By Pathik Hasan
China should resolve the Rohingya refugee crisis as soon as possible for ensuring the greater interest of South Asia and South East Asia to some extent its own interest.
For South Asia in general and for Bangladesh as well, the Rohingya crisis is one of the burning issues for a while. As an extra regional power, however, the role of China is very critical here—not only because of her long-standing involvement in the South Asian region but also China being one of the P5 members of the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, it is time Beijing acknowledged and shifted her compass over to the humanitarian grounds and the plight of the Rohingyas rather than maintaining an esoteric image.
China’s stake in Myanmar nonetheless is fathomable since the two share a very critical geostrategic location. India and China border the Northwestern and Northeastern sides of Myanmar respectively. Considering their own geostrategic skirmishes for a very long time, influence over Myanmar becomes an area of egotistic competition for both. Myanmar is entwined with China through bilateral economic, political and diplomatic stakes. The famous Yunnan Passage brings back the historical “Burma Road”, a road used for trade and economic cooperation among the former British empire and China through Myanmar. Definitely, the British nostalgia has less to do with it than the historic “image” that emboldens China. Myanmar also provides China with the gateway to the Indian Ocean and an enchanted opportunity for its “single ocean” strategy which, in other ways, compensates the Malacca fever and a tough answer to the US influence over China’s own Asian neighborhood. Moreover, along with all the investments in the sea, road and railways, energy sector, military partnership as well as the economic zones, one cannot ignore the fact that a crucial investment of China stalls right onto the very soil of Rakhine, the operational gas pipeline project worth US$2.45 billion.
To repeat again, the stakes are fathomable! However, the bigger question that comes to mind is whether these stakes are strong enough to jeopardize other concerns.
If any Chinese policymaker is reading this article, s/he must take into account two specific terms from the previous passage – “image” and “egotism”. For a country like China, at this point, it is important not to gamble on the basis of whimsical understanding of win and loss. At the global level, image works as an important capital. Undoubtedly, any official Chinese rhetoric would deny the claims of “Chinese hegemonic ambition”; however, even in its own regional landscape, Beijing needs to consider and reconsider other pertinent grounds that may have potency for her image.
At the most popular and most publicly-aware stage of humanitarian intervention, it is naïve and injudicious to ignore the plight of 1.1 million Rohingya asylum seekers staying in Bangladesh. China’s bewilderment over Burmese provocations has already resulted in some alarming conditions. Take for example the recent coup and its aftermath, where the Burmese public perception has gone terribly against China and its outlandish “wait and watch” policy. A number of coordinated attacks on Chinese textile factories in Yangon had to count losses worth US$37 million. Similarly, a Chinese pipeline project that supplies oil to a refinery close to Kunming was also under the threat of a sabotage. China so far has been relying on the “assurance” from the Tatmadaw. Apprehensible as it is, in between the climacteric game of “winning support” from the international community and their own people, under the hands of Tatmadaw, it is China which might be scapegoated in the long run.
Heretofore, what’s the solution?
To catch the most optimum solution, for China, it is important to grasp the nuts and bolts of “people’s” policy. These “people” may belong to any nation, country or community. However, if the policies are centered around the humanism, humanitarian grounds may facilitate the policies, the outcomes as well as the “image”.
The meeting between Myanmar’s Deputy Minister for International Cooperation U Hau Do Suan, Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and China’s Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui on January 2021 ushered new hopes. The Government of People’s Republic of China’s official page states,
“…Myanmar and Bangladesh made positive comments on China’s constructive role in promoting the repatriation, and expressed their willingness to reinforce communication and consultation through bilateral and multilateral channels, demonstrate flexibility, bridge differences and work on the early settlement of repatriation.
China reaffirmed its support for repatriation, and said it is ready to continue to engage in good offices, support enhanced dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and play an active role in accelerating the repatriation.”
Beijing’s untethered skepticism in the UN has not served the best to her image in most cases. Particularly, in the case of Bangladesh, Beijing used her first ever veto to block the demand of the country’s admission to the UN in 1972—for a country with whom she now shares a promising economic and strategic partnership in terms of trade, investment, connectivity and infrastructure development. Similarly, in the case of resolutions related to Syria, China used her veto power three times to impede sanctions on the Bashar al-Assad regime as well as to thwart the intervention of International Criminal Court. Amnesty International’s East Asia Director Nicholas Bequelin has opined,
“China must stop using its position in the UN Security Council to shield Myanmar’s senior generals from accountability. This has only emboldened the military’s relentless campaign of human rights violations and war crimes against ethnic minorities across the country.”
Bangladesh paved her own way all through the fifty years to establish the repute on the international platform. On the other hand, phrases like “Chinese intervention”, “Chinese veto” or “Chinese move” have become almost synonymous to something that might lack humanitarian grounds and based on purely geostrategic concerns. Yet, one must add to that, the Western world takes full advantage of it and promotes the negative innuendos.
To get back to the core points, it is the perfect time for China to overhaul the “Chinese image” and nothing other than the UN session will give her that elbow room. China should immediately resolve the Rohingya refugee crisis. China is going to be a super power. Now it is the responsibility of China in resolving the regional crisis.