The Rohingya crisis has been a painful diplomatic hazard for Bangladesh from the border side of Myanmar for the last few years
China has assured Bangladesh of using its “goodwill” for the repatriation of the Rohingyas. The Chinese pledges may sound comforting from the face of it, but considering Beijing’s track record of its Myanmar promises combined with its solid business ties with Naypyidaw, these promises – if not altogether bleak – may end up being another lip service from China.
The Rohingya crisis has been a painful diplomatic hazard for Bangladesh from the border side of Myanmar for the last few years. China is a major ally of Myanmar believed to have enough leverage to influence Naypyidaw to change its Rohingya policies. Bangladesh has always expected China by Dhaka’s side on the repatriation of the Rohingyas, which actually never happened.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal for the return of the Rohingya refugees on November 23, 2017. As part of the deal, Bangladesh handed over a list of 8,032 Rohingyas for repatriation in the first batch and 300 Rohingyas were supposed to be repatriated every day.
A year and a half have passed, but that very first batch of repatriation has not happened. This outcome was predictable given the stringent conditions like showing national registration cards or documents of residency were to be fulfilled. Because asking for these papers from people running for their lives under the threat of an ethnic cleansing is nothing but a vindictive joke.
Since August 25, 2017, around a million Rohingyas have fled Myanmar to safety in Bangladesh in fear of their lives. Till this day, Bangladesh has provided refuge to around a million Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar. Dhaka has repeatedly sought Chinese assistance for a solution to the crisis, which China has so far served with only lip service without any proper action.
Since the outset of the Rohingya repression and influx of the refugees in Bangladesh, the United Nations and the international community have been criticizing Myanmar and demanding actions against what they described as ‘crime against humanity’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar.
But China has been shielding Myanmar in the United Nations Security Council either by boycotting meetings on Myanmar’s repression or denouncing the UN moves and investigations into the crimes perpetrated by Naypyidaw.
Take the September 28, 2017 UNSC meeting for example. When the United States, the United Kingdom and France, three permanent members of the UNSC, demanded an end to the “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingyas, China, backed by Russia, prevented the body from taking a move against the country.
Again on November 7, 2017, at the UNSC meeting, when the body condemned the violence in Myanmar, China blocked a stronger resolution condemning the military excesses. China’s role as the saviour of Myanmar just never ends.
China, instead of taking a role in stopping Myanmar, discouraged to “internationalize” the Rohingya crisis. Beijing has been one of the few backers of Myanmar who played down the Rohingya repression in Rakhine as Myanmar’s internal issues.
Meanwhile, we have also learned that China has giant business projects in Rakhine state of Myanmar, including a major port at Kyaukphyu, a planned special economic zone (SEZ), and others. These projects, however, are speculated to have restrained China from taking a stand against Naypyidaw on Rohingya issue.
As the crisis in Rakhine continued to escalate, China rather looked to have taken it as an opportunity to bring Myanmar more into the Beijing’s block. When Myanmar had been under pressure from everywhere, China, instead of using its leverage to stop Myanmar from persecuting the Rohingyas, continued its support for Myanmar and its military.
China’s leverage over Myanmar is stronger than any other country. Both the countries share a long history of bilateral relations that improved over the years when Myanmar was isolated from the rest of the world. In the meantime, China has also developed a strong relation with Bangladesh, the key sufferer of the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Bangladesh’s sincerity to repatriate the Rohingyas, however, was never questioned. Dhaka, in its continuous attempts to repatriate the Rohingyas to their country, proposed a safe zone in Myanmar on February 13, 2019.
"If a safe zone is created under the vigilance of China, Russia and India along with the ASEAN states, the Rohingya people will be encouraged to return to their own land," said Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen. This safe haven, as expected, also did not see the light of the day.
Now that China is using good words to use its ‘goodwill’ as requested by the Bangladeshi prime minister during her five-day visit to China; these good words, however, are not new.
China has been in good terms with the ruling Bangladeshi government and both the countries have impressive business ties. Beijing’s diplomatic and business relation with Myanmar is even stronger. As the Bangladeshi prime minister smartly put it, a little ‘goodwill’ from China and President Xi can solve the Rohingya repatriation issue.
With the new promises from the Chinese government, especially from the Communist Party of China (CPC) having good terms with the ruling party in Bangladesh, a little ‘goodwill’ of China and its president can potentially solve the Rohingya crisis ‘quickly’.