In the world as we know it today, we see Myanmar as an under-developed, poor country facing some very serious problems. With its refugee camps, tribal conflicts and most of all the endless turmoil which leaves Rohingyas deprived of their homeland, Myanmar has long been a country raising concern among the democratic countries of the world. However in the Middle Ages, those lands were home to a mighty kingdom known as “Burma” which means “the center”. The breathtakingly beautiful and rich country was indeed the center of Asia for ages.
Myanmar has a very important geopolitical position in the continent because it is right in the middle of important Asian countries like China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Laos. The 676,578 square kilometer country has rich zinc, lead, gold and silver resources and impressive oil and natural gas reserves. But Myanmar lacks the technology or the means to process those resources independently and the domestic conflicts in the country worsen their means. Myanmar produces precious stones; rubies, sapphires, pearls, and jade. In fact 90% of the world’s rubies come from the country. These red stones produced in Myanmar are unique in their purity and hue. The mountainous Mogok area known as the “Valley of Rubies” is famous for its rare pigeon’s blood rubies and blue sapphires. However, although the country has all these positive qualities, Myanmar is now mostly known for its outrageous human rights violations and is one of the poorest countries in the world. The lack of recognition of human rights in the country makes it impossible for the people of Myanmar to benefit from their rich precious stone sources. Many of the biggest jewelry companies such as Bulgari, Tiffany and Cartier refuse to use these stones because of the deplorable working conditions in the mines. The ongoing domestic conflicts on the other hand make the economics even worse for the people living in Myanmar. When you look at Myanmar in general, you see that the natural wealth of the country is under the control of other nations.
Myanmar- Burma as it was called back then- was a British colony until 1947 and then she lived under military rule for years. Under the military junta, Myanmar was almost completely alienated from the rest of the world. All the surrounding countries economically grew and became important actors in the region yet because of its domestic problems, Myanmar was left far behind.
While the world left the country in economic and diplomatic isolation, China, in search of a way to the Indian Ocean, strengthened relations with Myanmar. They used this isolation to their advantage and built highways, railroads, harbors and pipelines to connect southern and western China to the Indian Ocean through this country. To enhance their regional power, the Chinese considered Myanmar as a country of vital importance. China’s energy deficit is a well-known fact today. In this sense Myanmar is very important for China’s energy security. In China’s attempt to diversify their energy sources, Myanmar has a significant importance with its offshore natural gas and oil sources.
That is why China made major investments in Rakhine Province in oil and natural gas projects to make use of the 1.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves and 2.1 billion cubic meters of oil reserves in the territorial waters offshore from the harbor city of Kyaukpyu. This is the region where China built two pipelines to ultimately transport this gas and oil reserves to China. To this end, 2.4 kilometer long pipelines were laid along the coast of Myanmar and by the end of 2013, these lines were operational. These pipelines and the territory surrounding them have been declared a military zone and were taken under the protection of the Myanmar government. The government positioned tens of thousands of soldiers in this area and the villages through which these pipelines passed were evacuated and nationalized.
China-Myanmar natural gas and oil pipelines begin in the capital city Sittwe; Sittwe is a Muslim majority city and the pipelines enter China from the province of Yunnan. While looking into the problems going on in the Rakhine region, these pipelines are very important factors to consider. As this pipeline reaches China from the harbor near Kyauk Phru along the shores of the state of Rakhine, it also reaches India from Sittwe Harbor. Sittwe Harbor not only carries Myanmar’s energy resources to China, but it is also planned to become a harbor where tankers traveling from the Middle East to China can offload. A deep sea port is planned for construction at Sittwe. In this way, China is planning to build an alternative to its dependence on the Malacca Straits and thus its reliance on Singapore and Malaysia.
Evaluating all this information, we can see that the Rakhine region of Myanmar has a great importance for China: The Muslim population of Rakhine, on the other hand, is considered as a potential threat to destabilize the region. The instability in that region would undoubtedly affect China’s energy security and thus is something both China and Myanmar would dread. In this respect, Muslim population’s leaving the country or being expelled from the region serves China’s interests. It is true that the oppression going on in the region stems mostly from post-colonial nationalism but it is an undeniable fact that the latest incidents in the region have deep connections to this regional power struggle. The interests of Burmese Buddhists and the Chinese to secure more land in this valuable region – and thus benefit from oil and gas investments – are among the reasons for the ongoing conflict in the region. The world is witnessing the Rakhine Muslims being oppressed and encouraged (in fact, forced) to leave their homes and evacuate the lands they were born in yet the government of Myanmar does nothing to prevent this oppression. The Rohingyas are thus being forced to leave their homes which will leave the region with all its resources to the interests of Chinese and the Burmese Buddhists.
What we, as the Muslims of the world, should do in the face of this problem is to prove to the world that the Muslim community which lives in Rakhine Province is not a threat to anyone. Neither the Buddhists of Myanmar nor the interests of China can possibly be harmed by the inoffensive Muslim population living in Myanmar. We need to show them that the Rakhine Muslims are a mild and peaceful people; they merely wish to live safely in their own lands and to take advantage of the rights of citizenship like everyone else in Myanmar. The government of Myanmar, a nation that harbors many different ethnic and religious groups in the same lands, should not fall short of ensuring that the Rakhine Muslims equally enjoy the rights of citizenship in the region. We should make them see that ensuring an advanced democracy and giving human rights to all the peoples of the country can only bring comfort and abundance to all the parties involved, and that establishing safety and solidarity through oppression and coercion is in no one’s long-term interests.
Adnan Oktar's article on Burma Times: