China’s pragmatic solution to Rohingya crisis

By Ge Hongliang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/26 20:28:39

The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine state was top of the agenda for Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his trip to Bangladesh and Myanmar last week. In a style different from the West's impulsiveness, Wang put forward a three-phase proposal to address the crisis and promote regional stability, further highlighting the effective and pragmatic approach of China's diplomacy.

The Rohingya issue is a long-term headache for the Myanmar government, and has recently attracted close attention from the international community as it involves human rights issues and religion. In fact, the Rohingya crisis, arising from complex historic, ethnic and religious backgrounds, is far more complex than what may first appear to be.

The crisis involves a series of non-traditional security problems triggered by ethnic conflicts between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims within Rakhine state. The conflict has a long history, and involves two ethnicities and two religions. Yet the issue has now escalated into a dilemma concerning Myanmar's domestic politics, diplomacy and regional security.

Internationally, the Rohingya crisis is intertwined with terrorism and extremism, and has triggered several rounds of large-scale refugee flows.

For Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), the fermenting Rohingya issue that is hotly discussed internationally is quite thorny, particularly because of the Western attitude toward Suu Kyi.

For a long time, Suu Kyi had been regarded a symbol of democracy and human rights in the West, and therefore, she was expected to stop the violence in Rakhine state, improve Rohingya's living environment and promote equality among different ethnicities in Myanmar. However, as the issue has developed, Suu Kyi, previously a political figure popular among the Western public opinion circles, has been harshly criticized by Western media outlets for not appropriately dealing with the problem.

In addition, the US has started to use the Rohingya issue as an excuse to re-impose selective sanctions on Myanmar to vent its dissatisfaction with the country. Western public opinion continues to put pressure on Myanmar, and intentionally labels the Myanmar government's action against Rohingyas as "ethnic cleansing."

With the widening disputes between the US and Myanmar over this issue, Washington's denunciation of Suu Kyi has become increasingly intense. For instance, Bob Corker, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, recently criticized Suu Kyi for her "silence" on the crisis, adding that "it may be time for a policy adjustment." US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar in mid November, calling for a "credible" probe of the crisis.

Washington's dissatisfaction and attempts to pressure Nay Pyi Taw can be easily seen, but it won't help solve the issue. Only pragmatic assistance can make a difference.

It is unrealistic to restore stability and security in Rakhine state in the short term. More efforts should be made to alleviate the tensions and settle the crisis in a comprehensive way. Hence, after negotiating with Bangladesh and Myanmar, China has put forward a three-phase proposal to address the issue.

Rakhine's unrest and insecurity is the most direct cause for the exodus of Rohingya refugees. Therefore, ceasefire and the restoration of social order are important to ensure a safe living environment for the local people, which is also the first phase of China's solution.

For the second phase, Bangladesh and Myanmar should be encouraged to talk so as to find a feasible approach to settle the issue, in which the international community should play an active role as well.

The Rohingya crisis is closely linked with Rakhine's poverty and competition between ethnicities for resources which is the root cause of the issue. Therefore, promoting the area's development is the key to peacefully addressing the crisis.

From this perspective, China's three-phase solution offers a more pragmatic approach than recent denunciations by the West.

The author is a research fellow with The Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities.


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