Monday, August 13, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? J...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? J...: What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? Jakarta is courting Pacific Island states, hoping to change regional positions on t...

What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? Jakarta is courting Pacific Island states, hoping to change regional positions on the West Papua issue

What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? Jakarta is courting Pacific Island states, hoping to change regional positions on the West Papua issue

Indonesia has recently been lifting its presence in the Pacific, courting a number of Pacific Island countries in an attempt to quell the region’s sympathies for the independence movement in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

A particular recent focus has been on boosting relations with a number of Micronesian states as a way of gaining influence in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). In July, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) visited Jakarta, holding talks with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Indonesia also has instigated plans to open a consulate in the FSM. Previously, Indonesian consular services in the region were run out of its Tokyo embassy. In February, an Indonesian cabinet minister was dispatched to Nauru for the tiny island’s 50th anniversary of independence, bringing with him a Papuan band. Both Nauru and Tuvalu have recently expressed support for Jakarta’s regional development programs in West Papua.

Beyond Micronesia, in April a delegation from the Melanesian state of Solomon Islands was invited to tour Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua provinces, which seems to have led to a review of Solomon Islands policy toward West Papua. Shifts in position toward the Indonesian province from Nauru, Tuvalu, and potentially Solomon Islands would be considered a significant victory for Jakarta, which previously accused these countries of “misusing” their platforms at the United Nations General Assembly to be critical of Indonesia’s policies in West Papua.

This increased Indonesian outreach comes during the ongoing deliberation over the application of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an issue that seems to have divided the organization. In late-July the Director-General of the MSG stated that discussions on the situation in West Papua don’t belong in the forum. However, last week Vanuatu appointed a special envoy to the restive province.

Vanuautu remains the most staunch supporter of the West Papuan independence movement, and it is a sentiment held strongly by both political elites and civil society within the country. Former Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman, who was a driving force behind Indonesia gaining observer status to the MSG, was forced to resign from office in 2013 partly due to a public suspicion that he was too close to Indonesia. The then-incoming prime minister swiftly cancelled a defense agreement with Indonesia, which had Jakarta providing equipment and assistance to the Vanuatu police.

In 2013, with Fiji suspended from the Pacific Island Forum (PIF), Fiji’s then-military dictator, Frank Bainimarama sought to set up the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) as a competitor to the PIF. At the following year’s forum then-Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) paid a three day visit to Fiji and delivered a keynote address to the PIDF, pledging $20 million over five years to climate change and natural disaster-proofing initiatives. Since then, Fiji’s opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) has claimed Indonesia has given military support to Fiji in exchange for support for West Papua, and for Indonesia’s observer status in the MSG. The relationship between Fiji and Indonesia seems to be seen by Bainimarama has a potential bridge for Fiji into Asia, by-passing Australia, and for Indonesia, as a way to gain the support of one of the region’s more powerful actors.

The issue continues to create complexity within the Pacific’s Melanesian states. Recently Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, has advocated the issue of West Papuan independence be taken to the United Nations decolonization committee. However, the land border that PNG shares with Indonesia has constrained its ability to forcefully advocate for the West Papuan cause. And PNG’s own secessionist movement in Bougainville also requires Port Moresby to tread carefully for fear of reciprocal interference in its own affairs.

For Indonesia the unity of its state remains non-negotiable. Yet sentiment within the Melanesian states (and throughout the wider Pacific) poses a threat to this unity. It also creates a unique contest to Indonesian sovereignty, emanating from outside Indonesia’s immediate area and based on ethnic solidarity, and therefore marking it as a distinct challenge when compared to the ongoing disputes over the placement of borders with Malaysia. It is a challenge that cannot be addressed with traditional hard power tools.

Indonesia has what Huge White — writing in the latest issue of Australian Foreign Affairs magazine — has describe as a “curiously elusive strategic personality,” seemingly a desire to remain internationally aloof in order to avoid any entanglements. This makes it difficult to deduce just how Jakarta might proceed as its power develops. The country is projected to become the world’s fifth largest economy by 2040 (based on a continuation of current growth rates). Yet in the Lowy Institute’s new data map on Pacific aid, Indonesia is conspicuously absent, with the country having no official aid program, usually a key marker of power projection. The assistance Jakarta does currently provide is more ad hoc, seemingly based on at-the-moment political calculations, rather than a coherent policy structure.

For most of its existence Indonesia has remained focused on its internal complexities, yet the challenge to it sovereignty from the Pacific remains a constant irritant. Current moves to forge a wider engagement strategy with Pacific Islands states could be seen as both an attempt to subdue this irritant, and also a testing ground for Jakarta’s future power projection.  

