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Simultaneous regional head elections in Indonesia 2015

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Indonesia is one of the largest democratic countries in the world. Legislative elections and presidential election 2014 have passed quite well, although there are still many problems in terms of implementation.

Mass media is also one of the freest in the world. The General Election Commission (KPU) is now preparing the implementation of the Regional Head Election simultaneously in the first wave on December 9, 2015, for the regional head and regional deputy head towards the end of the term of service in 2015 and the first half of 2016. Registration of candidates for regional head election in the first wave simultaneously had started on July 26-28, 2015, provided that the candidate promoted by political parties with seat acquisition of 20 percent or 25 percent of valid votes, got a decree from the central leadership of the party, got the management Decree of political parties in Regency, City and the Provincial Level.

This simultaneous election modelis the first time in Indonesia, even in the world. Indonesia should be recorded in the history of world democracy because there will be 269 regions consisting of 9 provinces, 36 cities and 224 regencies simultaneously elect regional heads. That is, about 53 percent of the total 537 number of provinces and regencies / cities in Indonesia that will carry out elections simultaneously at the end of the first wave of 2015 into the ideal design, ie the simultaneous nationwide to choose the House of Representatives, Regional Representatives, the President and Vice President, as well as simultaneously to choose the regional heads and the DPRD at the provincial, regency and city level. After the elections simultaneously in 2015 in 269 regions, there will be followed by a second wave of simultaneous elections in February 2017 in 99 regions, the third wave in June 2018 in the 171 regions. Then another one wave will be implemented simultaneously again until towards the national elections in 2027.

Of course this is not an easy thing to do, because there are a lot of challenges to be faced. Some have suggested that the implementation of simultaneous elections should be postponed for various reasons, including budget issues, human resources, and handling disputes. Financial Supervisory Agency (BPK), for example, has issued a number of recommendations related to audit issues and the preparation of elections simultaneously in 2015 concerning, among others, about the unpreparedness of the budget, the signing of the regional grant agreement, plan budgets, grants account and security costs.

Nevertheless, the president Jokowi ensure the implementation of the first wave of simultaneous elections later remains on schedule, considering the preparations have been riped and in accordance with the stages. The Government and the Commission determined to rectify the deficiencies discovered by the CPC. Therefore, perhaps it is only natural disasters, social conflict, or war which could make simultaneous elections in Indonesia withdrew from the schedule. This paper saw eight crucial problems in the implementation of the first wave of simultaneous elections that will start on December 9, 2015.

1.   High Intensity of Conflicts

The elections simultaneously are heavier than the legislative and presidential elections. Competition of elections at lower levels is prone to security problems. The political dynamics in these areas are more difficult to predict. Because the strength of the local politicians have started immeasurable, both in terms of number of supporters, the distribution of influence, as well as the patronage of the party elite in central power. Approximately 827 pairs of regional leader’s candidates will compete in the first wave of simultaneous elections.

Based on data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the losses on recapitulation of the post-election in 2013-2014 at the provincial and regency and city level tend to increasingly high, the number of victims died are 59 people, injured are 230 people, damage to residential houses are 279 units, the damage to local government offices are 30 units, six police office units, and Election Commission (KPU) offices are 10 units, 159 public facilities in disrepair, also 11 offices of political parties, 3 offices of mass media, 25 vehicles, and also 1 shopping stores. Potential conflicts especially in areas that have a conflict-prone maps, such as in Sumatra, Madura, Central Sulawesi, Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua. Assault incidents of Eid prayer congregation and the burning of mosques in Karubaga, Tolikara, Papua, on July 17, 2015 can be a leasson to anticipate ahead of elections later. So effective coordination between the Central Government, Local Government, Election Commission, the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu), police, military, and also the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) is needed.

The main challenge for the holding of simultaneous elections later is to minimize conflicts in its implementation. Conflict pattern occurs mostly among election participants and supporters accompanied by anarchy and destruction of public facilities. Source of conflict is generally from unelected elite or who can not accept the victory of another candidates. Potential conflicts in 2015 elections is very high because it is done in areas involving various parties and only lasted one lap. No elections are devoid of conflict. Not neutrality of the electoral administration in the area is also a source of conflict.

2.   Neutrality of Regional Election Organizers

The regional head office in autonomy era is so attractive in the eyes of search powers for extraordinary authority to manage the full regional head of each region. That position could make a regional head like a little king with great power. Organizing simultaneous elections is the biggest celebration in the reign of President Jokowi, which can create an aura of competition and passion of the candidates to contest.

