In the 190-page long
document, Canberra pledges to increase capital investment in defence
capabilities from the current AU$9.4 billion (US$7.1 billion) to AU$23 billion
(US$17.4 billion) in 2025–26. Most of this investment will be channelled to the
maritime domain. But what does this investment means for Southeast Asia and the
South China Sea?
The 2016 DWP reflects
continuity with the two preceding Defence White Papers in two key ways. First,
the 2016 DWP reiterates the primacy of maritime strategy emphasised in previous
White Papers, with a focus on the sea–air gap along Australia’s north. Maritime
capabilities will be central in this enterprise, especially submarines that can
provide what the 2016 DWP describes as ‘a strategic advantage in terms of
surveillance and protection of our maritime approaches’. Second, the 2016 DWP
echoes the previous two White Papers in highlighting ‘maritime Southeast Asia’
as a region that ‘will always have particular significance to [Australia’s]
This emphasis on Southeast
Asia is highlighted in the DWP’s list of Australia’s ‘strategic defence
interests’. These interests are the security of Australia’s northern approaches
and proximate sea lines of communications, a secure nearer region encompassing
Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, and a stable Indo-Pacific
region with a rules-based global order.
What differentiates the 2016
DWP from the previous ones is its selective emphasis on the South China Sea.
While all the strategic defence interests are critical, the 2016 DWP puts great
emphasis on the second. According to the 2016 DWP, ‘Australia’s reliance on
maritime trade with and through South East Asia means the security of our
maritime approaches and trade routes within South East Asia must be protected,
as must freedom of navigation’.
Nowhere is freedom of
navigation being challenged so close to Australia than in the South China Sea.
Although the 2013 DWP called the South China Sea disputes to Australia’s
strategic attention, the blunt emphasis of the 2016 DWP is unparalleled:
‘Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South
China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity
by claimants raises tensions in the region’, particularly ‘the unprecedented
pace and scale of China’s land reclamation activities’.
Such a robust statement
encapsulates the reactionary assertiveness implicit in the 2016 DWP. This new
strategic stance may involve Australia conducting military ‘freedom of
navigation operations’ in the South China Sea, as well as anticipatory measures
against China’s larger military modernisation drives.
Australia’s concerns about
China can partly, if not entirely, explain what Australian Prime Minister
Malcolm Turnbull describes as ‘an historic modernisation’ of Australia’s naval
capabilities, including the acquisition of 12
regionally superior submarines, three additional air warfare
destroyers and nine new anti-submarine warfare frigates.
That the 2016 DWP elicited a
predictably strong criticism from Beijing is not necessarily bad news. A
stronger Australia can give Southeast Asia greater leverage vis-à-vis China in
the South China Sea disputes. Australia’s strategic interests in Southeast Asia
can also create more opportunities for defence cooperation. Regional countries
can selectively draw upon Australia’s unique access to US defence technology
and intelligence to complement their own military modernisations.
Australia’s bilateral and
multilateral defence operations in the region, such as the Five Power Defence
Arrangement, may begin to involve more sophisticated exercise scenarios that
will benefit its Southeast Asian partners. Australia’s middle power status
arguably makes it a politically less sensitive defence partner for Southeast
Asia than major powers, such as the United States.
But despite these
opportunities, Southeast Asia should also be aware of the associated risks that
accompany Australia’s reactionary assertiveness. Given the region’s sensitivity
towards the divisive prospect of major power influence, the 2016 DWP begs the
question of whether Australia’s strategic policies are chiefly based on their
own raison d’etre or are largely a reflection of those of its
principal ally, the United States. While the strategic interests of some ASEAN
countries may align more closely with Australia’s, ASEAN should remain cautious
of being drawn deeper into Sino–American strategic competition, which could
potentially undermine its unity.
At the operational level,
Australia’s reactionary assertiveness might affect Southeast Asian maritime
security with far reaching effects. Sandwiched between Australia and China,
Southeast Asia would likely be the first region affected by a miscalculation
involving Chinese and Australian maritime forces in the South China Sea.
Controlled or orchestrated escalation during freedom of navigation operations
is not foolproof.
Regardless of whether the plans of the
2016 DWP are achievable, they are a bellwether of Australia’s future
strategic policy. Australia’s assertiveness is not tantamount to greater
instability in Southeast Asia but ASEAN should not react idly to Australia’s
new strategic direction. Unless Australia’s reactionary assertiveness takes the
interests of Southeast Asian states into account, it will remain part of the
problem rather than the solution.
Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto
is Indonesian Presidential PhD Scholar with the Strategic and Defence Studies
Centre at The Australian National University. He is a former associate research
fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang
Technological University, Singapore.
Those at the heart of the
scheme have insisted the new facility will not be a ‘special prison’ but rather
‘a place for intensive counselling for ex-terrorists’. But given the stated
aims include preventing the spread of radical views among general prison
populations and easing pressure on overcrowded penitentiaries, the impetus for
isolation appears to be broader than simply pre-parole preparation.
The underlying dilemma is
one that a number of governments are currently pondering: is it better to
segregate extremist prisoners or disperse them among the general inmate
The first conscious decision
to disperse terrorist prisoners came in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, in
response to the Irish Republican Army’s penitentiary power base within the
notorious Maze Prison in Belfast. Today, unmanageable inmates — both extremists
and otherwise — are routinely shifted between eight dispersal prisons in order
to avoid the entrenchment of problems and the development of undesirable
Preventing the concentration
of prisoners with similar extremist worldviews may mitigate the chance of
ideologies becoming further internalised. Proponents also argue that
interaction with group outsiders can promote social inclusion among extremists.
Valuable intelligence may be collected from the close observation of these
But there is an obvious
problem associated with integrating persuasive radicals and naïve delinquents
under the same roof. The unstructured nature of
the global jihadist movement, and its combination of
anti-establishment rhetoric with an ostensibly pious religious framework, means
it is generally open to anyone. The global jihadist movement is potentially
attractive to angry young criminals seeking both redemption and the protection
of a prison gang.