The Diplomat By Grant Wyeth for The Diplomat

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain Ch...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain Ch...: New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain China – Analysis President Donald Trump’s overtures to President Vladimir Putin, whil...

New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain China – Analysis

New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain China – Analysis

President Donald Trump’s overtures to President Vladimir Putin, while starting a tariff war with China, has the strategic community reminiscing about a time when it was all so different. During the Cold War, America had diplomatically aligned itself with China to counter the Soviet threat. Today, except that the US, Russia and China are now entangled on the grand chessboard, the forces underpinning the current environment and its actors are different from the Cold War period. The current power play is rooted in geo-economics where all the actors are interconnected, unlike during the Cold War, when ideological reasons characterised relations and the two superpowers did not share economic interests.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union expanded into Central Asia and was poised to reach the Indian Ocean. On the Pacific side, China had become a bulwark of communism, influencing East and South-East Asia. Thus, the Sino-Soviet combine became the major threatening force, affecting the global balance of power. Among western powers, the US at that time was the sole major military power, as Europe and Japan were still recuperating from World War II. Direct military confrontation in this situation was not an ideal choice for the US, or for that matter either side, owing to the destructive potential of nuclear weapons put on hair-trigger alert.

The opportune moment came in the form of Sino-Soviet rivalry, weakening that bloc and allowing the US to mount a diplomatic offensive. Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China and the subsequent visit of President Nixon revived US-China diplomatic relations. These relations became stronger with Deng Xiaoping assuming the leadership of China and setting the country on a course towards economic modernisation. The China that stands today as an economic giant is essentially the outcome of this policy. Thus began the golden period of American unipolar moment with a politically and economically weaker Russia, and a China yet to become assertive.

The 2008 global financial crisis changed this setting and China’s confidence in its economic power began to feed its geopolitical interests, pronounced under ‘core interests’. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank had attracted partners from Asia and Europe, including America’s allies. Today, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become the flagship initiative that symbolises China’s economic might. The road and communications infrastructure across Eurasia marked the first major attempt by a land power to make inroads into Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, China is building ports and naval bases overseas (Djibouti to start with), while deploying its warships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Recalling the ‘Great Game’, British strategist Halford Mackinder underscored Russia’s potential to control Eurasia, from which it would reach the warm water ports of the Indian Ocean and start assembling a massive naval fleet. This would undermine the security and sovereignty of maritime nations such as Britain. Therefore, Britain’s colonisation of Asia and the US Cold War policy concentrated on controlling the rimland between Eurasia and Indian and Pacific Oceans. Mackinder, however, did not undermine China’s potential. Today, China has access to warm water ports in the Western Pacific, which it is trying to control unilaterally by commissioning warships on an industrial scale. Combine the road and rail infrastructure overland across Eurasia and naval ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, and it becomes evident that China is marching towards Eurasian hegemony, while denying the maritime nations the ability to control the rimland.

The threat is clear and the US administration under President Obama had decided to position 60 per cent of its military assets in the Indo-Pacific. US-India relations began to improve and military exercises such as RIMPAC and MALABAR began to assume greater salience. However, working with Russia for possible containment of China and simultaneously confronting it on unfair trade practices proved a greater challenge for Washington’s traditional policy elite. As a result, the Trump administration is engaging with Russia and North Korea diplomatically and raising tariffs on China’s exports to the US. The result of these efforts is dependent on the recognition of the current China threat rather than that of the Cold War imaginations within US strategic circles. Henry Kissinger’s advice to Trump to engage with Russia assumes significance in this context.

The question is will Russia comply? Russia sees major incentives to engage with China which includes trade, infrastructure and mutual assurances on spheres of influence. China’s BRI projects across Central Asia benefits Russia, given its geographic position. China is a major buyer of Russia’s oil, gas and defence equipment and both sides share the aversion to the western democratic, liberal world order. Russia and China are also acutely aware of the consequences and outcome of the Cold War Sino-Soviet split. However, the US believes that the strategic undercurrents of power and influence over Eurasia will render the same fate to the next iteration of Sino-Soviet relationship. Therefore, whether Russia remains a partner of China creating a new dynamic or confronts its influence across Eurasia, leading to a split again, will be the deciding factor in the global balance of power.

This article originally appeared in DNA By Observer Research Foundation

By Vidya Sagar Reddy Avuthu

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Malaysia Shuts Down Saudi-Supported Counter terror...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Malaysia Shuts Down Saudi-Supported Counter terror...: Malaysia Shuts Down Saudi-Supported Counterterror Center The Malaysian government has closed the Saudi-backed anti-terrorism center n...

