The economy… the hidden side behind the Rohingya Muslim crisis

The economy… the hidden side behind the Rohingya Muslim crisis

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  Myanmar, located in South-East Asia, lives on a crisis that is ravaging the Rohingyas, which have killed dozens of innocent Muslims and displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers who lost everything during the forcible displacement process that led them basically to the refugee camps in Bangladesh. It is worth to be noted that some of the world countries, such as China, India and Russia, refused to condemn even the specific condemnation against the continuing violence against the sons of that community.
The crisis has raised many questions about the cause of the crisis, its history, its people, who is behind it and   the economic and commercial interests, as well as other geopolitical and strategic interests that continue to shape China, India and Russia’s policies towards Myanmar and turn a blind eye to human rights violations in Myanmar.
Myannmar has an important and vital location as a buffer zone between India and china and one of its areas (Rakhine) has a huge economic potential for both countries, with infrastructure projects, pipelines with vast agricultural land that contain natural resources, such as oil, natural gas and marine resources from the Bay of Bengal.

This means that ethnicity is not the only reason for the purge of the Rohingya by the Myanmar authorities. The oil economic interests of China and Myanmar also play a major role in the Arakan border with Bangladesh, which is rich in economic resources and which has one of the most important Chinese oil and gas pipelines.
The pipe in Ngavi, Magway, is one of the first pillars of cooperation between Myanmar and China in the Arakan region, which has been hindered by periods of tension in the region against the background of violations against the Rohingya Muslims.
In 2004, a huge gas field was discovered in the Bay of Bengal near the Myanmar coast. In 2008, China National Petroleum Corporation (the third largest oil company in the world according to Fortin Global 2016) obtained the rights to use the gas field, in which the work has begun after a year to establish Oil and gas pipelines from the province of Arakan, home of the Rohingya, to reach to the state of “Yunnan” in southwest of China.
According to non-governmental reports in Myanmar, most of the Muslim in the country with a number of 5 to 8 million people out of 55 million, live in Arakan province and face the campaign of “ethnic cleansing” as described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Oil contracts
According to the 30-year-old deal, Myanmar has to receive $ 13 million annually from China for rental revenue of land. China has adopted a project to build oil and gas pipelines that reach Myanmar by sea from the Middle East and Africa, Reduces the time required to complete it about 30% of its original time (the transfer was moving south to Malacca Bay between Malaysia and Singapore).
The oil pipeline was built in an area near the port of Kyokview, in the peninsula of the Bay of Bengal  and near  the gas pipeline stretch                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             ,  according to Chinese media reports.
The first batch of crude oil arrived from Myanmar via the oil pipeline between the two countries on May 19, 2017, while the gas pipeline between the two countries was established on Sept. 30, 2013, according to Chinese media.
Each year, gas pipelines are expected to carry about 12 billion cubic meters of gas to China, while neighboring oil pipelines will carry 22 million tons (260,000 bpd), according to official data.
Since the signing of establishing  the oil and gas pipelines in 2009, demonstrations  have broken out   by citizens in Arakan against the plans of the Myanmar government and its partner, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), .
“The citizens of Arakan have submitted multiple complaints to the government authorities about the Chinese project causing pollution of river water and destruction of public property,” US media sources said.
Oil and gas pipelines run through 23 central cities, as well as 56 rivers and 76 mountains in Myanmar and China. According to the same source, the Chinese enterprise has not provided electricity to the region, nor has it created jobs for local workers.

Against this backdrop of persistent societal tension on one side the, and the lack of a mutually satisfactory trade agreement, Myanmar and China postponed the start of the gas pipeline until 2014 and work in the pipeline. In 2011, the Myanmar government succumbed to intense pressure from local opposition and was forced to suspend China’s Mitsun Reservoir in the state of Kashin (north) after it realized the role of its opponents in the loss of millions of dollars.

This explains why the Myanmar army has resorted to a number of violent campaigns against the Rohingya, under the pretext of avenging any domestic rebellion against the state’s investment plans, taking a dimension other than the sectarian dimension of the case.


Myanmar has embarked on economic and political reforms called the “Final Boundaries of Asia”, with the Government of Myanmar enacting several laws on the management and distribution of agricultural land to ensure foreign investment schemes and avoid any loss.
At that time, the government’s plans were widely criticized for its profitable aims to strengthen the government’s ability to seize land.

Chinese ambitions dates back to 1990s  as the  Myanmar army  takes over  the land of small owners in favor of China without any obligation to pay any financial compensation or to look at ethnic or religious affiliations, according to The Congregation website on September 12, Successive governments in Yangon have justified land seizures as “development plans” involving the construction of military bases, the exploitation of natural resources or even the establishment of large-scale agricultural projects  or other infrastructure and tourism projects.
But these economic ambitions have resulted, according to experts, forcing hundreds of citizens forcibly displaced from their homes either by heading internally to camps to shelter or resort to neighboring countries, led by Bangladesh, India and Thailand.
China’s interest in Myanmar as a strategic location and a  land rich in economic goods here  a number of Chinese companies headed to it  taking advantage of rivers and mineral materials in Shan State(north), resulting in conflicts between the Myanmar army and armed groups of the Kachin independence army and its ethnic allies north and east of the  border state with China.
Arakan has a Shui gas field and a parallel oil pipeline, which is of strategic importance to China’s geopolitical interests. Neither Beijing nor Yangon will allow it to be lost due to local objections from the region’s minorities or the outbreak of violence based on ideological differences between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and the Muslim Rohingya minority in Arakan, which exacerbates tensions in the economic region.
Once the Shui oil pipeline was in place, the Chinese no longer had to worry about the possibility of the United States imposing a blockade on the vast majority of Chinese oil imports, giving Beijing a very important privilege during its troubled relationship with Washington. And Mynamar is no longer a way out to save millions of dollars