Spain has recognised the
danger of inmate recruitment. While the government maintains a dispersal policy
for imprisoned ethno-nationalist Basque separatists, jihadi extremists are
largely segregated from the general prison population. The UK is also
revisiting the utility of dispersal. Is the strategic separation of imprisoned
extremists a better option?
The United States houses the
majority of its extremist prisoners in two relatively new maximum security
facilities called Communication Management Units. As the name suggests, these
specialised prisons allow for total control and surveillance of inmates’
interactions. Security is the absolute priority and the reportedly repressive
environments are not ideally conducive to rehabilitation initiatives. Although
the US approach does not involve total segregation of extremist prisoners, the
two facilities are often referred to as ‘Guantanamo North’.
rehabilitation are a key problem with the segregation model. US Vice
President Joe Biden once called the Guantanamo Bay prison complex ‘the greatest
propaganda tool that exists for recruiting terrorists around the world’. While
other cases of extremist prisoners being segregated are not logically
equivalent, memories of Guantanamo scandals and the Abu Ghraib atrocity mean
that any remotely comparable facility risks being painted with the same brush.
France appears to be seeking
to avoid this problem by creating designated wings for extremists in
established prisons. Two were completed in January 2016 and the government
plans to have five up and running by the end of March. The specialised wings
will differ from the US model in that rehabilitation — or so-called
de-radicalisation efforts — will be the focus, with dozens of counsellors and
psychologists recruited to work towards positive change.
An interesting example of a
mixed approach is Denmark. Instead of opting for outright segregation, the
Danish authorities have decided to remove prisoners they believe are vulnerable
to influence while maintaining interactions between extremists and inmates
deemed resistant. Given the right conditions and context, this could well be a
So how do Indonesia’s
proposed changes measure up?
Authorities in Indonesia are
well aware of the dispersal–segregation dilemma. The head of the BNPT’s
de-radicalisation division, Dr Irfan Idris, has been quoted in the media
summarising the drawbacks of each approach. There have been reported cases of
prisoners and even guards succumbing to the influence of charismatic extremists
behind bars in Indonesia. Yet authorities are concerned that a segregation
model would allow militants to close ranks, as witnessed in Belfast’s Maze
The specialised centre in
Sentul was close to realisation in 2014, when a memorandum of understanding was
signed between the BNPT and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to begin
transferring prisoners. But a subsequent visit by the then president Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono scuppered the plans, as the former leader expressed
apprehension about the facility’s proximity to the capital.
Yudhoyono also warned that
the centre ‘must not be like Guantanamo’. The fact that proponents have claimed
the current scheme merely amounts to a counselling facility for ‘ex-terrorists’
appears to be aimed at extenuating this type of attribution. The newly
appointed head of the BNPT, Inspector General Tito Karnavian, has stated that
prevention and rehabilitation are the agency’s primary functions.
If the Sentul plan goes
ahead and is well managed, it could provide a long-awaited opportunity to
establish a robust disengagement program in Indonesia, while avoiding the
problem of general inmate
radicalisation. The de-radicalisation facility needs to balance the
internal challenge of preventing undesired unity among extremists and the
external one of placating public perceptions. But the potential benefits
outweigh the possible risks.
Cameron Sumpter is a Senior
Analyst at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a constituent
unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang
Technological University (NTU), Singapore.
of Marcoses; from left, Imelda, Bongbong and Imee; all politicians.
The Philippines is known
for dismissing despots. But ahead of this year’s presidential election Mong
Palatino asks why there is still so much love for the family of a former
Ferdinand Marcos ruled the
Philippines like a dictator for two decades until he was ousted by the ‘People
Power’ uprising in 1986. Three decades later, his wife and children hold
elected positions in government. Now, his eldest son and namesake is running
for vice president.
Many people ask,
especially international observers, how did the Marcoses achieve a political
comeback in a nation known for deposing corrupt despots?
Marcos family went into exile in Hawaii in 1986, but their friends, allies,
cronies, and subordinates remained in the Philippines and weren’t held
accountable for their criminal complicity in implementing the brutal policies
of the martial law regime.
Arroyo, the executive secretary of President Cory Aquino who replaced Marcos,
noted that the persons who visited the presidential palace to lobby and
socialise with the stalwarts of the new ruling party were also Marcos minions.
As he told Sunday Inquirer Magazine in 1992
was still in the Guest House, I asked for the logs which listed those who had
visited President Marcos. I compared them with those visiting President Aquino.
They were the same people – they came from the same companies, shared the same
business views, the same mindset, and they went to the same parties.
Marcoses were able to run for public office again reflects the failure of
successive post-1986 regimes to decisively prosecute and arrest those
responsible for committing atrocious human rights violations and the plundering
of the nation’s wealth. Compared to other notorious dictators of the 1970s,
such as Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina, Marcos
was never indicted with
criminal charges and his heirs didn’t spend a single day in prison.
presidents (including two Aquinos; the incumbent president is the son of Cory
Aquino) were unable to recover most of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth. Imelda,
wife of the late dictator and she of the shoes, is one of the richest members
Filipinos mistakenly assume that life during Martial Law was better then part
of the blame goes to the post-Marcos governments that restored democratic
institutions on one hand but refused to dismantle the rule of oligarchs on the
other. Cory, whose family owns one of the largest agricultural estates in the
country, passed a land reform law which has several loopholes that
allowed landlords to retain control of their vast landholdings.
were high expectations that People Power would lead to the improvement of the
lives of most Filipinos. But post-Marcos governments have fundamentally failed
to address poverty, inequality, and corruption. A mere 15 years after the
uprising, another president was ousted from power because of corruption.
post-Marcos leaders turning out to be inferior copies of the original dictator,
the Marcoses started winning elections. Imelda became a congresswoman in 1995,
and her two children won as governor and congresswoman in 1998. Twelve years
later, Bongbong Marcos became a senator of the Republic.
interpret Filipinos’ nostalgia for the martial law years as an expression of
disgust against those who succeeded Marcos. When some praise the strongman tactics
of Marcos, it is commonly described as a desperate longing for peace,
stability, and discipline in society. It could also be an indirect condemnation
of the incompetent governance of the post-Marcos regimes.
