CHINA recently offered a three-step solution to resolve the humanitarian crisis involving the ethnic Rohingya community in Burma (Myanmar) in what observers say reflected Beijing’s proactive and conciliatory role in issues affecting the region.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the proposals while calling on the international community to tackle poverty and promote development in Burma’s Rakhine State, which is home to 3.1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims.
Following meetings on Sunday with Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw and military chief Min Aung Hlaing, Wang unveiled the “three-stage plan” in hopes of resolving the issue.
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“The first is to have a ceasefire and to restore order and stability, so the people can stop running away and live in peace,” he said, as quoted by the South China Morning Post. “In the second stage, all parties should encourage and support Burma and Bangladesh to strengthen exchanges, to find a way to solve this issue through consultation on the basis of equality.”
Thirdly, Wang called on the international community to help rebuild Rakhine.
“Rakhine is rich in resources but develops them inadequately,” Wang said. “We call on the international community to help the region eradicate poverty and increase investment … China is willing to help and play its part.”
More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August driven out by a military clearance operation in Buddhist majority Burma’s Rakhine State.
The refugees’ suffering has caused an international outcry.
The foreign ministers Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, opening in the Burma capital Naypyitaw is an important multilateral diplomatic gathering which happens once every two years and is designed to discuss issues between Asia and Europe. The meeting was scheduled to take place in Burma before the outbreak of the current crisis.
After a ceasefire is seen to be working, Wang said bilateral dialogue should follow to find a workable solution, and explained third and final phase should be to work toward a long-term solution based on poverty alleviation.
Wang said poverty was the root cause of the conflict.
Burma’s military has said that all fighting against the Rohingya Islamist militants died out on Sept 5, but it remains on guard against incursions by fighters who had fled to Bangladesh with the refugees.
The refugee crisis erupted after the military launched a brutal counter-insurgency operations against the militants after attacks on an army base and dozens of police security posts in Rakhine on Aug 25.
The group behind those attacks, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), had declared a one-month ceasefire on Sept 10, which was rejected by the government. But there have been no serious clashes since.
Visiting Burma last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned ARSA’s attacks and voiced support for Burma’s transition to democracy under the civilian administration led by Nobel peace prize winner Suu Kyi. But Tillerson also called for a credible investigation into reports of human rights abuses against the Rohingya committed by Burma’s security forces, whose generals retain autonomy over defence, internal security and border issues.
The United States and other Western countries have become more engaged with Burma in recent years, since it began a transition to civilian government after nearly 50 years of military rule.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was expected to address the ASEM gathering, having also visited Bangladesh over the weekend.
Burma state media said the meeting was being attended by senior officials of the Asean Secretariat, 28 member countries of the EU, two non-EU member countries, 10 Asean member countries, 11 countries of northeast and south Asia totalling 51 countries.
China has close relations with both Burma and Bangladesh, and has long been a key player in lawless borderlands where rebel ethnic groups have fought Burma’s government for decades. The conflict in those border regions has occasionally pushed thousands of refugees to seek shelter in China.
Since the Rohingya crisis, China has repeatedly expressed support for what it calls the Burma government’s efforts to protect stability.
Burma and Bangladesh officials began talks last month to settle a repatriation process for refugees, and Bangladesh’s foreign minister expects to take those talks to the next level in coming days.
Additional reporting by Reuters