Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What Australians really think about a rising China


What does China’s rise as a major power mean for Australia?

The answer depends on who you ask.

In March 2015 the Sydney Morning Herald’s International Editor, Peter Hartcher, described China as a fascist state that bullies its own citizens and neighbouring countries alike. That about sums up the ‘China threat’ view.

Yet there’s also no shortage of CEOs gushing with praise for Chinese government policies that are expected to deliver more than 850 million people into the ranks of the middle class by the end of next decade.

Australian politicians spend a great deal of time listening to both ends of the spectrum. In November 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott allegedly told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Australia’s policies towards China were driven by ‘fear and greed’. Responding to this comment, Linda Jakobson, founder of the public policy initiative, China Matters, remarked that ‘the Prime Minister captured the bipolar nature of Australia’s attitude towards China’.

This may be true among Australian commentators, CEOs and politicians. But there’s one important group in Australia to which the bipolar tag does not apply: the general public.

In April 2015, the Australia–China Relations Institute (ACRI) surveyed more than 1500 Australians to better understand their attitudes towards China’s rise. The big finding was that on most questions it was the middle ground that had the greatest support.

The ACRI survey started with the question about whether China will replace the US as the region’s dominant power within the next 20 years. Those who believed it ‘very likely’ (27.2 per cent) outnumbered those who thought it was ‘not at all likely’ (7 per cent) by a ratio of nearly four to one. But an even larger proportion took a middle of the road position and said it was either ‘somewhat likely’ (40.9 per cent) or likely (25.0 per cent).

The majority are probably right. The consensus view of the IMF and the OECD is that China will become the world’s largest economy sometime before 2030. But in per-capita terms it will remain well behind the US. And in terms of military might, a 2014 report by the Kokoda Foundation made it plain that China will take much longer to catch up.

The public did take a strong view that China’s rise would be good for the Australian economy. Out of all of Australia’s free trade agreements, 44 per cent said that the one with China will bring the biggest benefits. That compares with 31 per cent, 20 per cent and 6 per cent nominating the free trade agreements with the US, Japan and South Korea, respectively.

As far as the security impact goes, the extremes were rejected, particularly at the negative end of the scale. If China did become the region’s dominant power, less than 14 per cent of Australians thought this would be ‘very damaging’ for Australian security. In contrast, nearly one-quarter said it would be not damaging at all. Still, that means that 63 per cent took a position somewhere in between.

Respondents were then asked if Australia should expand military cooperation with the US to help counterbalance China’s growing military power in Asia. Once more the extremes were shunned: nearly three-quarters of Australians said this would be either ‘somewhat unwise’ or ‘wise’ (35.4 and 38.1 per cent respectively). That left just one-quarter opting either for ‘very unwise’ (11.9 per cent) or ‘very wise’(14.7 per cent).

And on whether Australia should send its armed forces to join a war against China in support of the US, fewer than one in ten (9.2 per cent) said that it would be ‘very wise’ to go in with guns blazing. Nearly three times as many were of the view that this would be ‘very unwise’(26.0 per cent).

The results show that most Australians don’t buy into the idea that a more powerful China is an obvious threat to their national interest. But unsurprisingly there is some caution: Australia and China have different political systems, values, culture, history and language. And the elevation of China in Australia’s national consciousness has been both recent and rapid.

That’s all the more reason for Australian leaders to avoid letting fear dictate policy. Instead it provides a clear case for investing heavily to better understand and explain this most complicated of bilateral relationships.

James Laurenceson is Deputy Director of the Australia–China Relations Institute (ACRI), University of Technology, Sydney.

Hannah Bretherton is a researcher at ACRI.


China puts weapons on its new artificial islands



China has moved weaponry onto artificial islands that it is building in contested areas of the South China Sea, adding to the risks of a confrontation with the United States and its regional security partners including Australia.

Australian officials are concerned that China could also introduce long-range radar, anti-aircraft guns and regular surveillance flights that will enable it to project military power across a maritime expanse which include some of Australia's busiest trading lanes.