The organization of elections in the regions are mostly technical work, such as the nomination of candidates, ballot paper making and ballot boxes, sending results of the voting on the national committee, counting, distribution of seats and so on. The existence of the impartial or independent election organizing committee greatly determines the quality of democratic elections. The General Election Commission (KPU) and the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) is the institutions established by the government and given the freedom to organize the stages of the election. From the data of Election Honorary Council (DKPP) until now there are 207 electoral organizers who had been fired. DKPP has received 740 complaints related to codes of conduct of legislative elections and the presidential election in 2014, which contains 3,960 names of election organizers, both of the KPU and Bawaslu at the level of the central, provincial, and district and city.

Election organizers simultaneously in the regions later should be neutral in carrying out each stage of the election, instead of ‘collusion’ with the local bureaucracy or into a successful team of competing candidates of regional heads. Neutrality of the election organizers will make the elections simultaneously be qualified, credible, and avoid conflict. The responsibility of organizing regional elections should be able to increase voter participation and minimize potential fraud that might occur, such as inflation and the reduction of noise, phantom voters, multiple voting, or voters who eliminated their right to vote.

3.   List of Permanent Voters

List of Permanent Voters (DPT) will remain a crucial issue and the object of the dispute. Moreover, polling stations (TPS) are very vulnerable in the intervention, especially in remote areas. The most crucial is the population data that until now have not been able to cover the entire population, especially those living outside the area. Ministry of Internal Affairs has submitted a list of Potential Voters in Elections (DP4) to the Commission which are used as data in arranging voter registration of simultaneous election. The number of voters have been recorded in the Ministry of Internal Affairs until now has reached 102 068 million people. The amount represents the total number of potential voters in the list that will follow the election of 269 Regional Head and Deputy Regional Head on December 9, 2015. Total registered voters exceeded 50 percent of the voters that gives right to vote on the 2014 Presidential Election. Total 269 regions that hold elections have exceeded 50 percent of the total of 514 regions in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, the election system in Indonesia do not consider the mobility of the population that is already very high. Residences are still statically defined. In fact, many people are outside the official address, including overseas, because of jobs and education. Governments need to create the population administration system and Pilkada system that can accommodate the mobility of people who are very varied. There is injustice to the voters in the regional election system. Article 56, paragraph 3 Perppu No. 1/2014 on the election of Governors, Regents, and Mayors, said if voters have more than one residence, the voter must select one residence listed in the voter list based on E-ID Card or certificate of domicile from the village chief. But there is a different treatment if a person wants to run for governor, regent or mayor. The candidates can run in an area that is not domicile. For example, when the election for Governor of Jakarta in 2012, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was still served as mayor of Solo. Someone is possible to be a candidate for regional head in areas that is not domicile. It means, residential status can be more than one place. However, this flexibility does not apply to voters. Another problem is that not all people have e-ID Card because it is outside the eligible categories such as bums, beggars, migrant workers, domestic workers, and the like. They do not have an e-ID card so they can not involve in the election. It means, not all people have the right to vote because of their poverty. Not to mention also a matter of voters who have died but are still registered as voters, or voters who are registered at two different locations.

4.   Dualism of Management of Political Parties

The General Election Commission (KPU) had to revise Commission Regulation (PKPU) Number 9 of 2015 on the nomination by adding a ‘reconciliation limited’ for the sake of allowing the party who has’ double management, such as the Golkar Party and the United Development Party (PPP) to nominate candidates for regional heads together. In addition the candidate must submit the same pair, the two camps double management of political parties must also file the candidate pairs at the same time. Before the revision, regional head candidates must come from the political parties whose staff are recognized by government or have the Decree of the Minister of Justice and Human Rights (Menkumham). Dualism of leadership in the Golkar and PPP can also cause serious problems for vulnerable civil suit and of interests of each camp. Actually, the laws on political parties does not recognize dual management. While the stages of the elections are still running, the conflict in the body of Golkar and PPP whose legitimacy will be decided later in the court that had the legally enforceable decision (inkracht).

