On the face of it, China's three-stage plan to defuse the Rohingya crisis seems promising. It calls for
a ceasefire in Myanmar's Rakhine state first. This is aimed at halting the violence there. Following the ceasefire, China proposes to get the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments to negotiate on the refugee problem. This would pave the way for stage three when China calls on the international community to help with the economic development of Rakhine. The Myanmar and Bangladesh governments are said to have accepted the Chinese plan. This is a step in the right direction. But the road to peace is not without obstacles and challenges.
Even if the Myanmar military and the main Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, respect the ceasefire and halt the violence, there are others who may not be willing to respect the ceasefire. Rakhine Buddhist vigilante groups have been an important source of anti-Rohingya violence. Will they halt their intimidation and attacks on the Rohingyas? Bringing them into the ceasefire agreement is important. Myanmar's military operations in Rakhine are ostensibly aimed at the Rohingya militants but it has impacted Rohingya Muslim civilians and forced over 6,00,000 of them to flee their homes in search of a sanctuary in neighbouring Bangladesh. Looking after such a large number of refugees is not easy and the Bangladesh government has borne this burden, although international organisations have pitched in to help as well. Once the ceasefire takes hold, the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments will have to decide on the fate of the refugees? Will Myanmar agree to take back them back? This seems unlikely.
China's plan to end the crisis is based on a military-development approach. It is based on an understanding that poverty is the main reason for the crisis. Discrimination against the Rohingyas by the Myanmar state has undoubtedly made them very poor. But addressing poverty by providing jobs will not make the root problem go away. The Rohingyas are stateless and this has to change. They have the right to citizenship and so long as this is denied to them the problem will remain alive. The present crisis is not just one of refugees but denial of Rohingya rights. An end to the systematic discrimination that they are subjected to in Myanmar will have to end for peace to return to Rakhine. China's plan aims at restoring order and stability, not peace. This is so that its investments in Rakhine are protected. Rakhine is an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative and it is to protect this grand plan that Beijing has offered to help defuse the Rohingya crisis. This is bound to raise suspicions in Dhaka and Naypyidaw.