Fairfax understands that these concerns are prompting discussions in senior military circles that could lead to Australian naval officers and air force pilots embarking on "freedom of navigation" missions to demonstrate that Canberra does not accept Beijing's hardening claims.

The options, which include fly-throughs, sail-throughs and exercises involving various regional partners, are expected to crystallise after officials deliver a personal briefing to Prime Minister Tony Abbott during the next fortnight.

Already, diplomats have dropped "talking points" about Australia not taking sides in the multi-layered territorial contest, which Chinese officials have used as evidence of Australian support.

More substantially, Australia's intelligence agencies are upgrading the strategic threat assessments which will inform the Abbott government's first Defence White Paper, according to government sources. Late on Wednesday, Australia's top defence official, Dennis Richardson, brought Canberra's growing concerns into public view by telling a Sydney forum that China's "unprecedented" land reclamations raise questions of "intent" and risks of "miscalculation".

"It is legitimate to ask the purpose of the land reclamation – tourism appears unlikely," said Mr Richardson, delivering the annual Blamey Oration at the New South Wales state Parliament.

Given the size and modernisation of China's military, the use by China of land reclamation for military purposes would be of particular concern," he said.

The Defence Secretary's comments were the most detailed and forthright from a senior Australian official since China began building its audacious network of airstrips, deep-water ports and other military-capable infrastructure on previously submerged reefs in the Spratly Islands last year.

China says the new sand islands will be used for humanitarian, environmental, fishing and other internationally-minded purposes.

But it warned this week in its own Defence White Paper that it would gradually expand "offshore waters defence" to include "open seas protection", adding that it would not tolerate other countries "meddling".

In Canberra, Fairfax understands that China's frenetic building activity has prompted the Defence Intelligence Organisation and Office of National Assessments to adopt a more hawkish tone since they each delivered major strategic threat assessments to the National Security Committee of Committee (NSC) mid-last year.

Their revised strategic assessments, due to be submitted to the NSC in coming weeks, will show how the reclamations could enable China to greatly amplify threats of coercive force in order to play a gate-keeping role across hotly-contested maritime areas, if left unchecked.

What Australia should do about the challenge is a more difficult question.

Australian military officers and officials have discussed a need to demonstrate that they do not recognise any 12-mile territorial zone or more expansive economic zone that China may unilaterally claim around its freshly-minted islands. But they are grappling with the need to avoid inflaming a potential confrontation Australia's largest trading partner.

Last week the United States demonstrated its position with a flyover by a P-8 surveillance plane, which carried a CNN journalist.

The voice of an Australian can be heard over the aircraft's radio.

Senior officers and officials have speculated that Australia could join a humanitarian or military exercise with the United States or one of several regional partners including Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Such a move has been discussed in Washington and key capitals in the region but no proposal has yet been put to Canberra, it is understood.

It could also dispatch naval vessels or air force planes through a contested area on route to a routine destination.

Officials say that any such "demonstration" is likely to be conducted with minimal publicity, to avoid inflaming China's reaction.

Mr Richardson, in his Sydney address to the Royal United Services Institute, said the area of previously-submerged atolls that China has reclaimed in the past year is nearly four times as large as that which the five other claimant states have achieved over several decades.

And he critiqued the nebulous nature of China's claims which, on some readings, cover more than 80 per cent of the entire South China Sea.

"It is not constructive to give the appearance of seeking to change facts on the ground without any clarification of actual claims," he said.

"It is legitimate to raise such questions and express such concerns because tensions and potential miscalculations are not in anyone's interest." Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Is criminalizing hate speech the way to go?


Despite various efforts deployed to counter terrorism, violent radicalization remains a major challenge for Indonesia. The country is witnessing an unprecedented surge in the number of citizens departing to foreign countries to fight for terrorist groups. Earlier this year, the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) estimated that at least 500 Indonesians had left for Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) movement. Although IS is currently the center of attention, the militant organization, Jamaah Islamiyah, is reportedly regenerating with systematic recruitment and training agendas.