Bongbong Marcos is leading in some polls, despite the anti-Marcos rhetoric of
no less than the incumbent president, is a sign that a segment of the
population is seeking to hit back at the ruling party by voting against its
sworn enemy. Amid the deteriorating quality of life in the country, despite
contrary claims of the government, the high rating of Bongbong should be linked
to the growing frustration of many voters to the callousness of
some government leaders.
doesn’t help that the present generation of first- time voters have little or
no knowledge of the dark days of Martial Law. Young Filipinos didn’t experience
the loss of democracy and civil liberties during the Marcos years. The
Philippines doesn’t have a law which makes it a crime to deny that human rights
violations were rampant during the reign of Marcos.
It is not
simply enough to ask why the Marcoses are back in the political limelight.
Equally important is to probe the shameful lack of political will of the
post-Marcos governments when it comes to seeking justice, and accountability
for the horrors of Martial Law.
is that even if Marcos is the epitome of an evil leader, his sins are not that
much different from those committed by his successors in government. Both
Marcos and regimes that followed him are liable for perpetuating a deeply
flawed, elitist and corrupt political system. Bongbong continues to be
unrepentant about the excesses of Martial Law in the same way politicians today
are unapologetic for administering an inefficient and unjust political system.
the sins of Marcos is unpardonable; but the greater crime is the refusal to put
an end to a system of governance designed for the exclusive benefit of big
landlords, political dynasties, and business cronies of political parties in
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and
former legislator. He is the Southeast Asia editor of Global Voices, a social
Twenty-five years after the United States pulled its military out of the huge
Subic Bay naval base and Clark Air Force Base amid anti-American sentiment, the
US has returned to the Philippines with the biggest presence for decades as it
seeks to counter Chinese influence and to defend a Filipino military that is
clearly not capable of defending itself against the Chinese.
Rearming under the Enhanced Defense
Cooperation Agreement is being hurried along in the wake of the Philippine
Supreme Court’s ratification in mid-January because of the need to get the
bases operational before President Benigno S. Aquino leaves office at the end
of June. All of the presidential candidates except perhaps for Manuel A.
Roxas are considered unknown quantities in terms of continuation of the Aquino
EDCA, as the pact is known, is
vulnerable to changes and cancellation, partly because Aquino bypassed the
Senate to complete the agreement through executive order. Since the pact was
created by executive order, it could be undone by executive agreement on the
part of the incoming president.
That may well be unlikely, given the
current state of affairs, with the Chinese encroaching almost to the Philippine
doorstep with the bases it is creating in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, the
prevailing wisdom is that if the US-Filipino bases are operational, it would be
unlikely for the incoming president to decommission them.
Accordingly, on March 19, officials
of both countries told the media five Philippine bases are to be developed for
dual-country use under EDCA, which was signed in April of 2014 but was held up
by opponents in the courts.
China immediately objected to the
announcement of the enhanced military presence, charging it was unnecessarily
provocative and aimed at undermining China’s rightful ownership to the entire
sea. “By collaborating to confront China politically and militarily, the United
States and its allies may be thinking they can undermine the external environment
of Chin and slow down its peaceful development,” Beijing charged in an
editorial in the state-owned Xinhua news agency.
The bases include four Air Force
facilities and the country’s largest army base, Fort Magsaysay, primarily a
training area whose facilities include airborne and amphibious training, jungle
survival and guerrilla warfare. US forces already use a small part of the
reservation to store weaponry and equipment needed for annual Balikatan
exercises with the Philippine military.
Others are the Lumbia airport in
Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao Island, which will be converted into a US storage
depot for disaster relief equipment, the Mactan-Benito Ebuen air base, which
shares a 10,000-foot runway with the Mactan-Cebu international airport, and bases
on Palawan, near where the Chinese military has continued its construction
activities around Scarborough Shoal.
The US left the Philippines in 1992
over a rent agreement, ending a military presence that began when Spain ceded
the islands to the United States in 1898 although it was interrupted by World
War II. The US re-landed with General Douglas MacArthur and remained there for
decades. It was from the Philippines that the US ran much of its military
operations during the Cold War and the hot one in Vietnam as well. The
60,000 acre Subic Naval Base – as big as the entire island of Singapore – was
the Navy’s principal supply and ship-repair installation in the region, most of
which was shifted to Guam and Singapore. Asia Times
Alarmist is when you overestimate a strategic
risk. Conversely, underestimating that risk is naïve. A sound strategic
analysis always falls between these two extremes. It’s about maintaining a
delicate balance between appreciating and courting danger.
The latest incident between China and Indonesia
near Natuna Islands incurs the risk of underestimating Indonesia’s strategic
impotence against Beijing’s growing maritime assertiveness.
When China published its
so-called nine-dash or U-shaped line map of the South China Sea in August 1993
(and again in 2009), Jakarta might have assumed that Beijing would somehow
compromise for the sake of bilateral relations by excluding Indonesia’s
exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The fact that China has never clarified what the
U-shaped line means led Indonesia to easily dismiss China’s claims. Indeed,
Indonesia has consistently rejected the U-shaped line map since; in the words
of former foreign minister Ali Alatas, it’s only “an illustrative and not a
real map” and thus rightly insists that Indonesia is a “non-claimant” state in
the South China Sea disputes. Beijing, on the other hand, reassures Jakarta
that it has no claims over Natuna Islands, yet remains ambiguous on the
purported overlap between the U-shaped line and Indonesia’s EEZ.
