Dhaka Roundtable Calls Out China Over Rohingya Crisis

By Muktadir Rashid   5 October 2018

DHAKA — Former diplomats and strategic analysts in Bangladesh on Thursday called on the government and the international community to convince Beijing to resolve the Rohingya crisis and warned that China would be among those to feel the fallout of a drawn-out debacle.

In a roundtable titled “Durable Solutions of Rohingya Crisis” hosted by Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission in Dhaka, the analysts and ex-diplomats vented their frustrations, claiming that neither “friendly” India nor “trusted” China” have done much to help solve a crisis that was threatening regional security.

They argued that the US and EU were the true champions of a durable solution to the problem and were doing their part.

“We must convince China,” said retired Brigadier General M Sakhawat Hossain. “Though it is very difficult to convince China as it has invested a great deal of money in a deep-water port in Myanmar.”

Sakhawat Hossain, now a national security and defense researcher, said India did not carry nearly as much weight on this issue as China, and that China would face problems if the Rohingya crises were to drag on for 10 or 15 years.

“If the crisis is not resolved, in 10 years this area will turn into some sort of a proxy battlefield,” he warned.

“None of us know how the crisis will be solved,” he added. “Myanmar is not going to resolve it unless she is forced.”

“This was a long-planned program by Myanmar,” said Sakhawat, a graduate of the United States Army Command and General Staff College.

He said the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army — which launched the attacks on security forces in Rakhine State in August 2017 that triggered the Myanmar military’s crackdown — had few resources, but noted that the country’s armed forces were contending with several other ethnic armed groups at the same time.

Former Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Mohiuddin Ahmed said Dhaka had yet to take a clear position on whether it wanted to see the crisis settled bilaterally or multilaterally.

“China is pushing for a bilateral solution to the crisis. Are we going to listen to China or will we approach it multilaterally?” he asked.

The ex-diplomat suggested that Myanmar had little reason to worry about international blowback over the Rohingya crisis so long as China was in its corner.

Though China has forged friendly relations with Bangladesh over the years, it supplied arms to Pakistan during the 1971 Liberation War that led to Bangladesh’s independence.

According to the Chinese Embassy in Bangladesh, the value of engineering, procurement and construction contracts going to Chinese companies in the country during the first 10 months of 2017 shot up some 24 percent year on year to $6.4 billion.

Mohiuddin said Chinese companies were winning most of the big contracts in Bangladesh but faced little criticism when they missed deadlines. And he warned that China would try to establish a strategic foothold in Rakhine State after losing one in the Maldives following recent elections there.

While making a strong pitch to hold those responsible for the violence against the Rohingya to account, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a lecture on “Global Challenges, Global Solutions” in New Delhi on Tuesday, said India could help tackle the Rohingya crisis by backing Bangladesh with humanitarian aid and using its influence over Myanmar to promote reconciliation.

“Guterres has to persuade [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi on the issue. It is assumed that our friendly neighbor [India] never pays heed to our calls,” Mohiuddin said.

National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque also criticized China’s behavior over the crisis.

A former Bangladeshi envoy to China, Azizul Hoque, in turn accused Myanmar of breaking all the commitments it makes to other countries. He said Bangladesh should be encouraging the International Criminal Court to prosecute Myanmar’s military officials, believing it would make Myanmar more amenable to a speedy repatriation process.

Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Hoque was invited to the roundtable but did not attend.