Malaysia Shuts Down Saudi-Supported Counter terror Center

Malaysia Shuts Down Saudi-Supported Counterterror Center

The Malaysian government has closed the Saudi-backed anti-terrorism center named after the kingdom’s ruling monarch, members of parliament were told on Monday.

The King Salman Center for International Peace (KSCIP) was announced in March 2017 as King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud wrapped up a trip to Malaysia. In July 2017, officials announced the center would be constructed on a 40-acre site in Putrajaya.

What had been Malaysia’s third counter-terrorism center has been housed in temporary office in Kuala Lumpur as the government had set a two-year timeline for construction.

Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu told parliament the center and its temporary office would cease operation immediately.

“The function suggested for KSCIP will be absorbed by Malaysian Institute of Defense and Security otherwise known as MIDAS, under the Ministry of Defense,” he said in a written response to a question posed by a member of parliament.

MIDAS, which describes itself as a “center of excellence for research and knowledge sharing on issues pertaining to defense and security,” was launched in 2010.

In Aug. 15, 2017, then-Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told the parliament’s upper house that KSCIP would serve as an information exchange center to assist the government against threats of terrorism, amid alarm over the ongoing siege of Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines, by Southeast Asian fighters loyal to the so-called Islamic State.

“Never in history have terrorists been able to wave their flags in the region. They never used to be able to set foot in this region,” Hishammuddin said at the time. “What is happening in Marawi has gone beyond our expectations and has proven to us that we need to work together in handling this terror threat. What we thought could be solved within three to four days has become three to four months, and it is still ongoing.”

On Monday, Sabu also told parliament about plans to remove troops from the Middle Eastern kingdom.

“Malaysian troops have been stationed in Saudi Arabia since May 7, 2015,” he said, adding that 12 tours of duty had cost 16.4 million ringgit (U.S. $4 million).

“Each tour is between three and four months consisting of 87 to 89 members and two C130 Hercules troop transport planes.”

In June, Sabu had announced a review of Malaysia’s military presence in Saudi Arabia, saying its presence in the country “indirectly entraps Malaysia in the Middle East conflict.”

Used with the permission of BenarNews

Monday, August 6, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: The #2019Ch...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: The #2019Ch...: Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: The #2019ChangePresident Campaign Tightening The Screws? – Analysis An anti-Jokowi movement is...

Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: The #2019ChangePresident Campaign Tightening The Screws? – Analysis

Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: The #2019ChangePresident Campaign Tightening The Screws? – Analysis

An anti-Jokowi movement is building up, rallying around the hashtag #2019ChangePresident. The rallies have resonated such that they have extended beyond Java. The screws are tightening ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

#2019ChangePresident- a movement against President Joko Widodo better known by its Indonesian hashtag #2019GantiPresiden – is growing in momentum. Initially established by the Secretary General of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) Mardani Ali Sera, the movement has drawn increasing public attention for the upcoming Indonesian presidential election due next year.

Positioned as a ‘wakeup call’ for the Islamic community in Indonesia, this movement has as its foundational principle the goal of critiquing the Jokowi administration’s performance, especially its infrastructure projects, and more strategically to hinder President Jokowi from winning a second term in office.

Growing Rallies for Change

#2019ChangePresident rallies have been systematically organised in several parts of Indonesia. The first rally occurred in Solo, Central Java on 2 July 2018 where the movement aimed to deal a psychological blow by criticising the catering business of Jokowi’s eldest son. Two weeks later, the movement organised a similar rally in Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra province.

The victory of Edy Rahmayadi as the Governor of North Sumatra, who was backed by the coalition of opposition political parties and conservative Islamic groups, opened a platform for the #2019ChangePresident campaign to flourish. On 29 July 2018, the spreading movement surprisingly reached Batam, a multicultural city located some 45 minutes south of Singapore.

In Batam the #2019ChangePresident campaign was organised with the assistance of the Aliansi Umat Islam Batam Bersatu (United Batam Islamic Alliance) led by Ustadz Erwin Abu Ghaza. The Batam movement for presidential change was initially designed to counterbalance the “Jalan Santai Cinta Jokowi” or Love Jokowi Fun Walk in Batam Centre, which was initiated by various elements of Jokowi supporters in Batam.

Tension between the two camps had already occurred a day earlier at Hang Nadim Airport when Neno Warisman, a former singer and a leading figure of the #2019ChangePresident movement, arrived in Batam. She is also the primary financial contributor for the #2019ChangePresident campaign with her personal investment of about 40 million rupiah (more than SGD 3700).

Neno, who is also a cadre of the Islamist PKS, came to Batam to establish mass support at the grassroots level in the city. However, a group of Jokowi sympathisers blocked Neno’s entry and unfolded banners indicating their desire to stop ‘external provocateurs’ in Batam.

