How greed, money and power are fuelling the Rohingya’s suffering in Myanmar
Daniel Wagner says that the drive to exploit oil and gas resources in Rakhine State, led by Myanmar’s military and enabled by foreign clients, is the real reason behind the push to purge the country’s Rohingya population
The Western media has rightly focused on two critical aspects of the Rohingya tragedy in Myanmar – the humanitarian crisis and Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to publicly criticise the Myanmar government’s policy of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State.
Left unsaid, however, is why the government is pursuing this policy, and the role of other nations in creating an atmosphere conducive to the crackdown. In short, it is a tale of greed, money and power.
The roots of the violence in Rakhine are multifaceted and rooted in British colonial officials’ failure to include the word “Rohingya” in censuses taken of the then-British colony, something subsequently used to falsely characterise the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring regions, with no historical legitimacy in Myanmar.
That is, of course, not true, but thanks to the opening the British created, the former military regime and current democratically elected government have both denied the Rohingya full citizenship, strictly limiting basic freedoms of movement and suffrage.
Suu Kyi finds herself in a precarious position, re-emphasising her support for non-violent political change, while at the same time referring to the Rohingya’s disrespect for the “rule of law” as a justification for a strong military presence in Rakhine.
Suu Kyi was quite happy to be portrayed as a human rights icon while she was herself a political prisoner but, since becoming the country’s de facto leader, she may rightly be referred to as a garden-variety politician where the Rohingya are concerned, beholden to the power behind the throne (the military). The West appears to have been wrong to place her on a human rights pedestal.
While her silence has certainly contributed to the sad plight of the Rohingya, it is ultimately Myanmar’s military rulers who have plundered the great natural resource wealth of the country for decades and are ultimately to blame for this state of affairs. Having refused to give up their power while allowing a thin veil of “democracy” to descend over the country, their ongoing unbridled pursuit of wealth from the sale of the country’s natural resources to countries around the world is ultimately why the brutal assault on the Rohingya persists.
If Rakhine State were devoid of natural resource wealth, and were not geostrategically important to the transport of oil and gas to China and beyond, perhaps the government would not care quite so much about the Rohingya. But the truth is that countries from around the world are involved in the extraction of natural resources from Myanmar more generally, and Rakhine specifically.
For example, in 2013, China completed construction of a natural gas pipeline from Myanmar’s coast that begins in and runs through Rakhine State, the result of a 30-year contract with the country’s military. This multibillion-dollar contract will take precedence over other concerns in a kleptocracy such as Myanmar.
Saudi Arabia has also been working with the governments of Myanmar and China to industrialise natural resource production and distribution within Rakhine State.
Saudi Arabia and some of its smaller Persian Gulf neighbours became deeply involved in Myanmar’s oil industry in 2011, when Riyadh and Beijing signed a memorandum of understanding in which China pledged to provide 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day through the Sino-Myanmar oil pipeline.
The United Arab Emirates has also built roads and hotels to supplement Rakhine State’s booming oil industry. And in 2014, Qatar began transporting methane to China via Myanmar, further emphasising the important role of Myanmar in connecting China and the Arab Gulf states.
Having embarked on this path, it would seem that the military in Myanmar will not rest until the Rohingya have been scrubbed from Rakhine State.
It would be difficult to imagine, given the monetary stakes involved, that the military in Myanmar will ever give up power, or allow human rights to supersede their ability to continue ruling the country with an iron fist.
For that reason, the government is unlikely to reverse its position on the Rohingya in the future – with or without Suu Kyi at the helm. It is clear that Suu Kyi has made her deal with the devil to remain in her position, but much of the world must be asking if the price of doing so is too high.
Daniel Wagner is founder of Country Risk Solutions, managing director of Risk Cooperative, and author of the new book Virtual Terror