Many have blamed growing radicalization on weak law enforcement and the lack of clear regulations to address hate speech in the country, although obviously this is not the only factor.Former BNPT chief Ansyaad Mbai has expressed concern about the weak legal framework. Currently, the only legislation to address hate speech in Indonesia is Article 156 of the Criminal Code on spreading hate, which stipulates imprisonment for up to four years for “anyone who publicly expresses enmity, hatred or insults against one group or some groups of Indonesians”.


However, this article does not make a clear distinction between valid criticisms and hate speech; and it only criminalizes narratives against Indonesians. Thus, it does not address the common rhetoric against Westerners or Shia Muslims in Iraq, a narrative often used to recruit Indonesian fighters.Several figures and hard-line organizations are widely known to deliver hate speech in Indonesia.


The cleric, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, is known for his sermons in mosques, which boldly stated that “God has divided humanity into […] the followers of God and those who follow Satan.”He defines God’s followers as people who follow God’s law and fight for the implementation of sharia law, and Satan’s followers as those who create obstacles to such efforts. Ba’asyir also justified the 2002 Bali bombings and labeled Western tourists as “worms, snakes, maggots; animals that crawl” and encouraged young Muslims to “beat up” Westerners.


 Recently, through Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) chairman Mochammad Achwan, Ba’asyir called upon his followers to support IS. Former chairman of the Indonesian Mujahedeen Assembly, Irfan S. Awwas, is also known for such speeches. He stated that people should not have criticized the executed Bali bombers Imam Samudra and Amrozi, as they committed their actions based on their individual interpretation and judgment. Recently, local jihadi groups such as the Hilal Ahmar Society Indonesia (HASI) have also been preaching on the importance of supporting IS.


The group has been portraying Shiites as deviants and associating them with Syria’s Assad regime, creating the impression that Sunni Muslims are victims of Shiite’s evil deeds. Besides preaching in public space, HASI also uses online media to publish articles and videos that demonize Shiites and encourages the audience to support IS. The Islam Defenders Front (FPI), despite their detachment from Salafism, has been actively proliferating hatred domestically. A video of FPI secretary-general Sorbi Lubis was widely circulated on the Internet, in which he was recorded as saying “[K]ill Ahmadiyah wherever they are […] Kill, kill, kill! If we do not kill Ahmadiyah […] we will not be halal [clean] anymore.”This speech reportedly contributed to mobilizing people to commit radical, violent actions against the minority group.


Obviously, an individual’s ideology will not be affected easily just by listening to hate speech. A reasonable person may see provocative videos by IS and not likely be persuaded to join the fight. Geopolitics and personal history play major roles in defining how an individual responds to hate speech. But those from poor families, with low education and an anti-Western bias may be more likely to be persuaded by the provocation. Influential hate speech is usually delivered by individuals who are considered respectful and charismatic, a la Abu Bakar Ba’asyir.


Audiences of certain mosques and boarding schools who are exposed to a constant stream of extreme ideas promoted by charismatic teachers and surrounded by others who believe likewise will be more swayed by hate speech. Many HASI members are former students of Ba’asyir’s Al-Mukmin boarding school.One challenge to addressing hate speech is the difficulty in defining what constitutes such action. A professor at Yale Law School, Robert Post, identified two issues to defining hate speech. He posed the questions; “when do […] otherwise appropriate emotions become so ‘extreme’ as to deserve legal suppression?” and “how do we distinguish hatred from ordinary dislike or disagreement?”Article 20 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that national law should prohibit any propaganda that proliferates hatred on the basis of nationality, race or religion if it constitutes “incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. Arizona State University’s Center for Strategic Communication made a useful distinction between freedom of speech and religious hate speech by creating a four-point scale:


 (1) dialogue on religious differences;

(2) unilateral condemnation of others’ belief systems;

(3) dehumanization and demonization of certain groups with implicit message of violence; and

(4) explicit, provocative message of violence.


They argue that point (1) and (2) are considered valid criticism of other belief systems, while (3) and (4) are considered hate speech, as they encourage violence against certain groups. This categorization may be useful as a point of departure for the Indonesian government to differentiate hate speech from other forms of freedom of speech.


