• Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:30 pm

Xi’s Myanmar Visit: Economic interests get the better of human rights

  • Published at 10:28 pm January 19th, 2020
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi hold talks during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw on January 17, 2020 AFP

Beijing’s unwavering support for Myanmar on Rohingya issue remained unchanged during the visit of the head of the government of China

The two day visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Myanmar, the first by a head of state of China in nearly two decades, concluded on Saturday. 

Among many other issues, predominantly economic in nature, the ongoing Rohingya crisis is badly affecting Bangladesh and also had a place in the discussions between the two sides. Beijing’s unwavering support for Myanmar on this issue remained unchanged during the visit of the head of the government of China, the most powerful country in the region and the second largest economy of the world after the United States of America.

“The Chinese side supports the efforts of Myanmar to address the humanitarian situation and to promote peace, stability and development for all communities in Rakhine State. Myanmar reiterated its commitment to receive verified displaced persons based on the bilateral agreement reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh,” said Hualong Yan, deputy chief of mission of the Chinese embassy in Dhaka, to the Dhaka Tribune, quoting the joint statement issued by China and Myanmar upon the completion of Xi’s visit on Saturday.

“The Chinese side reaffirms its willingness to provide further support, within its capacity, to Myanmar in the repatriation process and resettlement of displaced persons from Rakhine State. Myanmar thanked China for its understanding of the complexity of the issue and for all its support to Myanmar,” he said.

The words above are nothing new. These reflect that China does support what Myanmar is doing with respect to the Rohingya crisis.  This can lead many to believe that Beijing will not put any pressure on Naypyitaw for the speedy repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people sheltered in Cox’s Bazar. But, as a friend, Bangladesh wants no more words but action from China to help resolve the crisis.

The purpose of the Chinese president’s visit was mainly to do business, keeping others away,  especially the West, Japan, and India. Beijing is taking advantage of the fact that Western countries cannot do business in Myanmar due to its poor human rights record. Xi’s visit, which took place amidst two separate proceedings at two international courts against Myanmar, sent a strong message that Beijing is with Naypyitaw, which has been isolated from the rest of the world due to its inhumane treatment of the Rohingya.

Xi and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the country, signed 33 agreements regarding key projects that are part of the flagship Belt and Road Initiative, China’s vision of new trade routes described as a “21st century silk road”.

Both the leaders have agreed to hasten development of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor, a mega infrastructure project involving billions of dollars, with agreements on railways linking landlocked southwestern China to the Indian Ocean, a deep sea port in conflict torn Rakhine state, and a special economic zone on the border.

Of course, experts believe that Xi’s visit did not get Beijing what it actually wanted, especially the resumption of the construction of a $3.6 billion mega dam. The construction of this dam stalled in 2011 due to objections of the people of Myanmar.

China is a global economic leader and militarily the most powerful in the region. Often, economic and military power  alone do not command the respect of others. It is up to China to determine if it wants to be a leader in terms of morality. If, and only if, Beijing wishes to do so, it will have to begin with sincere efforts to solve the crisis of the Rohingya people who have suffered and are suffering in the extreme.

As a strategic partner, China has a responsibility to help Bangladesh get rid of the crisis as soon as possible by using its influence on Myanmar. China must show its resolve to find a solution to the crisis to the benefit of both Bangladesh and Myanmar. The solution to the problem will also protect its investment in Rakhine state. Instability in Rakhine will not help China’s business.

So, it is time for China to fulfil its moral obligation to mitigate the suffering of the Rohingya without any delay. Economic interests are important, but those must not come at the expense of the suffering of a persecuted people who are unable to protect themselves.