Bangladesh-Myanmar Relations: Time to break the stalemate?
In this age of interdependence, all countries are interrelated and interconnected to each other. It is true that there will be some issues between neighboring countries but close relations between countries help to address bilateral hurdles in the most prudent way. Bangladesh has two immediate neighbors- India and Myanmar. Historically the South-Eastern region of Bangladesh had close ties with the neighboring state Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state of Myanmar. But, in the 21st century, the two neighboring countries haven’t enjoyed much of its bilateral relationship.
Historical evidence of bonhomie
At the state level, Bangladesh-Myanmar relations officially began from 13 January 1972, the date on which Myanmar, as the sixth state, recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. As the first state head of Asia, U Ne Win, the former President of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma (Myanmar), visited Dhaka on 26 April 1974 for a four-day official visit. President Ne Win said that he came to visit on a mission of friendship and goodwill and wanted to continue the good-neighborly relations and co-operation in all areas of mutual interest. On the eve of his departure on 29 April, President Ne Win said at a press conference at Dhaka airport that his visit was very fruitful and he had very fruitful discussions with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on all unresolved issues. However, with ups and downs throughout the history, the bilateral relations are not good enough as it was during the time of Mujib-Ne Win period.
Though political transition began in Myanmar in 2011, the military regime (Tatmadaw) had been enjoying full authority in the country. A year has passed since the military State Administration Council (SAC) took control of the government. The SAC leaders said that they took political power in accordance with the law and seemed to govern under military rule for many more years. Myanmar should now focus on improving its relations with the neighboring countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is time to look for a win-win situation for the two immediate neighbors—Bangladesh and Myanmar—within the present political context. The paper suggests three areas to work on to break the current stalemate—economic engagement, military cooperation and regional connectivity.
Deepening the economic engagement
To establish robust bilateral economic relations, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed several agreements on trade and business i.e., general trade agreement on August 03, 1973; border agreement in 1980 and demarcation of land section of Naaf River in 1988; and Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) on economic cooperation in 1989. The two countries later initiated formal trade relations on September 05, 1995. Therefore, to increase demand for Bangladeshi products in Myanmar, Bangladesh opened trade exhibitions from 1995 to 1996 in Yangon, former capital of Myanmar. However, that pleasant bilateral economic relations did not last for long, rather was soon interrupted mainly by Myanmar’s long term authoritarian rule and isolationist economic policy. In 2020, the total bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Myanmar was approximately US $112.58 million. Bangladesh exported US $48.5 million whereas Myanmar Exports to Bangladesh was US $64.08 million. The Bangladeshi export to Myanmar was reported at an all-time high BDT 2,355.494 million in 2021, with an increase from the previous BDT 2,122.031 million for 2020. Still a lot of untapped potential can be harnessed. Both the countries can expand trade and investment by utilizing the framework of Joint Business Council (JBC) between the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).
Along with the formal state level economic relation, the economic engagement through the channel of ‘border hat (Bazar)’ could be a good option to accelerate bilateral economic engagements. It creates livelihood opportunities for border residents and connectivity of these remote regions with business hubs of their own countries. It is rational to note here that China is arguing that the root cause of the Rohingya crisis lies in poverty. So, creating economic opportunities through ‘the border hat’ will create an enormous opportunity for the underdeveloped Sittwe and Maungdaw region and thus it will help to address the root cause of the Rohingya crisis.
Myanmar-Bangladesh border trade through Maungdaw started on September 05, 1995, to mainly legalize informal border trade between the two countries. Similarly, border trade through Sittwe started on December 28, 1998. Goods from Sittwe to the Teknaf border in Bangladesh come via the waterway. Around 40 per cent of exports from Myanmar to Bangladesh and around 29 per cent of import of Myanmar from Bangladesh take place through these two borders.
Another important point to add is that better economic ties between the two countries will create the likelihood of mitigating other crises through creating room for discussion. On the international scene, there are a lot of examples where apparently rival states have a good economic relationship with each other. For example, China and India have been locked into several clashes through decades especially during the last couple of years. But, from supplying industrial components and raw materials to investments in India’s startups and technology firms, China is India’s biggest trading partner after the U.S. China is Asia’s largest economy and the world’s second-biggest with a GDP of about $13.6 trillion.
Bangladesh’s 271-kilometer-long border with Myanmar is troubled with the issue of terrorism and insurgency. Lately, a Bangladesh Army NCO along with 3 others were killed in a terror attack at Bandarban. Several dozens of people were killed and abducted in the CHT region in recent years and the continuing sporadic skirmishes by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) against the Myanmar security forces. The inaccessible mountainous area and turbulent Naf River have made the border safe havens for the miscreants. The militant activities by separatist groups of Myanmar and transnational crimes like human and drug trafficking have shown the importance of cooperation between Myanmar and Bangladesh for a safer border.
Besides, the Indo-Pacific has become growingly important in geo-strategic calculations. For the safety and security of the oceanic area collaboration among the countries is a must. Both Bangladesh and Myanmar joined the massive multilateral naval exercise, MILAN 22, launched on February 25. MILAN 22 is the largest-ever participation of several South-East Asian navies along with those of the QUAD members which made it a significant event in the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, Bangladesh and Myanmar armed forces (BAFs) may engage in a greater number of military training courses and regular staff talks for enhancing trust and mutual confidence.
Historically, both Bangladesh and Myanmar have been active proponents of the non-aligned and independent foreign policy which was best suited to safeguard the national interests by avoiding great power rivalries and military blocs. The current Ukraine crisis is forcing us to think once again about maintaining regional harmony to ensure greater peace and stability. Regional connectivity initiatives like the BCIM-EC could play a crucial role in maintaining strong state-to-state relations as well as people-to-people contacts.
Both the countries are members of the sub-regional grouping called the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), as well as of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Bangladesh is also moving towards a closer formal relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which Myanmar is a member. It has joined the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and is likely to enter into a Dialogue Partnership with ASEAN. Through these sub-regional/regional forums, Myanmar and Bangladesh hope to establish better rail, road, maritime and energy links, which will hasten better connectivity as well as trade relations.
The bottom line is that Bangladesh and Myanmar can accelerate the bilateral relations by leveraging their geographic proximity and diverse business opportunities. They can make strong economic connections through the formal and informal channels. The strong participation in the common interest of regional security and military cooperation will help to break the silence and create a win-win situation for the two neighboring countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
China’s Stranglehold on South East Asia: Shaping the Future of the Region
A global order characterized by multiplexity entails a diverse array of state and non-state actors actively influencing the norms of governance according to their distinct cultural perspectives. In stark contrast, a hegemonic world order is marked by the dominance of a single power that propagates a uniform narrative. China’s ambitious pursuit of hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly Southeast Asia, faces a formidable hurdle due to its unsophisticated and unsubtle approach to international relations.
Beijing’s diplomatic, economic, and military initiatives over the past ten years and beyond have undeniably increased China’s influence throughout Asia. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China’s relations with Russia, as well as those with developing nations of Central Asia, India, Southeast Asia, South Korea, and Japan, have reached an all-time high. This expansion of Beijing’s influence and Asia’s response to Chinese initiatives are inescapable in the long run. Undoubtedly, China is the dominant nation in continental Asia, and it has a thriving economy that, while competing with those of other Asian nations, also drives overall economic growth.
However, to ostensibly stop China from becoming a regional hegemon, the United States and its Asian allies seek to maintain a delicate balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. They worry that Beijing will gradually persuade its neighbors to turn away from the United States, accept Chinese preeminence, and abide by Beijing’s preferences in key foreign policy decisions. Thus, a dominant power wielding its power in this way makes itself less vulnerable to blockades and other forms of coercion while also gaining the respect of weaker states within its sphere of influence, even in the absence of direct rule. The lack of local threats makes it easier for the regional hegemon, should the need or desire arise, to project power into other global domains. Furthermore, despite being a key component of hegemonic ordering, China’s increased economic and financial power in South Asia has not yet resulted in the creation of a regional structure that is in line with its own security, economic and ideological interests.
In particular, India has surpassed China in both size and proportion of young people due to its rapidly growing economy and population. Significant increases in defense spending show that many of China’s neighboring countries are actively engaged in vigorous balance efforts. In addition to the United States, other nations, such as Australia, India, and Japan, are working together. These countries will probably respond with even more resolute measures as their worries about Chinese hegemony grow.
Despite that, South Asia has historically rarely been a focus of American efforts to establish global hegemony. However, under Xi’s leadership, China has increasingly manipulated its role as a regional benefactor, showing a tendency to use force and take sides, particularly in relation to India’s territorial disputes with its neighboring states. The goal of China’s engagement policy is to maintain its strategic advantage over maritime communication routes. This strategy has forced the region into a precarious balance in which economic cooperation and strategic implications must be carefully navigated. The region has shown assertiveness on a few issues and has chosen to co-opt each other’s interests despite China’s materially inferior capabilities.
Due to its lack of cultural legitimacy as a superpower and its preference for extensive economic activism, China’s pretended win-win scenario for Asia as a whole has been called into question. As they interact with the prevailing norms at various levels of state and society, as well as state and non-state actors, the sectors that support China’s aspirations for hegemonic dominance are constantly contested, opposed, renegotiated, and reproduced. Furthermore, China’s rise has unquestionably been imperative to maintain global economic growth, with its market playing an important role.
