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The untapped wealth of Rakhine and the persecution of the Rohingya

  • Published at 02:46 pm September 26th, 2017
  • Last updated at 03:01 pm September 26th, 2017
The untapped wealth of Rakhine and the persecution of the Rohingya
Myanmar is trying to paint the exodus of the Rohingya, fleeing persecution in the Rakhine state, as results of religious and ethnic tensions. But there is more to it than meets the eye. Vested political and economic interests are key factors behind the forced displacement, not just of the Rohingya but of other minorities as well. The Rakhine state, home to the Rohingya, is a strategically important state for Myanmar's neighbours, China and India. Despite its rich natural resources, Rakhine remains one of Myanmar's most impoverished states. A 2015 UK government report said Myanmar was estimated to have 3.2 billion barrels of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves adding, “Its unproven resources may be vastly greater.” Myanmar was ranked fifth in the world in terms of its proven reserves. The discovery of massive energy reserves in Rakhine in 2004 caught China's attention, which built oil and gas pipelines by 2013 to connect Myanmar's Kyaukphyu port with Kunming – allowing oil from the Gulf states and Africa to be pumped to China, bypassing the Malacca Straits, and transporting hydrocarbons from Myanmar's offshore fields to China. The 771-kilometre pipeline starts at the Bay of Bengal in Rakhine state, from where most of the Rohingya have been forced out. Saudi Arabia played a major role in the pipeline. In 2011, its state-owned oil company Aramco signed an MoU with China to supply 200,000 barrels of crude per day through the pipeline. It also inked a deal with Sinopec Group to jointly build Yanbu refinery on the Saudi Red Sea coast. Clashes had taken place between armed militia and government forces in Shan and Kachin, while protests were held in Rakhine, where the pipeline passes through. Rohingya coastal community in Rakhine's Kyaukphyu was uprooted in 2012 to pave way for the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone. After the 2012 riot, human rights campaigner Jamila Hanan, also the founder of Save the Rohingya, had told Oil Change International that there was a “definite link between the oil development and the elimination of the Rohingya” who were being cleared out of Sittwe, which is being developed as a deep sea port. India is constructing the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project through Rakhine state to directly connect its northeast with the Bay of Bengal and has nearly finished the Sittwe port work where the Kaladan project starts. Jason von Meding, a specialist in disaster response at the University of Newcastle in Australia, said Myanmar had designated 3 million acres in Rakhine state for the development of the area's rich mineral resources. But the schemes have evoked protests from the local minorities and farmers, who say the moves were aimed at grabbing their land for which they receive little to no compensation.
In this photograph taken on September 7, 2017, a house burns in Gawdu Tharya village near Maungdaw in Rakhine state in northern Myanmar |AFP Myanmar in January said it was starting exploration of about 37 new offshore oil and gas fields along Rakhine coast, reports Naypyitaw-based newspaper Eleven. Companies from France, Indonesia, China, India, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong have invested in onshore projects while firms from South Korea, France, Malaysia, China, India, Thailand and Vietnam are all involved in the exploration, the report said. Myanmar started exporting gas from the Shwe gas project off the Rakhine coast in 2014. Of the 400 million cubic feet of gas produced every day, 379 million are exported to China. Dmitry Mosyakov, director of the Centre for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said he suspected the latest chapter in the Rohingya conflict was influenced by external global players. More than 430,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since August 25 after insurgent attacks on Myanmar police posts and an army base triggered a violent crackdown by the military targeting Rohingya villages. The UN has described the Myanmar violence as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens and brands them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Naypyitaw denies the ethnic minority basic rights and forces many of them to live in apartheid-like condition in squalid camps.
Rohingya refugees march under the punishing sun in Cox's Bazar on their way to refugee camps | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune At a recent roundtable, Bangla Tribune Planning Editor Nazrul Kabir noted that blue economy was one of the most important reasons behind Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya. “America, India and China have roles in the [Rohingya] issue. The Rakhine state is in a geopolitical region that carries a lot of importance,” he said. “Any country which can exert influence on this region will be highly benefited.” Mosyakov told RT in an interview that the conflict between Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists was used by external players to undermine Southeast Asian stability, especially given the fact that vast reserves of hydrocarbon off the Rakhine coast are at stake. He said the conflict was “a game against China”, who has huge investments in Rakhine state. It also aimed at fuelling Muslim extremism in Southeast Asia and create rifts within Asean. This is a very dangerous and effective measure aimed at destroying stability in Southeast Asia, he said. “This is a conflict, which, unfortunately, is very difficult – almost impossible – to solve." Compiled by Zoglul Kamal