was later extended an all-expenses-paid invitation to visit China by Mao Zedong, the founding leader of the People’s Republic, in what became known as “ping-pong diplomacy.” The United States lifted its embargo against China on June 10, 1971, followed by the opening in relations between the two countries brought about by ping-pong diplomacy.
The same year, Bangladesh, a brand-new nation, debuted on the world stage following a nine-month long war for independence. Since the country’s founding, Bangladesh has adhered to the motto “friendship to all, malice to none,” and has taken part in a variety of multilateral forums. Dhaka wishes to establish friendly bilateral relations with countries ranging from Asia to Europe to America.
From the beginning, Bangladesh found a friend in Argentina. Victoria Ocampo, Jorge Luis Bergs, Reverend Father Ismael Quiles, and other prominent intellectuals, scholars, artists, lawyers, and authors of inspired and guided the intelligentsia of Argentina and Venezuela to denounce the brutal actions of Pakistan and seek aid for war refugees during the turbulent months of the liberation war of Bangladesh. The opening of a diplomatic mission in Argentina in 1972 marked the beginning of the official diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Argentina.
But the golden age abruptly ended in 1978, when Argentina closed its embassy in Dhaka. Bangladeshi nationals need to travel to New Delhi, India in order to obtain Argentine visas, as the Argentinian Embassy there also handles relations with Bangladesh.
There have been few notable developments in the bilateral relationship since, aside from the official visit of the former foreign secretary of Bangladesh, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, to Argentina in 2011 and the trip to Dhaka by Argentine Undersecretary of Foreign Policy Claudio Javier Rozencwaig, and Argentine Ambassador to India and Bangladesh Hugo Gobbi, to mark the 50th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.
However, the Bangladeshi public includes many enthusiastic fans of the Argentine national football team, something that received a great deal of media attention during the FIFA World Cup in December 2022. The setting up of giant screens in various locations across the nation to watch the Messi-led renaissance of Argentina and the thousands of fans who gathered to celebrate each goal and triumph of their preferred team caught the attention of everyone from FIFA to the Argentine Football Association and their citizens as well.
As soon as the last whistle sounded in the Argentina-France World Cup final game, Bangladeshi Argentine fans of all ages and social classes came out onto the streets and started to fly the flags of their beloved adopted country. Almost every corner of the country saw victory marches after Argentina’s final triumph.
Argentina expressed its love and respect to Bangladeshis in return. Argentina’s football association has already expressed gratitude to the Bangladeshi people for their unconditional support. A few Argentine journalists started to tweet in Bengali in support of the Bangladesh Cricket Team after their recent triumph against India in a bilateral ODI series.
What’s more, Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero announced in a tweet that his country plans to reopen the Argentinian embassy in Dhaka. He cited increased trade and a shared interest in engaging in a range of areas, including sports. Cafiero is expected to travel to Dhaka in March 2023 to oversee the reopening of the embassy.
Argentina and Bangladesh’s shared appreciation and respect may only be the beginning of exploring new opportunities for bilateral relations. The two countries have only been able to touch the surface of the full potential of their developing relationship thus far. Argentina exported $450 million worth of goods to Bangladesh in 2020; that increased to $791 million in fiscal year 2021–2022. Wheat, soybean meal, and soybean oil were Argentina’s top exports to Bangladesh. As the world is facing a difficult time of rising prices and global inflation, Argentina may be a potential alternative market for Bangladesh.
In contrast, Bangladesh sold goods to Argentina worth $17.3 million in 2020. Bangladesh’s exports to Argentina have grown over the past 25 years at a yearly rate of 6.46 percent, from a low base of $3.61 million in 1995. Knit sweaters, knit t-shirts, and non-knit men’s suits were the main exports from Bangladesh to Argentina. The ready-made-garment industry contributed more than 88 percent of the exports in FY2021-22.
According to a resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Bangladesh will graduate from the “least developed country” (LDC) category to the “developing nation” category on November 24, 2026. After that, Bangladesh will face new challenges, as it will gradually lose the privileges, quotas, and rights associated with being “underdeveloped.” Argentina might be a potential market for Bangladesh if it wants to diversify its garment industry. Argentina could also import world-class goods from Bangladesh at lower costs, such as ceramics, melamine, ships, and pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, the decision on the visa waiver agreement for Bangladeshi diplomats and government officials may be reevaluated by Bangladesh and Argentina.
Despite the difference between 1970s ping-pong diplomacy and 21st century football diplomacy between Bangladesh and Argentina, grassroots cooperation was the key in reviving state-level contacts in both instances. The path to a bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Argentina reemerged through people-to-people exchange, the media revolution, and sports diplomacy.