Date
17 October 2017
As the plight of the Rohingya population becomes a talking point in world forums, Myanmar's leaders will face more uncomfortable questions. Photo: Reuters
As the plight of the Rohingya population becomes a talking point in world forums, Myanmar's leaders will face more uncomfortable questions. Photo: Reuters

Suu Kyi and Rohingya crisis: Humanitarian values vs realpolitik

The 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly is currently underway in New York City. As expected, the North Korean nuclear aggression and the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar pertaining to Rohingya people have dominated the discussions.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor who has come under fire for turning a blind eye to the plight of her nation’s minority Rohingya population, is absent from the UN meeting, perhaps in an attempt to avoid embarrassment and a “public trial” by the international community.

To be fair, one can argue that despite being the de facto leader of Myanmar, there is not much that Suu Kyi can do to stop the government forces from going after the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi might be in charge of the civilian administration, but the military still calls the shots in the country.

Still, there is this question: Why didn’t she at least speak out against the military’s ruthless onslaught against the Rohingyas and lend her voice to end the people’s misery throughout the crisis?

Well, the answer as to why she didn’t so is simple. If she had spoken out in favor of the Rohingyas, she would risk angering Myanmar’s Buddhist majority population who form the support base of her ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

Conflict and tensions between the majority Buddhists and the Muslim minority, i.e. the Rohingya people, in Myanmar is something that has been going on for centuries. To this day, there remains a widespread and deep-rooted hostility towards the Muslim minority among the majority Buddhists.

Apparently, Suu Kyi is well aware that any move to speak up for the Rohingya people could cost the NLD its popular support and destabilize her civilian government. Hence, her silence on the issue.

In other words, despite being a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, she’d probably rather give up her halo as the “goddess of democracy” than alienate her Buddhist supporters because it is a matter of life and death for her government. And for that reason, all other concerns, including humanitarian values, have to take a backseat to realpolitik.

As Bangladesh is taking the Rohingya refugee crisis to the UN and demanding that Myanmar take back all the refugees and give them formal citizenship, Suu Kyi may have dodged the issue for now by not attending the UN meeting.

But she can’t do that forever. Sooner or later, the Myanmar leader will have to tackle the issue head-on given the seriousness of the problem.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 19

Translation by Alan Lee

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RC

Hong Kong Economic Journal

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