Why did the Commission need to accommodate the participation of Golkar and PPP in the simultaneous elections of 2015? The votes of both parties (Golkar and PPP) reached more than 26.5 million votes in the 2014 election. That is, the two parties accounted for more than 21 percent of valid votes in the election. Achievement of seats from the two parties reach 130 seats. This means exceed the number of seats of the Struggle Indonesian Democratic Party (PDIP) as the winner of the election that is only about 118 seats. At the local level, PPP as a whole has 1,400 seats, while Golkar has about 3,000-seats. Judging from these data, Golkar and PPP are quite significant in political and legal decision-making, at the local level and the central level.

PKPU revision is done not only to facilitate the dualism of leadership in the party of Golkar and PPP alone to participate in the elections, but also to comply with the decision of the Constitutional Court (MK). Thus, the revision also includes rules to permit family of incumbent to advance in the election, and requires that members of the parliament (DPR / DPD / DPRD) resigned their positions when they have been determined as candidates by the Commission. Previously, members of parliament (DPR / DPD / DPRD) are only required to report to the leadership of each institution. Of course this affects the political map of the nomination from all the political parties participating in the elections simultaneously in 2015. Many parliament members who subsequently withdraw as candidates for regional heada, otherwise a lot of the family members from the incumbents, even former inmates come forward to compete in the simultaneous elections next December 9, 2015.

5.   Doll Candidates

Another problem is the possibility if there is only one single candidate in an region. Commission Regulation No. 12 of 2015 set the whole stage of regional elections are stopped and postponed on next simultaneous election in 2017, if there is only a single candidate for the regional head after the extension of registration for 3 days. Steps must be done because the elections are held simultaneously in December 2015. Automatically, if there is one region that stage is only delayed, it will affect the overall implementation. However, the goal of the simultaneous election of regional heads is simultaneously inauguration, so that the end of their services are also simultaneous. There should be no regions that followed, except participate again in 2017. The Commission does not want to wait until the region has additional candidates for regional heads for a limited time. If the elections in an region later have to be ‘put on hold, then the position will be filled by the regional head of the temporary officials, or officers while being taken from staff transfer. There are 15 regions that potentially have only a single candidate in the simultaneous elections in the first wave.

Incumbent candidates are too strong making the whole political parties carry the same pair to run for regional heads. But it could happen in regions with strong incumbent do stratagem in order registering candidates not just one pair, namely by generating candidate pairs for regional head doll (false) as a challenger, could be independent pathway or request some political party that carried them. Legally regulation doll candidate is not problematic in the Commission if it meets the requirements. However, from a political education, it is a setback to democracy.

Single candidate is likely to occur in simultaneous elections later. This is evident from the higher minimum support candidates from political parties to 20 percent of parliament seats, or 25 percent of valid votes of the election results last year. Conditions that make the coalition become more stringent. In addition, individual candidates from independent pathway will also a difficulty become competitor, because of time constraints and the severity of a support condition. Especially against the strong incumbent supported by political parties it is tantamount to wasting the cost.

Until recently, most political parties chose to support a strong candidate to win. In this simultaneous regional election, coalition parties of supporting the government, namely the Superb Indonesian Coalition (KIH) is very liquid with balancing coalition parties of government, or the Red and White Coalition (KMP) in proposing candidates for regional head. However, ‘political dowry’ that is raised each political party is also still looks like the tip of the iceberg that is difficult to remove. Many unscrupulous parties will utilize the elections to gain political dowry from the prospective regional heads. Instead, many pairs as regional head candidates that offer dowry can be able to qualify the support of 20 percent. The issue is initially exists in poor political party cadres and the weak party funding. People can only vote for candidates who submitted it. If the incumbent is qualified and well developed, it deserves to be reelected. The problem is that no quality incumbent but also prepare candidates for a doll that can be defeated in the next election. Prospective doll could be the choice of strategy for winning in the simultaneous elections. It is also the solution to anticipate a strong candidate for the regional head to remain chosen without delaying the implementation of the next elections in 2017. Candidates ‘dolls’ can also appear with the only aim to break down opponents who are considered the dominant voice in an region, especially in the region of three pairs of prospective candidates. But if the elections take place with only one candidate it could be a bad precedent for election implementation in other regions, because there are local leaders who have the power to monopolize the political parties in the regions. There is no choice of candidates, certainly not democratic.

