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After India, it’s China’s turn to resolve Rohingya crisis

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FT ONLINE

When Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said during her Dhaka visit that Bangladesh-India relation “goes far beyond a strategic partnership”, that certainly created a ripple across many fronts – from global politics, to the Myanmar generals to the hapless Rohingyas.

Her following words were even more decisive, clearer and a turning point in India’s stance on the Rohingya issue, removing the cloud that gathered after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Myanmar.

While Modi remained silent on the plight of the Rohingya’s, Sushma has maintained that India is “deeply concerned at the spate of violence in Rakhine State” and normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons to Rakhine state.

Her mentioning that “lakhs of displaced persons who have fled from Rakhine State of Myanmar” also makes it obvious under which situation such a large number of people could flee their own country. After all, 1971 is still vivid in Indian memory.

Sushma’s words should go a long way to bolster the world’s efforts to stop the violence against the Rohingyas and to help return of the displaced people to their homeland.

For Bangladesh it was also a diplomatic breakthrough.

However, a difficult task still remains. India, one of the two biggest neighbours of Myanmar, can now exert a lot of influence on Myanmar in stopping the horror being unleashed on the most persecuted people of modern times, the Rohingyas.

Myanmar has created such a precarious situation that it may affect the whole South Asian and Southeast Asian region if the incidents trigger terrorism. India is rightly alarmed at the prospect and should do its best to mobilise world powers and remedy the situation.

On this point, Sushma has rightly pointed out that the only long term solution to the situation is rapid socio-economic development that would have a “positive impact on all the communities living in the State”.  India has taken the first step and now it should move to permanently resolve the issue.

Sushma showed her mettle when she put a clever spin to her opening remark that India-Bangladesh relation goes “far beyond a strategic partnership”.

It was the Chinese President Xi Jinping, who during his visit last year to Dhaka, used the term of endearment for Bangladesh as a “strategic partner”.  But that partnership came to nada when the Rohingya crisis unfolded.

China, instead of honouring that “strategic partnership”, sided with Myanmar. Not only did it not raise any voice against the violence against the Rohingyas, it placed two vetoes at the UN Security Council on a Myanmar resolution.  Because of its opposition in September, the Security Council failed to take any resolution on Myanmar.  And then this week, China spoke out against any foreign interference in Myanmar.

China, whose investment in Myanmar reached $18.53 billion up to January 2017 and considers Myanmar an important tool in its One Belt, One Road initiative, ignored the fact that its “strategic partner” is suffering because of the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

But China should not forget the strategic importance of Bangladesh.  China and Bangladesh signed three dozen deals worth around $25 billion for infrastructure development during Xi’s visit, not to mention Bangladesh’s importance in the implementation of One Belt, One Road project.

A peaceful region is needed for such an ambitious scheme to go through. China, that champions many globally crucial areas including climate change, should not ignore the ongoing humanitarian crisis and should come forward like India to resolve the situation.

  • Inam Ahmed and Shakhawat Liton

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