COLOMBO: Efforts to settle the Rohingya issue bilaterally between Bangladesh and Myanmar, as desired by China, received a grievous setback when Myanmar backed out of its commitment to implement the Kofi Annan report last week.

The Myanmar Home Minister Lt.Gen.Kyaw Swe had told his Bangladesh counterpart, Asaduzzaman Khan, at the bilateral meeting held in the Myanmar capital of Nay Pyi Taw on October 24, that Myanmar would implement the former UN Secretary General’s report submitted earlier this year.

In fact, implementation of the report was point No: 7 in the 10-point program to address the issue of Rohingyas among other border issues, which had been unanimously adopted at the Senior Officials’ and Ministerial meeting on October 24.

Point No: 7 said: “ Myanmar affirms its commitment to immediately halt the outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh, to restore normalcy in Rakhine to enable the return of displaced Myanmar residents from Bangladesh at the earliest and to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission fully for sustainable return.”

However, on October 26, the Myanmar side unilaterally issued a “Joint Press Release” which completely deleted references to full implementation of the Kofi Annan report in the 10-point program.

There was an earlier “Joint Statement” which included the implementation of the Kofi Annan report and that statement had the consent of both sides.

It is learnt that the military, which actually controls the levers of power in Myanmar behind a civilian façade, had asked the government to renege.

Sources in Bangladesh said that following the backing out by Myanmar, Dhaka would be hesitant to pursue the bilateral talks route to a solution of the Rohingya issue.

It might seek further international pressure on Myanmar particularly by the UN and the US.

This is a setback for China and also to Bangladesh-China relations. It is felt that if China was really keen on a bilateral settlement it could have pressurized Myanmar to stick to its word. China is a major investor in the island and a traditional one at that.

But, obviously, the Chinese either could not, or consciously did not, mount enough pressure on Myanmar. It is learnt that China has got 17,000 acres of land in Rakhine for an economic zone around the port of Kyauk Pyu, which China is building with an investment of US$ 10 billion.

China, like Myanmar, might not want the Rohingyas to come back to their habitats in Rakhine State. While the Myanmarese consider the Rohingyas as alien Bengalis from Bangladesh, the Chinese are concerned about the Islamic radicalization that has taken place among the Rohingyas of Rakhine State.

Bangladeshi sources say that China’s failure is bound to affect Bangladesh-China relations. Already, there are complaints in Bangladesh that out of the US$ 24 billion worth of projects in Bangladesh which Chinese President Xi Jinping had announced, very little has actually come.

Bangladesh may not be as warm or effusive about ties with China as before. And reliance on the West and a resurgent Japan might increase, observers say.