Leading Figures and Underlying Motives

Widely known as Bunda Neno (Mother Neno), she has been active in disseminating the campaign message beyond the island of Java. Before Batam, Neno had visited Medan to deliver a political speech in front of the Masjid Raya Al Mahsum in Medan, assisted by a parliamentarian from Gerindra Party Raden Syafii.

The #2019ChangePresident national campaign team has been creating a solid network with its stakeholders in Batam. Ustadz Erwin, identified as an arm of the #2019ChangePresident movement, delivered a political speech before and during the Batam rally for change in which he said: “Your mobile phone is our AK-47. It is time for war using all social media platform.”

He is also the leader of the United Batam Islamic Alliance, an Islamic organisation on the island that has been vocal in supporting the imprisonment of the former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama (Ahok) and Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno who controversially read out a poem criticising the practice of Islam in Indonesia.

Political Dimension

Serving as the Deputy of Forum Ukhuwah Islamiyah (FUI) of the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) in Batam, Ustadz Erwin also enjoys a close relationship with PKS and the 212 Alumni in Jakarta, the movement that was behind the mass protests against Ahok. Given his background and affiliations, Ustadz Erwin is strongly associated with the opposition camp and playing its role as its outpost in Batam.

The #2019ChangePresident rally in Batam indicates an effort to convince Indonesia’s Muslim community to back one of Jokowi’s opponents, likely to be Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra, in the upcoming 2019 presidential election.

The #2019ChangePresident team has been quite successful in promoting the anti-Jokowi sentiment from Jakarta into the outlying regions. Some issues it has used effectively during its rallies in Medan and Batam are the criminalisation of ulama (religious leaders); the increasing prices of staple food; and the failure to maintain social cohesion by using the examples of mosque burning in Aceh and discrimination of Muslims in numerous policy deliberations in Jakarta.

The antagonistic message of this movement is targeted with precision: do not vote for President Joko Widodo for the 2019 presidential election unless the people want to suffer more in the next five years. Ultimately, the campaign seeks to build and consolidate political power, to identify a common enemy, and to destroy Jokowi’s political image.

Potential Implications

With the recent rallies organised by the #2019ChangePresident movement in Batam, social segregation will possibly be dichotomised into pro-Jokowi and anti-Jokowi forces. This situation is more likely to cause social friction whereby pro-Jokowi voters will be accused of being anti-Islam and those who opposed him would be considered as pro-Islam.

Given the circumstances, the local government must work together with security authorities to ensure peace and stability in Batam ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

At the national level, the political signal is clear: Jokowi is likely to face strong opposition from the group during the upcoming 2019 election campaign. The support from major political parties, such as PDI-P, Golkar, NasDem, Hanura and others, does not necessarily ensure Jokowi’s victory in the presidential race. Rather, whoever influences public opinion at the grassroots level is likely to decide the election outcome.

*Dedi Dinarto is a Research Associate with the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. This is part of a series on Indonesia’s presidential election in 2019.



Friday, August 3, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: Coming Divi...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: Coming Divi...: Indonesian politicians are preparing for the 2019 presidential and legislative elections. A high barrier to entry has shaped the comi...

Indonesian Presidential Election 2019: Coming Divisive Contest Of Jokowi Vs. Prabowo – Analysis

Indonesian politicians are preparing for the 2019 presidential and legislative elections. A high barrier to entry has shaped the coming presidential election into a two-horse race. As the two separate elections will be held on the same day, this has affected the way each party is approaching coalition building.

The 2019 presidential election in Indonesia is approaching, scheduled for 17 April next year, and political parties or political coalitions have to register their preferred pair of candidates to the General Election Committee between 4 and 10 August 2018. Only those with 20 percent of parliamentary seats or 25 percent of popular votes can nominate a pair of candidates.

This high barrier to entry for the presidential race has forced the smaller parties to gravitate towards either the incumbent, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) or Prabowo Subianto – seemingly Jokowi’s one and only potential opponent in Indonesia’s coming presidential election.

A Fraught Coalition

The coming race is not only a presidential but also a legislative contest taking place at the same time. As indicated by the dynamic in the recently concluded Indonesian regional elections, the legislative elections for the national assembly loom in importance as the seats will form the basis to determine each party’s standing in the subsequent elections in 2024.

Take for example, the Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) approach in the elections. Its leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, personally decided to nominate only party cadres and insisted the party be the leader of the coalition despite it being aware the move might cost it votes. By leading a small coalition, whilst campaigning for local candidates, PDI-P is able to campaign for the re-election of President Joko Widodo.

