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China ties up with India, Bangladesh to repatriate Rohingyas; Myanmar unwilling

By Harunur Rasid* 

We now have a new hope, thanks to news reports that were published in the Bangladeshi dailies recently. Myanmar has suddenly taken initiatives to repatriate Rohingyas. As part of this initiative, diplomats from eight countries posted in Yangon were flown to Rakhine last week. Among them were diplomats from Bangladesh, India and China.
Myanmar has now brought forward the issue of repatriation of more than 1,000 Rohingyas from Bangladesh under the pilot project. According to local media reports, Myanmar has taken this initiative mainly under the pressure of China.
Bangladesh signed an agreement with Myanmar on repatriation in November 2017, three months after the Rohingya were expelled from Rakhine. China was behind this agreement. But no progress was made in the repatriation of Rohingya.
In 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar failed to initiate a round of repatriation within the stipulated time. Attempts to resume repatriation in 2019 were later mediated by China, but ultimately nothing happened. In February 2021, Myanmar's military seized state power through a coup. After this incident, the discussion regarding Rohingya repatriation practically came to a standstill.
These diplomats have been taken to show preparations for the repatriation of Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Bangladesh to Myanmar's Rakhine state. A small-scale return of Rohingya to Rakhine has been under discussion since 2020 after China joined the repatriation talks. 
China has been pressuring Myanmar on this issue for several months. Although not going deep into the Rohingya problem, ASEAN, the alliance of Southeast Asian countries, also wants repatriation to begin, albeit on a small scale. As a part of this, 11 diplomats from 8 countries have been shown on the ground including interim camps in Myanmar's Maungdoo and Sittwe cities.
Diplomats who visited Rakhine observed that the situation in Rakhine is slightly better now compared to 2018 to 2020. Rohingyas living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps there are now getting a chance to move to Sittwe town.
But even a couple of years ago, no one was allowed near the camp. In addition, about 230 Rohingya students were admitted to Sittwe University last year. This is the first time since 2012 that so many representatives of the Rohingya community have been admitted to this university. Besides, the Rohingyas in Rakhine are getting access to health care.
Negotiations on family-based Rohingya repatriation to specific villages began three years ago, mediated by Beijing. But the Rohingya repatriation process stalled due to the corona epidemic and the seizure of power by the Myanmar army. After a long hiatus, Myanmar was now active in repatriating Rohingyas. What is the real purpose of this activity, whether repatriation is possible or not, these questions are coming to the fore.
The situation in Rakhine is good at the moment. The Arakan Army was engaged in a fierce battle against Myanmar's military government a few months ago. But now the situation is much calmer. 
In this situation, it is not impossible to start repatriation with thousands of Rohingyas. China is pressing for repatriation before the start of the monsoon season in full swing next June. ASEAN also wants repatriation to begin, albeit on a smaller scale.
The question also arises as to why China is suddenly putting so much emphasis on the issue of Rohingya repatriation. The repatriation will ease international pressure on Myanmar's military government. Besides, Beijing also thinks that some acceptance of the junta government can be created.
A tripartite method for the repatriation of Rohingyas living in Bangladesh was collaboratively devised by Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China during the UN General Assembly session in September 2019. The three nations decided to establish a cooperative working group to carry out the repatriation of the Rohingya. Due to the security situation in Rakhine State, repatriation has not been possible to date.
China started the first round of the trilateral meeting in 2018, and on January 20, 2021, there was a virtual tripartite meeting. The repatriation was scheduled to begin by June 2021 at the conclusion of the negotiations, but it hasn’t yet. By beginning the process of Rohingyas’ return home and fostering a climate that is favorable to their return in Rakhine under the direction of China.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui joined representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh for a virtual meeting between Myanmar and Bangladesh on January 19, 2022, to discuss the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims. 
Following the negotiations, all sides agreed to start repatriation. Sincere efforts from China to solve the crises’ underlying problems and improve the situation there. As a result of China’s influence over Myanmar, China can be crucial to resolving this conflict.
To protect China’s interests in Myanmar, the Rakhine state must remain stable. The infrastructure that China built in the state of Rakhine will have a big impact on the region’s economic growth. Human resources are also necessary to run all of these facilities. These Rohingyas and Rakhines can be trained by China to work efficiently in a variety of facilities and sectors.
A stable Rakhine will draw tourists, and the region’s tourism industry can grow. Rakhines and Rohingyas can work in that sector as well. That will deal with the state’s unemployment issue. The level of racial animosity will progressively decline as the economy improves, and harmony may be guaranteed. The Rakhine region is essential for China’s military plans in addition to ensuring presence in the Indian Ocean.
China is pressing for repatriation before the start of the monsoon season in full swing next June
The Western world has not said much about solving the Rohingya crisis and taking them back to their own country. He talked about various decisions including economic sanctions. 
The reality is, these words of theirs have been of no use other than just ‘lip service’. We have always said that China’s role and cooperation in solving the Rohingya crisis is very important. If China is proactive, this crisis can be resolved quickly.
The Government of Bangladesh should take a tripartite reconciliation initiative with Myanmar along with China. Finally, the government has started walking in that direction. It is very positive and the path to solving the crisis is slowly but surely widening. Myanmar has a multidimensional historical relationship with China. 
China has been providing extensive cooperation in the country’s agriculture, industry and trade. Despite Myanmar’s internal conflict and civil war, the economic relationship between the two countries is expanding.
The deadline for Myanmar's counterargument in the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been set for April 24. There is also a question whether this matter has any relation with the sudden repatriation of the Rohingya by the junta government of Myanmar.
Analysts, however, do not see the prospect of a short-term Rohingya repatriation improving Myanmar's image. They say that there is no chance to get rid of the responsibility of genocide just by starting repatriation. 
But Myanmar may want to convince the ICJ, along with the international community, that they are taking steps to improve the situation. According to legal experts, there is a chance to think that Myanmar's image will be much brighter by taking the initiative to start repatriation.
However, the ongoing discussion on Rohingya returnees mediated by China is very positive. Thanks to China for coming forward in this regard. Needless to say, Myanmar has the closest relationship with China in the world. When the whole world is against Myanmar, China is shadowing it.
Their friendship is bound by strong bonds. China can play the most influential role in solving the Rohingya crisis. It has been proven that no matter how much the United States and the Western world, including the United Nations, threaten Myanmar with regard to the repatriation of Rohingya, nothing is being done.
Bangladesh and China have close political and military relations in addition to the fact that China is Bangladesh’s top trading and development partner. The Rohingya issue must be addressed in Myanmar, a country that China has significant influence over. As a result, China has started to put a big contribution to the return of the Rohingya.
we think China’s role in this case will serve as a model for future efforts to advance world peace, particularly in light of the repeated failures of attempts to repatriate Rohingya due to the government of Myanmar’s blatant indifference and partially due to the insincere efforts of the international community. And when it comes to finding a long-term solution to the biggest refugee crisis in history, we wholeheartedly believe in China’s potential.
---
*London-based Bangladeshi expatriate analyst and researcher

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