In a world where our omnipotence in all fields is no longer absolute, Americans will face difficult adaptation challenges. We can adapt to change, though, because we have a flexible and resilient nature. Both the United States and China will continue to pursue their respective national interests as they see fit. In summary, since multiple countries, not just the US or China will participate in power sharing, the future world will likely be more complex than the past and will be characterized by increased “democratization.” There will be numerous opportunities for nations with reliable ties to both Beijing and Washington to control their level of involvement in international affairs. There shall be no dominant force and there shall be no such thing as a “G-2”.
Indonesian Media Perception of China After Brokering Saudi-Iran Peaceful Restoration
In some degree, we have agreement that regional instability in the Middle East occurred as a result of the reckless US strategic acts thus far. Libya and Iraq invasions have created a chaotic environment for the region everywhere, causing the Middle East not decent to live in. All the more, the long-drawn quarrel between Saudi and Iran which respectively represents the school of thought in Islam, namely Sunni and Shia, not only does harm to the two, but also stir a proxy war across the region. Such two conditions exacerbated the plight for people in Arab Peninsula. Therefore, the more US intervention declining in the Middle East, as well as the rapprochement between two sworn enemies of Saudi-Iran, the more it will open the chance to actualize peace in the region.
Perhaps, it is too early to discuss the impact of the Saudi-Iran restoration on Indonesian Muslims perception toward China at the current time. Meanwhile, it does not mean the event is improbable to have any effect at all since global political phenomena often spark a strong leverage on Indonesia’s domestic politics, especially for Muslim issues. The hottest one was the Indonesian public rejection of Israel’s football team arrival which eventually led to Indonesia being disqualified by FIFA as the host of the world cup under-20. The occurrence is the outcome of the long series of global political phenomena, in particular in the Middle East where Israel up to now still expanding its territorial settlement, seized some Palestinian regions that augment Indonesian public anger. Moreover, according to Anthony L. Smith (2003) findings, Indonesian Muslim society also will never forget how the anti-terrorism campaign launched by the US in the post of World Trade Center bombing on September 11, 2001, discrediting and containing anti-Islam stereotypes, renders ultimately anti-American backlash. Indonesian Muslim fury against the US, the study found, is often triggered by the US double standard in managing the conflict in many places where they deem the US has a bias in its foreign policy.
The facts provided above describe how magnificent the impact of Muslim-related issues on Indonesia is, not exceptional for Saudi-Iran relations. The Saudi-Iran relations recovery at least gives the consequence for Muslim adherents in Indonesia in some ways. Apart from shedding a lesson about how to deal with many cases of intra-domestic Muslim intolerance, the event also opens a new horizon upon the importance of China’s role in shaping a world to be more harmonious. China’s fruitful action as a peace mediator between Saudi and Iran has drawn the feeling of respect and impressed of Indonesian society. However, it is unprecedented imaginary the report regarding the reconciliation of the two sworn enemies in the Middle East surprised the whole public in the world. That is spectacular due to the sudden occasion that happened thanks to China’s benevolence. China is neither actor in the region nor a Muslim country nor a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Consequently, due to its significance, it inevitably, too gets a spot in Indonesian media coverage. As reported by Indonesia’s distinguished newspaper, Kompas, in its editorial titled “China’s Charm and Iran-Saudi Relations” (03/13/2023), in spite of China’s strategic interest in the Middle East, the pacification between the two camps due to China’s line of duty deserved to get applauded. Kompas is not partisan media and it becomes an important reference for the Indonesian public reading.
Kompas opened its news lead with the sentence “Global power could reconcile (hostile parties), not exploit” referring indirectly to US’ failed role in the Middle East so far. Conversely, China’s tacit approach without fanfare and non-invasive has actually been effective. In other parts of its news, Kompas praised China and mentioned that China is worthy to get appreciation by saying “Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to reopen diplomatic relations that had been broken since 2016. This was made possible because of China’s commendable kindness”. Unmitigatedly, Kompas also claims that the US has failed in the Middle East, “Liberal hegemony has failed. China offers itself a simple, no-frills peace. China’s economic strength and Arab oil play a role, but peace is a core. Common prosperity could be achieved if there is a stable and peaceful situation. Salute to China”.
Kompas’ news coverage at one blow, albeit indirectly way, describes Muslim happiness inside the country. Indonesian Muslim congregations are enthusiastic to look forward a harmony in the Middle East. Engulfed the conflict in the Middle East often has an impact on Indonesia’s domestic political stability as abovementioned earlier. Thus, the apparent communion between Sunni and Shia, either Saudi or Iran, will also give a trickle-down outcome in intra-religious life, especially Islam in Indonesia. While well-known as benign and plural Muslim, undoubtedly in some cases Sunni-Shia hostility has oft occurred in Indonesia. Achieved current rapprochement between Saudi and Iran, least would open much maneuvering room for dialogue and learning for wrangled fringe in Indonesia to take advantage and similar steps.
