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BEIJING: China is positioning itself as a mediator in the dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the Rohingya refugee crisis and announced a three-stage solution to the humanitarian calamity on Monday saying both the countries have accepted its proposal.
There were an estimated one million Rohingyas in Myanmar before the 2016-17 crisis. On Oct 22, a UN report said that an estimated 603,000 refugees from Rakhine, Myanmar, had crossed into Bangladesh since August 25. This number increased to 624,000 by November 2. Predominantly Muslim, the UN has described Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
“The (Chinese) initiative was approved in Bangladesh and also in Myanmar,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday. “We hope the proposal will help resolve the current crisis,” Lu added.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is now on a tour to Bangladesh and Myanmar to persuade the two countries to its way of thinking. Beijing is trying to persuade Myanmar to impose a ceasefire and stop the persecuted Rohingyas from fleeing into Bangladesh. It’s also pitching for the return of those who’ve already entered Bangladesh. This is the first stage of the Chinese proposal which Dhaka has been asking for.
As a second step, Beijing wants Bangladesh and Myanmar to strengthen exchanges and find a solution “on the basis of equality”, Lu said. The third stage involves asking the international community to help develop the backward Rakhine state in Myanmar, which is the home of Rohingyas, Lu said.
Lu gave no direct answer to a question about whether China wanted to mediate in the dispute at the second stage. China “upholds mutual respect and non-interference in international affairs in developing relations with countries”.
China has emerged as a major investor in both Bangladesh and Myanmar and has been trying to persuade them to join its One Road One Belt (OBOR) programme.
Beijing is making similar attempts in Nepal, another neighbour of both India and China. However, it faced a setback when Nepal cancelled a Chinese proposal for a $2.5 billion hydroelectricity dam recently. Incidentally, Myanmar had cancelled a $3.5 billion hydroelectricity dam project proposed by a Chinese company three years back.
Besides resolving the dispute, Beijing is also competing with India’s influence in these countries after successfully getting Nepal to accept some of its economic assistance offers.