PDI-P isn’t the only party operating with an eye on the big prize next year. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) too changed its tactics. Instead of focusing on winning in key areas, PKS honoured its coalition with Gerindra Party. In the recent regional election, Gerindra and PKS formed a coalition in five pivotal provinces, including West Java and North Sumatra.

They limited themselves to these constituencies even though they might have wished to contest more seats but found it was difficult to work together sometimes. The PKS and Gerindra coalition at the regional election has given impetus to the #ChangePresident2019 movement to unseat Jokowi in 2019.

In exchange for PKS loyalty, Gerindra has reportedly signed a written agreement with the Islamist party to endorse Prabowo as the presidential candidate, but PKS has to be consulted when selecting the vice-president candidate. This is of course merely a gentlemen’s agreement.

Prabowo’s Dilemma

This, nevertheless, has made selecting a running mate more difficult for Prabowo. PKS has insisted Prabowo’s running mate to be from one of the nine PKS cadres proposed by the party, including Salim Segaf Al Jufri, the Chairman of the PKS Advisory Council.

Earlier this year, Prabowo has announced his intention to contest. But, interestingly the announcement was made with some reluctance. It appears that his nominations were largely a result of party pressure. Sandiaga Uno, deputy governor of Jakarta and Prabowo’s strategist, posited that Prabowo’s lack of ambition was due to his age, as he is approaching 67. After losing the race three times and mobilising significant resources, Prabowo is keen just to be the kingmaker.

For Gerindra, however, the nomination of Prabowo, as of now, is non-negotiable. Having Prabowo contesting the presidential election, no matter the result, will be a big boost for the party at the concurrent legislative election. This is also probably the reason for many parties, including PKS, to be really persistent in having their own cadre to run with Prabowo in the next presidential race.

Demise of the Third Axis

The possibility of a third axis driven by the Democrat Party (PD) – the Yudhoyonos’ camp – is now highly unlikely, because Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former president and the patron of PD, has declared his support for Prabowo in the presidential race. The more important stake for him is for the Yudhoyono dynasty to be preserved. As such, PD can neither align with the Jokowi camp nor Prabowo’s.

Also out is the option of leading its own coalition of parties, depending on whether Yudhoyono’s son, Agus H. Yudhoyono, will be able to secure a vice president position or an important ministerial position. As declared  by the senior Yudhoyono in a press conference on 25 July, despite good relations between him and Jokowi, it is difficult for PD to be in the same coalition with PDI-P. One of the reasons is the rift between Yudhoyono and Megawati dating back to when he defeated Megawati in the 2004 presidential election.

Nonetheless, it is difficult for Yudhoyono to pressure Prabowo to accept his son, Agus, as his running mate, so long as PKS is not agreeable with the proposition. Yudhoyono is building a closer relation with the National Mandate Party (PAN), another player in the coalition that might be willing to support Agus’ vice-presidential candidacy.

For Prabowo, PD is a balancing force when dealing with PKS that has been breathing down his neck. Indeed, managing a coalition of equals, comprising parties with relatively similar percentage of parliamentary seats, is more precarious compared to Jokowi’s coalition that centered on PDI-P and the Functional Party (Golkar).

The Coming Divisive Race

A coalition of PDI-P and seven parties has nominated Jokowi as the presidential candidate. It is likely that to strengthen his Islamist credentials that has been under attack after the 2017 regional election Jokowi will select a non-partisan vice president with a wide Islamist-based support. During the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election the issue of religion was successfully worked up by the opposition as a stick to beat Jokowi’s camp. This strategy is likely to be redeployed by the opposition to win the presidential race.

In the recently concluded regional election, Prabowo made obvious efforts to deepen emotional ties with popular Islamic clerics including Rizieq Shihab, Abdul Somad, and local Islamic figures throughout Indonesia such as Tengku Zulkarnain from North Sumatra. There is a real danger these moves to secure political support through religion will divide the country and be detrimental to Indonesia’s democracy in the long run.

Unfortunately, division in Indonesia based on religious interpretation is an ongoing and seemingly irreversible trend. Largely mobilised by the opposition, Prabowo has positioned his coalition for the next election in the name of keumatan or the legitimate representation of Indonesian Muslims against Jokowi and PDI-P both of whom are painted as anti-Islam.

By Emirza Adi Syailendra*


*Emirza Adi Syailendra is a Senior Analyst with the Indonesia Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. This is part of an RSIS series on Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election


Kerry B. Collison Asia News: China’s Evolving Arctic Policy: Two Geopolitical T...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: China’s Evolving Arctic Policy: Two Geopolitical T...: China’s Evolving Arctic Policy: Two Geopolitical Threats On July 19, Russian natural gas company Novatek delivered the first ever liq...

