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20 Dec 2017   02:12:57 AM   Wednesday BdST A- A A+ Print this E-mail this

Can China afford to fail over Rohingya issue?

Moslem Uddin Ahmed
 Can China afford to fail over Rohingya issue?

A billion-dollar question: can China afford to fail over the Rohingya issue? No. For two cardinal reasons: a failure, nay, even a patchy solution to the refugee crisis replete in ethnic violence against the Myanmar minority people would discredit the socialist state and the Communist Party of China in the first place and disgrace its self-assigned sole role as arbiter through negating an international adjudication by veto.

For Myanmar, the military crackdown on the unarmed mostly Muslim minority people, killings, rapings, destruction of homes and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people now stand as a stigma on its regime trying to salvage the status of once-pariah state. The purge, billed by the international community, including the UN, as `ethnic cleansing` was triggered following the August 25 attacks an military and police posts by armed insurgents that left a number of security men dead.

A lot many insurgent groups are reported to have been active in Myanmar in clan wars. And the latest incident was blamed on ARSA or Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army, said to be waging a bush war to restore nationality of the Rohingyas who were stripped of their Myanmar citizenship perceivably in a backlash against the historic role of the community in the Second World War.

International community, however, dismiss the incident as an excuse for the ruthless reprisals against the common people--men, women, children and the old--who are streaming into Bangladesh in droves in a fresh influx.

Bangladesh, an unmerited victim of the situation as a next-door neighbour and for the fact that the Rohingyas have a similitude of religion and their dialect with the Bangladeshis, is burdened with around a million refugees camped in Dickensian conditions. Though different countrues and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, are extending assistance, the overpopulated country is confronted with multidimensional problems, encompassing economic, ecological, social and even, according to analysts, security aspects.

Dhaka, practically and pragmatically though, had to resort to a two-pronged diplomatic move for a lasting solution to the oft-recurring problem stemming from the Rohingya bashing by Myanmar. The government took the issue up with the United Nations, and prime minister Sheikh Hasina placed a five-point formula for resolving the problem.

However, the move met a headwind and failed to sail through for an international, multilateral solution. China, coupled with its latter-day foe-turned friend, Russia, fired their veto missiles to halt a Security Council resolution and headed off the parties for a bilateral solution through dialogue between the two neighbours.

 There has been a row ever since, at home and abroad, even by many of the rest of UN member-countries, over the role of the China-Russia duo at the global forum. Abstention from voting on a resolution by some of Bangladesh`s neighbours, including the closest and biggest one--India--also drew criticism. The eyey of the storm turned on Beijing. Many of the critics pointed out that Myanmar`s long-reigning junta and incumbent military dominated government with Aung San Suu Kyi as the figure head have always been in China"s orbit, enjoying its absolute patronage. Even then, how the communists in power there could overlook the atrocity being perpetrated allegedly by some fanatic Buddhist mongs and troops against an ethnic community close to home.

Some of the analysts of their sort of schools cited China`s aggressive geopolitical, economic and trategic pursuits as the reasons for their inaction to disengage the Myanmar authorities from state-sponsored violence.

They were loud in saying that economic and strategic interests of some big powers of the day are behind the existential nemesis of the Rohingyas in Rakhine. Came in mention, in this context, China`s cross-border petroleum pipeline through Myanmar up to the Bay of Bengal and planned economic zones of China and also of India in the Rakhine state of Myanmar enjoying vast landmass with buffer tracts.

They further speak of allied interest of China and Russia and others in a bloc in the making as opposed to US bid for building a sphere of power in the Asia-Pacific region and a defence shield surrounding China.

There are hawks and doves, too, among the discussants and security analysts at various fora in Dhaka. Those who like to find a military solution were pleading for response to Myanmar "provocation`` through violation of Bangladesh airspace and slso military incursions into frontier backwoods. A few even spoke of invoking US power for a solution, like their intervention in other pockets of trouble across the world.