Downplaying the significance
of the U-shaped line has thus been Indonesia’s main approach toward China,
while offering the self-proclaimed role of an “honest broker” among the
claimants. As a result, the U-shaped line did not prevent Indonesia and China
from developing their ties into a strategic partnership in 2005, which was
elevated into a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2013.Closer ties with
China might have given Indonesia a false hope in China’s “peaceful rise”
narrative, sweetened by promises of economic and other cooperation, including
the recent China-funded high-speed railway project. In return, China might have
hoped Indonesia would become more lenient in its rejection of the U-shaped
line. China has asked Indonesia not to make their whole bilateral ties hostage
to the latest incident. But any amicable inter-state relationship is founded on
one sacrosanct principle that everything else stems from: respect for
True, Indonesia has maritime
disputes with other countries as well, but the intimidating and coercive nature
by which China imposes its claims is unparalleled. Without such respect,
there’s no relationship, but a subjugation of one country by another. No
sovereign country will accept this. Nor will China.
Indeed, closer bilateral
ties haven’t amounted to a softening in China’s attitude on enforcing the
U-shaped line in Natuna Islands. On the contrary, maritime incidents involving
China in the area have been recurring, with the last one being the most
Clearly, China’s ambiguity
on the U-shaped line is more declaratory than actual. Notwithstanding this
ambiguity, the latest incident suggests that the line could stretch as far
south as Beijing wishes. Indonesia should see this as a tipping point, where it
must recalibrate its approach toward China. The first step to solving a problem
is to admit there is one. Perhaps to the chagrin of maritime lawyers, the
latest incident demonstrates that the South China Sea dispute isn’t just a
legal question. Rather, it’s a strategic question at heart and will remain so
for the foreseeable future, which demands a strategic answer. No longer can
Indonesia downplay the U-shaped line and assume it’s bereft of strategic risks.
Indonesia must craft alternative ways to check Beijing’s maritime assertiveness
beyond the usual bilateral diplomatic protests. First, escalate Indonesia’s
rhetoric by demanding from China a formal public apology for the recent
incident and a promise it won’t recur. If need be, make this apology a
requirement for the release of the eight Chinese fishermen of the Kway Fey.
China would predictably
reject issuing such an apology, which implies that similar incidents will
happen again. But, no worries, this will build an even stronger case for
Indonesia to accelerate expanding naval and maritime law enforcement in Natuna
Islands. Second, be more vocal in rejecting the U-shaped line whenever and
wherever circumstances allow. Indonesia can use a harsher diplomatic tone
against China in ASEAN forums and endorse the views of ASEAN claimants with
much less hesitation insofar as they’re aligned with Indonesia’s. Convince
Beijing that ASEAN is where Indonesian diplomacy can hurt China the most.
Third, don’t back off when China threatens to blackmail Indonesia economically
(such as cancelling and postponing investment pledges, or downgrading trade).
Play other cards, such as Japan, India, Australia and the US, to convince China
that it has more to lose when downgrading economic relations with Indonesia.
Remember, Indonesia’s isn’t alone in this predicament.
Fourth, deepen cooperation
with like-minded partners equally wary of China’s intentions in the South China
Sea. Enhance regular maritime military exercises with the US and include the
Air Force participation; invite military officers from Australia, Japan and
ASEAN countries as observers, and if need be, involve them selectively as third
parties; and increase civilian maritime law enforcement patrols in Natuna
Islands, such as by the fisheries ministry and the new Maritime Security Board
(Bakamla).In the meantime, review all bilateral security and maritime
agreements with China and make their implementation contingent on China’s
unqualified recognition over Indonesia’s maritime boundary and sovereign rights
in Natuna Islands. Fifth, accelerate the upgrading of Natuna’s Ranai airbase
and naval bases to accommodate greater naval and air force presence for combat
and surveillance purposes and their supporting infrastructure, particularly
radars. When money is scarce, explore opportunities for international
assistance. An expanded version of the US-funded Integrated Maritime
Surveillance System (IMSS) along the Malacca and Makassar Straits could be a
model.Finally, make sure when doing the above steps it remains on Indonesian
Prove that Indonesia isn’t
strategically inept a nation.
The writer is a presidential
PhD scholar with the Strategic and Defense Studies Center, Australian National
“Great Mosque of Brussels” near to the blasts that rocked Brussels and the EU
Parliament was owned outright by the Saudis but gifted to Belgium, and
designed to be an Islamic stronghold in Europe, in return for cheap oil... with
a few very nasty strings attached.
It came with a 99 year lease and the Saudis were to have complete carte
blanche of the operation of the mosque and all Imams were to be supplied by the
Saudis who preached a hard line form of Sunni Shariah law known as Salafism, a
form of Jihadist teaching involving the worst of all Sunni extreme principles.
Last summer brought a dark chapter of the mosque's history to light --
one that strongly contradicted the official version of mosque leaders who
claimed, as they always do, that they were engaged in fostering peace and
understanding among all peoples.
In April of 2012, the Saudi ambassador was informed that the Belgian
Government had a serious problem with the teachings of mosque director,
"His sermons were Salafist, anti-Israel and anti-West. The guiding
principle was the teaching of Salafism above all else," said a witness who
spoke with Belgian television station RTBF. “Alabri's sermons were so extreme
that they even crossed the Belgians' generously drawn conditions”.
Alabri was quietly removed from his post. All too late for the
citizens of cosmopolitan Brussels.
The Belgian Government has been at pains not to upset the House of Saud
because of the financial benefit of cheap oil, so still the Saudi Imams are
free to preach extremes of Jihad and Shariah law against the West.
