China using Rohingya crisis to influence Myanmar: Japan envoy
China has begun to see how it can leverage the Rohingya issue to its advantage, as have Islamist groups in Bangladesh, said Yohei Sasakawa.world Updated: Feb 04, 2018 21:03 IST
India and Japan must maintain their diplomatic and financial support for Myanmar despite the Rohingya crisis, as sanctions would only impede the country’s path to democracy and “disassembling” of its China dependency, a top Japanese envoy has said.
Yohei Sasakawa, Japan’s special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar, said he has sought over the past five years to persuade the country’s 15 minority insurgencies to sign a national ceasefire agreement.
“Eight of them have signed and two of them are expected to sign soon. I have not succeeded with the five ethnic groups who are under China’s influence,” he said.
China has begun to see how it can leverage the Rohingya issue to its advantage, as are Islamist groups in Bangladesh. “These jeopardise the security of India and Japan,” he warned.
“The US sanctioned Myanmar’s military government and forced them closer to China,” Sasakawa said. “China is trying to re-establish that old relationship using the Rohingya crisis. Both the Myanmar civilian and military authorities are resisting.”
With Washington’s stance uncertain, India and Japan need to keep the door open, Sasakawa said, while noting Myanmar’s geopolitical importance, especially in regard to the Indian Ocean.
India and Japan share the view that the 70-year-old civil war between Yangon and its minority insurgencies is a major reason the country is unable to resist China and an obstacle to its democratisation.
Soon after Sasakawa was appointed by Tokyo to help Myanmar, China announced a similar envoy position.
However, said author Bertil Lintner, a specialist in Myanmar’s insurgencies, “The aim of the Chinese is not to solve Myanmar’s ethnic problems, but to take advantage of them for their own geostrategic reasons.”
VR Seshadri, former Indian ambassador to Myanmar, agreed, saying the Chinese envoy’s purpose “seemed to be to keep the pot boiling.”
Lintner confirmed that the Kachins, the largest insurgency, have been told by Beijing to have nothing to do with Japan’s peace efforts.
Sasakawa said Japan provides millions of dollars to minorities who sign the ceasefire to build schools and hospitals so “they can experience the fruits of peace immediately.”
He is currently coordinating with Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the army chief to find a time and place for two more ceasefire signatories.
“I expect the ceremony to take place soon.”
He has travelled to Myanmar over 50 times even while he remains chairman of the Nippon Foundation.
Former Indian high commissioner to Myanmar, Goutam Mukhopadyay, felt Yangon itself deserved most of the credit for getting the original eight groups to sign the truce pact. “The Japanese can bring a lot of money which helps a lot and they have no historical baggage.”
Seshadri said he saw the negotiations as part of a larger Japanese strategy regarding Myanmar, which included being the country’s largest aid provider and building special economic zones to attract investors.
“These are in alignment with India’s interests,” he said. Lintner warned that China’s influence in Myanmar remains overwhelming and they continue to “outmanoeuvre the Japanese and all other outsiders.”