Hate speech is not an independent factor and it does not always result in the “radicalization” of an individual. However, it can be a strong shaper of one’s ideology and can foment radicalism when it interplays with other factors. Hate speech strengthens social categorization in the mind of the individual, bolstering a sense of an “us” and a “them”. In the authoritarian era of Soeharto, such speech would not have any room whatsoever.


Today, the Joko “Jokowi” Widodo administration needs to combat hate speech without harming other forms of freedom of speech, although some trade-offs may be inevitable. Regulating hate speech will not automatically reduce exposure to the promotion of violence in Indonesia, but it will help take one variable out of the equation.


The writer Tiola Javadi, is a student research assistant in the the Indonesia Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

US-China: Mutually Assured Economic Destruction?


Can economic interdependence contain superpower rivalry?

In 1910, Englishman Norman Angell wrote the book The Great Illusion to address the myth that nations could economically benefit from war. At the time that Angell was writing, popular and elite opinion assumed that a nation’s political power determined its prosperity, and that countries with preponderate military strength would have the greatest advantage. Angell acknowledges that this belief had validity in the past, however by the 1900s a country’s wealth became dependent on credit and commercial contract provided by the international financial system. Because of the delicate working of this system, if country A invades country B, than the chaos caused by the invasion would damage A’s access to credit. Moreover, country A would be unable to confiscate country B’s wealth without damaging its own economic well-being, and would destroy country B’s citizen’s will to do the work that is responsible for wealth creation. Through this reasoning, Angell argues that conquest and military power have become economically futile.

Angell’s work can provide insight into the possibility of conflict between the United States and China. According to a 2011 RAND study, conflict between the United States and China would likely lead to a global contraction greater than the one that occurred in 2008. For the United States, the economic losses would likely be even higher given the interdependent nature of the U.S.-Chinese economies. In 2014, total U.S.-China trade was worth $592 billion, China was the United State’s second largest trading partner, third largest export market, biggest source of imports, and the largest foreign holder of American debt, with $1.24 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds in December 2014.

According to Angell’s theory, if the United States cares about prosperity, it should avoid a war with China, from which it can only suffer economic losses. This potential for economic loss can act as a deterrent for both the United States and China, so the United States should not consider reducing economic dependence on China as a way to increase its own security, as some pundits have suggested. Beyond economic ties between the United States and China, the United States should encourage China’s further integration into the world economic system. The United States should not oppose Chinese efforts to join, or create, multilateral economic institutions, such as the new Chinese led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. In addition, the United States should not attempt to persuade allies from increasing economic ties with China, as it will reduce the chance of an ally dragging the United States into a war with China.

It would be hard to find anyone in either China or America who would argue that a conflict would increase prosperity. Both economies are too big to fail without having severe effects on the entire international economic system. Because of this, there exists a state of mutually assured economic destruction between the two countries. Despite this, as John Mearsheimer points out, states value security over economic prosperity, because without security they cannot ensure their survival. This is not to say that the United States should break its economic ties with China, or try to slow China’s economic growth. That would hurt the United States economically and would have little utility for increasing security. In addition, the more economically integrated China and the United States are, the higher the cost is for China to challenge the current system, reducing the chance of war. However, if China perceives that it can benefit from conflict with the United States, China’s action will be the same whether its perception is correct or not.

It is for this reason, then, that unless China and the United States both accept Angell’s ideas, economic interdependence with China will not guarantee security.

Leon Whyte is a second year master’s candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University as well as the Senior Editor for the Current Affairs section of the Fletcher Security Review. His research interests include transnational security and U.S. alliances in East Asia.


TOLSTOY’S MESSAGE: Refugees take up resources and change society. But they are humans. What must we do?

TOLSTOY’S MESSAGE: Refugees take up resources and change society. But they are humans. What must we do?

EVERYTHING that breathes, dies. But not everything that breathes, lives. For people who struggle under oppression and want, this is the undying truth. For people who watch without feeling, this is absolutely natural.

