Can an economic corridor hold the solution to the Rohingya crisis

Photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc/Wikimedia Commons

China proposed the construction of a Y-shaped China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. The plan will deepen the bilateral cooperation between China and Myanmar.

Editorial

On 19 November 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar and met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar. Wang Yi proposed to build a Y-shaped China-Myanmar Economic Corridor during the meeting. The plan will consolidate the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries.

The economic corridor will connect the two countries

The economic corridor will start in the Chinese Yunnan region. It will extend southwards across the China-Myanmar border to include Mandalay in the south of Myanmar. It will run to Yangon new city in the east, and extend to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in the west. The result will be a Y-shaped economic corridor connecting China with Myanmar.

Myanmar plays a significant role in China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative. It offers China a route to the Indian ocean. A stronger economic partnership between China and Myanmar will facilitate the construction of the road. The economic corridor will help the integration of major projects along the “One Belt One Road” construction. It will also help to foster balanced development across Myanmar.

Wang believes the corridor can help resolve the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

China believes that the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor will help to promote the development of Rakhine State. Wang Yi believes that this will help bring an end to the unrest in the area.

Wang Yi expressed this belief in a three-phase solution to the crisis in Rakhine State. The first step is to reach a ceasefire to ensure there are no displaced residents. Second, Myanmar should communicate with Bangladesh to find a solution for the displaced Rohingya refugees currently living in Bangladesh. Third, the international community must contribute to the poverty alleviation efforts in Rakhine. Wang described poverty as the root of conflict in this region. Both Myanmar and Bangladesh were supportive of the plan.

It is in China’s interests to bring a swift end to the conflict. The economic impact of the crisis in Rakhine State has remained localised so far. If it spills over it will affect development finance and investor sentiment. This would have a negative impact on China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative.

Wang’s solution is unlikely to provide lasting peace

Investors would be wise to proceed with caution. Wang’s approach may provide temporary respite from the conflict. It may even last long enough for China to complete the “One Belt One Road” initiative unhindered. But it will not solve the problems at the heart of the solution.

China’s solution reduces the conflict to economic causes. In the August report from the UN Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, it found that poverty was one of several reasons for the unrest. Flawed citizenship laws, a lack of political representation, and institutional discrimination against the Rohingya were also major factors.

The implementation of a new economic corridor will do several things. It will deepen the bilateral relations between Myanmar and China. It will also generate growth for Myanmar and facilitate the construction of China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative. But it will not solve the crisis that looms over the Rakhine State.

It serves Beijing’s purposes to frame China as Myanmar’s peace broker, but the reality is it will fall on Suu Kyi’s own government to deliver lasting peace to Rakhine.