Rohingya crisis exposes NLD’s dilemma

Rohingya crisis exposes NLD’s dilemma

Bi Shihong,

On August 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgent group launched coordinated attacks on 30 police posts in northern Rakhine state, sparking a large-scale counterattack from the Myanmar military.

According to reports, due to terrorist attacks and control by the ARSA, about 270,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh over the past two weeks.

As early as Myanmar’s colonial period, Rakhine state has been suffering from ethnic and religious tensions. For example, Myanmar’s Citizenship Law, enacted in 1982, excluded the Rohingya from attaining citizenship.

The recent conflict has disturbed the overall administrative management of the government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), making the Rohingya issue a concern for the international community.

Since the NLD assumed power in 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi has been in the media spotlight again. Many people hope that she can solve all problems in Myanmar as soon as possible. However, in reality, things are much more complicated than that.

It is unlikely that Suu Kyi, as the leader of the party in power, will support the Rohingya people in face of public opinion and the Citizenship Law.

Furthermore, restricted by domestic political power and Myanmese nationalism, the NLD government has thus far not made any breakthroughs in tackling ethnic and religious conflict in Rakhine state.

And when it comes to the Rohingya issue, the NLD government faces the same kind of embarrassment and pressure as the previous government did. Suu Kyi has also admitted that the situation of Rakhine is the biggest challenge for Myanmar today.

At present, the NLD government is focusing on three aspects: creating job opportunities and improving people’s living standards; solving the ethnic and religious conflicts within Myanmar, especially with regard to the status of the Rohingya people; and maintaining domestic peace and stability, particularly for the relationship between the NLD and the Myanmar military.

The NLD government and Suu Kyi do not have control over the Myanmar military. It is baseless to blame the military’s human rights abuses in the Rakhine state on Suu Kyi and the NLD government, as noted in a UN report. Therefore, all sides should understand the internal and external problems facing Suu Kyi and the NLD government.

The NLD government has been in power for less than 18 months. It is therefore impossible for it to solve all deeply complex problems, such as the Rakhine issue, in a short period of time.

The complicated ethnic conflicts in Myanmar should be dealt with very cautiously, otherwise, the issues could endanger the ruling position of the NLD government.

Confronted with international pressure, the NLD government invited former UN secretary general Kofi Annan to chair an advisory commission on Rakhine state in an aim to provide recommendations to solve the complex problems facing the region.

On August 24, the commission published its final report, which said that if the NLD government does not terminate discriminatory policies on the Rohingya people, including a ban on their freedom of movement and refusal of their citizenship, Myanmar will face an increase of extremism and violence. This prediction was proven true by the following military attacks in Rakhine state the next day.

The religious conflicts and frictions in Myanmar, a multi-religious country, are due to several reasons, such as the country’s unique history and geography, as well as global factors.

Growing religious extremism and ethnic violence have exerted a destructive influence on the world. How to maintain harmony and tolerance within a diverse society is becoming a tougher and tougher challenge.

The Rakhine conflict reflects the split impact of globalization and modernization on Myanmar, a traditionally religious country.

Solving the issue of profound discord among the religious and ethnic groups within Myanmar relies on the country promoting modernization.

The NLD government should play the leading role of Myanmar’s peace process and keep its discourse power at the top policymaking level.

The author is a professor at the Center for China’s Neighbor Diplomacy Studies and an associate dean of the Institute of the Belt and Road Initiative, Yunnan University.