that it may gains from its deals with China, but to eliminate any source that threatens the stability of that cooperation
Here, China’s support for Burma in the Rohingya crisis is clear in the keenness to   its interests in China, where China is protecting its huge projects in the conflict zone of one of the new Silk Roads.


One of the projects in Myanmar is the Kiyokbio Special Economic Zone in Rakhine state, 200 km south of the area where hundreds of thousands of Ruhingyans have been displaced in recent weeks to escape the military operation launched by the Myanmar army. The United Nations said it was an “ethnic cleansing”.

China, Myanmar’s top investor, has in recent years strengthened its position in the western part of the country where the Muslim Rohingya minority lives. Rakhine’s facilities are vital to China, which seeks to secure pipelines that carry oil and natural gas from the Middle East to Yunnan. (Southwest China), avoiding Malaga Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia.

A huge oil pipeline connecting Rakhine and Yunnan, at a cost of $ 2.45 billion, was established by CITIC, which oversaw reconstruction. Burma contributed $ 1.20 billion, while China secured the remaining 1.24 billion.
Myanmar has huge underground resources, especially gas, so some experts are not surprised that economic challenges have a role in the current crisis.
China is also the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, with a total business volume of $ 25.3 billion. Myanmar’s economy is closely linked to China, which has strengthened trade, energy and defense ties. Overall, China’s foreign direct investment accounts for about a quarter of total foreign direct investment in Myanmar.
Between 1988 and 2014, China’s investment reached more than $ 15 billion in the military-run country, most of which was in the mining and energy sectors. China also continues to supply the country’s military regime with weapons and equipment.
Myanmar exports more than half of its agricultural output across the border, making China one of its biggest trading partners. A free zone is under development near Meuse, on the common border between China and Myanmar.
For Rakhine’s state, China has pumped billions of dollars for investment into ports, and natural gas and oil in the war-ravaged state.
There is a giant business in Rakhine State, located on an area of ​​1700 hectares at a cost of $ 2.3 billion in cooperation with China. Once the project is completed – in 20 to 30 years – the commercial area will cover about 100 hectares.
Although the original investments have been made at the level of governments, private companies have been involved in projects since then, as the Chinese investor won the largest share through a consortium of five parties led by CITIC Group.
China also has a deep seaport and a large economic zone at a cost of $ 9 billion in Kiaokbio, south of Rakhine, an area dedicated to China until 2038.
For India, Myanmar is one of the closest neighbors to New Delhi and a major source of natural gas. With the rise of  Chinese position in the vicinity of India, and with China selling everything possible from weapons to food grains there,  showing strength in the Indian Ocean region ,the Government of India stressed  that Myanmar is an important part of the main Indian plan for ASEAN countries and India  to contact in accordance with its economic and technological development and development in the energy sector as well as other geopolitical advantages, which are expanding its presence in Myanmar. And aims to double trade exchange of two billion dollars to about 4 or 5 billion dollars in the coming period.
If we compare Chinese investment in Myanmar with its Indian counterpart, we will find the Chinese superiority, noting that during fiscal year 2015-2016, China has invested about $ 3.3 billion in Myanmar, while India’s investment there is only $ 224 million. The same story is repeated in other South-East Asian countries.
Given the size and proximity of these two large economies, trade between India and Myanmar is still far behind China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand there. Singapore, and we don’t ignore Singapore’s investments in Myanmar that are about $ 2 billion.

It is worth to be noted that Myanmar is the only ASEAN country to share land and sea borders with India. The two sides share a land border of 1643 kilometers. India supports the Asian highway linking Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. Indian companies are also involved in the construction and maintenance of Sittwe port and Palitwa inland water transport station.
India is also  seeking strongly   the implementation of the multimedia project of Kaladan , a  river land  port project  to transport goods , and of course, there is  the Pimstic initiative, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for  multi sectors  Technology and Economic cooperation .


Myanmar’s exports to India consist of agricultural crops and fish. Currently, more than 80% of the total domestic production of legume crops and grains amounted 1.2 million ton goes to India. Meanwhile, the country also imports pharmaceuticals, steel, machinery and equipments from India.

There is Arab silence about the ethnic massacres in Myanmar against the Muslim minority, the Rohingya, while other countries defended the Rohingya issue and moved the world for the cause.

The silence stems primarily from commercial and economic interests. A recently, pipeline in Myanmar was opened to transfer oil from Arab countries and the Caucasus to China’s Yunnan Province.

In contrast, Turkey with its weight has entered the crisis line from the beginning politically and in relief. The Turkish president describes what is happening there as a genocide and raised the issue in his speech at the United Nations. Turkish diplomacy also mentions the Rohingya issue in the forums in which they attend.

Shatha Khalil *

Researcher in Economic Unit

Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic