Geopolitical Economy of Myanmar and the Role of Great Powers in Rohingya Crisis

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Geopolitical Economy of Myanmar and the Role of Great Powers in Rohingya Crisis
By Mahfujur Rahman and Md. Saifullah Akon  — Lecturer, Department of International Relations, Bangladesh University of Professionals, Bangladesh and Lecturer, Department of Japanese Studies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.       

Recent Rohingya exodus from the Rakhine State of Myanmar is undoubtedly one of the biggest humanitarian crises ever. Despite the severity of this crisis, it could not draw much attention from the global powers for a possible solution. Historically, ethnic differences in the Rakhine State of Myanmar have been primarily held responsible for the emergence of oppression against the Rohingya people. This paper tries to portray the role of regional and global powers in the recent Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State of Myanmar. The geopolitical economy of the South East Asian region is also focused here to show how it influenced the crisis in different perspectives.

As this paper explores external interest and reluctance as the factors of the recent Rohingya crisis along with Myanmar’s internal ethnic diversities, the theoretical argument grows with neo-classical realist model which bridges between internal and external realities to evaluate any particular event in global politics. This paper also shows how and why the recent Rohingya crisis lacked attention from major global powers. The role of regional and global powers during the crisis and their appeasement towards Myanmar are elaborated and examined too here. While explaining the role of external powers, it is showed how Myanmar managed to eclipse one of the worst ever refugee crises because of lack of global pressure and response. Finally, the paper concludes with showing the obstacles in resolving the Rohingya crisis with a critical evaluation of the role of international community.

The Rohingya crisis is one of the worst and most complex humanitarian crises of our living memory. Myanmar’s persuasion of a “scorched earth policy” of “three all’s policy”— kill all, burn all, loot all is backed by six decades of institutionalized and systematic killing and persecution. The recent surge of violence against the Rohingya minorities of Rakhine state forced almost a million Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh since late August of 2017, making it more urgent than ever. Geographically Myanmar possesses significant position among the Southeast Asian countries, and it is also considered as the corridor of connecting Southeast Asia and South Asia. Her access to the Bay of Bengal has also increased its geo-strategic importance in this region.

Inside Myanmar, the Rakhine State, where the Rohingya crisis took place, has special strategic importance to international powers like India, China, and Japan. Moreover, to facilitate some megaprojects in Rakhine states like dams, special economic zone (SEZ), and some agribusiness plantations, land grabbing was needed which is also considered as one of the major issues behind this crisis. In November 2018, China signed a deal with Myanmar to build a deep seaport in Kyaukpyu, after the cancellation of the project of building a deep seaport in Sonadia Island, Bangladesh.

Considering the political economy of Rakhine state, it was necessary to push the Rohingya people to another place which was not scholarly analyzed rather they focused mainly on the “ethnic” term with “religious color”. Suggesting the Rohingya crisis from a religious perspective is questionable in recent years because such ethnic and religious issues have shadowed the geopolitical economy of the Rohingya crisis where great powers are eager to invest in different economic projects of Myanmar Government in Rakhine state. Moreover, great powers of the world did not put pressure on the Myanmar government to accept Rohingya people or to stop genocide because of their own economic interest in that region in Myanmar.

 Even due to the engagement of great powers and their nonchalant behavior, the United Nations (UN) has also kept enough space from solving the crisis. Moreover, the UN didn’t term the Rohingya crisis as “genocide” but the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al-Hussein, described it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

However, this devious approach and softer tone adopted by the UN have serious implications for an already deepened crisis as “ethnic cleansing” has never been recognized as an independent crime under international law. If the UN declares the ongoing atrocities in Myanmar as genocide, the primary responsibility of preventing and stopping genocide will rest with Myanmar, the state in which crime is being committed.

To protect the civilians from four types of mass atrocities — genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the UN General Assembly adopted the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2005. Under this doctrine, it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene when necessary to protect the civilians throughout the world. But the international community is yet to perform that “responsibility” in Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population.

A Brief Background of the Rohingya Refugee Crisis — The Rohingya, one of the ethnic minority groups in Myanmar, compelled to leave their homeland to seek refuge in a bordering country, Bangladesh, following the discriminatory policies the late 1970s (Albert & Chatzky, 2018). Since 25 August 2017, following the campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Burmese Security Forces, however absolutely denied by the officials, forced to flee from Rakhine state numbering 671,000 to 911,113 Rohingyas up to 30 June 2019 (UNHCR, 2019). Most of them moved out from Myanmar to escape from the grave atrocities including mass killings, sexual violence, rape, widespread arson by the military. (Rohingya Crisis, n.d) Addressing the vulnerable and miserable conditions of the Rohingyas in the camps, a new “Joint Response Plan was proposed for 1.2 million people whose value was US$920.5million (Rohingya Refugee Crisis, n.d.).##

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