Refugees count themselves in the former lot. They were small, but now, they are nothing. They were crawling, but now, are trampled underfoot and battered to the root. For too many of them, life lies beyond a hard rock which is as impenetrable to hope, as the darkest night is unyielding to light.

Their song began a long time ago in the morning of life. And now, which is perhaps noontide in the affairs of man, it is still heard by all. From the conquest of Israel in 740BC to the cruelties of 1939-1945, from the darkened villages of Vietnam in the 1970s to the ancient cities of Iraq and Syria in 2015.

And to China, too. Recently, I chanced upon a sad story by Pearl S. Buck, on an old and weak refugee who staggers into a city with a grandson in a basket. The place is “full of ragged and starving refugees and nobody really knows how to cope with the problem. They have to live in great camps outside the city wall trying to find work and food. The situation is causing a lot of bitterness among the local inhabitants”.

Are we, the people who live in ‘better’ lands, also bitter? Do we wonder whether the refugees are really escaping from suffering in their homeland, or merely seeking fortunes elsewhere?

Are they rogues? Are we angry with their negligent rulers? Are we afraid of the consequence of their permanent presence in our midst? Are we to play the good Samaritan, or should we pay heed first and foremost to “geo-political and economic realities”?

These questions troubled me for a long time. Suspicion made battle with compassion. For while I have known migrants almost all my life, it is only in the past five years that I have developed more than an acquaintance with them. And it is only since December last year that I began a relationship with refugees. I am, then, perhaps faintly better than the average Malaysian in the knowledge of these people.

But for sure, and I think you shall agree, the refugees are more than the sum of words and pictures that portray them in newspapers such as this journal.

This I came to realise when I met with them in long and difficult conversations. It was not just “Hello”, or “How are you?”, or “So, what are you doing today?”, which are the perfunctory things that we do daily without meaning.

There was this family from a country west of us, and they told me their story in collected tones, but, always, their searching eyes betrayed them. In those looks, there were doubt, sadness and anger.

The six of them were living in a small place that a ‘friend’ kindly provided. It was sparsely furnished. The head of the family was a photographer back home. His wife was a caregiver, and also served in a place of worship.

The children were teenagers. One was autistic. He said they were forced to leave the country because of religious persecution, because of death threats. “We were not poor, we were not rich, but we had enough,” he said. “Now we have nothing. My children can’t go to school. “We did not want to leave our country. It was where we were born and grew up.

Our friends and everything that we love are there, but we had no choice.” And then, Ish, for that was what I called him, said: “We are not beggars. We do not want people to give us money, we want to earn it properly. We do not want to take people’s jobs. Who will help us here?” But I had to ask them: “Why didn’t you go to the authorities in your country?”

Ish said nothing but I remember he looked straight ahead, sweeping the wall and his family, seated across from us. No one uttered a word. I could only guess.

But an African migrant I met while in Europe recently, had in fact answered that question. “Brother, nobody cared for us (at home).I did not dream I would have to run from my country. We were desperate. We want to live, just like everyone else.”

Alas, for him. And Ish. Nobody, not even their land, wants them.

In this age of plenty, perhaps we — whether living comfortably in Myanmar, Somalia, England, America or Malaysia — have become like Tolstoy’s child. We see “children, barefooted, hungry, hunting for green apples that have fallen from the trees; and, so accustomed (are we) to the sight, that the children do not seem to (us) to be children such as (we are), but only part of… the familiar landscape”.

So it is, then, that not everyone who breathes, lives.

Aquino, China, Malaysia and the MILF

NEXT to President B. S. Aquino 3rd, two major threats confront the Republic. One is a possible armed confrontation with China; another is the possible dismemberment of the country by means of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which seeks to create an Islamic enclave for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Which comes first is not material now. Each is a horror in itself, but Aquino’s personal handling of both issues makes them extremely dangerous. They could explode when least expected.


We need a saner, more sober and more competent executive to handle both threats. But unless preceded or accompanied by some radical political change, the 2016 elections cannot hope to provide such an executive.


