Can China help in addressing the Rohingya crisis?
The ties between Bangladesh and China have evolved into a deeper relationship over the last few years. This dynamic has intensified in its diversity through greater connectivity within the sub-regional and regional paradigms. This has opened doors within this matrix. It has also generated endeavours towards cooperation in diverse areas.
This process has now been taken forward with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s latest visit to Beijing in the first week of July. It has not only demonstrated growing Chinese understanding of seemingly intractable issues being faced by Bangladesh, but has also demonstrated Chinese willingness as a partner to assist Bangladesh in overcoming challenges.
China’s presence in the global arena has transformed connotations related to the geo-strategic paradigm in Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. It is this factor that has persuaded Bangladesh to underline to the Chinese government the growing importance of Bangladesh within the sub-regional and regional context, and the need to reinforce the bilateral relationship.
Sheikh Hasina started her visit through her participation in the “Summer Davos” meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Dulian, China from July 1 to 3. Here, she shared her views on different current issues that have grabbed the attention of the world’s socio-economic community and the civil society. She met many leaders from different sectors and had discussions on how to cooperate more meaningfully through mutual trust in overcoming existing difficulties emerging on the horizon. These included facets related to environmental challenges, regional competition, economic disparities, and technological adaptations.
Their attention was also drawn to the fact that these were introducing misunderstandings, instability, and fundamental differences of opinion about the resolution of these factors. She also reiterated Bangladesh’s position that greater efforts are needed towards the reshaping of companies and communities in different countries that are taking place at an unprecedented speed and scale, thanks to digitalization.
After her inter-active engagement at the WEF, the PM proceeded to Beijing, where she had meetings with the Chinese president, prime minister, and foreign minister, and also with the Chinese Communist Party leadership. On July 4, several important economic instruments were signed between representatives from the two countries related to expansion and strengthening of the power system and the power grid network in Bangladesh and the establishment of an investment cooperation working group.
The External Resources Division of Bangladesh also signed two Concessional Loan Agreements with the Export-Import Bank of China. MOUs were also signed with regard to provision of Hydrological Information related to flow of the Yarluzangbu/Brahmaputra River, and also a Cultural and Tourism Exchange Program between the two countries. There was also a Letter of Exchange related to the Rohingya Refugees Rice Aid with the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA).
Comprehensive and in-depth discussions also took place on the economic prospects of Chinese investment in Bangladesh, and reduction in the dynamics of the fast-growing trade imbalance between the two countries. FBCCI played an important role in this regard. Hasina also sought Chinese assistance for implementing the Delta Plan 2100, setting up of a Climate Adaptation Centre, and in the mobilizing of resources for implementation of the Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project.
She also told the Chinese prime minister that China needs to undertake more investment in Bangladesh and develop industries with the “buy-back guarantee” principle in operation. Such investment, she pointed out, could be undertaken within the Special Economic Zones network that was being created within several parts of Bangladesh. PM Hasina also drew the attention of the Chinese leadership to the need for restoring stability in the south-eastern areas of Bangladesh presently under severe pressure due to the presence of more than one million Rohingyas.
Delay in the repatriation of these Rohingya citizens was affecting the matrix of development in that sub-region and also playing havoc with its environment. It was also affecting national security and encouraging the trafficking of drugs and people. Such a situation, quite naturally, was not acceptable not only to Bangladesh, but also to the displaced people.
The PM also drew the attention of the Chinese leadership and reiterated to them that “the only solution to this crisis remained in the return of the Rohingyas to their homeland.” In this context, she drew their attention to the fact that Bangladesh had engaged in bilateral arrangements and undertaken different efforts for the repatriation of the Rohingyas, but the displaced people do not want to return to Myanmar as they are afraid of such a possibility.
It would be pertinent to recall that, in 2017, when the Rohingya exodus started from Myanmar into Bangladesh in August, Sheikh Hasina in her statement during the UNGA Session had asked the Myanmar authorities to implement the recommendations made by the Kofi Annan Commission. However this was never done. It would also be appropriate to mention here that many countries of the world, including the EU, Canada, and the US have also strongly sought Chinese and Russian support in this regard.
Institutions like the UN Human Rights Council, the UNHCR, the ICRC, the IOM, and the OIC have also strongly recommended that the solution to this problem lies in active persuasion of Myanmar by China, Russia, and India.
It appears that the Chinese leadership has assured Prime Minister Hasina that they would “try to” persuade Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya crisis through “bilateral discussions.” The Chinese governing CPC leadership, including Song Tao -- the CPC minister for international affairs -- has also stated that “we will contact with the Myanmar political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to solve the Rohingya problem amicably.” President Xi has also indicated to Sheikh Hasina on July 5 before her departure for Dhaka that there should be a quick solution to the Rakhine crisis.
One can only hope that the coming two months before the next session of the UNGA will witness a movement forward in the right direction.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]