China’s Evolving Arctic Policy: Two Geopolitical Threats

China’s Evolving Arctic Policy: Two Geopolitical Threats

On July 19, Russian natural gas company Novatek delivered the first ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo to China via the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic. The route from Russia’s Sabetta port through the Bering Strait cuts delivery time to China’s east coast by over 20 days compared with the traditional Suez Canal-Strait of Malacca route. The shipment demonstrates China’s growing utilization of the Arctic.

Unlike its science-focused activities in the Arctic in the 1990s and early 2000s, since China started to push forward its observer status to the Arctic Council in 2008, China has increased its efforts in the economic field. After becoming an official observer to the Council in 2013, China has continued this shift of focus, introducing the concept of Polar Silk Road in 2017, and issuing its first Arctic Policy in 2018.

In the Arctic Policy, shipping routes are listed as a major field of engagement. Other fields of engagement include scientific research, climate change, Arctic resources (with the most emphasis), and international governance. All of these engagements, however, require investment from China. Therefore, though not stressed in the text, investment is the hidden key element of China’s Arctic Policy.

Looking at these fields of engagement, it is noticeable that they are perfectly in line with China’s foreign policy initiatives, including the Belt and Road Initiative, BRICS, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, “16+1” China-Central Eastern Europe Cooperation, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also tend to focus on shipping routes, resources, investment, and multilateral governance. If these initiatives and institutes, as many observers argue, are indeed China’s tools of reshaping the current world order, then the Polar Silk Road, or China’s Arctic Policy, is likely a part of the toolset.

Against this backdrop, geopolitically, China’s efforts in the Arctic could represent two major threats to Arctic countries.

First, China’s increasing economic engagement with the region could threaten the political stability of Arctic countries. In mid-July, the new minister for foreign affairs of Greenland, an autonomous region of Denmark with an inclination toward independence, announced Greenland’s plan to open a representative office in Beijing to boost trade ties with China. Together with China’s potential investment in three airports on Greenland and expected participation in the territory’s largest mining projects, the plan raises worries from Denmark that Greenland’s increasing economic dependence on China will give China increased political influence in Arctic Council affairs. This concern is not groundless. China is skilled at and has a proven record of converting its financial investment to certain countries into political influence on multilateral institutions. In Europe, for instance, China’s close partnership with Greece and Hungary has succeeded in weakening the EU statement for the 2016 South China Sea arbitration result to the extent that it did not directly mention China. A similar influence has been exerted over Laos and Cambodia to give China a strong voice within ASEAN.

Second, the increasing presence of China in strategic locations of the Arctic could threaten the NATO-Russia balance in the region. The Russian navy has three fleets in Europe: the Baltic Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet, and the Northern Fleet. The former two’s access to the Atlantic Ocean can be easily blocked by NATO forces in the region. However, based in Murmansk, Russia’s aircraft-equipped Northern Fleet can break into the Atlantic via the GIUK gap—the choke point between Greenland, Iceland, and the U.K. Last year, Foreign Policy reported that new Russian submarines have been making frequent trips through the gap, and in July this year Chatham House also noted that the gap is often overlooked in NATO planning.

In recent years, however, China has been trying to purchase several pieces of land around the GIUK gap. In 2016, Chinese mining company General Nice Group attempted to buy an abandoned naval base in Greenland. In 2014, Huang Nubo, the 90th richest entrepreneur in China who has previously worked for the Communist Party, tried to buy a rare piece of land on Svalbard. Although he failed, he later successfully purchased a parcel of land in Lyngen, Norway, also in the Arctic circle. In 2011, Huang tried to buy 0.3% of Iceland’s total land.

With China’s ever-growing geopolitical ambitions, purchasing capacity, and political-economic influence, it is possible that Beijing will establish a stronger presence in the region. By marking the accomplished and attempted purchases on the map, it seems that China, if it aligns itself with Russia, would impose a critical impact to the region’s military balance by assisting Russia in and around the GIUK gap. Even if such a military alliance is not to be shaped given Russia’s vigilance of Chinese influence, China alone, given some time, could drastically change the balance in the region. Currently, China is growing its icebreaker fleet by building the Snow Dragon 2 and bidding for a nuclear-powered icebreaker. This would allow China to become the second country to own a nuclear icebreaker. Some observers believe that the nuclear vessel will pave the way for China to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the near future, which would not only be a game changer in the Asia-Pacific but also in the Arctic when the summer ice melts by the 2030s or the 2050s.

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesia’s Defense Industry Challenge in Focus wi...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesia’s Defense Industry Challenge in Focus wi...: Indonesia’s Defense Industry Challenge in Focus with Stakeholder Meeting Engagement spotlights the Jokowi government’s efforts to str...

