The reputation and so-called solidarity
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hit a new low this week
with the Myanmar envoy to Hong Kong indulging an extraordinary racist
outburst against brown people from his own country. Undiplomatic
though his words were, they are the sort of remarks that come easily
to the lips of some other Southeast and East Asians for whom brown
skins have always been a sign of low class if not actual racial
Consul General Ye Mint Aung wrote to
his fellow diplomats in Hong Kong explaining that the Rohingyas were
not actually Myanmese and were not accepted as one of the ethnic
groups of his country, or indeed as citizens. He wrote: "You
will see in the photos that their complexion is 'dark brown'"
in contrast to the complexion of Myanmese which was "fair and
soft, good looking as well."
He went on to claim that his own
complexion was typical of a Myanmar gentleman and fellow diplomats
could contrast their "handsome colleague" with the "ugly
as ogres" Rohingyas whose pictures were in the newspapers.
The Mynamese belief in racial purity
and the superiority appearance of pale skin, as well as not being
Buddhist, seem the basis of refusal to admit the Rohingyas as
citizens even though they have lived in the Rakhine (formerly Arakan)
division of Myanmar for hundreds of years. Doubtless it would have
been better for them if the British imperialist had drawn the map
between Bengal and Burma differently but that border hill country is
an ethnic patchwork. In reality the Rohingyas speak a version of
Bengali and have a physical appearance akin to Bengalis.
It seems that the Mynmar representative
can issue crude, written racist remarks not only about his fellow
Asean members but which are deeply offensive to their populous
neighbors to the west – Bangladesh and India.
Judging by the way that Thailand has
been treating these stateless refugees, calling them economic
migrants and pushing them off in engineless boats, with possibly
hundreds dying at sea, Thai officials seem to agree with their
Myanmar colleague that such dark-skinned "ogres" should
not be allowed even to stop temporarily in Thailand in their search
for security. Thai Prime Minister, the suitably "fair and soft"
complexioned fourth generation Thai Chinese, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has
been vocal in defending the army's murderous actions and
calling the Rohingyas "economic migrants" despite their
denial of citizenship in an Asean country.
The cringing attitudes shown by Asean
towards Myanmar and the racist attitudes of some Asean countries is
stunning. While pushing off the Rohingyas, who anyway wanted to go to
Muslim countries, Thailand has turned a blind eye to the hundreds of
thousands, perhaps a million, "fair complexioned"
Myanmese who work as cheap and expendable labor on Thai building
sites and fishing boats. As for Asean, which supposedly now has a
Human Rights agenda, it does nothing.
Malaysia once had a sympathetic
attitude to the Rohingyas. Some 10,000 to 20,000 now live there
having originally been offered succor as oppressed Muslims. But
Malaysia has shifted towards appeasement of Myanmar and a suspicion
of foreign workers generally, Muslim or not, despite the role that
undocumented foreigners play in the economy.
Asean is supposed to discuss the
Rohingyas refugee issue at its end February summit in Thailand. But
do not expect anything other than platitudes, let alone any action to
help these stateless people or condemn Myanmar for its flagrant
display of racism and religious bigotry.