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Myanmar’s Irresponsibility in Rohingya Refugee Repatriation: The World Must Act Now

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At the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Debate, Myanmar claimed that “Both the terrorist group ARSA and the terrorist insurgent group AA have used Bangladeshi territory as a sanctuary”. It is ironic that instead of facilitating the Rohingya repatriation, Myanmar is spreading propaganda, fabricated and false information to avoid their obligation to repatriation. In fact, it is well known to the world that Bangladesh follows a “zero-tolerance policy” to terrorism, terrorists financing and other drivers of terrorism under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has ensured that Bangladesh territory is not used by any terrorist.

It is nothing new for Myanmar. Myanmar also labeled Rohingyas as terrorist earlier to systematically persecute them. It is reported that Mandalay monk Ashin Wirathu used “social media to spread often false stories about Muslims, regularly denigrating them in speeches as mad dogs and rapists. Those that dare challenge Wirathu’s view of events quickly become the target of his invective. UN envoy Yanghee Lee was labelled a ‘whore’ when she stood up for the rights of the Muslim Rohingya minority” (Fisher 2015).

Indeed, Rohingyas were framed as “terrorist”, as the “enemy” of the state of Myanmar to occupy their lands. Donald M. Seekins rightly notes that “in a classic ‘divide-and-rule’ strategy, both military regimes have enlisted Arakanese Buddhists in attacks on Rohingya communities, and, after evicting the Muslims, allowed the Arakanese Buddhists to occupy their lands” (Seekins 2006:383).

Myanmar also claimed in the UN General Assembly that 350 Rohingyas from camps in Cox’s Bazar district had returned to Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Bangladesh raised questions over Myanmar’s such claim and wanted to know the whereabouts of those returnees. Bangladesh asks that: “Who are those 350 people? Where are they now? Are they living at their homes in safety and security?”. It is ironic that while Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingyas since August 2017, though false claim, the number of 350 becomes a matter of joke.

The fact is that on January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on Physical Arrangement to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland. But unfortunately two repatriation attempts were failed in November 2018 and August 2019 due to Myanmar’s lack of political will and lack of seriousness by the international community to pressurize the Myanmar government.

In fact, Myanmar failed to create a safe and favourable condition for the Rohingya repatriation. Thus, no Rohingya is interested to repatriate. Myanmar did not show any interest to implement the repatriation deal signed with Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Myanmar has backing from the major powers including China, Russia, and India in the Rohingya issue. Consequently, Myanmar did not face severe international pressure on facilitating a successful Rohingya repatriation.

In the UN General Assembly, Myanmar identifies Rohingya crisis as a bilateral problem between Myanmar and Bangladesh. But it is Myanmar’s internal problem. It has been created by Myanmar and has to be resolved by Myanmar, as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina noted in the UN General Assembly. Bangladesh as a good neighbourly attitude  opened doors to the helpless Rohingyas who were raped, tortured, and killed by the Myanmar armies.While major powers in the region including China, India closed their doors to the Rohingya crisis, did Bangladesh make the wrong decision to show greater humanity to the Rohingyas, to save lives? Unfortunately, Bangladesh became a victim of Myanmar’s atrocities to the Rohingya refugees as Myanmar is not showing any concrete interest to repatriate those Rohingyas now. On the other hand, the international community also failed to make a successful repatriation though three years have already passed.

One needs to look at the genealogy of the Rohingyas to make a successful repatriation.If one looks at the existing literature on the Rohingyas, it was in fact 1799 when Francis Buchanan contends that “I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.” (Reprinted 2003:55). Michael W. Charney from the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS], University of London thinks that “the derivation of Rohingya from Roainga is very clear” (Charney 2005). Moshe Yegar (1972:2) in his book The Muslims of Burma: A Study of a Minority Group notes that “Muslim seamen first reached Burma in the ninth century. Although geographically on the perimeter of the major trade routes, Burma nevertheless enjoyed rather lively shipping activity which brought in its wake the beginnings of a Muslim settlement.” Yegar traced the ancestors of the Rohingyas to the Arab and Persian traders.Therefore, the lineage of the Rohingyas in Arakan was strongly found in earlier Burma which indicates that they are living in the country throughout centuries. This genealogy of the Rohingyas needs to be used by the international community to pressurize the Myanmar government and ensure the safety and well-being of the Rohingyas by ensuring their safe return in the Arakan state of Myanmar.

The international community needs to visit in the Arakan state and monitor the situation there to understand the conducive environment for the return of the Rohingya refugees. The international media needs to report the situation in Myanmar on a regular basis so that the world becomes well-aware of the developments there.

Finally, Bangladesh is providing food, shelter, medicare and other services to more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017 but cannot handle such a huge people for a long time. Rohingya refugee crisis has already created economic, environmental, ecological, and social problems for Bangladesh. The country has already sacrificed a lot for the Rohingya refugees including its hundreds of acres of forests. The world needs to know that more than 170 million people live in 1,47, 570 square k.m. area with limited resources in Bangladesh which makes it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The world community needs to understand that it becomes a daunting task for Bangladesh to continue its whole-hearted support for the Rohingya refugee given the existing socio-economic realities of Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, it is already three years passed but concrete actions either from Myanmar government or from international community is absent. Thus, the proactive support of global community is a must now to address this crisis. One can also note that the scholars, the media, the civil society organizations, the human rights organizations in the world needs to come forward to mobilize global support in favour of Rohingya refugee repatriation as none can avoid its responsibility to address the crisis.

