CHINA has again objected to the United Nations taking any stand contrary to the interests of Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. This time, China voted against a resolution tabled in the United Nations by the OIC on December 26 that called on Myanmar to end its military operations in Rakhine State and the appointment of a special envoy to Myanmar. The resolution was adopted with 122 votes in favour and 10 against, with 24 abstentions. China with Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Belarus, Syria and Zimbabwe voted for Myanmar.
China has consistently backed the Myanmar military on the latest outbreak of military action of the Myanmar’s brutal military against the Rohingyas since the end of August 2017 that has thus far forced 6,70,000 Rohingyas to flee their motherland for fear of their lives to Bangladesh. This number with the 4,00,000 that had fled earlier has forced Bangladesh to provide refuge for a million Rohingyas. The Rohingya tragedy is one of the worst manmade tragedies in recent memory.
The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has stated that the Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to save themselves from becoming the victims of a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ in the hands of the Myanmar military. In fact, the prime minister of Bangladesh while highlighting the plight of the Rohingyas to the members of the United Nations during her visit to New York had called the action of the Myanmar military a case of genocide, an assessment with which many western leaders including the French president Emmanuel Macron agreed.
Sheikh Hasina should know better what a genocide is being the prime minister of a country whose people were subjected to genocide on a massive scale by the Pakistani military in 1971. In fact, the plight of the Rohingyas today and that of the people of Bangladesh in 1971 are in a lot of ways the same. In 1971, the Pakistani military’s act of genocide had sent fleeing to India 10 million people of Bangladesh. It is the same fear for their lives that has now sent a million Rohingyas fleeing from Rakhine State of Myanmar to Bangladesh. As India had opened the door to the people of Bangladesh in 1971, so has Bangladesh to the Rohingyas to save them from being massacred by the Myanmar military.
Unfortunately, there the similarities end. The Rohingyas are much weaker; they have not sought to break from Myanmar or exercise their right of self-determination and have done little else to incur the wrath of the Myanmar military except the fact that the riff-raff Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army had killed four Myanmar military! That makes the action of the Myanmar military against the Rohingyas a case of mass murder and Bangladesh’s gesture to open its doors to the Rohingyas a purely humanitarian one, thus qualitatively better than India’s gesture to open its doors to the Bangladeshi victims in 1971. In 1971, India had strategic reasons to do what it did, to break its nemesis Pakistan into half. Bangladesh has not acted from any such motives in sheltering the Rohingyas.
International politics has not changed much between 1971 and today. No power had come to Bangladesh’s rescue except India that had its self-interest to back its humanitarian intentions to stand with Bangladesh; there is none to stand with the Rohingyas in their present predicament except Bangladesh that has been forced to become the saviour. The role of China in the case of Bangladesh genocide and now in the Rohingya genocide/ethnic cleansing/mass murder underlines unmistakably that the principal underpinning factor in international politics is the self-interest of the stakeholders where the stronger always gets its ways. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, plain murders are inconsequential to defend the victims.
China (and Russia) has supported Myanmar in denial of unequivocal evidence of the presence of all three in the action of the Myanmar military in the Rohingya tragedy, namely genocide, ethnic cleansing and simple and plain murder of thousands of Rohingyas in revenge for ARSA killing four Myanmar military. And China’s indefensible defence with the Rohingyas (as with Bangladesh in 1971) is that whatever happens inside Myanmar is the internal affair of the government of Myanmar and no business of any other country. China’s stand in 1971 in Bangladesh and in case of the Rohingyas today is unacceptable because in both the cases, China has sided with the perpetrators of plain murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide and against the victims.
China was in the midst of negotiations with the United States in 1971 where Pakistan was the conduit that opened its door to its present prosperity. China was then on the fringes as a political power and perhaps a case, though weak, could be made for it to have turned a blind eye to the Bangladesh genocide for its self-interests. China’s present stand for the perpetrators of genocide/ethnic cleansing/plain mass murder in the Rohingya tragedy at a time when it is a world power, close to becoming number one as both economic/political power and military power, for its narrow self interests is simply unconscionable.
Bangladesh did not just forget China’s 1971 role for the sake of moving forward in spirit of good neighborliness and friendship by establishing diplomatic ties with it in January 1976, it has also since given China bipartisan support that is something very rare in Bangladesh. Even India that had contributed so much to the independence of Bangladesh does not extend the sort of support that China gets in Bangladesh. And to top all that, China is the biggest economic partner of Bangladesh and supplies nearly 80 per cent of the defence needs of Bangladesh.
Yet, China’s role vis-à-vis the Rohingyas and Bangladesh has been in favour of the Myanmar military and against the interests of Bangladesh and the Rohingyas. And it is to China that Bangladesh turned to broker an ‘arrangement’ between it and the brutal Myanmar military. The ‘arrangement’ is now showing the signs of letting Myanmar off the hook after tremendous international pressure was brought on it by combined efforts of the western nations and the UN where the prime minister of Bangladesh also played a huge role.
The opinion of strategists who are studying the Rohingya tragedy is pessimistic that the ‘arrangement’ that China brokered would send back the 1 million Rohingyas back in any significant number for it is no treaty or agreement that Bangladesh signed with Myanmar but a mere ‘arrangement’ where Myanmar has been allowed to hold the upper hand. There is no time limit set for the repatriation of the Rohingyas whose status as Rohingyas have also not been reflected in the ‘arrangement’. In fact, Myanmar may very well argue that the refugees that it has agreed to take back are not Rohingyas but Bengalis because that is what the ‘arrangement’ calls them!
This is why former high commissioner of India to Bangladesh, and an expert on the region, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty has said in his article ‘Most Unwanted People’ carried by the Telegraph on December 27 that ‘Myanmar is unlikely to take back most of the refugees and Bangladesh will have to resettle them in new refugee camps and hope other countries will ease the burden by accepting some refugees.’ His dire assessment was based on his consideration of the ‘arrangement’ China brokered. It is the time that Bangladesh should revisit the so-called ‘arrangement’ for it is a safety exit given by China to Myanmar at the cost of leaving Bangladesh caring for 1 million Rohingyas and looking at a bleak and dangerous future.
It is also time that China with all its might in regional and world politics should be asked by Bangladesh to revisit its friendship towards it; that it is failing a sincere friend that has given to it undivided goodwill. China should consider the fact that it is the only country towards which the government, the political parties and the people of the country have never raised any issue of discord despite serious reasons to the contrary. China has the power to bring Myanmar to bear its responsibilities in the Rohingya tragedy if only it would put issues of ethnic cleansing, genocide and simple and plain murder into the equation rather than its economic and strategic interests. Myanmar military would not dare to take issues with China to jeopardise its economic and strategic interests if it stands for principles and moral in the present situation in Myanmar. If it does not, China’s claim as a world power would lose its moral and ethical contents.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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