Published:  12:32 AM, 10 October 2017

The problem is Myanmar's, not ours

The Chinese government has reportedly offered to mediate between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. The spirit in which it was made is welcome. The reality, though, is that the Myanmar crisis has nothing to do with Bangladesh, for Rohingyas were never citizens of Bangladesh and have indeed lived in Myanmar for generations. That they have now been subjected to cruelty of the most insensitive sort by the Myanmar army and security forces is an issue that is purely internal for Naypyitaw. The extent to which it affects Bangladesh has to do with the huge influx of the Rohingyas, more than 500,000 and still counting, into its territory.

The circumstances are simple. Myanmar and Bangladesh are not in a state of conflict of the kind that calls for mediation. A Myanmar minister was in Dhaka recently, to discuss with Bangladesh officials, in however fitful or unsatisfactory a manner, the Rohingya issue. Not long ago, Bangladesh's food minister was on a visit to Myanmar, while the country's home minister is poised to make his own visit. At the UN Security Council meeting on the Rohingyas, both countries presented their sides of the picture without the bellicosity which defines ties between two nations hostile to one another. In other words, there is hardly any reason to think, despite the irritation felt all over, that there is a crisis between the two countries that calls for third party mediation.

China happens to maintain close relations with both Bangladesh and Myanmar, which factor is of course behind the mediation proposal. However, what Beijing can do in the circumstances is to persuade Myanmar into pulling back on the Rohingya issue, come forth with initiatives toward a resolution of the crisis and thereby restore the rather normal conditions that were there before the outbreak of the hostilities at the end of August. The Rohingya issue is a case of a humanitarian degree, a reality that must dawn on the Chinese leadership and one that they can induce the Myanmar leadership into accepting.

Much more important than believing that Bangladesh and Myanmar are in an adversarial relationship, it will be appropriate for Beijing to focus on the essentially humanitarian issues that have been thrown up by the actions of the Myanmar authorities. The Chinese should inform Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues that the Annan Commission report, sanctioned by Suu Kyi herself, needs to be the basis of any resolution of the Rohingya issue.

Where Bangladesh is concerned, its problems are fundamentally the entry of the refugees and the growing fears that they may end up making this country their home for a very long time, if not for all time. With a plethora of problems it is already confronted with, Dhaka cannot be burdened indefinitely with the refugees. It is a point China can keep in mind.

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