While the Belgian Government has been reluctant to take on the Saudi
landlords, the radical Muslims in Brussels have all the while been encouraged
via The Great Mosque’s preachers to conduct the most radical of Islamic
extremism against the West, similar to that witnessed recently in Brussels and
Belgian journalist and terrorism expert Claude Moniquet wrote that
Belgium's particularly liberal interpretation of freedom of speech has led the
State to be overly tolerant of radical teachings for decades.
The French language daily newspaper "Libération" quoted Islam
expert Michel Privot of the European Network Against Racism: "Salafist
sentiments are now solidly anchored in the minds of Muslims in the Belgian
capital." The phenomenon, he says, can be traced back to Saudi Arabia's
missionary zeal in Brussels. "Belgian authorities have been playing with
fire for 30 years."
The House of Saud has accelerated its spread of extreme Wahaabism
wherever it has been allowed to build mosques on foreign soil. It has had a
financial hand in most mosques proposed, or mosques already operating, in
Australia and Northern Pakistan where suicide bombers kill hundreds
The Taliban were educated and given scholarships in mosque/schools by
the same Imams of the Great Mosque of Brussels and they spread over to
Afghanistan with devastating results.
Saudi finance for foreign mosques is raised primarily through the halal
certification scam which it boasts is a trillion dollar business and growing.
The Taliban's Pashtun “culture”, straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan
was said to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of
Sharia Islamic law, once in power.
Both countries support ISIS and Islamic punishments such as public
executions of murderers and adulterers, amputations of those found guilty of
theft and it forbids girls aged ten and over from going to school,
replicating the Saudi’s own infamous Chop Chop Square on each Friday after
The Saudis, who manage and manipulate OPEC, have lately been softening
up the West with low oil prices caused by overproduction designed to make US
exploration uneconomic. It has been hugely successful. During this time the
House of Saud has been contributing tens of millions to the Clinton Foundation
in the same way that Julia Gillard did.
Inexplicably President Obama still claims the Saudis to be allies of
the West and that Israel should not be trusted.
Each time we suffer the scourge of extreme Islamic Jihadism it’s
difficult not to believe we thoroughly deserve it.
The Pickering Post Four-time Walkley Award winning political
commentator and Churchill Fellow, has returned to the fray over concern that
the integrity of news dissemination is continually being threatened by a
Philippines stocks, down 5% on the MSCI index
through February, were further roiled by the alleged involvement of casino
operators in the Bangladesh central bank hacking caper. Investors also are
hedging bets as they try to handicap the roller-coaster May presidential race
to succeed the anti-corruption incumbent Benigno Aquino.
Aquino’s favored candidate, Manuel “Mar” Rojas, is another scion of a
family dynasty and has vowed to follow Aquino’s “straight path,” but remains
aloof from average voters. The other contestants include the former Mayors of
Makati, the business district which houses the stock exchange, and Davao in the
southern islands which fought a Muslim insurgency.
A crowd favorite has been independent Senator Grace Poe, the adopted
daughter of a film star initially disqualified on citizenship and residency
grounds before the Supreme Court reversed the decision. She supported the
outgoing administration’s economic direction, which has paced ASEAN with steady
5-6% growth, but detailed anti-poverty and competitiveness platforms have yet
to be outlined by the campaigns as the race again hinges predominantly on
personality. The silence comes at a sensitive juncture when domestic demand and
remittances that served as bulwarks of good performance may be slipping, and
future infrastructure development and transparency are open to question as
continuing administration priorities.
Despite an oversubscribed $2 billion 25-year external bond yielding just
over 3.5% in February for the investment-grade rated country, election-related
uncertainty may be taking a toll on consumer sentiment, as reflected in slowing
car sales. Inflation has been below the 2% target, but food prices have picked
up and the central bank is on alert and may tighten monetary policy, especially
if energy costs also rise.
The current account surplus may decline 1% to 1.5% of GDP this year on
weaker remittance and business process outsourcing earnings. Overseas worker
funds, which account for 8.5% of GDP, were flat through end-2015 with
China-related regional tumult and the elimination of low-wage services
employment in the oil-pressured Persian Gulf. Information technology may have
plateaued at $15 billion in revenue as companies look for cheaper Indochina
destinations despite the Philippines’ English-language advantage. Current
account inflows have recently offset direct and portfolio investment outflows
on the capital account, which has further deteriorated with estimated resident
money flight over $500 million in 2015. Peso depreciation was not as severe as
neighboring currencies against the dollar last year, but could re-accelerate
with this backdrop.
The stock market has been expensive at a 15 price-earnings ratio, and
casino listings were shunned before the Bangladesh Bank episode with Beijing’s
corruption crackdown deterring Chinese visitors. Banks are another important
category and have been hurt by the reports on lax money laundering practice
which allowed the stolen funds to move through branches.
A regulatory framework does not yet exist for Islamic-style sukuk
financing, even though agriculture and property companies based in Mindanao
especially issue such bonds inviting borrower and investor disputes.
Public-private partnerships, as the Aquino government’s chief
infrastructure-building technique, have also been unclear, and resulted in
sponsor misunderstanding and pullout. Big spending plans by the current
presidential contenders may also endanger the fiscal space needed for project
support, and again worsen deficit and public debt levels that the IMF described
as under control in its February Article IV report.
Thailand has pursued this route under the army regime, with government
outlays up 20% in the last quarter of 2015 for construction and tax incentives,
and the stock market sizzled in the aftermath with an MSCI Index gain of almost
10% through February. However, underlying economic growth is only half the
Philippines at 3%, with sluggish exports and capital outflows despite a 2016
jump in tourist arrivals to strengthen the baht. With consumer debt at 90% of
GDP, bank non-performing loans may spike as the junta tackles the legacy of the
Yingluck administration’s auto and housing credit binge. The former prime
minister still faces criminal prosecution for abuse of office, and another
constitutional draft was floated with elections not on the short-term horizon,
as both countries gamble on new leadership with high fiscal stakes with foreign
investors mostly sidelined as spectators.