Indonesia’s Defense Industry Challenge in Focus with Stakeholder Meeting

Indonesia’s Defense Industry Challenge in Focus with Stakeholder Meeting

Engagement spotlights the Jokowi government’s efforts to strengthen the country’s defense industry.

On July 26, a stakeholder meeting was held involving the various actors working on Indonesia’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its defense industry. The engagement once again put the focus on the extent of progress on the objective advanced during the government of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo despite the significant challenges that remain for the Southeast Asian state in this realm.

As I have noted previously in these pages, in recent years, Indonesia has signaled its determination to build up the country’s domestic defense industry for a range of reasons, from boosting its self-sufficiency to contributing to the country’s economic prosperity. The effort begun to take off under the tenure of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and it has continued under Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Jokowi had signaled a multi-pronged approach to achieving this since assuming office back in 2014, from the transfer of technology to improving the management of state-owned defense companies (See: “An Indonesian Defense Revolution Under Jokowi?”). But though some inroads have been made, significant challenges still remain.

Late last month, the progress with respect to defense industry collaboration was in the spotlight again in a meeting on the subject. A stakeholder meeting involving the various actors in Indonesia’s defense policy was held on July 26 at Indonesian military headquarters in Jakarta.

While the meeting featured broader discussions, there were also remarks delivered by the secretary general of the defense ministry, Hadiyan Sumintaatmadja. According to the defense ministry, in his remarks, Sumintaatmadja touched on the significant internal and external challenges that remained for the industry. These included several of those that Indonesian officials had already touched on before, including not just internal ones such as bottlenecks and a lack of public awareness on some aspects, but also external ones such as market prices and competition from other countries.

Sumintaatmadja also emphasized the importance of collaboration between the various actors involved to make the strengthening of the defense industry work more effectively. This included not just the government, whose involvement is critical, but also users such as the Indonesian military for which equipment was being built. The emphasis here was on a broader structural issue of ensuring coordination between what the key requirements are and what is being build in terms of areas of focus.

Indonesia’s goal of strengthening its defense industry is very much an ongoing process, with no shortage of challenges even as new opportunities continue to be pursued. The meeting late last month was yet another indication of how that ongoing process is evolving, and what policymakers are flagging as the key next steps for the country in this respect.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Dark Clouds Looming Over Southeast Asia’s Democrac...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Dark Clouds Looming Over Southeast Asia’s Democrac...: Dark Clouds Looming Over Southeast Asia’s Democracies – Analysis Southeast Asia, the world’s most ethno-culturally diverse region, is...

Dark Clouds Looming Over Southeast Asia’s Democracies – Analysis

Dark Clouds Looming Over Southeast Asia’s Democracies – Analysis

Southeast Asia, the world’s most ethno-culturally diverse region, is rapidly growing because of its strategic location and rising economies. A sub-region of ten countries, it has dynamically increased its influence in international affairs after the end of the Cold War. Constituting a population of over 620 million, the region represents a profound puzzle of politically unstable democracies which are in a constant state of flux.

In Malaysia, the recent election marked the comeback of the “Malay tsunami,” with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad revisiting democracy amidst turbulent challenges. With the Barisan National (BN) ending its six-decade-long monopoly, the country still faces major obstacles including corruption scandals, “religious and political manipulation” and reformation of the government. The ever-changing political landscape of Malaysia is a landmark change in the Southeast Asian democratic regime. Moreover, this development in Kuala Lumpur will be a litmus test of whether democracy can stand strong in the winds of change.

Following its neighbour’s footsteps, Indonesia is also going for general elections next year. This year, Indonesia marked its 20th anniversary as a democratic country, with the end of the Suharto rule. In 2016, the democratic right to expression and religious tolerance in the country suffered a major setback when Christian governor Basuki Ahok was sentenced to two years in jail for “blasphemy”. This showcases the lack of a “united national consciousness”, which according to experts, is critical for the growth of democracy, especially when Indonesia is expected to play a critical role in the emerging importance of the Indo-Pacific and create “an alliance of liberal democracies and spread its values around the world”.

Unfortunately, barring these two examples, recent trends in the rest of Southeast Asia, especially in the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore indicate a slow transition from liberal multi-party systems to democratically elected leaders hoarding their powers.

With the Philippines leader, Rodrigo Duterte, already challenging the judiciary and with the removal of the Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the country maybe heading for what is being termed by experts as an “imperial presidency”. The democratic nature of the country is deemed to be “gravely wounded” because of the human rights violations and poor economic conditions. Even in the past, Philippines had converted their democratic rule into authoritarian powers under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos in the mid-1980s.

