China and India find themselves to be strange bedfellows on the issue of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. In a rare congruence on policy, both India and China view the Rohingya problem as being part of a larger Islamic terrorist phenomenon, and not as a humanitarian tragedy bordering on genocide, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed India’s view clearly, in his joint press conference with his Myanmarese counterpart, Aung San Suu Kyi, during his recent visit to Myanmar. The Joint Statement issued at the end of his three-day visit earlier this week, left no room for doubt that India and Myanmar are on the same page on the Rohingya issue.
Speaking in the Myanmarese capital on Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Modi said: “We share your concerns about extremist violence in Rakhine state and violence against security forces and how innocent lives have been affected.”
In her statement, his counterpart, State Counseller, Aung San Suu Kyi, said: “I would like to thank India for taking a strong stand on the terror threat that Myanmar faced recently. Together we can ensure that terrorism is not allowed to take root on our soil or on the soil of neighboring countries.”
Joint Statement Dwells On Terror
In the Joint Statement issued at the end of Modi’s visit, the two leaders said that they “discussed the security situation prevailing along their borders and expressed concern at various incidents of terrorism and extremist-inspired violence that have taken place in their respective territories.”
“Recognizing that terrorism remains one of the most significant threats to peace and stability in the region, both sides condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and agreed that the fight against terrorism should target not only terrorists, terror organizations and networks, but also identify, hold accountable and take strong measures against States and entities that encourage, support or finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and falsely extol their virtues.”
“Myanmar condemned the recent barbaric terror attacks during the Amarnath Yatra in India as also various acts of terror perpetrated by terrorists from across the borders. India condemned the recent terrorist attacks in northern Rakhine State, wherein several members of the Myanmar security forces lost their lives.”
“Both sides agreed that terrorism violates human rights and there should, therefore, be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs. They called on the international community to end selective and partial approaches to combating terrorism and, in this regard, jointly called for the expeditious finalization and adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the United Nations General Assembly.”
“Recognizing that maintenance of security and stability along the common border is essential for the socio-economic development of the peoples of the border areas, Myanmar reaffirmed its respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India and steadfastly upheld the policy of not allowing any insurgent group to utilise Myanmar’s soil to undertake hostile acts against the Indian Government. Myanmar also appreciated Government of India for upholding the same principle.”
China Joins Anti-Rohingya Bandwagon
And now China too has joined the anti-Rohingya bandwagon. While the Chinese government is yet to come out with an official statement on the issue, the state-owned Global Times minced no words when it came out in support of Suu Kyi in an opinion piece lambasting Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yusufzai for criticizing Suu Kyi without taking into account the dangers posed by Islamic militants to Myanmar and the entire region.
Commentator Liu Lulu said that Malala Yusufzai is clearly ill-informed about the real situation in Myanmar in regard to the Rohingyas.
“Malala should get herself acquainted with the basic facts of the violence in Rakhine state before criticizing her fellow Nobel laureate. The crisis is triggered by Muslim extremists’ violent attacks against Myanmar’s governmental forces, and the latter were pressured to take retaliatory actions.”
“Ethnic and religious conflicts between the minority Muslim Rohingya and the majority Buddhist population have been simmering for a long time. Malala seems to be unaware that like many issues in her own country, Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis is a sophisticated issue that cannot be realistically solved in a short span of time,” Liu said.
The commentator reminded Malala that she was awarded the prize for her fearless fight against the Taliban.
“She is a victim of terrorism herself and is supposed to have her own feelings and thoughts about the violence of Muslim terrorists.Muslim extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, are responsible for many violent attacks in the world, and are a common enemy for the whole world.”
“Asia’s development and global peace must be taken into account in anti-terrorism operations. Terrorists must be eradicated, and Rakhine state, a region of geostrategic significance, cannot become a hotbed for terrorist groups to take root and blossom,” Liu argued.
“Malala is clueless about the significance of Myanmar’s strikes against extremists. She should learn more about the situation in Myanmar, and her criticism against Suu Kyi is inappropriate,” the commentator added.
“Malala has a lot to learn before lecturing others who she thinks don’t understand the true essence of peace. She was almost killed in 2012 by Muslim extremists. And it is those Muslim extremists that she should firstly target,” the Chinese commentator said.
Reasons for Support
The reason why both India and China are supporting the Myanmarese government on the Rohingya issue is that they have high economic and political stakes in Myanmar.
In fact, they are competing with each other to win the hand of Myanmar which is rich in minerals, forests and is also strategically located between South and South East Asia. Both countries need the support of the government of Myanmar to achieve their objectives.
According to one assessment, China already wields great influence in Myanmar with Beijing’s direct investment in the country dwarfing all other countries with over $15 billion plowed into 126 projects between 1985 and 2015.
This is much greater than Western investment, with the EU clocking in as the closest at less than $6 billion over the same period.
China’s state-run CITIC Group is the main developer of the Kyauk Pyu port which costs US$ 10 billion along with a Special Economic Zone to create 100,000 jobs in the northwestern state of Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions.
On its part, India is constructing a deep-water port at Sittwe, also in Rakhine State. And it has an ambitious project to construct a road liking Moreh in Mizoram with Thailand through Myanmar.
But India’s trade and investment in Myanmar are small in comparison with China’s. But India wants to boost them desperately. India-Myanmar bilateral trade was US$ 2.05 billion in 2015-16 and its approved FDI in Myanmar is US$ 730 million with 22 companies putting in money.
Both India and China are worried about the unrest in Rakhine state where Rohingya Muslims are 45% of the population. But they believe that the solution to what deem to be “globally linked Islamic terror” is stern military action and not talks or adjustments with the dissenting community.