Investment, not criticism, will heal Rohingya woes
Published: Mar 28, 2019 10:24 PM
What's the solution to the Rohingya crisis? It's a question that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people in temporary shelters in Bangladesh and needs to be urgently answered. For a long time since the humanitarian crisis began in 2016, Western countries have directed criticism at the Myanmar government's handling of the issue. However, criticism won't help resolve the crisis. International assistance is needed. But in the long run, the only way out is by stabilizing and reinvigorating the conflict-ridden Rakhine state with investment and development opportunities. 

The Myanmar government has increasingly come to realize this point. Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's State Counselor, recently called on foreign investors to invest in Rakhine. In a late February speech at the Rakhine State Investment Fair, the first of its kind, she said economic development could be the answer to much of the state's woes. 

Plagued by conflicts and sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the Rakhine state suffers from scarce foreign investments. Many investors, especially Western corporations, have shied away from it due to concerns about uncertain commercial prospects and their reputation being damaged if accused of being involved in the Rohingya controversy. 

Suu Kyi called investors to stop focusing on the "negative aspects" in Rakhine. Of course, much needs to be done to protect the investors' interests and convince them to pour in money. But the Myanmar leader is right to prioritize the region's development. The Rohingya issue is complex and cannot be solved overnight. Spurring development by attracting more investments could create more and better-paying jobs for the local people, improving their livelihood which would help ease tensions among different ethnic groups or religions. 

China has played a positive and constructive role in resolving the Rohingya crisis. It has donated 1,100 prefabricated houses for displaced persons in Rakhine, 20 trucks and 200 million kyats ($147,058) to help restore peace and stability in the region. Taking the lead in developing the deep-sea port of Kyaukpyu, which has created many local jobs and greatly eased the shortage of electricity, Chinese investment has brought tangible benefits to people in Rakhine. Backwardness is the main cause of conflicts. If more countries, including Singapore, Thailand and Japan can increase their investments in the region, tensions will be alleviated. 

Many Southeast Asian countries have been grappling with different levels of ethnic conflicts. Myanmar is one such example. Spurring economic development will help promote harmonious coexistence among ethnic groups. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative is a platform for cooperation, which is of particular importance for countries like Myanmar in addressing thorny ethnic issues. 

According to the Myanmar Times, Rakhine Chief Minister U Nyi Pu said economic development was "the best solution for sustainable peace" in the state. Instead of pointing an accusing finger at Myanmar, Western countries should offer Myanmar what it needs to prevent poverty from continuing to fuel ethnic division and radical movements in the region. 

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