Once again, thanks to China. Now, we are still waiting for another surprise upon China’s role in making the breakthrough to realize the comprehensive win-win solution between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East. This expectation also has ever conveyed by Haedar Nashir, Chair of Muhammadiyah – one of the most distinguished moderate Muslim organizations in Indonesia besides Nahdlatul Ulama – it was addressed long-far before the Saudi-Iran rapprochement. He hoped China is actively engaged in freeing Palestine “We hope that China as a big country can defend the rights of the Palestinian people like other nations” (Republika, 2/2022).
The Effectiveness of the Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Combating Child Labor in Indonesia
Initiated by the United Nations regarding the importance of Human Rights in dealing with the protection of children’s rights, then giving birth Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1958. The formation of the convention on the rights of the child certainly formulates universal values and legal norms as an umbrella for countries to protect children, therefore, this convention contains international agreements on human rights by inserting civil rights, economic rights , and cultural rights therein. There have been many who have signed the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the world, except Somalia. In the Convention on the Rights of the Child there are 54 regulatory articles. As a body that strives for child protection, are member states that ratify children’s rights consistent in seeking child protection and is this convention on the rights of the child effective for use (Human Rights, 1989)
Indonesia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child by Presidential Decree Number 36 of 1990. With the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by Indonesia, legally Indonesia performs its obligations to fulfill and protect the basic rights of children. This ratification was strengthened by the Indonesian government by passing Law No. 23 of 2003 concerning child protection based on the rule of law to protect children. The convention on the rights of the child was ratified by Indonesia because the level of child welfare in Indonesia is very low. Like many child labor activities (Lestari, 2017).
Child Labor in Indonesia
The phenomenon of child labor also occurs in Indonesia. It is recorded that 9 out of 100 children aged 10-17 work in the informal sector and 88.77% of children who work are unpaid. Children who should get rights such as going to school and playing are forced to do work that should be done for adults. The problem of child labor is of particular concern to the world community. This is because the existence of child labor can have an impact on the health and welfare of these children (ILO, 2015).
Many child workers in Indonesia work in the agricultural sector. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) there are around 1.5 children working in oil palm, rubber, and tobacco plantations. The ILO also noted that East Java and Central Java are regions with the highest rates of child labor in Indonesia with an age range of 10-14 years. This has an impact on the health of these children, because working children have to inhale pesticides from prohibited fertilizers. In addition, there are many cases of children being injured as a result of being exposed to oil palm thorns (Kemenpppa, 2021).
Is the Convention Declaration on the Rights of the Child Effective in Addressing Child Labor in Indonesia?
There are still many problems regarding child labor in Indonesia, a big question is whether the convention on the rights of the child that has been ratified by Indonesia is applied to handling child labor. If you look at article 32 in the convention on the right of the child it states that:
1. The state must recognize and protect the rights of children from attempts at economic exploitation, such as work activities that endanger or interfere with the child’s education, endanger physical health, mental, spiritual, moral or social development,
2. The ratifying State shall take legislative, social and educational measures to ensure the application of this article with purpose having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties will in particular:
a) Determine the minimum age or minimum age to be accepted for work;
(b) Provide suitable hours and conditions of work;
(c) Establish appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective implementation of this article (Human Rights, 1989)
In fact, Indonesia cannot apply several regulations from the 54 articles in ratification. Indonesia seems to have forgotten the regulations contained in the article that has been explained. Indonesia has also legalized the law regarding child labor contained in Law No. 13 of 2003 article 68 concerning the prohibition to employ children. However, the law that is made well is from regulations declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as domestic laws. Until now child labor inIndonesia is still at 1.05 million working children. The regulation was made without any reports on whether the regulations and efforts made by the Indonesian government based on legal conventions on children’s rights were effective (Lestari, 2017).
There is a declaration Convention on the Rights of the Child actually very helpful to work on the rights of children around the world. The established legal laws are also very good. However, it turns out that the application of existing laws is not enough to be used optimally in Indonesia in dealing with child labor, even though Indonesia has also made statutory regulations that regulate child labor. There are suggestions that can be conveyed for the implementation of child protection, namely that the government should comply with the rules contained in the ratification article regarding children’s rights. Then there is synchronization of programs to fulfill the protection of children’s rights. Strengthen the law by conducting regular monitoring and evaluation of child protection programs. The Indonesian government must be firm in making improvements or changing programs in order to achieve child welfare. Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child must also strengthen regulations so that countries that commit violations are at least given strict sanctions.
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