6.   Political Dynasty

The Constitutional Court (MK) removes the restriction clause on prohibition of incumbent family or political dynasty in the election law. According to the Court, the 1945 Constitution gives equal rights to all citizens to use their constitutional rights, namely the right to vote and be elected, including former inmates. The Constitutional Court’s decision could open up a gap of one family control of certain regions, because the political rights of the incumbent relatives in the election is not removed. In 2013 there were as many as 61 regional heads, or 11 percent of all regional heads in Indonesia having kinship political networks or political dynasty. Ironically, from experiences that occur in almost every contestation of the elections that followed by the incumbent, often found the game of local budgets to the needs of the campaign. PNS subordinates that are supposed to apply neutral are often the incumbent winning team. Mobilization and politicization of civil servants are inevitable. The potential for corruption and violations or abuse of power by local bureaucracy increases.

Because the Constitutional Court’s decision is final and binding, then today society need to be given the political aspects of socialization and education in order to more critically assess the regional head candidates who will compete in the simultaneous elections later. However society that has the rights to vote determine how the future of the regional head candidate who comes from a political dynasty. Moreover, the people of Indonesia are still many irrational voters. Gaetano Mosca once wrote in his book “The rulling Class”, that almost in every class or nation will always be a tendency to build a tradition handed down in reality, if not in law. Oligarchy is an inevitable Iron law. And political dynasty in Indonesia is a necessity in a democracy now because it comes from the old oligarchy and patrimonial culture. The emergence of dynastic politics is directly proportional to the unhealthy political competition. Increasingly unfair rules of the game in political contestation, promotes wider political dynasty.

7.   Money Politics

The democratic process in Indonesia raises many opportunities for corruption. Because the democratic process in this country requires a huge cost. Regional election always had negative tendencies, ie transactional politics. In fact as many as 346 regional heads and deputy regional heads tangled legal cases. A total of 11.45 percent of the approximately 500 regencies thick with dynasty politics. In addition, many of the elections results in the past were broken joint between the head and deputy head of the regions. Currently there is no criminal chapter on money politics and the criminal chapter on the political dowry thus causing dirty political practices in the elections.

Simultaneous Regional Election 2015 budget swell to Rp 7 trillion compared to the implementation of the previous elections. There are three factors that influence. First, the inflation factor that can affect the value of the goods in the regions. Secondly, amounting to 65 percent of the total budget for the elections will be used to pay salaries of Voting Committee (PPS), District Election Committee (PPK) and Voting Organizer Group (KPPS). Third, based on Law No. 8 of 2015 on Regional Elections, the local government is obliged to bear almost all participants of the election campaign costs in 2015. Only two types of election campaigns are borne by participants themselves, ie limited campaign and dialogue campaign.

Implementation of the simultaneous election is originally meant to reduce the high cost of politics and money politics turn out to be an illusion. Financing campaign charged to revenue and expenditure budget can actually increase money politics. Regional head candidates would have more funds in view of campaign financing that become the responsibility of Regional Election Commission. By doing so, the candidates will have more funds to carry out the practice of vote-buying. Money politics also can occur when optimizing campaigns at the limited meeting. They can take advantage of unlimited meetings, where money politics is packaged in such a way in the meeting. Simultaneous regional elections in 2015 will be rife of money politics, in addition to political dowry, voters buying, that are also used to bribe electoral administration in the regions.

In addition, the use of campaign funds would also be a vulnerable point for the implementation of simultaneous elections, and misused to improve electability of candidates. Election campaign is more widely used as imaging media, not apply for a work program. Also the ‘game’ between the candidates by state officials still leaves a problem in any election in Indonesia until now. Education and political socialization to voters take lack of decent places. Misappropriation of budgetary funds and state facilities can also occur, such as social grants (Bansos), school operational funds (BOS), and funds from the budget, as well as vehicle or building facilities into a campaign tool.

8.   Violations and Dispute of Election

Elections Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) is not given the authority to execute the offense. Therefore, Bawaslu action is limited to giving recommendations. If the violations are administrative, submitted to the Commission and forwarded to the police. Simultaneous handling of cases of electoral violations this year will refer to the two laws. In addition to using the Law of the Elections, a number of violations will be processed by using the Criminal Code, such as inflate the voices and the problem of money politics. Money politics will be charged under Article 149 of the Criminal Code concerning bribery in elections, under penalty of nine months in prison. Perpetrators of votes are subject to Article 263 of the Criminal Code on forgery penalties of six years in prison. If there is a criminal offense, the police soon take over. For administrative violations, the Provincial Election Supervisory Committee (Panwaslu) directly provide recommendations to the Local Commission. Statements relating to the code of conduct is directly forwarded to DKPP. For disputes between participants and the Commission, the case will be solved alone by the Supervisory Committee.