The incident has predictably led to a chorus of voices calling for a
reexamination of Indonesia’s South China Sea policy under its president Joko
“Jokowi” Widodo. While more leadership from Jakarta on this issue would
certainly be desirable and one certainly should not rule out a shift, there are
also good reasons to expect that the country will continue to recalibrate its
current approach to the South China Sea rather than depart significantly from
Though Indonesia is technically not a claimant in the South China Sea
disputes, it is an interested party. Most obviously, China’s nine-dash line
overlaps with the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the resource-rich Natuna
Islands, a point that has long miffed Jakarta. But Indonesia has broader
interests too, including preserving its much-prized foreign policy autonomy by
ensuring the South China Sea issue does not negatively affect its relationship
with Washington and Beijing, safeguarding regional stability, as well as
upholding international law – including the United Nations Convention of the
Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the world’s largest archipelagic state.
To preserve these interests, Indonesia has pursued an approach to the
South China Sea since 1990 which I’ve termed a ‘delicate equilibrium’ –
seeking to both cautiously engage China diplomatically on the issue and
enmeshing Beijing and other actors within regional institutions (a softer edge
of its approach, if you will) while at the same time pursuing a range of
security, legal and economic measures designed to protect its own interests (a
harder edge). While growing Chinese assertiveness since 2009 had made it more
difficult for Indonesia to continue to walk this tightrope during the second
term of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, this approach nonetheless
endured. And even though the Jokowi administration has sent confusing signals
about its South China Sea policy thus far and has recalibrated it somewhat –
most notably in its relative lack of focus on enmeshment within regional
institutions – other components of the ‘delicate equilibrium’ including engagement
and balancing continue to be pursued, arguably even more intensely.
The incident this week, where a Chinese coast guard vessel rammed a
Chinese fishing vessel in tow by an Indonesian law enforcement vessel, is an
escalation of similar ones witnessed in the past rather than a new development
per se. Yet Indonesia’s unprecedented outrage at the first such high-profile
incident under Jokowi – a stark contrast to previous efforts to downplay such
incidents – has been quite striking. That in turn has led to another round of
speculation as to whether we could see a change in Indonesia’s South China Sea
approach. While one should not rule out such a dramatic shift, there are
several reasons why we are more likely to see a recalibration of Jakarta’s
current policy rather than a radical departure.
First, Indonesia’s approach is rooted in enduring realities that have
not changed with the current incident. For instance, though some have been
quick to criticize the country’s continued adherence to its role as an ‘honest
broker’ as opposed to taking a stronger regional role, this tendency is partly
rooted in the country’s foreign policy tradition as well as its complex
position on the South China Sea issue. As I have noted before, Indonesia has
been reluctant to embroil itself in major power contests, and the case of
U.S.-China differences on the South China Sea question – including freedom of
navigation operations – is no exception (See: “What’s Behind Indonesia’s South
China Sea Rhetoric Amid US-China Tensions?”). Jakarta’s desire to
not engage more actively is also partly due to a lingering fear that it would
only legitimize Beijing’s claims that would undermine Indonesian interests (as
Indonesia’s former foreign minister Ali Alatas famously put it, “the repetition
of an untruth will ultimately make it appear as truth”).
And despite Jakarta’s oft-cited geopolitical heft, as I’ve detailed
extensively elsewhere, its capabilities in the maritime realm are in fact still
quite modest, thereby limiting its options and complicating the adoption of a
tougher approach towards Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. In part
due to years of underspending on defense, even Indonesian officials admit that
the country is unable to perform basic functions such as fully patrolling the
world’s second-longest coastline (See: “Between Aspiration and Reality: Indonesian Foreign
Policy After the 2014 Elections”). Though notable efforts are
underway under Jokowi to boost the country’s capabilities, including the
long-delayed creation of a coast guard – they begin from a low base and face
significant challenges (See: “Indonesia’s Maritime Ambition:
Can Jokowi Realize It?”).
Second, at least thus far, Jokowi’s foreign policy priorities seem to
fit well with Indonesia’s current South China Sea approach, thereby making a
radical departure improbable. While there is a tendency to overstate
Indonesia’s growing engagement of China under Jokowi, there is little question
that he has embraced Beijing economically because he senses a role for it to
help him achieve his domestic priorities including infrastructure development
(See: “China and Indonesia Under
Jokowi: Show Me The Money”). If he perceives that this priority
would be harmed by further antagonizing Beijing, it would limit his ability to
shift Indonesia’s approach.
More fundamentally, from what we have seen so far, the Jokowi’s
administration appears to be focusing more narrowly on executing its war
against illegal fishing – an issue which involves several of its neighbors in
addition to China – rather than pushing the envelope on the broader South China
Sea question where its fight is with Beijing alone (See: Explaining Indonesia’s ‘Sink the
Vessels’ Policy Under Jokowi”). To be sure, these two concerns do
overlap, as they did with this week’s incident as well as the first sinking of
a Chinese vessel last year after much deliberation (See: “Indonesia Sinks First Vessel
from China Under Jokowi”). But the broader point is that beyond
rhetoric, the Jokowi administration has been rather unwilling to take on China
unless it is part of a broader problem involving other countries as well, and
even so, it has done so with great caution. That does not sound like a
government that would suddenly seek to dramatically shift its South China Sea
policy in response to a single incident.
