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Sunday, 17 November 2019

Burdens of political geography: Myanmar as a model

Ahmed Al-Moslemany , Saturday 17 Aug 2019
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Views: 3363

Many don’t know that a headmaster became the UN secretary-general. It is an exciting story.

In 1945, World War II ended and the UN was founded. In 1946, Norway’s Foreign Minister Trygve Lie became the first UN secretary-general, resigning suddenly in 1952.

Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold was the second UN secretary-general, but he was killed when his plane crashed in Congo in 1961. The accident is still mysterious.

Hammarskjold had a fair and dignified personality and stood against colonialism and supported countries seeking independence. He still enjoys deep respect in Egypt because he was the first to stand against the Tripartite Aggression, threatening to resign.

After Hammarskjold was killed, U Thant became the third head of the UN. He was a teacher and headmaster, then worked on the schoolbooks committee and was appointed head of the radio in Burma. All of a sudden U Thant was appointed his country’s UN permanent representative. When Hammarskjold was killed, the headmaster became secretary-general, holding the post for ten years (1961-1971).

Burma, which got its independence from Britain in 1948, has become known worldwide because of U Thant. U Thant was well-known in Egypt because he was the UN secretary-general during the 1967 defeat. Long years passed while the Burmese people suffered under dictatorship internally and from international sanctions externally.

In 1989 Burma’s name was changed to Myanmar.

Myanmar’s people endured half a century of dictatorship and sanctions until opening up began in 2012. Myanmar started to know the world anew, as if it has just been born. The new Myanmar commenced in an attractive way; investments, projects and a leader who was a Nobel Prize Peace laureate. However, the situation didn’t last for long; Myanmar’s name soon became the reason for widespread anger in the Islamic world and since then no news coming from Myanmar except the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims.

The UN describes what has happened to the Rohingya as amounting to “ethnic cleansing.” The UN reports describe widespread killing, burning of villages and forced migration of more one million people.

Following these reports, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) demanded that a formal investigation be opened concerning crimes against humanity towards Muslims of the Rohingya ethnicity.

The Myanmar government denies committing genocide or ethnic cleansing and accuses extremist groups, which have infiltrated the area, of carrying out such acts.

The government says that the Rohingya are the descendants of Bengali workers who came to the country with British occupation, and therefore they aren’t natives. It also accuses the Rohingya Liberation Army and its allies belonging to extremist organisations coming from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh of creating the problem and perpetuating it. However, the UN rejects this explanation.

The Rohingya issue can’t be understood apart from the political geography of Myanmar, for it has become a part of an international conflict between great powers. While Myanmar is geographically a “stuck state” between China and India, it is politically a “stuck state” between China and the USA.

Myanmar is a country rich with natural resources, but politics has stalled the economy there for half a century. The 21st century began and major natural gas and oil discoveries were made in the country. In 2004, a giant natural gas field was discovered off the coast. China got field concessions there in 2008, and started constructing an oil and natural gas pipeline from its territory to Myanmar via the Indian Ocean.

This pipeline’s length is approximately 1,420 km and it crosses southwest China via Rakhine state, where the Rohingya reside. China was very serious about this matter. In 2013 the China-Myanmar pipeline started operating.

The China-Myanmar pipeline will carry oil from the Arabian Gulf to China via a “terrestrial Suez Canal,” that is, Myanmar. As a result, China won’t need to transport oil via the Strait of Malacca lying between Malaysia and Indonesia. This is a major feat for China in both politics and economics.

So, China is present in Myanmar through investments exceeding $30 billion which include energy pipes, deep-sea ports, economic areas and vital projects. Deep-sea ports will enable Myanmar to receive giant tankers. The pipeline, which crosses more than 20 cities, 50 rivers and 70 mountains between China and Myanmar, will carry more than 20 million tons of oil annually.

Some in the strategic sciences circles believe that the USA is attempting to confront China in Myanmar, and some go further and claim that the entire Rohingya issue is a part of the West’s attempts to corrupt the path of China towards the Indian Ocean via Myanmar.

In his book titled Where China Meets India: Burma and a New Crossroads of Asia, author Thant Myint-U, grandson of U Thant, describes Myanmar as the lung of Asia, saying it represents to the Asian continent what the Suez Canal does to Egypt.

Water is the transport connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and Myanmar is the transport connection between China and the Indian Ocean. This traffic through Myanmar has created a new economic area.

The grandson believes that Myanmar is unfortunate, because lying at the heart of the Chinese-Indian competition and the American-Chinese competition aggravates its political geography crisis. Aside from this international conflict, tens of millions suffer from extreme poverty in the country. Over many years, a phenomenon became widespread there: the poor go to remote areas to extract oil using primitive tools and some even dig oil fields with their bare hands.

Myanmar’s political geography can be of benefit if the authorities there succeed in solving the Rohingya problem and cleverly settling the competition among China, India and the USA. But if it falls into the middle of the conflict, it won’t be able to escape for a hundred years.

What an extremely difficult world… These contradictions can’t be managed except in the hands of the intelligent few. When the strategic decisions become difficult, stupid people must refrain from engaging themselves.

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