Pacifists crossed their swords with them. And government leaders dealing with the exigency seemed cool and collected. They apparently followed the lead of China-Russia lineup and returned direct from the UN to the negotiating table for talks with Myanmar for finding an amicable and acceptable solution to the Rohingya crisis.

And it`s unlike China that Beijing opted for a direct intervention as `mediator` to facilitate Bangladesh-Myanmar dialogue for a peaceful solution. Chinese president Xi Jinping sent none other than his foreign minister to Dhaka to declare China`s stand and role as the go-between.

In pursuit of the second option, prime minister Sheikh Hasina was quoted as saying in New York, `We have nothing to seek` from Donald Trump, the new US president, who triumphed in polls with the slogans `America first` and `We will make America great again and following `economic nationalism` that naturally abandones America`s global role as self-styled defender of nations and peace.

Thus far, things appear not so improper in the search for a solution along China`s line. Two major developments underpin such inference. The first one was the signing an `Arrangement` between Myanmar and Bangladesh immediate after the bilateral process started off and the second the formation of a high-level Joint Working Group (JWG) on December 18, 2017.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed on November 23 the first Rohingya repatriation deal following bilateral consensus amid mounting international pressure on the latter for ending ethnic violence against the Muslim minority people that flushed them out of their homes in Rakhine. It was envisaged in the document  that the return of the Rohingyas to their homeland would begin within two months.

The two neighbouring nations struck the instrument following a meeting between Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar`s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at Suu Kyi`s office. Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar`s Minister for State Counsellor`s office Kyauw Tint Swe signed the instrument.

They also exchanged ratification of the boundary agreement 1998.
Myanmar government had denied since the outset of the exodus amid cleansing operation that Rohingyas are Myanmar nationals at all. But, diplomats in Dhaka were of the opinion that the other side `could be bound by this documentary evidence to recognise them as their nationals though denuded of citizenship by force`.

And the JWG inception capping Dhaka dialogue at foreign secretary level, embedded on Terms of Reference (ToR), laid a solid ground for the repatriation to commence within the set timeframe. Though some diplomats and migration experts air scepticism about the possibility of completing the spadework for refugee repatriation, including building resettlement arrangements acceptable to the people displaced from their homes, within the timeline to January 23 to begin the repatriation.

As agreed by the two parties to the treaty, and as being insisted by the UN as well as western countries and organisations, the return of the Rohingyas has to be `safe and voluntary`. There must not be any Carte Blanche.

 After all this, it`s hard to believe that such a serious move brokered by those who are striving to build up an alternative world order--avowdly just, equitable and peaceful--would end up as a damp squib.

Three major factors stand against skipping an acceptable solution to the crisis: an intense international pressure, immediate economic undertakings by China and the alignments led by it,  and the five principles of peaceful co-existence China is committed to pursuing from its ideological standpoint.

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations as the global ruler by common consent stand unflinching on their identical resolve for rehabilitation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar with dignity and their citizenship restored. In addition, they also stand for punishing the perpetrators of repression on the Rohingya people.

On the economic front, China, having achieved economic wonders by tapping western capital and technology by a pragmatic way of combining socialist state and free-market economy, is spreading its wings over the outer world now. `OBOR` or `one belt, one road` is the flagship Mr Xi has launched for global integration for generating an economic leap on the global plane by replicating the China model. Economic corridors, zones, pipelines, trans-national rails are among the mega-schemes. BRICS, AIIB, BCIM are among the forums being built. These all presupposes peace and cohesion to succeed.

BCIM, in particular, binds all the four countries party to the Rohingya crisis-resolution process. They are Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar. And the red-hot issue, now tremendously internationalised for the sheer scale of reported atrocity on an ethnic minority, lies just in the heart of this sub-regional bloc. The moot question is being raised by many: ``Can this initiative take roots with such a conflict alive?``

It`s idle to believe, or suppose, that the answer is not known to the communist leadership in Beijing.

The last, but not the least, China`s professed high ground of morality based on Marxism, Leninism and Mao`s Thoughts coupled with the latest adjunct--Xi`s concept. This, adjoined with the five principles, should work as a deterrent to deviation.

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