We refer to the petition by 41 members of the Malaysian parliament dated November 8, 2017, calling upon Petronas to “relinquish any and all participation in any form of operation in Myanmar” from next year onwards, unless Myanmar’s government “recognizes that ethnic minority Rohingya are legitimate citizens of Myanmar, (and) all manner of intimidation, subjugation, discrimination and crime against them are stopped immediately.”
While Centhra is fully committed to encouraging all practical remedies to the horrific calamity faced by the Rohingya, we do not see that the petition calling for the withdrawal of Petronas from Myanmar will be beneficial to resolving the crisis.
As a state-owned entity, and the largest company in Malaysia, anything that Petronas does has political implications. We understand that this is the crux of the argument for why Petronas should be made to withdraw from Myanmar; but actually, this is why Petronas needs to stay. If Petronas were to withdraw, the vacuum left by its departure would be filled instantaneously by privately owned foreign oil companies, or perhaps by PetroChina. This would ultimately weaken Malaysia’s ability to influence the regime in Myanmar, and increase the level of influence enjoyed by players who have not demonstrated concern for the Rohingya until now.
Petronas sponsors a considerable number of social development projects in Myanmar which benefit the local populations, and through these, Malaysia demonstrates goodwill towards the people of Myanmar (and Thailand), which in turn, translates to social capital and credibility as a nation sincerely interested in the welfare of the people of Myanmar. This means that when Malaysia talks, it talks as a friend, and they will listen.
Withdrawing from the country, and thereby closing down such projects, would create animosity between the people of Myanmar and Malaysia, and it is more likely than not that the Rohingya would bear the brunt of this anger.
We understand that the likely aim of this proposal is not to actually force Petronas to leave Myanmar, but rather to pressure the company into exerting its influence over the regime; but if that is the real aim, then that is what the petitioners should have called for, and approached the company with a reasonable and realistic request that could be taken seriously.
As we have seen, the signatories of the petition are all from the political opposition, which will indicate to Petronas that the demands are a mere political vehicle for scoring points against the government and not a genuine initiative for the Rohingya; and this is accurate.
One wonders whether or not the petitioners even approached members of the ruling party at all, or if they only sought signatures from members of the opposition in a cynical manoeuvre to play upon their ambitions.
Suffice it to say, there is very little likelihood that Petronas will withdraw from Myanmar and even less justification for them to do so. We would welcome any moves by Petronas to use its influence with the regime in Myanmar to end the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, and to urge the government to comply with UN recommendations, including the restoration of citizenship; but we do not believe that Petronas can, or should be presented with a threatening ultimatum that no one actually has the power to carry out, and which, would ultimately be detrimental if it were.
Azril Mohd Amin is a lawyer & the Chief Executive of Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (Centhra).