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3 March, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 3 March, 2018 01:13:37 AM

Geopolitics: Similarity between the Rohingya and Syrian crisis

Both the Rohingya crisis and the Syrian crisis have drawn the giant states of the international system
Rumi Akter
Geopolitics: Similarity between the Rohingya and Syrian crisis

In the world history, a crisis has always been on the verge of a “zero-sum” gaming policy which means one party’s gain is another party’s loss. The recent Rohingya crisis started since August last year and the on-going Syrian crisis shows us the ground of geopolitics. Geopolitics is also based on the zero-sum policy where the nation-states calculate their own national interest from any crisis in terms of the loss of other nation-states. Thus, the two crises are no more unilateral or regional in manner.

The similarities between the two crises can urge anyone to look through the crises from different lenses. The lens of geopolitics can be a better one to have a look on the Rohingya crisis and the Syrian crisis as well. Let us know what geopolitical similarities are there between these on-going phenomena of the contemporary world.

Inception of the Rohingya crisis: Since 25 August 2017, the Rohingya crisis has become the most conferred topic in the international arena. Since then, we have been watching so many new dimensions of the Rohingya crisis. One of them is the support and opposition of the giant states i.e. China, India, Russia, the UK, the USA and many more. Thus, the recent Rohingya crisis got a new magnitude when the big powers of the international system e.g. China, Russia, India more or less openly entrusted their support to Myanmar government.

Inception of the Syrian crisis: The Syrian crisis dates back to March, 2011 when pro-democracy protests erupted and demanded the resignation of president Bashar al-Assad. Gradually, the international community mostly Russia, Iran, Qatar, the USA, the UK, Turkey and France got involved in this crisis and turned it into a proxy war among them. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 6.1 million people were internally displaced by the violence.

The role of geopolitics: The Rohingya crisis is mainly backed by China’s support towards the Myanmar government while Russia is fully supporting the Assad regime. The fact is that it is humanity that is suffering the most in both the crises. However, the geopolitical aspect has played a vital role in accelerating these humanitarian crises. The international support that comes to the Myanmar govt. and the Assad regime has its own interest.

The case of Rohingya crisis: The factor that worked behind the Rohignya crisis is the geopolitical importance of Myanmar to China. China shares near about 2200 km border with Myanmar. Rather than the geographical factor, Myanmar is crucial to China because of its geopolitical importance. China has already built oil and gas pipeline which goes through Myanmar. And this infrastructural development is a part of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. The pipeline will connect Sittwe (capital of Rakhine state) to Kunming (the capital of China’s Yunnan province). Thus, the buildings of this pipeline will able China to avoid the Malacca strait. Before the pipeline development, 80% of China’s oil resource was imported through the Malacca strait. Malacca strait is the busiest sea route on earth and this route compels China to use the by-pass route that goes through the countries of South China Sea, e.g. Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and the others. And it is a well known fact that China’s relation with these countries is not a warm one.

India has also significant geopolitical and security interests in Myanmar. It also shares a 1400 km border with Myanmar. Geographically, Myanmar is connected to the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. Myanmar has been very cooperative in flushing the Naga insurgents from its territory.

Another point is that, India is very much enthusiastic to increase its presence in Myanmar. India is now looking forward to its Look East Policy; hence, Myanmar is the most important neighbour to look first. Myanmar is at the heart of Modi government’s Act East policy. New Delhi would like to enhance India’s presence by developing infrastructure and connectivity projects in the country. India has found it difficult to increase its presence in Myanmar because of China which sells everything from weapons to food grains there, and it will be even more difficult if China increases its naval presence in Myanmar.

The case of Syrian crisis: Now let us discuss about the geopolitical factor behind the Syrian crisis. In Syria, the pipeline diplomacy played a vital role as that of the Rohingya crisis. The export of natural gas through the pipeline is one of the main reasons behind this 7 year long crisis. According to Harvard Professor Mitchell A. Orenstein and George Romer, Russia was the main supplier of gas to Europe. In fact, 80% of Europe’s gas need is fulfilled by Russia.

Before the civil war, both Qatar and Iran put forward two pipeline projects that aimed to supply gas to Europe through Syria. Qatar put forward its plans in 2009 and involved building a pipeline from the Persian Gulf via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.

The gasfield located 3000 metres below the floor of the Persian Gulf and is the largest natural gas field in the world. Qatar owns about two-thirds of the resource while Iran owns the one-third of the gas field. Iran wanted to build the pipeline through Iraq and Syria and then under the Mediterranean Sea. However, Qatar lost the bid to Iran. Hence, experts think that the failure and success of the biding process led Qatar and Iran to suppose and oppose the pro-government part and anti-government party in Syria.

What about Turkey? Turkey was the main hub of the Qatar pipeline project. It is believed that Turkey could be benefited as much as of Qatar by the transit fees and other energy generated revenues if Assad regime agreed to the Qatar proposal of pipeline project. The failure of gaining the national interest maybe the reason we have been seeing Turkey condemning President Assad regime and called Assad to step down.

It is said that Russia insisted Bashar al-Assad to sign the agreement with Iran so that it could have more influence over Iran. Another reason is that Iran does not host a US naval base like Qatar in the region.

The international system is a very much interesting one in terms of bilateral or multilateral relations among the state actors. The national interest of the states ultimately defines the relations. Hence, it can be said that there is no permanent friends or foe in the international political arena. It is the national interest that serves the most and regulates the international system.

The writer is Research Assistant (International Affairs), Bangladesh Institute of Law and International

Affairs (BILIA).


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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