But while we are unlikely to see an abandonment of Indonesia’s ‘delicate
equilibrium’ approach in the South China Sea, we may see a recalibration of it
or an intensification of certain individual components. For instance, on the
harder edge of its South China Sea approach, Indonesia’s deputy navy chief Arie
Henrycus Sembiring has already said that the navy would send bigger vessels to
back up its patrol boats. We may see other moves as well, including a faster
buildup of Indonesian capabilities near the Natunas which has already been ongoing
under the Jokowi administration (See: “A New Indonesia Military Boost
Near the South China Sea?”). Some of the other suggestions,
including one from Indonesia’s fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti that Jakarta
may take the issue to an international tribunal, are more curious (that move
would only legitimize China’s claim, and with little effect since the
Philippines is already challenging Beijing’s claims) (See: “Does the Philippines’ South
China Sea Case Against China Really Matter?“).
Indeed, that is arguably the reason why
Indonesia’s South China Sea approach has persisted for so long and is more
likely to endure than not: its hard and soft edges as well as four components
allow for flexibility and recalibration without having to fashion a whole new
century India and China are looking beyond their disputed state frontiers and
competing to build road and rail links, or oil and gas pipelines, in foreign
countries, and to keep a watchful eye on international sea routes. The lifting
of international sanctions against Iran last January raised the curtain over
the complex and expanding Sino-Indian great game in Asia.
Home to the world’s second largest
gas reserves and one seventh of its oil, Iran, a West Asian power with a
population of 80 million, has much to offer energy-hungry India and China. As
it recovers from the adverse effects of several years of American-led economic
sanctions, Iran welcomes foreign investment, technological support and
infrastructure upgrades from India and China to sustain its economic revival.
is India thinking west – to Iran?
To counter its archrival China
economically and politically, India is already “Acting East” by strengthening
economic and defense ties with East Asian countries. A more recent concept, as
S. Jaishankar, India’s Foreign Secretary, told a conference in New Delhi in
early March, is that of “Thinking West.” ‘Normalization of the situation in
Iran is particularly welcome’, he said. That underlined the construction by
India of the Chabahar port in south-eastern Iran and strengthening trading ties
The significance of the Chabahar
project should not be underestimated, for India has not started any comparable
ventures in Southeast Asia. Sino-Indian competition in the Arabian Sea has
sharpened since 2013, when Pakistan gave China control over Gwadar port. China
now has a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf and can
monitor Indian and American maritime and naval activity in those international
While India intends to use Chabahar
primarily for commercial purposes its interest in constructing the port mirrors
its wish to counter China’s strategic vantage point in Gwadar.
Chabahar and Gwadar now symbolize
the Sino-Indian rivalry in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
Wanting to increase Iranian energy imports and involved with several projects
in Iran, India hopes to make Chabahar fully operative by the end of this year.
In May 2015 India and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding for India to
construct the strategically important port which would pave the way for India
to gain access by land and sea to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
India’s development of Chabahar
suits Iran. Tehran’s fears that China’s Gwadar project would weaken Iran’s
position as the entrance to Central Asia prompted it to develop Chabahar with
The interest in Iranian energy shows
why India accords great importance to economic and strategic connectivity. The
fully functional Chabahar port would help New Delhi to ignore Islamabad’s
refusal to grant India and Afghanistan transit facilities through Pakistan.
This absence of transit rights is the main barrier to India’s trade, energy
flows and economic ties with Afghanistan and Iran – and more generally to West
and Central Asia. To cross this barrier India wants to build a road running
from Chabahar via Afghanistan to Central Asia. This Iran-Afghanistan route
could help India to improve access to energy-rich Central Asian countries.
Eventually India envisages that
Chabahar could be linked through rail and road networks to the International
North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a multinational project started in 2000
by India, Iran and Russia. But the INSTC needs to be developed if it is to
fulfill New Delhi’s hope that it will become the shortest and most economical
route from India through Iran and Afghanistan to Central Asia and Europe.
Transport costs and freight time from India to Central Asia could be cut by
about a third via Chabahar. The port would also provide India with a transit
route to Afghanistan. And it would give landlocked Afghanistan an outlet to the
sea – an outcome that is favored by the U.S., which was once determined to
isolate Iran. India sees its Chabahar project as a potential game changer in
West and Central Asia, running parallel to China’s East-West Silk Road.
But China has a head start in Iran.
Unlike India, China defied US nuclear sanctions on Iran and bought nearly half
of its oil exports. Beijing’s courtship of Tehran saved Iran from international
pariah status. That courtship enabled Chinese firms to occupy the space vacated
by Western companies that had grown nervous about international pressure on
Tehran. China gained uncontested access to Iran’s energy resources.
So when the US and other permanent
members of the UN Security Council reached, in April 2015, a preliminary
agreement to end sanctions on Iran, China was Iran’s largest trading partner.
Bilateral Sino-Iranian trade stood at around $ 50 billion. In contrast, trade
between Iran and India amounted to a mere $ 13.13 billion in 2014-15.
India faces tough competition from
China in Iran. Beijing’s offer to Tehran last November to develop Chabahar –
six months after the signing of the Indo-Iranian MOU – shows that China remains
keen to outflank India in Iran.
China’s construction of the economic
corridor (CPEC) with its ally Pakistan is one reflection of its wish to enhance
its strategic and economic competitiveness in Iran. That worries India, partly
because CPEC passes through the contested territory of Pakistani Kashmir, which
was the launch pad for recent Chinese intrusions into Indian territory. China
has invested $ 46 billion in CPEC. Some of this money is being used to build a new
pipeline which starts from the South Pars gas field in Iran. When completed,
this pipeline would extend to Multan in Pakistan. The pipeline could help
Pakistan to reduce its crippling energy shortages. Most of the 1172 km-long
pipeline will run through Iran, which has already completed the pipeline on its
side of the border with Pakistan. The Pakistani section of the pipeline remains
to be built– so China’s investment in the pipeline will enhance its prestige in
Tehran. For Iran is interested in extending this pipeline to China.
