Today, both Myanmar and Bangladesh confirmed they have signed an agreement which will allow both countries to begin the implementation of a Chinese peace plan for the repatriation Rohingya refugees to Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The sift and quiet implementation of a Chinese plan, officially announced only this week, is a clear demonstration of several things:
–The businesslike nature of Chinese diplomacy
–The clout China has in the wider Asian world
–The effectiveness of a peace plan that seeks to address concerns from all parties
–The attraction of a plan that promises enhanced economic stimuli in exchange for multilateral efforts to resolve a long burning civil and now bi-national crisis
The first element of the peace plan called for an intensification of the existing ceasefire, while phase two called for the orderly return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. These refugees had fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in the midst of a local conflict between Buddhists in Rakhine and Rohingya Muslims.
Bangladesh and Myanmar are now preparing the repatriation of hundreds of thousands who had fled Myanmar. Because many Rohingya people who had been living in Myanmar were non-citizens, the process looks set to normalise the long-burning issue of citizenship as well.
Phase three of the plan calls for further economic cooperation between China, Myanmar and Bangladesh as a long term solution to stabilise the region and prepare it for a long term peace. Thus One Belt–One Road has been successfully leveraged as a positive incentive to create regional peace and stability according to China’s “win-win” model.
All of this has happened as the United States called the de-escalating situation in Myanmar an “ethnic cleansing”. Clearly, the implied threats from the US statement have not derailed the Chinese peace process.
As I wrote only hours ago,
“In respect of Myanmar and also Bangladesh, China has for the first time in the history of the People’s Republic, ventured to propose a geo-political peace initiative concerning countries not engaged in a conflict with Beijing. As this comes just months after China opened up its first overseas Naval logistics base in the African nation of Djibouti, China is making it clear that as part of its 21st century rise to world-leadership, it will assert itself in security and peace keeping initiatives, in addition to more familiar economic initiatives such as One Belt–One Road.
In other words, China would heavily disapprove of any US military intervention, however limited, in its neighbour and partner.
But beyond having to consider this massive gamble, the US has already fallen victim to the law of unintended consequences. Whereas China’s peace proposal was genuinely multi-lateral in scope, sought to address real concerns on all sides of the long-burning crisis in Rakhine and did not prioritise the grievances of one side over another, including long-time Indian ally Bangladesh (which has recently expressed enthusiasm for participation in One Belt–One Road), India’s position has been one of total support for Myanmar.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently visited Myanmar and proceeded to fawn over Myanmar in a clear attempted to show that India is a more valuable ally to Myanmar than China. While Myanmar holds the potential to be a mutual partner that could help resolve lingering issues between India and China, instead, Modi invoked his zero-sum mentality and effectively attempted to sell Myanmar on the idea that India is more valuable than China, whereas China would be happy for both states to have respectful economic relations with Myanmar.
However, when it comes to large nations with a zero-sum mentality, Modi just met his match in the form of the United States, a country whose statements indicate that Washington is far more convinced by Myanmar’s partnerships with China than Myanmar’s relations with India.
While the US is doing everything it can to woo India into its sphere of influence, using mutual opposition to China as the bait, the US seems to have blindly overlooked the fact that the US just accused a country India has good relations with and seeks to expand upon those relations, of ethnic cleansing.
In officially putting itself on the opposite side vis-a-vis India, the US has shown that the policy being sold to New Delhi, that Washington will India’s side in every major issue from China and Pakistan, to One Belt–One Road and the war in Afghanistan, is at best, incomplete and being approached in a totally one sided manner.
The US clearly sees India not as a co-equal but as a geopolitical useful idiot, where by contrast, China would be happy to work with India on mutually beneficial economic projects, were India to meet China half way. When it comes to pouncing on a Chinese peace initiative, the US is willing to trample on the interests of its Indian “ally”, without apparently thinking twice. This ought to make red alarm bells go off in New Delhi, as this is a clear sign of how seriously the US takes its supposed allies.
The US for its part has been deeply upset at the fact that India continues to have strong relations with Iran, while Pakistan is building would could potentially be a game-changing partnership with Tehran. Unable to play India against Pakistan over Iran, as the US once could (using its influence in Riyadh), it seems that the US, far from trying to ‘win India over’ is instead showing disregard for its key ambition to pivot its geo-strategic interests towards South East Asia via Myanmar.
In calling the events in Myanmar an “ethnic cleansing”, the US has put China on alert and India in a position to think twice about its relationship with Washington. So much for the much vaunted Washington expression “Indo-Pacific”. Washington has just disregarded India on a key matter in South East Asia”.
Thus, while the US has indeed been able to sufficiently open a public disagreement with India over Myanmar, the Chinese peace plan is nevertheless being executed both rapidly and cooperatively. As China will doubtlessly continue to build on this historic initiative and look to author further regional peace plans, the ability of the US to realistically leverage threats against South East and South Asia nations, will be necessarily diminished.
Chinese diplomacy has in this sense, taken a great deal of the bite out of Washington’s geo-political bark and has done so with very little fanfare.
What remains for China is to now, effectively inform the wider world, particularly the global community of Muslims, about its peace process. The US which has killed more Muslims than any power in the 21st century, will be quick the try and exploit a false narrative about China working against Muslim interests. In reality, China has helped to bring peace to both the Muslims and Buddhists of the region in a meaningful way. China has nothing to lose by using its media outlets to explain this to those who have heard the anti-Chinese myth from the United States and its partners.