While the world has been rallied to the moral and humanitarian case to support the Rohingya’s in their flight from ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar state and their plight in Bangladesh, let us not forget the geo-politics of their situation. Not withstanding the grandstanding of the Security Council at the UN, its the Chinese Belt & Road initiative and in particular the pivotal place of Bangladesh within the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor that has determined the recent initiative by Chinese. This is one part of the Chinese efforts to rebuild the Old Silk Roads across the whole of Euro Asia land mass, enhancing trade and interactions across the whole of the continent, shifting the central of world economic activity into the heart of Asia, through a process of Easternisation.
This is best illustrated by the rush of the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary to undertake a bilateral agreement with Myanmar for the safe return of the Rohingya’s to Rakhine state, after Bangladesh had been pursuing a multilateral solution through the UN. This happened almost immediately after the Chinese Foreign Secretary Yang Yi came to Dhaka to meet AH Mahmood Ali, the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary. So you could say the Chinese brokered or at least kick started the bilateral deal.
According to the bilateral agreement we have three-phases to address the crisis and promote stability. Firstly China has asked Myanmar’s army to restore order by declaring a ceasefire to stem the flood of refugees. In the second stage, China has suggested that both Myanmar and Bangladesh should be encouraged to talk so as to find a feasible approach to settle the issue while the international community should play an active role as well. In the third stage, Wang called upon the international community to help rebuild Rakhine state.
The Chinese Foreign Secretary can be credited for getting the support for the proposal from Myanmar’s civilian and military leaders as well as the government of Bangladesh, before unveiling the plan. The proposal, if implemented, would pave the way to restoring peace in the region and rehabilitate all the refugees who had fled to Bangladesh and other countries. And while some will maybe cynical about the Chinese involvement given it has not condemn the ethnic cleansing, China at least does have a firm handle over Myanmar because of its economic support. So it can put pressure on the army to stop the further atrocities. Furthermore, the Chinese $25 billion offer of infrastructural investment based on the corridor to the Bangladesh government already before the Rohingya tragedy would have played very heavily on the minds of officials in Dhaka.
So as the Rohingya refugees situation plays itself out, do not forget that in the background other issues and concerns are foremost in the minds of officials involved in this bilateral deal other than the immediate humanitarian concerns.