The bottom-line is that Myanmar’s irresponsibility to repatriate the Rohingya refugee became the key challenge. Myanmar needs to stop spreading propaganda against the peaceful Bangladesh. It is Myanmar’s responsibility to ensure the safe return of the Rohingyas in Myanmar who were living in Myanmar throughout centuries as the historical document suggests. In this case, the accountability of the state of Myanmar to successfully repatriate the Rohingyas needs to be ensured by the international community. The culprits of the genocide need to be brought under the justice system so that such a caseis not repeated in the future. The future generations will not forgive the Myanmar government and the international community if they fail to show humanity, to ensure justice to a great tragedy, to the Rohingya crisis. The world must act now.

Md. Shariful Islam is an assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Currently, he is on study leave and pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi. Email: shariful_ruir[at]ru.ac.bd

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Southeast Asia

Learning to build a community from a ”Solok Literacy Community”in the West Sumatra

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Established on September 21, 2020 in Solok City, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. Solok Literacy Community initiated by the young people of Solok City has grown rapidly into a community that has its own trendsetter among young people. Bringing narratives smelling of education, The Literacy Solok Community has a movement with measurable progressiveness that can be seen from its flagship programs.

Starting from the free reading stall movement that has been moving in various corners of Solok City over the past few months. The concept of film surgery that provides proactive discussion space for all segmentation in society. “Diskusi Ngopi” activities which in fact is the concept of FGD (Focus Group Discussion), run with interesting themes and issues so that it can be considered as one of the favorite programs that are often attended by many young people in Solok. Then a class of interests and talents aimed at reactivating the soft skills and great talents of the children of Solok City.

Solok Literacy Community has a long-term goal of making Solok City as a Literacy City in 2025. With these noble targets, of course we together need small steps in the form of programs that run consistently over time. Because after all, a long journey will always begin with small steps in the process of achieving it.

Many appreciations and positive impressions from the surrounding community continue to be received by the Solok Literacy Community. This is certainly a big responsibility for the Solok Literacy Community to continue to commit to grounding literacy in Solok City. Solok Literacy Community activities can be checked directly through instagram social media accounts @solok_literasi. Carrying the tagline #penetrategloomy or penetrating the gloom and #lawanpembodohan, members of the Solok Literacy Community or better known as Soliters, will always make innovative breakthroughs in completing the goal of making Solok City 2025 as a Literacy City.

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Indonesia Submit Extended Continental Shelf Proposal Amidst Pandemic: Why now is important?

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Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

Indonesia’s active cases of coronavirus have been getting more worrying with more than 100.000 active cases. With nearly a year of pandemic, Indonesia’s not only facing a serious health crisis but also an economic catastrophe. People lose their jobs and GDP expected to shrink by 1.5 percent. Jakarta government therefore should work hard to anticipate the worst condition in 2021.

With this serious economic threat, Indonesia surely has to explore maximize its maritime geographic potential to pass this economic crisis and gain more national revenue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And there where the Extended Continental Shelf submission should play an important role.

Recently this week, Indonesia submit a second proposal for the extended continental shelf in the southwest of the island of Sumatra to the United Nations Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal State exercises sovereign rights concerning the exploration and exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources.

Therefore, this article argues that now is the right time for Indonesia to maximize its Continental Shelf claim under the law of the sea convention for at least three reasons.

First, one could not underestimate the economic potential of the Continental Shelf, since the US Truman Proclamation in 1945, countries have been aware of the economic potential from the oil and gas exploration in the continental shelf.

By being able to explore and exploit natural resources in the strategic continental shelf, at least Indonesia will gain more revenue to recover the economy. Even though indeed the oil and gas business is also hit by the pandemic, however, Indonesia’s extended continental shelf area might give a future potentials area for exploitation in long term. Therefore, it will help Indonesia prepare a long-term economic strategy to recover from the pandemic. After Indonesia can prove that there is a natural prolongation of the continental shelf.

Second, as the Indo-Pacific region is getting more significant in world affairs, it is strategic for Indonesia to have a more strategic presence in the region. This will make Indonesia not only an object of the geopolitical competition to utilize resources in the region, but also a player in getting the economic potential of the region.

And third, it is also showing that President Joko Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum agenda is not yet to perish. Even though in his second term of administration global maritime fulcrum has nearly never been discussed, this momentum could be a good time to prove that Indonesia are still committed to the Global maritime fulcrum by enhancing more maritime diplomacy.

Though this is not the first time Indonesia submit an extended Continental Shelf proposal to the CLCS, this time it is more likely to be accepted by the commission. Not to mention the geographical elements of natural prolongation of the continental shelf that has to be proved by geologist.