Let us examine these two issues.


China might decide to wage war on us
The first threat: war with China. China is locked in maritime territorial dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan over some islands, reefs and shoals in the South China/West Philippine Sea. To beef up its territorial claim, it has reclaimed at least seven land features, namely, Mischief Reef (Panganiban), Johnson South (Mabini), Gaven (Gavin), Cuarteron (Calderon), Kennan (Hughes), Eldad (Malvar), Fiery Cross (Kagitingan). The Philippines has protested these activities from the very beginning, to no avail.

In April 2012, a standoff ensued between the Philippine Navy and Chinese maritime vessels after a Philippine warship tried to arrest Chinese fishermen operating illegally around the Scarborough Shoal. The standoff ended in July with China seizing control of the shoal. Subsequent Philippine efforts to get the Asean foreign ministers to say something about it failed when Cambodia, the host of that year’s foreign ministerial conference, rejected any reference to the dispute in the customary communiqué. Because of this, no communiqué was issued for the first time in Asean’s 45 years.

In January 2013, the Philippines announced it was seeking international arbitration against China’s “nine-dash line” in the South China, under the terms of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. This was met with a very stern reaction from Beijing, which rejected the process and whatever results it might bring. A virtual word war in the press ensued, which replaced all semblance of diplomacy between Manila and Beijing. Both Aquino and his foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, began to talk like master sergeants, and replied with uniform bellicosity to every statement from China, even from unnamed spokesmen and newspaper commentators.

As China intensifies its island-building activities in the Spratlys, reports of US military air surveillance of these activities give us the feeling that the next explosion is just around the corner. Neither China nor the US could be unaware of its implications. We would be the first on the side of the US to get it, even though China may not want to nuke a country whose economy is dominated by Chinese-Filipinos, and whose richest dollar-billionaires on Forbes magazine’s annual listing are all ethnic Chinese. However, Aquino might see in an armed confrontation between the two giants a heaven-sent opportunity to liquidate all his critics, cancel all democratic and electoral debts and remain indefinitely in office. This is the biggest danger then—the enormous personal political profit from an insane military conflict for a deranged megalomaniac.

How did Philippine-Chinese relations come to such a pass? The Philippine claim to the Spratlys has been there since the 1950s, and it did not disturb a single reef or corral at all. In 1968, the first Philippine troops landed and established themselves on five of the islands. In 1975, a 1,800 meter runway was built on Pagasa, the biggest of the Philippine possessions, 215 nautical miles from Palawan, 450 from Manila. That same year the government granted a Philippine-Swedish consortium a contract to drill for oil on the Reed Bank. The exploration yielded gas and oil condensate. It drew diplomatic protests from Vietnam and China, but no bellicose or menacing exchanges between China and the Philippines.

In fact, in 1975, Manila and Beijing exchanged diplomatic relations in a distinctively festive spirit. I was part of the presidential entourage at the time, and it remains one of my most treasured moments. The official photos of that visit remained preserved in the Great Hall of the People’s gallery. On that occasion, the Chinese Communist Party was reported to have agreed to cut off its active support to the Communist Party of the Philippines, in exchange for the Philippines’ recognition of the One-China policy. President Ferdinand Marcos, who was an absolute teetotaler, ended toasting his hosts with the famous Chinese mao tai, after then Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, who was the high official in attendance, quoted the Chinese proverb saying, “Between two enemies one drop is too much, but between two friends no amount could ever be enough.”

In 1978, President Marcos issued a decree which declared the Kalayaan Island Group, its sea-bed, continental margin and air space, as belonging and subject to the sovereignty of the Philippines. It also formally designated the area as a separate district and municipality of the province of Palawan, to be known as Kalayaan and to be administered directly by the Secretary of National Defense or such civilian or military official as may be designated by the President.

In May 1988, 147 Filipino voters on Pagasa, having constituted themselves into a barangay, elected their first barangay captain in the person of Alawi, a Filipino Muslim. This completed the integration of Kalayaan into the Philippine archipelagic state. This had no adverse effect of Philippine-Chinese relations, which remained equable.

