Thursday, May 21, 2015

Europe's Boat People - and Asia's

On the heels of Europe’s Mediterranean refugee crisis, Rohingya’s from Burma and poor Bangladeshis are left to float for months on South Asian seas while neighboring countries refuse them landing rights. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority to which Burma has steadfastly refused citizenship, saying they are Bangladeshis, and their plight is compounded by the presence on the boats of actual economic migrants from Bangladesh, which creates two legal categories of refugees.
The population density for the countries of the South China Sea averages out to 213 per square kilometer, but in some places it is much higher. Although Australia and New Zealand have not been mentioned in the context of the drifting migrants, their population densities are less than 3 for Australia and 15 for New Zealand.  It strikes me as regrettable that while wanting to be considered part of the Pacific ‘neighborhood’ neither of these two countries has offered to resettle the boat people. The official/unofficial security group called The Five Eyes that includes the US, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand only confirms their tendency to see themselves as part of the Anglo-Saxon world rather than as part of Asia. 
Europe too likes to see itself as belonging to the world’s Caucasian ‘upper class’, illustrated by its participation in the Atlantic Alliance, otherwise known as NATO.  At the same time however, its history, going as far back as the Romans, is inextricably linked to Africa and the Middle East by way of its location on the great Eurasian landmass, which is separated from Africa by an almost closed body of water. (It is conceivable that one of the reasons why Great Britain does not share this identify is related to its centuries-long rule over India, and the dominant role it played in the Middle East before handing it off to the United States.)
With its population of 740 million, Europe faces a triangulation challenge between its recent ties to the United States and the realities inherent in its geographic location, which should allow it to be more in control of its foreign relations, not least with Africa, whose population is close to 1.2 billion. French president Francois Hollande, in a peevish tone hitherto unheard of in trans-Atlantic relations, complained at the start of the Mediterranean drama: “How is it that three years after our intervention in Libya that country is falling apart? Now we have to correct our past mistakes.” (The last sentence was quickly deleted from French television but is still replayed by RT.) 
As Europe’s young Representative for European Affairs, Federica Mogherini tries to get the countries of the 28 nation Union to share the burden of resettling refugees arriving from the Middle East and Africa, least willing are the countries of Eastern Europe, who not so long ago wished the West would welcome them. (The refusal of Britain’s re-elected Prime Minister not to participate in the show of solidarity is typical of the way that country has always related to ‘the continent’, and is mirrored by the indifference of its former Pacific former colonies toward its less fortunate neighbors.)
Now consider Russia, also a member of the world’s Caucasian minority, also with historical and geographic ties to brownish and yellow peoples, but consistently emphasizing the necessity of international cooperation, in contrast to the trigger-happy US that assumes the role of world commissar and brooks no dissent. Russia has a land area of 17 million square kilometers, with a population of 150 million, which works out to a population density of 8.4, while its neighbor China has an area of only 10 thousand square kilometers for a population of 1.3 billion, a density of 141. Some Chinese are already living in Russia’s far east, and it is difficult to imagine that among the plethora of ties the two countries are currently creating, the question of their respective population densities will not eventually be resolved in a cooperative manner.  

As politicians haggle over who is responsible for rescuing Muslim boat people, they appear to have disconnected them from their 2.2 billion co-religionaries, whose numbers are growing faster than those of any other faith. The immediate consequence of this R2P (responsibility to protect) failure, will be an increase in recruits to the armies of ISIS that have just taken over the major Iraqi city of Ramadi, less than a hundred miles from Bagdad.

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