India faces an uphill climb as it
tries to outmaneuver China in Iran. But India’s determination to upgrade ties
with Iran and develop Chabahar with a view to strengthening its
ties/connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asian countries highlights the
expanding parameters of the Sino-Indian great game in the rest of Asia.
About the author: *Anita Inder Singh is a Visiting Professor at the Centre
for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi.
Anita Inder Singh, a Swedish citizen, is Visiting Professor at the Center for
Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi. Her books include Democracy, Ethnic
Diversity and Security in Post-Communist Europe (Praeger, USA, 2001) ; her
Oxford doctoral thesis, The Origins of the Partition of India, 1936-1947
(Oxford University Press [OUP], several editions since 1987, published in a
special omnibus comprising the four classic works on the Partition by OUP
(2002, paperback: 2004) The Limits of British Influence: South Asia and the Anglo-American
Relationship 1947-56 (Macmillan, London, and St Martin’s Press, New York,
1993), and The United States, South Asia and the Global Anti-Terrorist
Coalition (2006). Her articles have been published in The World Today, (many on
nationalism, security and democracy were published in this magazine)
International Affairs, (both Chatham House, London) the Times Literary
Supplement, the Guardian, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Asian Wall
Street Journal and the Nikkei Asian Review and The Diplomat. She has been a
Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC and has taught
international relations at Oxford and the LSE.
Anita Inder Singh has written for
the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the UN
Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Her interests include
nationalism/security/diversity/integration in Europe and South Asia, democracy,
governance, international organizations, and development and security.
A protest in the Bali
capital Denpasar. Initially driven by young people, the anti-reclamation
movement has now gone mainstream, with 28 village officially opposing the Benoa
Bay tourism development project. Photograph: Putu Sayoga
On Sunday, tens of thousands of
demonstrators gathered at a major roundabout close to the reclamation site.
They represent a protest movement on a scale not seen in Bali for decades. The Bali Forum Against
Reclamation (ForBali) unites young people, politicians, rock stars,
academic and religious institutions, environmentalists and 28 villages,
including all 14 in the area earmarked for reclamation.
The developer, Tirta Wahana Bali
International (TWBI), plans to build artificial islands that would
take up almost half of Benoa Bay in south Bali – an area that had enjoyed
conservation status until former president Susilo Bambang Yudhyono issued a
decree in 2014 shortly before leaving office, which turned it into a zone for
‘revitalisation.’ Indonesia’s Minister for Forestry & Environment, Siti
Nurbaya Bakar, must now decide whether or not to approve the EIA in the face of
TWBI’s idea of revitalisation is a $3
billion luxury resort development across four new islands, including villas and
apartments, a retail district, a marina and even a cultural theme park. TWBI
describes Nusa Benoa as an entirely new destination that will bring additional
jobs, clear waste and cause minimal impact to the environment. Yet Benoa Bay
sits in the heart of south Bali, sandwiched between the resort districts of Sanur,
Kuta and Nusa Dua, where most of the island’s tourism - and wealth - is already
An increasing number of critics are
calling out TWBI on a range of social, environmental and cultural issues. Ketut
Sarjana Putra, Indonesia director of US environmental NGO
Conservation International (CI), says the new islands would cause flooding on a
massive scale. “We already have issues with flooding – that excess water
eventually goes out into Benoa Bay, but what happens if the Bay’s capacity is
reduced by 700ha?” he asks. According to CI modelling, the flushing capacity of
the bay simply won’t be enough.
This isn’t the first land reclamation
project in Bali – back in 1994, then President Suharto’s sons Tommy Suharto and
Bambang Trihatmojo quadrupled the size of an offshore island called Serangan
for a proposed tourism development that never materialised. Instead, nearby
reefs were swamped in sediment, seaweed farms destroyed and wave patterns changed.
“The Serangan project reclaimed 380ha
of land and the impacts were felt within a 3km radius,” says Putra. “KWBI claim
that their 700ha project will only affect an area 0.5km in radius. That doesn’t
Meanwhile, rampant development in
Bali’s overcrowded south has already led to an oversupply of hotel rooms. A
moratorium on new tourism developments in 2011 failed, mainly because local
governors or bupati ignored it. It is ironic that the man who
established the moratorium in the first place, Bali governor Made Pastika, has
been a vocal supporter of the reclamation project.
With a decision on the fate of the bay imminent, protest activities have
increased dramatically. Mass demonstrations have been occurring almost weekly
in different parts of Bali. On Sunday, thousands of protesters gathered at a
roundabout close to Benoa and last month, representatives of 18 villages in the
vicinity of the proposed development flew to Jakarta to meet with Indonesian
President Joko Widodo’s Chief of Staff to argue their case. ForBali want him to
revoke the controversial
For its part, TWBI has been running a
Google advertisement, which appears when the search term ‘Tolak Reklamasi’
(Reject Reclamation) is entered – the rallying cry for the protest movement.
The ad links to a new site for the Nusa Benoa project, where it is described as
‘a pioneer of sustainable, community based development, environmental
conservation and tourism growth.’ There was no response to a request for
comment on the project’s community and sustainability credentials. But in a statement to the local Tribun Bali newspaper,
TWBI director Heru Waseso said the protests were normal in a democracy and that
the decision now lay with the government, adding that a revised EIA had been
submitted 30 days earlier.
Benoa Bay is home to more than 60
natural sites that are sacred to the island’s predominantly Hindu population,
as well as 24 temples, some of them located underwater. This has raised
concerns within the islands powerful religious institutions and nearby communities,
some of whom have even threatened a “puputan” - committing
mass ritual suicide - should the project go ahead. The last pupatan took place
in 1906 during the final days of Dutch rule. A dramatic threat, perhaps, but
what seems sure is that if the EIA gets rubber stamped, the demonstrations will
“All the protests by the local
communities show just how angry the Balinese are about this,” says ForBali
coordinator Wayan ‘Gendo’ Suardana. “They won’t stop fighting until the end.”