Malaysia map with parts of Philippines as its territory
The only unexpected development then came from Malaysia, when it announced its claim by issuing a map that showed its territory extending towards the southwestern tip of Palawan and enclosing parts of Kalayaan. To Manila’s protest, Malaysia said the map was based on a bilateral agreement defining its sea-bed boundary with Indonesia. In April 1980, Malaysia declared a 200-mile exclusive economic zone that overlaps areas claimed by the Philippines.

Compared to Vietnam, the Philippines had the most genial relationship with Beijing at the outset. In 1974, China ejected Vietnamese troops from the Paracels, forcing them to withdraw to Pugad Island. In 1984, a joint Soviet-Vietnamese amphibious exercise was held on the northern coast of Vietnam. China reacted by sending ten amphibious landing craft with some 2,000 marines on board to hold landing maneuvers on the Spratlys. Vietnam accused China of preparing to annex the islands and vowed to defend them. On March 4, 1988, the Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed. China sank two Vietnamese vessels, resulting in 77 presumed deaths on the Vietnamese side.

By 2013, China’s attitude towards Vietnam tended to soften. High-level visits were exchanged, and the two countries agreed to set up hotlines between their navies and agriculture ministries to manage fishing incidents. In May 2014, however, without any warning, China deployed its first indigenous deep-water drilling rig—the HYSY981—in waters around the Paracels, causing clashes between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels, in which a Vietnamese fishing boat was sunk.

This triggered a large standoff at sea involving dozens of Chinese and Vietnamese law enforcement vessels. This in turn fueled mammoth anti-China protests all over Vietnam, culminating in riots in mid-May. China was forced to withdraw the rig in July, and to resume its charm offensive. This has remained since. By contrast, relations with the Philippines have remained frosty, despite hopes that Aquino would continue the exemplary relations that flourished during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term. Things soured early after eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in a bus hijacking incident in Manila, and Aquino refused to apologize for the tragedy.

Although China has not been able to justify its island-building activities in the Spratlys, it has been able to raise a lot of noise against the US military air surveillance of its reclamation activities. It has thus been able to show that its real problem in the South China Sea is not the Philippines or any of the claimants to the Spratlys, but primarily the US, which continues to assert its position as the first power in the Asia Pacific. China wants to reverse this—or at least ensure its own place as the second global power in the region, without having to fight for it.

The competition is between two giants, and Aquino has managed to insert himself in it. To Washington’s discomfort, he has insisted on pasting his government crudely at the tail of the American kite, even when not needed. Where his senator-grand uncle (Lorenzo Sumulong) once caused Nikita Khrushchev to bang his shoe on his desk at the UN Security Council in response to an unnecessary attack on the Soviets, PNoy has tried to call China’s attention to himself in the hope of pleasing the US. China tried to ignore him in the beginning, but he will not be ignored, at the cost of our Republic.

Bangsamoro Basic Law and Philippine balkanization
The second threat is the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law and the eventual balkanization of the Republic. I have discussed this extensively in this space, and everybody else is talking about it. Only Aquino cannot seem to see the danger it poses to the State. We are in deep shit with China because the Asian giant has chosen to claim parity with the US, and because Aquino insists on pasting his government at the tail of the American kite, even when there is no need for it. If Aquino cannot seem to see it, the less likely is he to see that we are on the verge of being balkanized because insisted of standing for what is right, he has chosen to kneel before Malaysia which robbed us of Sabah when it was just a pile of mud, wild beast and forest, and would like to make the crime permanent now that Sabah has become an island of the greatest wealth. by FRANCISCO S. TATAD

The Rohingya Dilemma — A Legal Perspective


In order to understand the Rohingya crisis better, it is important to look at the legal definition of “refugee” first. This is because some of the irregular migrants who arrived in Indonesia are Bangladeshi nationals who had wanted to find jobs illegally in Malaysia.

