Thursday, September 21, 2017

Western Critics Miss Big Picture in Myanmar Religious Conflicts
By Bi Shihong
Global Times
2017/9/21 20:58:39

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi broke her silence on the Rohingya issue on Tuesday. In her first address to the nation since the attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on August 25, Suu Kyi said Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny and the government is committed to restoration of peace and stability and the rule of law throughout the country. She also condemned human rights violations and violence and assured all terrorists involved in the Rakhine clashes would be held accountable.

However, she pointed out the West's criticism of the Myanmar military's human rights "abuses" in Rakhine state should be based on more evidence. She also invited international organizations to Rakhine state and listed humanitarian assistance it has received in recent years, saying the Myanmar government would implement recommendations by the Advisory Commission led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The Buddhist-majority state of Rakhine suffered several waves of ethnic conflicts since 2012, leading to tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing across the border into Bangladesh and India. The Rakhine issue has triggered social, ethnic and religious contradictions in Myanmar and its neighbors, and cast a shadow on its relations with ASEAN countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

The terrorist ambushes on August 25 were perpetrated by Rohingya insurgents who staged surprise raids on police posts, killing officers and security personnel. The tension in Rakhine has intensified due to subsequent military and police operations.

The purported uncontrollable forces outside Myanmar have played a key role in the Rakhine crisis. Some external terrorist forces from the Islamic State (IS) and other jihadist cliques are backed by Rohingya Muslim militants. As extremist IS militants and jihadist groups are steadily losing ground in Iraq and Syria, they attempt to capitalize on the plight of Rohingyas to revive their egregious power in the Middle East.

Western countries have not been satisfied with the Myanmar government's stance on the Rakhine violence and Suu Kyi's speech. Some international organizations even suggested she be "stripped of her Nobel Prize." Some political figures and organizations demanded a new round of sanctions on Myanmar.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned the treatment of Rohingya Muslims is "besmirching" Myanmar's reputation. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain is suspending training support for Myanmar's military. In addition, the US Senate Armed Services Committee has stripped language from a bill authorizing defense spending that would have expanded US military cooperation with Myanmar.

However, Western countries and media outlets lack a deep understanding of the complicated situation in Myanmar. They only highlight the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and their burnt villages, which does not help alleviate the tension.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) government is sandwiched between the Myanmar military and nationalist parties. As the NLD government cannot control the military, the two sides must take concerted steps and promote political transformation to address thorny issues facing Myanmar.

The Rahkine issue involves Myanmar and Bangladesh, as well as Rohingya Muslims and the indigenous local people. As Rahkine is mired in a vicious cycle of poverty and turmoil, ethnic reconciliation remains a conundrum for the NLD government. It will take time and effort to address religious strife in the state. Proper handling of relations among religious groups in Rakhine state is crucial to curb extremism and radicalization in Myanmar. We should not allow the Rohingya crisis to spiral out of control, but it needs to be tackled with more than condemnation or military violence.

As a friendly neighbor of Myanmar, China hopes all parties calm down and start talks to deal with the Rakhine issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently said China supports efforts by the Myanmar government to guard its national security and opposes recent attacks in Rakhine, hoping the "fire of war" can soon be extinguished. China is willing to continue promoting peace talks in its own way, and hopes the international community can play a constructive role in resolving the crisis and promoting dialogue.

Against this backdrop, the NLD government should end military violence against Rohingya Muslims and implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission. We call on the international community to cooperate in resolving the Rakhine issue to help Myanmar head in a positive direction.

The author is a professor at Center for China's Neighbor Diplomacy Studies & School of International Studies, deputy director of Institute of the Belt and Road Initiatives & Institute of South Asia and Southeast Asia Studies, Yunnan University.

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