Similarly, Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen declared that “the government will commit to protecting the multiparty democracy process.” But after the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2014, there is no major opposition party and Prime Minister Sen has desired to continue his leadership in the coming years. A report from Australian National University (ANU) suggests that “Cambodia has not met even minimal democratic standards for the past 25 years.”  Further, the author of the book, Hun Sen’s Cambodia, Sebsatian Strangio notes, “what we’re seeing now is the government increasingly dispensing with pretense of democratic rule and being much more openly authoritarian.” With strongman leader Hun Sen continuing his rule of 33 years, it will be interesting to see if the upcoming selections will bring any changes in the ruling system.

In addition, Thailand, which underwent a military coup in 2014, has brought in economic reforms for the country but has failed to recreate its democratic order. The Thai Junta have been promising ‘free and fair elections’ but failed to deliver making the future of Thai democracy look ‘bleak’. With the commander-in-chief general-turned-Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha reiterating that elections won’t be held before 2019 and the Junta government “deepening its authoritarian rule” in the state, chances of the return of democracy seem bleak. A member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) stated that Chan-ocha experiences “limitless authority” and the country is far from having a “return” of democracy.

Southeast Asia’s prominent economic hub, Singapore, continues to be growing at an unprecedented rate on the economic front, but continues to lag behind democratically – with barely meeting the ‘minimum’ standards of democracy. For starters, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is the only major political party in Singapore. The party has been in power since independence, managing to win 14 legislative elections and is said to be the “third longest serving party” in the world. This has driven many observers of Singapore’s history – since its founder Lee Kuan Yew’s rule – to term it as perpetually being ruled by a “benevolent dictator”.

The Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are all experiencing challenges – albeit myriad ones – to their respective democracies. While the continuation of democratic rule in the aforementioned countries remains uncertain, other nations in the region are facing stiff resistance to the establishment of a democracy. Such experiences are a cause for concern for Southeast Asian countries that have been historically marred in monarchies or military rule.

For instance, three years ago, despite the optimism over the National League of Democracy’s (NLD) triumphant wave, the subsequent political inefficacy of “democracy icon” and the Noble Peace Prize-winning leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi has “dashed hopes” for a democratic upheaval in Myanmar. Although she is the de-facto leader of the state, she has “refused to even use the term “Rohingyas” and avoided any moral stewardship on the ensuing crisis.

One of the fastest growing economies of this region, Vietnam, continues to be ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). As one of the last countries in the world under communist rule, experts argue that democratisation can only take place in Vietnam with the “introduction of multi-party system” – which is highly unlikely. Its neighboring country, Laos, also looms under the communist shadow. The country has been termed as “world’s most closed political system after North Korea”. Whereas, Brunei, one of the small states in the Southeast Asia region, is often brandished as an ‘absolute monarchy’. The future for democracy in this state seems ‘dark’ too, as the last legislative elections of the state were “conducted in 1962”.

Many countries in Southeast Asia are also facing limitations on the media and the freedom of speech. Last year, the Cambodian government forced The Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia to shut their respective offices. Interestingly, the oldest newspaper of Cambodia published its last article on 4 September 2017 titled “Descent into Outright Dictatorship”. According to Hun Sen, the agenda of Radio Free Asia is to “oppose the government” and can be rightly referred to as “servants of the foreigners”.

Further, keeping up with the world’s latest political snare over ‘fake news,’ some of the region’s leaders are adopting that allegation for any piece of news that stands critical of their rule. For example, the act of shutting down a local website ‘Rappler’ by the Manila government is seen as an “act to muzzle” the free press. Similarly, Malaysia recently introduced a new media-gag law against “fake news” which many experts deemed to be a violation of the “freedom of the media”.

According to an independent democracy watchdog, Freedom House,2017 was the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom”. Democracy has been on a decline but according to ASEAN’s charter, maintaining democracy is essential and it is “collective regional objective”. With many nations like Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand going for elections in the upcoming times, it will be interesting to see if democracy can prevail. In the coming years, the challenge would be to safeguard democracy from the growing expansion of strongmen leaders which could further lead to corrosion of the democratic regime.

There exists, however, some cause for optimism in the region. With ‘democracy in retreat’ in the region, there are some countries (albeit small states) like Timor Leste amidst a serious attempt to maintain the tradition of a robust liberal democratic parliamentary system. With the fresh elections held on 12 May 2018, the nation is being declared to be “boldly democratic” and successful in maintaining a multi-party democratic regime.

The 1967 ASEAN Bangkok Declaration’s major goal was to muster “the collective will of the nations of the Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their people the blessing of peace, freedom and prosperity.” Emerging trends suggest that Southeast Asian countries must pay heed to this past collective commitment to encourage liberal democratic values and institutions in each country.

*The author is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai