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Can China Solve the Rohingya Crisis?

 
 

The Rohingya crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises witnesses of our times. It is estimated, that over 800,000 Rohingya, mostly Muslims, have fled to Bangladesh, to escape the brutality unleashed on them by the Myanmar army. The army campaign has been described by the United Nations as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Satellite imagery shows near total destruction of 214 villages in Rakhine state since the army’s operation began against the community. There are chilling stories of elderly people, children, and women being burned alive when their houses were torched. Advocacy groups have documentary evidence of rapes, loot, and other inhuman treatment against the Rohingya. Under sustained international pressure, the army had ordered an inquiry into the alleged brutalities. As expected, the sham inquiry absolved the army from any human rights violations.

Meanwhile, the United States, China, India, and Russia have largely refrained from condemning the army for persecuting the Muslims is unconscionable. However, in a welcome development, the Trump administration recently criticized Myanmar’s government for the brutal crackdown on Rohingya as an attempt at ethnic cleansing.

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On the heels of the U.S. condemnation, comes a Chinese offer to mediate between the Myanmar army and the Bangladesh government to end the crisis, and clear the way for the return of the 600,000 refugees to their homeland.

According to a three-phase proposal to address the crisis and promote stability, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has asked Myanmar’s army to restore order by declaring a ceasefire to stem the flood of refugees. In the second stage, Wang suggested that both Myanmar and Bangladesh should be encouraged to talk so as to find a feasible approach to settle the issue; 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.

Wang must be credited from garnering support for this proposal from Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw, and military chief Min Aung Hlaing, as well as the government of Bangladesh, before unveiling the plan. The Chinese 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.

Although China’s proposal is laudable, however, there is an apprehension as to whether the Myanmar army would stick to its side of the agreement or further encourage a fresh cycle of violence on the returning refugees. As China has steadfastly refused to condemn Myanmar’s army for its brutality, Beijing’s reaction should the army violate the ceasefire is uncertain. However, as China has a firm handle over Myanmar because of its economic support, Beijing could put pressure on the army to stop further atrocities.

For their part, Rohingya Muslims should not fall prey to the propaganda unleashed by the Islamic fundamentalists to exact revenge against the army. Previous terror strikes against Myanmar’s army have only further exacerbated the already fragile situation.

The Chinese proposal needs to be followed through by Myanmar’s army and civilian government, and Bangladesh to restore peace in the region. As Myanmar government would require billions of dollars to adequately resettle the returning refugees, the international community should generously contribute toward their rehabilitation.

K. S. Venkatachalam is an independent columnist and political commentator.

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