Dhaka must double down efforts in Rohingya repatriation

Published: 00:00, Jan 21,2020


CHINA, an indispensable ally of Myanmar which, along with Russia, in December 2018 boycotted UN talks and in December 2017 opposed a UN resolution on the Rohingya issue, is reported to have reaffirmed its willingness to provide further support, ‘within its capacity’, to Myanmar in the repatriation process and resettlement of the Rohingyas, now sheltered in Bangladesh. About 740,000 Rohingya people, mostly women and children, have fled spates of violence in Rakhine State in Myanmar since August 2017 to have joined about 400,000 Rohingyas having already lived here since the late 1970s. Efforts to repatriate the Rohingyas since August 2017 have faltered twice — in recent times on August 22, 2019 and earlier on November 15, 2018 under an arrangement signed on January 16, 2018 and a deal signed on November 23, 2017 — mostly because Myanmar kept creating a fearful situation for the Rohingyas in Rakhine State, with no Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar camps voluntarily turning up to accept the repatriation offer, citing a ‘lack of a congenial atmosphere’ in their homeland. Bangladesh, China and Myanmar are also reported to have come together on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2019 and the initiative stopped to be heard of after a meeting.

China — which along with Russia is reported to have believed even in April 2019 that the repatriation process of the Rohingyas should be bilaterally resolved with Myanmar — coming to offer its willingness to support Myanmar in the Rohingya repatriation process could be welcome but yet the proposition calls out Bangladesh authorities on chalking up its plan its own way to resolve the long-standing crisis. China, which is Myanmar’s largest investor, singed more than 30 agreements on the final day of the recent visit of China’s president to Myanmar. The details are still unknown, but one agreement involves $13 billion Kyaukhphyu deep-sea port and economic zone, located in a part of Rakhine State that was left largely unscathed by the 2017 violence. There is also a letter of intent for a ‘new urban development’ in Yangon and feasibility studies for railway links, aimed at curving out ‘China-Myanmar Economic Corridor’, a path of infrastructure from China’s landlocked south to Myanmar’s western Rakhine State that would serve as Beijing’s long-awaited gateway to the Indian Ocean. Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyu is also reported to have said that Myanmar would always be at China’s side, noting that ‘a neighbouring country has no other choice but to stand together till the end of the world.’

When such is the state of affairs with Myanmar having no option but to stand by China and China having already thrown its weight around Myanmar because of its high-stake business involvement, especially involving Rakhine State, Beijing’s willingness to resolve the Rohingya resettlement, ‘within its capacity’, is welcome, but China has also earlier tried to put in its efforts, without much of a progress. Dhaka must, therefore, remember that it has to double down its efforts in the process at the diplomatic level in regional and world forums to resolve the crisis in a sustainable manner.

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