35th ASEAN Summit on 2-3 November in Thailand, represented the theme “advancing partnership for sustainability”. An ASEAN-UN meeting was followed with this 35th ASEAN Summit. In this ASEAN-UN meeting, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres repeated his call for the safe, dignified and voluntary return of displaced Rohingya refugees to their homes in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state. UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres asked many times in many forum including the UN for a dignified solution for Rohingya refugees. But for the first time, the UN chief said ASEAN has ramped up their engagement on the Rohingya issue and both Myanmar government and the UN have welcomed this.
The theme of the 35thASEAN summit was an echo of the UN chief’s proposal that he mentioned earlier. The recent ASEAN summit’s theme was “advancing partnership for sustainability' and they detected two elements which contradict the sought after sustainability.
One of these relates Bangladesh with ASEAN country Myanmar over the Rohingya refugee problem. Another issue that links China with Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam is about dominating the South-China Sea. Following the ASEAN summit, ASEAN-China meeting was also held on 3rd November. In this summit, the leaders of the ASEAN countries said they were aware of what happened in the South-China Sea. Consequently, they asked everyone to avoid greater conflict.
The 35thASEAN summit was held at a time when Asia is shining. ASEAN leaders were also concerned that the summit’s theme was “advancing partnership for sustainability” and they were focusing on solutions to the main two problems of Asia. They urged that without solving the Rohingya problem and the questions relating to the South-China Sea, it was difficult to strengthen the ASEAN and build a strong future for Asia.
The geopolitical and economic position in Bangladesh is very important. It interconnects two major rising economies of Asia; China and India. Besides, its maritime area, Bay of Bengal is connected with the Indian Ocean. In future, geopolitical, economic and military power in the Indian Ocean will be strategically very important for the Asian countries. Relatively, Indo-pacific sealine and sea resources will play a significant role in the future. Through the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is connected with it. That’s why, like the Indo-pacific Sea, the Bay of Bengal also needs a peaceful environment. For the Asian connectivity with the world, Bangladesh is an important corridor. Similarly, it is also important that the economy and the social stability of Bangladesh can advance without any interruption. The Rohingya refugee crisis is an unnecessary hindrance in the economy and social stability of Bangladesh. Realising this, leaders of 35th ASEAN summit, put emphasis on the effort to create a conducive environment so that Rohingyas who are in Bangladesh, can return to Myanmar’s Rakhine state according to a 52 point statement issued on the ASEAN summit. ASEAN leaders reiterated the necessity of finding a comprehensive and durable solution on the Rohingya crisis by addressing the root cause of conflict in the Rakhine state. They encouraged the continued and effective dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh for facilitating the repatriation of Rohingya to Rakhine.
The UN Secretary-General's remarks and the position of ASEAN leaders helped to melt the ice. Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the Myanmar government will not shrink from their responsibility on the Rohingya issue. The whole world knows, Suu Kyi, does not enjoy the full authority in the Myanmar government. Now, the Asian countries and the UN, even China and India should empower Suu Kyi so that she can sit with ASEAN leaders to resolve this Rohingya refugee problem.
Joining this summit, the Bangladesh leader Muhammad Faruk Khan, Chairperson of Bangladesh parliamentary Committee of Foreign Affairs shared his views with The Bangkok Post, the major daily newspaper in Thailand. He was asked, what do you think about Thailand, a current chair of ASEAN, can facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya people? Khan answered very intelligently by saying, “I will not use the word ‘repatriation’, because it is a technical word. Rather, I will use the word ‘return’; the return of Myanmar citizens to Myanmar. We look forward to Thailand impressing upon Myanmar that this is a situation, they must try to solve. Thailand can tell Myanmar because it has people from different religions and ethnic groups living together in peace which bring respect and development all over the world.” In another point of view, he also expressed his best hope that 35th ASEAN the summit will take stock of improvement that has been made to take further possible actions for resolving the problem immediately. Khan’s best hope for extending guideline is also important. In fact, this summit’s resolution will not work properly if they do not take further actions for solving the problems immediately. It is a reality that all the ASEAN countries are more vibrant economically and politically than the past. Therefore, ASEAN countries show their power so that they can solve their problem without the help of the west, even the United Nations. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN countries and it is easy for them to solve one of their member’s unethical work. Myanmar had not only out rooted their 1.1 million citizens and bound them to take a life of refuge in Bangladesh, but also they committed an act of genocide; as a member of the ASEAN, Myanmar cannot do this. It is high time ASEAN countries should take necessary follow up about how quickly Myanmar can resolve its own made problem.
On the other hand, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Vietnam along with some other countries of Asia have a problem with China regarding the controlling power of the South-China Sea. In fact, China itself wants the total controlling power over the South-China Sea because of their dream project Maritime Silk Road and the gas, oil and other resources of South-China Sea. China threatened ASEAN countries which are claiming their authority in the South-China Sea that they will give the answer with their canons. In this situation, canon is not the suitable arms for resolving the conflict of the South-China Sea. China needs to walk on the way to soft diplomacy. Truly, if they chose the way of the canon, the existing big power America will get the proper opportunity showing themselves more physically in the South-China Sea. Then, The ASEAN countries which are part of the conflict will hire the help of America. It will not be a healthy environment for making Asia great. But if China wants to be a greater economic power in the next world, they have to help more efficiently and actively for a great and shining Asia. When Asia will be the destination of the world, China will be a greater economic power. Otherwise, it will be engaged in conflict with many old powers like America, Japan and others.
In conclusion, it can be said that the 35th ASEAN Summit is on the right track. Now, they should work actively and other Asian countries should act properly. If it happens, ASEAN will get a shining Asia.
A state award-winning journalist, Swadesh Roy can be reached at [email protected].