Making Myanmar behave – A worthwhile mission

When levers and counter-levers pull away in opposite directions the object of delivering change is stuck on the pulley, as it were. This is understandable as a scientific concept. But what is so eerily unethical is the oxygen of support Myanmar not only receives from a handful of countries, but is also pumped up by. No wonder it treats rule-based civility with a barbarian disdain. Thanks to the lurking prospect of one veto outweighing all the rest in the UN Security Council, even other veto powers, Myanmar is dictating terms to a stupefied world.

During the critical final phase of our Liberation War, the then Soviet Union had vetoed ceasefire resolution in the UNSC providing impetus to the speedy end of the war and consequent birth of Bangladesh. Not only that, the former Soviet Union, whose glory Putin tries to imbibe, became a tower of strength for India-Mukti Bahini joint command’s success through the rampart of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation signed in August 1971.

How things change! It is difficult to believe today that the same country is up to stonewalling a tough resolution against Myanmar by playing a veto card in an unjust cause! Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the UN, warned that “excessive pressure” on Myanmar “could only aggravate the situation in the country and around it.”

A Christian Science Monitor report in late September stated, “The US and others call for a strong stance against Myanmar military for their part in Rohingya crisis. But China and Russia urge the UNSC to work with Myanmar authorities instead of against them.”

Yet, the Russian ambassador to the UN, and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, both warned (in contrast to China) that the Rohingya crisis could spread spilling over to central Rakhine where an additional 250,000 Muslims might face displacement.

Austin Ramzy, writing for the New York Times on September 18, had lamented, “Despite international condemnation of Myanmar’s campaign of violence against the Rohingya people, there have been few calls for a return to the sort of sanctions that were long a part of the country’s relationship with the West.”

One feels that while thanking the USA, EU, and the western world in general for their generous support including placing travel ban on Myanmar generals, we must not lose sight of the fact that they are far from re-imposing some of the earlier sanctions on Myanmar as a foretaste of things to come if it failed to behave.

It is little consolation that the ethnic cleansing issue has limbered up from closed door session to an open discussion phase at the Security Council with a mark of urgency attached to it. Up to that point, China and Russia kept company with the rest to have an “open discussion” for a moment raising a sliver of hope that maybe China is toying with a prospect of toughening its stance on Myanmar down the line. After all, an intensely close neighbour (Chinese universities seriously run Burmese language courses) is obliged to rap Burma’s knuckles without causing undue offense.

Beijing’s imposition of sanctions at long last on North Korea, a close ally, for its unceasing tests of long-range ballistic missiles after the matter had come to a head conjured up a possibility that Beijing might change its mind about Myanmar. Although the two situations are not quite analogous, the dispossessed Rohingyas making for more than a million refugees are a ticking time bomb. Should it explode, its spill-overs are likely to destabilise the region.

But China had blocked an effort by Egypt to add language calling for Rohingya refugees to be granted the right to return to Myanmar.

Sun Guoxiang, China’s Special Envoy of Asian Affairs, thought that Myanmar was more committed than ever before to take back the Rohingyas (as if they are doing us a favour after having themselves created the situation!).

There is a contradiction in China’s latest posturing. The Chinese special envoy of Asian affairs, on the one hand, puts emphasis on bilateral talks to resolve the crisis; on the other, he says “Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are their (China’s) friends. They want to resolve the crisis in a peaceful way by working with two friends.” If that be the case, should we not try to cash in on the glimmer of a prospect for a Chinese intercession in bringing the parties together for a sustainable resolution of the double-edged sword of a problem—on-going, off-going forced exodus and diffident repatriation of the stateless Rohingyas?

Prospective initiatives include convening a special session of the UNHCR Council in Geneva in January; appointment of a special advisor to the UN secretary general following the retirement of India’s Vijay Nambiar; and passing of a special resolution at the UN Third Committee dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural concerns.

India, China, Russia and Japan have very strong stakes in Bangladesh. BCIM corridor and One-Road-One-Belt (OROB) can be on the cusp of new catalysis underpinned by sustained Track-ii diplomacy.