The fact that Indonesia has no maritime border with any neighboring states in the Southwest of Sumatra. Therefore, unlike Malaysia’s extended continental shelf proposal in the South China Sea that provoke many political responses from many states, it is less likely that Indonesia extended continental shelf proposal will raise protest from any states.

However, the most important thing to realize the potential benefit of the extended continental shelf as discussed earlier, Indonesia should have a strategy and road map how what to do after Indonesia gets the extended continental shelf.

*Arie Afriansyah is a Senior Lecturer in international law and Chairman of the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at University of Indonesia.

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Southeast Asia

The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam

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Photo courtesy - PTI

In its fourth year since the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, December 2020 witnessed an enhanced cooperation between New Delhi and Hanoi, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to defence and maritime cooperation, amid common concerns about China.

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In an effort to boost defence cooperation, the navies of India and Vietnam conducted atwo-day passage exercise (Passex) in the South China Sea on December 26 and 27, 2020, reinforcing interoperability and jointness in the maritime sphere. Two days before this exercise has begun, an Indian naval ship arrived at Nha Rong Port in Ho Chi Minh City to offer humanitarian assistance for the flood-affected parts of Central Vietnam.

Before this, in the same week, during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on December 21, both countries inked seven agreements on miscellaneous areas of cooperation and jointly unveiled a vision and plan of action for the future, as both countries encounter the common Chinese threat in their respective neighbourhoods.

Vietnam’s disputes with China

India’s bone of contention with China ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Both Vietnam and India share territorial borders with China. Well, it seems odd that despite its common socialistic political backgrounds, China and Vietnam remains largely hostile. 

Having a 3,260 km coastline, covering much of the western part of South China Sea, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Chinese claims based on the legally invalid and vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line concept, unacceptable for all the other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

In 2016, China lost a case brought out by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague when the court ruled that Beijing’s had no legal basis to claim ‘historic rights’ as per the nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it has been doing since 2013, some of them later militarized to gain favourable strategic footholds in the sea and the entire region.

The Paracel and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has been historically considered part of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave the erstwhile South Vietnam control of territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included these island groups. But, China lays claims on all of these islands and occupies some of them, leading to an ongoing dispute with Vietnam.

China and Vietnam also fought a border war from 1979 to 1990. But today, the disputes largely remain in the maritime sphere, in the South China Sea.

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been long regarded as India’s sphere of influence. But with the Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar megaproject proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting three continents, which is part of it, China has grand ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Theories such as ‘String of Pearls’ shed light on an overambitious Beijing, whichattempts to encircle India with ports and bases operating under its control.

China has also opened a military base in Djibouti, overlooking the Indian Ocean, in 2017 and it has also gained control of the strategic port of Hambantota in the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the same year.

Chinese presence in Gwadar in Pakistan, where the Maritime Silk Route meets the land route of BRI, is also a matter of concern for India. Moreover, the land route passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is under Pakistani control, but is also claimed by India.  China has also been developing partnerships with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to its ports in the Bay of Bengal.

Notwithstanding all this, India’s response has been robust and proactive. The Indian Navy has been building partnership with all the littoral states and small island states such as Mauritius and Seychelles to counter the Chinese threat.

India has also been engaged in humanitarian and developmental assistance in the Indian Ocean region, even much before the pandemic, to build mutual trust and cooperation among these countries. Last month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Sri Lanka to revive a trilateral maritime security dialogue with India’s two most important South Asian maritime neighbours, the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foe’s foe is friend

The Indian Navy holding a Passex with Vietnam in the South China Sea, which is China’s backyard, is a clear message to Beijing. This means, if China ups the ante in the Indian Ocean or in the Tibetan border along the Himalayas, India will intensify its joint exercises and defence cooperation with Vietnam.

A permanent Indian presence in the South China Sea is something which Beijing’s never wish to see materialise in the new future. So, India’s engagement with Vietnam, which has a long coast in this sea, is a serious matter of concern for Beijing.

During this month’s virtual summit, Prime Minister Modi has also reiterated that Vietnam is a key partner of India in its Indo-Pacific vision, a term that Beijing vehemently opposes and considers as a containment strategy against its rise led by the United States.

Milestones in India-Vietnam ties – a quick look-back

There was a time when India supported Vietnam’s independence from France, and had opposed US-initiated war in the Southeast Asian country in the latter half of the previous century. Later, India hailed there-unification of North and South Vietnams.

Even though India maintained consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams before the re-unification, it was elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972, thereby establishing full diplomatic ties that year.

During the Vietnam War, India supported the North, despite being a non-communist country, but without forging open hostilities with the South. Today, India partners with both France and the United States, Vietnam’s former colonizers, in its Indo-Pacific vision, comfortably along with Vietnam as geopolitical dynamics witnessed a sea change in the past few years and decades.

Way ahead

Today, these two civilizational states, sharing religio-cultural links dating many centuries back, is coming together again to ensure a favourable balance of power in Asia. Being a key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘Quad Plus’ conceptualisation, Vietnam’s role is poised to increase in the years to come as China continues to project its power in Asia and beyond.

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