Ethnic Cleansing in Burma’s Arakan Region: The Chinese Move in and Force Ethnic Minorities Out

Ethnic Cleansing in Burma’s Arakan Region: The Chinese Move in and Force Ethnic Minorities Out

By LTC Sargis Sangari and Steven Weingartner

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The displacement of ethnic groups for political purposes is nothing new. Seemingly every day we read about groups of refugees fleeing violence and persecution. The Near East Center for Strategic Engagement (NEC-SE) first operationalized mission was to assist Assyrian Christians targeted for ethnic cleansing by Da’esh and other radical forces in Syria and Iraq, so the plight of other groups targeted for ethnic cleansing hits us close to home.

However, while the plight of Assyrian Christians has a clearly identifiable cause, the plight of another ethnic group, the Rohynga Muslims of Myanmar’s Arakan region, has murkier origins. During a 17-23 JAN 18 visit to northern and southern Thailand, a portion of NEC-SE founder and CEO, LTC Sargis Sangari’s trip (regional strategic assessment) looked into the causes of a crisis that has, in the past year alone, seen over 65,000 people forced from their homes and at least 6,000 killed. NEC-SE found that the crisis was not attributable, as is often asserted, to discriminatory polices by the government of Nobel Laureate Aung Sang Su Kyi, but rather to Burmese Army operations to ethnically cleanse Arakan of the Rohynga and other non-Burman minority groups.

It is important to grasp in this regard that, until recently, Myanmar was effectively a satellite of China, ruled by a military junta in thrall to their Chinese masters. Social unrest compelled the military to relinquish some control over the government. Elections for civilian government were accordingly held in 2016, resulting in Aun Sang Suu Kyi ascending to the post of State Counsellor, an office putatively equivalent to that of prime minister. However, even though she was officially the head of state her power was in fact narrowly limited by the military under the direction of General Min Aung Hliang and retired General Tang Shuey.

Both men have strong ties with China. What’s more, as commander of Myanmar’s army, General Hliang is responsible for frequent military crackdowns on Rohynga Muslims and for failing to use the army to protect the Rohynga from violence directed against them by other hostile ethnic groups.

Why does General Hliang and the Burmese Army take such an interest in the Arakan region, a remote and impoverished region in the far west of the country? China holds the answer. Arakan is home to the largest Chinese expansionist project in the region. The Chinese government consortium known as CITIC (China International Trust Investment Corporation) is steamrolling a $14 billion project into the region centered on the town of Kyaukphyu, where it is building a deep water port, an oil transport and processing facility, and other projects designed to take delivery of and from the Middle East and pipeline it directly to China.

Upon completion of the project China will no longer have to route oil tankers from the Middle East around Singapore through the Strait of Malacca, which is extremely vulnerable to interdiction and closure in time of war or international crisis. Thus Arakan will become a critical military logistics point in China’s global expansionist strategy to secure the flow of oil in the event of conflict in the Western Pacific.

In both Kyaukphyu and on nearby Maday Island the Burmese army has seized land from impoverished farmers for China’s building program. In the countryside outside Kyaukphyu the Rohyngha once comprised 25 percent of the population. But that all changed when the Chinese began their building projects. According to Said a refugee advocate who wished to remain anonymous (and who has first-knowledge of the situation), “The Chinese are using General Hliang to remove the Rohynga and other ethnic minorities from areas where they have interests.”

Meanwhile, the Western press has taken to blaming the ethnic cleansing in Arakan on “prejudiced Buddhists” and Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who is functionally powerless to stop the Burmerse military’s activities on China’s behalf. In a very real sense, the Burmese army controls Arakan, and China controls the Burmese Army. As a result, the humanitarian disaster in Burma will continue to unfold, with no end in sight.

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LTC Sargis Sangari is the founder and CEO of NEC-SE. Steven Weingartner is NEC-SE’s Senior Editor. Stewart Solaka Sr. Economic Advisor NEC-SE.

By | 2018-02-01T18:12:26+00:00 February 1st, 2018|Articles, Persecution|

About the Author:

Lieutenant Colonel Sargis Sangari was born and raised in Rezaiyeh (Urmia), Iran. He immigrated to the United States in 1980 at age ten after the Iranian Revolution. LTC Sangari received a two-year Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship and began his Army service in 1994 after graduating from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, earning a Bachelors of Science in Political Science and receiving a commission in the Infantry.