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Sunday, September 3, 2023

Solution caught in trilateral geopolitics

NEWAGE
by Md Zillur Rahaman
Published: Sep 03,2023 

The Rohingyas gather at Ukhiya in Bangladesh on August 25 for a rally marking the sixth anniversary of genocide day. — Agence France-Presse/Tanbir Miraj 
 
SINCE August 25, 2017, the Myanmar army began a large-scale violence against the Rohingyas in Rakhine State. Rohingya victims said that mobs joined the crackdown of the military junta, forcing more than 700,000 Rohingyas to take refuge in Bangladesh. More than 1.1 million Rohingyas now stay in 34 refugee camps at Teknaf and Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. The Rohingyas say that the Myanmar army forced them to come to Bangladesh with indiscriminate killing, rape and arson.

Six years after the crisis, there has been no visible progress in their repatriation because of trilateral geopolitical interests. As the prospect of a sustainable solution fades, many Rohingyas look to the future with hopes while many are lured by human traffickers to embark on perilous journey by boat. The Bangladesh government repeatedly says that the Rohingya crisis has gradually created environmental, economic, social and security concerns. No one in the world wants to live in camps voluntarily. No one wants to give shelter to such a large number of displaced people, Bangladesh has shown magnanimity by giving them shelter.

The Myanmar junta has the tacit support of India and China. Myanmar is also very important to Russia from geopolitical aspects. Since the launch of China’s new global geostrategic Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Myanmar’s Rakhine region on the Bay of Bengal has become one of the world’s strategic lands. The huge investments and geopolitical interests of China, India and Russia appear a major main impediment to resolving the crisis.

China has huge investments in Myanmar. A report published by the country says that the investments amount to $18 billion, which is more than double the total investment of all western countries. The construction of the gas pipeline from the Shaye field in the troubled Rakhine city of Sittwe and investments in its security cost $2.5 billion. According to media reports, China has taken a project to invest $18 billion in total in Rakhine only.

In recent times, one of the most hostile countries of China is its neighbouring India. India also has a land border with Myanmar. China’s fuel oil terminal is being built at the Akyab seaport in Rakhine, which is meant to reduce dependence on the Strait of Malacca for oil import and to assert its presence by challenging the sole dominance of the United States and India in the Indian Ocean.

It is no secret that China has been almost the sole supplier of all types of weapons to Myanmar’s military for four decades of blockade. China owns 90 per cent of Myanmar’s military market. A research article by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that from 1988 to 2006, Myanmar bought $1.69 billion worth of arms and military equipment from China. China does not, therefore, want to lose such a large arms market.

Meanwhile, China has been accused of providing financial and arms support for freedom fighters in some states and areas including the Kachin, San, Kokang regions. As it is not possible for Myanmar to bypass China for its own security, China is always shadowing Myanmar for its economic and political interests.

Because of geopolitical interests, India, said to be Bangladesh’s ‘best friend’, has also sided with Myanmar. In fact, in terms of suppressing the Indian independence movement, corridor facilities, transit, transshipment, etc, benefits have been obtained from Bangladesh, but the 1,643km border of Myanmar is to suppress the rebellion of the three states of India, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram.

The Siliguri Corridor, known as the ‘chicken neck’, is the only land route for the transport of goods, military equipment and road communication in Seven Sisters in India’s north-east. This corridor, only 18km long, is strategically very important for India as China will try desperately to capture or close this corridor in case of a Sino-Indian war. In that event, if India cannot use transit of goods through Bangladesh,, it is not unusual to lose control in Seven Sisters. So, India has taken up a plan to build a long ‘multimodal’ link from Rakhine’s capital Sittwe through Mizoram in India’s north-east using the Kaladan River through Myanmar, called the Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project. India has already released $500 million for this project. In this project, it will be possible to directly reach Seven Sisters of India through the Sittwe port for various products from the Haldia port in Kolkata.

India has also moved forward with a project to create a special economic zone near Sittwe to get closer to Myanmar through economic diplomacy. As the Rohingya-populated northern Rakhine along the Indian border is very important to India, any unrest in the region in the future could spell trouble for India. So, India stands by Myanmar for strategic reasons to deal with possible chaos. Indian policy-makers, meanwhile, think that China is encircling India. Therefore, India is sticking to ginger-water to reduce China’s influence in Myanmar for security and military strategic reasons. As part of this effort, the work of establishing India-Myanmar-Thailand communication has already started under the ‘Act East Project’ of India.

Apart from this, India is also looking for a market for some armaments. Earlier, India sold arms to Myanmar for the first time in 2005, according to a study by the SIPRI. However, in the face of sanctions by the United States and the European Union, India’s trade relations with several countries and organisations are threatened when information on India’s arms sales to Myanmar becomes known. India eventually conceded that it was bound by a defence pact to fight insurgents along the common Indo-Myanmar border.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia weakened not only economically but also in international politics. But Russia has moved towards Myanmar as part of an effort to return the country to the Soviet-era power after Vladimir Putin had taken over. When the international blockade on Myanmar was lifted in 2015, Russia took the initiative to invest in and sell weapons to the country. That year, Russia put a share in the arms market of Myanmar, which had been under the sole control of China for 30 years. Myanmar is focusing on Russian weapons for various reasons such as military modernisation, technology enrichment, increased capabilities of the air force and help of the air force in suppressing independence movement.

Myanmar has purchased MiG-29 fighter jets, long-range missiles, gunships, helicopters, gun systems, anti-tanks, etc from Russia. Besides, several other military procurement agreements have already been signed. The MiG company has also opened an office in Myanmar to maintain Russia’s top position in aircraft sales. According to the SIPRI research paper, in 1988–2006, Myanmar bought at least $39.60 million worth of arms from Russia. In terms of money, Russia is the second largest arms exporter to Myanmar.

Russia has not only focused on Myanmar’s arms market but also on financial aid and technology export. In return, Russia signed an agreement to build two nuclear power plants in Myanmar in 2013. In addition, Russia has already invested heavily in Myanmar to extract the vast mineral resources, especially oil and gas. Russian state-owned company Gazprom has also opened an office in Yangon to dominate the profits of Myanmar’s oil and gas reserves.

Russia is making a special contribution to the higher education of Myanmar students as a policy to capture and strategically influence the higher education market. According to the data published in the media, from 1993 to 2013, about 4,705 students completed higher education in Russia, of which 700 students studied only nuclear science. In addition, the Russian government has provided advanced training for Myanmar’s military for a long time. As a result, Russia does not lag behind in competition to gain political influence and economic benefits at the same time.

From 2017 to 2023, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has requested $6.00 billion in emergency humanitarian assistance for the Rohingyas. The United States has provided $1.61 billion in humanitarian aid, which is about 27 per cent. However, the United States claims to have provided $2.10 billion in total aid. China gave $0.4 million only once and Russia gave $2 million. India’s financial aid records are not mentioned in the statistics. In 2020, only 59.60 per cent of OCHA appeals were funded, with the United States accounting for 49.70 per cent. After that, the United Kingdom has given $417 million, in the second position, as a donor. The European Union has given $260 million, in the third position, Australia has $238 million, in the fourth position, and Japan has given $174 million among Asian countries, in the fifth place. It is seen that the amount of aid provided by China, Russia and India is very insignificant and an overall review of the political and economic aid to deal with the Rohingya crisis shows that the global conflict of geopolitics is directly reflected in the financial aid as well.

The Myanmar army has carried out genocide in Rakhine. The offence is being tried in two international courts. The International Court of Justice has issued an interim judgement taking into account the complaint against Myanmar. The International Criminal Court has started the trial of Myanmar’s generals for genocide. Additionally, a case filed in an Argentine court has begun hearings Myanmar’s massacre of the Rohingya population in Rakhine. The genocide case was filed in September 2019 with a court in Buenos Aires. The United Nations, however, called it ethnic cleansing. The Rohingyas came to Bangladesh in 1977–78 and later in the 1990s.

The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan and Australia have continued to play a political role in the international arena regarding the recognition of the Rohingya’s civil identity, safe repatriation with dignity and accountability for the brutal oppression of the Myanmar government and military. In contrast, China, Russia and India did not support the UN Security Council’s condemnation of Myanmar or any concerted international action against it. Veto-wielding China and Russia have repeatedly opposed any resolution against Myanmar in the Security Council.

In 2017, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions against several top generals, including Myanmar’s army chief Min Aung Hlaing and businesses run by the military in response to the Rohingya genocide and persecution. These countries increased the scope of the sanctions after the imposition of military rule after the elections in 2021. But in n defiance of this ban at the same time, Myanmar’s army chief General Hlaing went on an official visit to China, Russia and India and bought arms and equipment from those countries. According to SIPRI’s Trends in International Arms Transfer 2022 report published in March 2023, about 42 per cent of Myanmar’s arms purchases from 2018 to 2022 came from Russia, 29 per cent from China, and 14 per cent from India.

The Myanmar government and army cannot avoid the responsibility of Rohingya genocide. The government, military and religious leaders are on the same page over the Rohingyas. For this reason, the Myanmar government has not been sincere about the repatriation of Rohingyas since the beginning. The international community’s pressure on Myanmar government and a trial at the United Nations International Court of Justice could effectively resolve the Rohingya crisis. However, as long as Russia, China and India do not exert any effective pressure on Myanmar, there will be no easy solution to the Rohingya problem. The Bangladesh government should find an effective and sustainable solution to the Rohingya problem by maintaining good diplomatic relations with the three countries.

Md Zillur Rahaman is a banker and columnist.

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