In the wake of Cyclone Mocha: Myanmar-Bangladesh cooperation and friendship

- through Francois Leclercq

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People arrive for shelter at a monastery in Sittwe, Rakhine state in Myanmar on May 12, 2023, ahead of the expected landfall of Cyclone Mocha. At

The geopolitics of South Asia and Southeast Asia are closely linked due to their geographical proximity. However, their common development – ​​and their problems – also stem from their ancient history as hubs of Theravada Buddhism and influential sanghas. Myanmar is one of Bangladesh's closest neighbors and the two countries have had a longstanding relationship for generations. Relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar were formalized on January 13, 1972, when Myanmar became the sixth state to recognize Bangladesh as an independent nation.

The 271 kilometer long Bangladesh-Myanmar border, which encompasses Cox's Bazar and Rakhine State, is of strategic importance to Bangladesh. The border has been militarized due to fighting between the Burmese Army and the Arakan Army, an armed group claiming to fight for ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Due to the presence of unresolved issues such as this militarization, the presence of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the demarcation of the maritime border, the ties between the two neighbors have not always been friendly. For example, on October 11, 2020, the Rakhine community of Bangladesh demonstrated outside the National Museum in Dhaka against the Burmese junta's human rights abuses, including the displacement of the Rakhine and Rohingya minorities from Rakhine State. Border fighting between the Rakhine Army and the Myanmar Army has caused periodic mobilization of the Bangladeshi Army. In March 2023, a delegation from Myanmar visited refugee camps in Bangladesh, with few positive results despite this being the first attempt to relaunch negotiations for the repatriation of the one million Rohingya refugees since 2019. ( Nikkei Asia)

Nevertheless, the threat of Cyclone Mocha, which has just hit the coasts of the two countries, represents a unique opportunity to work together in adversity and to rekindle the bilateral friendship by solving common problems. Since forming in the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Mocha has intensified to the equivalent of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane. from the center of the cyclone was about 75 kilometers per hour, with gusts and squalls at 195 kilometers per hour. It was one of the strongest storms in recent memory for Bangladesh.

Geographical proximity of Bangladesh to Myanmar. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the author

Fortunately, after making landfall early Sunday morning, Cyclone Mocha did not hit Bangladesh as hard as feared, Kamrul Hasan, a Bangladeshi disaster official, saying no major damage was caused . By Sunday evening, the storm had largely passed, although landslides and flooding continued to batter the area.

In Myanmar, Cyclone Mocha hit Rakhine State, near Sittwe Township. According to AP News: "Rakhine-based media reported that the streets had been flooded, trapping people in low-lying areas in their homes as worried relatives outside the township called for help", and "more than 4 000 of the 300 inhabitants of Sittwe were evacuated to other towns and more than 000 people were sheltering in solid buildings such as monasteries, pagodas and schools located in the highlands. (AP News) At least five people have been reported dead. The Irrawaddy reported that as of Sunday afternoon, "the extent of the devastation caused by the storm in the state capital (Naypyitaw) and adjoining areas was not yet clear. The eye of the storm passed through Sittwe and nearby areas on Sunday afternoon and meteorologists warned of further severe weather, which normally follows the eye's crossing. (The Irrawaddy) The last storm to make landfall with similar strength in Myanmar was Tropical Cyclone Giri in October 2010. It made landfall as an equivalent high-end Category 4 storm with peak winds of 250 kilometers per hour. Giri left over 150 dead and almost 70% of Kyaukphyu town was destroyed. The UN estimated that around 15 homes were destroyed in Rakhine State.

Myanmar and Bangladesh regularly experience the brunt of cyclones due to their intersection in the seven major basins of Southeast Asia. Thus, Cyclone Mocha and past tropical storms have affected both countries. More broadly, they are the main victims of climate change like many countries in the South. They could work together to solve problems related to the deterioration of the global environment. Besides the major national problems of poverty and illiteracy, the vulnerability of Bangladesh and Myanmar to environmental deterioration is very alarming.

Cyclone Mocha makes landfall on a road in Myanmar. At

On the environmental front, it is evident that the Tatmadaw (or Myanmar's "Grand Army") and the Bangladeshi military, the authorities of both countries and NGOs can work together to reduce the risk of regional environmental degradation through to coordinated disaster management. systems, operations and projects. Cyclone Nargis in 2008 is an example of a disaster that affected both coastal countries. Under these adverse circumstances, Myanmar and Bangladesh had many opportunities to work together to reduce environmental degradation. There was also Cyclone Giri in 2010 and Cyclone Sitrang earlier in 2022.

To reduce the damage caused by the tragedies common to both nations, Myanmar and Bangladesh should work together more closely in flood management and forecasting. Ways of collaborating could include what scholars call 'integrated approaches' and 'regional cooperation'. They denote the sharing of information between government agencies. Knowledge sharing should not even be limited to bilateral relations, and it could be a potential benefit for Asian countries to work together. Scientists from Sri Lanka and Thailand, perhaps – as they are also part of the Bay of Bengal and therefore neighbors Bangladesh and Myanmar – should work together to find answers to environmental crises. Southeast Asian countries like Thailand share the same problems with severe tropical storms like Mocha.

Of course, the regional superpowers of India and China cannot be ignored in this potential “united response” to tropical disasters. India has had longstanding relations with Bangladesh and Myanmar for decades. The Myanmar-Bangladesh-India “arc” is important. But China also stands to gain if it could contribute to cyclone management cooperation alongside Myanmar and Sri Lanka.what might be called the Myanmar-Sri Lanka-China “arc”. This would allow the Burmese and Bangladeshi governments to balance their relations with China and India, while potentially helping to prepare the ground for Sino-Indian cooperation in certain areas of disaster management.

Friday floods in Bangkok before Cyclone Mocha makes landfall on Sunday. At

The irony is that Myanmar junta, despite having been in the negative global spotlight, is probably the singular body that can take effective action to foster these complicated bonds. The generals, acting as intermediaries in Myanmar, are seen by countries like India and China as key sources of two-way communications. Bangladesh also wishes to be seen by the leadership of Myanmar as a friendly neighbor and a peace-loving country. If there was sincere engagement between Bangladesh and Myanmar – and with other countries – in good faith and to the modest extent of achieving specific goals related to the climate crisis, it could mean some degree of progress in regional stability and harmony in the South and Southeast Asia regions.

Besides the military rulers, the senior monks of the Burmese sangha could prove effective interlocutors for bilateral cooperation, precisely because they have no formal governmental role and, despite the difficult sangha-state relations at the time present day, are seen as unifying figures. . What happens next will depend on a complex and convoluted network of stakeholders and intermediaries who must think big and prioritize cooperation, despite extremely difficult issues and disputes that cross multiple borders and nations.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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