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Aspiring Asia leader China takes no role in Rohingya crisis

FILE - In this Wednesday, May 20, 2015 file photo, migrants wait to be be rescued by Acehnese fishermen on their boat on the sea off East Aceh, Indonesia. Many of the thousands of migrants abandoned at sea in Southeast Asia this month are Rohingya Muslims who fled their home country of Myanmar. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, also known as Burma. Numbering around 1.3 million, they are concentrated in western Rakhine state, which neighbors Bangladesh. (AP Photo/S. Yulinnas, File)

BEIJING (AP) — Malaysia has begun searching for thousands of boat people believed stranded in the Andaman Sea. From a hemisphere away in Washington, the U.S. said it will send navy planes. Even the small African nation of Gambia has offered help, saying it could take in the migrants.

The Asian region’s biggest power, China, however, has remained largely silent on the crisis involving Muslim Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis seeking to escape poverty.

That reflects Beijing’s longstanding aversion to such foreign intervention as well as potential unease among its neighbors over any further projection of Chinese naval power, but it also complicates any aspirations Beijing may have to be a regional leader in ways that go beyond economic ties.

“China has never really come to terms with the fact that it really has to provide collective goods, including leadership on issues that do not provide any immediate financial or political return, to be deemed the regional leader,” said Zachary Abuza of the Thailand-based Southeast Asia Analytics consultancy.

“Hegemony has costs, Beijing only wants the rewards,” Abuza said in an email interview.

While China wants to be more active in regional crises, in the case of the Rohingya it is geographically distant, lacks experience in dealing with refugees and has yet to hear any pleas for its direct help, said Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

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