India and China need to work together to better humanity, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on May 16, telling thousands in Shanghai: “It is the responsibility of India and China, we’ll have to walk together to help the whole world.”
Chinese president Xi Jinping, meanwhile, plans to build a better world on earth, by emphasising “a community of common destiny,” a People’s Daily article published May 17 explains. (An article in a state-run paper like the People’s Daily about what Xi thinks should be interpreted as coming directly from Xi’s office.) Xi’s message is that “Our fates rejoice and suffer together, and our dreams are interconnected,” the paper said.
At the very same time that Modi and Xi’s messages were being broadcast to the world, an estimated 8,000 homeless men, women, and children, many of them emaciated and severely dehydrated, were drifting through the Andaman Sea, part of a brutal maritime ping-pong started when the derelict boats they were on were abandoned by human traffickers. The Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted in Myanmar, where they’ve lived for generations, and are mostly unwelcome in any neighbouring countries.
Journalists who tracked down the “floating coffins” on the sea sent back nightmarish images of women and children pleading for food and water. Maritime officials from nearby Malaysia and Thailand are pushing these driver-less boats that drift too close to their shores back to sea, lest the passengers in them swim to food and safety on shore, a practice that Australia wholeheartedly approves.
After a massive earthquake hit Nepal last month, both China and India quickly sprang into action, donating supplies and sending military aid to their smaller, poorer, but hydro-power-rich neighbour. But as perhaps the most horrific man-made human rights crisis in years comes to light in Asia, leaders from both countries have remained mum. Clearly, the Rohingya are of no political consequence to India or China.
Still, the Asian leaders’ silence is all the more surprising, given both countries’ close relations with Myanmar’s government, and investment in the Rohingya heartland, investment some some say is exacerbating the persecution of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities in the area.
Chinese state-owned companies were expected to spend more billions of dollars in the next 35 years, building a railway, port, pipeline and special economic zone in Myanmar’s Rakhine (also called Arakhan) state – the epicentre of Rohingya settlements. India has invested $120 million in a port project in the state, and India’s state-owned energy companies are lead investors there on a gas pipeline which will transfer natural gas to China.
These projects are contributing to economic and ethnic tensions in the region, human rights activists say. If Xi and Modi want to show leadership in Asia, not to mention the rest of the world, they can start in the Andaman Sea.
This article was originally published on qz.com.