Under Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by its 1967 Protocol, a refugee is defined, in essence, as someone who is outside his/her country of origin and is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of “well-founded fear of being persecuted” on account of prohibited grounds such as “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

“Persecution” is nowhere defined under the Convention. But pursuant to the UN agency’s (UNHCR) policy, it is interpreted as, among other things, “a threat to life or freedom” for reasons of the prohibited grounds mentioned above.

The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol provide refugees with a wide range of rights — subject to certain limitations — such as the rights to employment, property, housing, and education. In spite of these rights, only states which have signed and ratified or acceded to the Convention and its Protocol are obliged to ensure the fulfillment of the rights protected under those instruments.

In Southeast Asia, only three countries are parties to the Convention and Protocol: Cambodia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste. Other state parties near the region include China and Australia.

The three countries the Rohingya have attempted to enter most frequently over the past several years — Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand — are not parties to the Convention and Protocol.

In Indonesia, asylum seekers who arrive without permits are normally registered by the UNHCR. The UNHCR then assesses their claim for refugee status in a procedure called Refugee Status Determination (RSD).

Once an asylum seeker is granted the refugee status, the UNHCR will help them find a durable solution. The solution is usually one of the following three options: local integration with the country where they arrive, resettlement to a third country or voluntary repatriation to their home country.

Local integration, in most cases, is not possible where the country in which the refugees have arrived is not a state party to the Convention and the Protocol, or does not have laws allowing for local integration. Indonesia is an example of these countries.

Voluntary repatriation is sometimes possible in cases where the asylum seekers/refugees voluntarily consent to be repatriated to their country of origin.

But in most cases, it is highly unlikely that they are willing to return to that country because they fear for their lives or freedom.

In resettling Rohingya refugees to another country, states parties to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol are most likely on the priority list of countries that will be asked to take them in.

Unfortunately, Australia announced last year that it would no longer accept refugees who have registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia after July 1, 2014. It also transferred many refugees to Cambodia, instead of allowing them to resettle in Australia.

On 21 May, Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressed his country’s firm stance against admitting the Rohingya people.

This stands in stark contrast to the position of another State Party to the Convention and Protocol, the Gambia, whose president, Yahya Jammeh announced that his country would take all of the Rohingya refugees for resettlement.

The government of Turkey has also shown keen interest in assisting the Rohingya people.

The authors applaud the decision of the Indonesian government to temporarily admit the Rohingyas for up to one year, since it is absolutely necessary to save their lives and provide medical assistance to those in need.

However, Indonesia is not in a position to allow them to remain permanently in the country. Besides the fact that it is not a State Party to the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol and does not have laws permitting local integration, it is also still struggling with a wide range of domestic socio-economic problems, including overpopulation, poverty, and high rate of unemployment.

Since Myanmar is widely perceived as the root of the problem, the international community and international organizations, such as the United Nations should demand the government of Myanmar to take the Rohingya issue seriously.

As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Myanmar has the obligation to observe and strengthen the rule of law, protect human rights, and enhance the well-being and livelihood of the people domestically.

These obligations are embodied under Articles 1(7), 1(11), 2(2)(h), and 2(2)(i) of the Asean Charter.

Furthermore, as the Rohingya issue has become a matter of common concern to Asean, the government of Myanmar should consult with other Asean member states. Myanmar has an obligation to do so under Article 2(2)(g) of the Charter, which requires member states to enhance consultations on matters seriously affecting the common interest of Asean.

Therefore, at a special meeting on “irregular migration in the Indian Ocean” to be held in Bangkok on Friday, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand should persuade Myanmar to take effective actions to eliminate persecution against the Rohingyas and protect their rights, and request for periodic reports from the government of Myanmar on the measures it has taken to deal with the crisis.

At the next Asean Summit, scheduled to be held on Nov. 18-22, member states should also put the Rohingya issue at the top of the agenda, in order to bring an end to this humanitarian crisis.

Hikmahanto Juwana is a professor of international law at the University of Indonesia (UI). Hadyu Ikrami is an independent researcher who obtained his master’s degree from Harvard Law School.