Another important aspect is the matter of time limits of 45 days (including holidays) for the Constitutional Court (MK) in handling disputes of the election results. The Court will not be able to handle the dispute lawsuit of election results if more than 50 percent of the simultaneous election resulted in the Court, moreover there are 269 elections in the first wave later on December 9, 2015. The assumption, the Court had only 37 minutes to finish the one case. Therefore, it is quite natural that the Court then asks the number of days increased to 60 working days from receipt of the request. It also became one of the driving so that the revision of Law No. 8 of 2011 regarding the Constitutional Court is limited, because the Court has not set the authority in dealing with election disputes. To date the Court only handles election disputes. The Supreme Court (MA) – mandated to adjudicate election disputes in the regional election law – considered not ready to settle the dispute in 2015 simultaneous regional elections, because of its human resources.

Closing

The successful indicators of the simultaneous and massive regional elections in Indonesia later can take place peaceful and relatively free of the various modes of cheating. Credibility of regional election organizers is at stake in the regions, let alone a first test of the simultaneous elections held. Likewise with the Constitutional Court which was given the role of resolving disputes of regional election results, the future should be promoted for a special agency to resolve election disputes outside of the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court. The government also needs to regulate population administration system that can accommodate a very varied population mobility to be put into list of legitimate voters. Therefore, updating the voters’ data is an absolute necessity.

Conflict, money politics and political dynasty, will still color the implementation of simultaneous regional elections on December 9, 2015 in Indonesia. Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has an important task to verify the entire State Officials Wealth Report (LHKPN) registered by the regional head candidates, to be opened and made known to the wider community at large. Public participation is essential to oversee and monitor the regional head candidates, misappropriation of funds related to social assistance and grants for the campaign and capture votes. Neutrality of Civil Servants (PNS) also must be enforced, by prohibiting engage in campaign activities, whether a member or involved in it. Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform can open a complaint service about the involvement of civil society in influencing voters and give strict punishment for civil servants who become involved in the election. KPU through an independent auditor should audit all finance of political parties, especially concerning the funding of cadres and outsiders. Bawaslu from central and local levels should optimize their role to take action against the perpetrators of money politics.

In prediction, candidates of independent pathway has also difficulties in this simultaneous election. Due to increasing electability, there are more advantageous for the candidate promoted by political parties. Independent candidates must have a minimum requirement of 80 percent popularity. Moreover, if you look at previous experience, very few candidates were elected as regional heads coming from independent paths. Even if elected, they will also have difficulties when running the government program, because they have to deal with Parliament who comes from political parties. Problems can also arise if there is a candidate who is a cadre of a particular political party, but it was carried forward as a candidate by the other political parties because his own political party to support another candidate. Looking ahead to reform political parties should continue to be done in a comprehensive manner, especially concerning rules, campaigns and financial budget. Law also needs to be changed, do not need a quota of 20 percent of seats, but every political party that has seats in parliament could propose regional head candidates. Or political parties and coalitions of political parties can still register the candidate with the minimum quota of 20 percent of parliament seats, but with a maximum of 50 percent of the seats. Terms of candidates from independent pathway also needs to be alleviated. In addition, the recruitment process of political parties also need to be open and democratic. In the future, the General Election Commission (KPU) should continue to conduct a study for the implementation of electronic elections (e-voting, e-recap, e-counting) and build public confidence (trust) for these technologies. Of course, all have to start first with the integrity and independence of the electoral administration which is currently implementing in the first wave of simultaneous elections on December 9, 2015 later.

Igor Dirgantara is Lecturer at Faculty of Social Politics, University Jayabaya, Jakarta, and Director Survey & Polling Indonesia (SPIN).

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Indonesia Submit Extended Continental Shelf Proposal Amidst Pandemic: Why now is important?

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Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

Indonesia’s active cases of coronavirus have been getting more worrying with more than 100.000 active cases. With nearly a year of pandemic, Indonesia’s not only facing a serious health crisis but also an economic catastrophe. People lose their jobs and GDP expected to shrink by 1.5 percent. Jakarta government therefore should work hard to anticipate the worst condition in 2021.

With this serious economic threat, Indonesia surely has to explore maximize its maritime geographic potential to pass this economic crisis and gain more national revenue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And there where the Extended Continental Shelf submission should play an important role.

Recently this week, Indonesia submit a second proposal for the extended continental shelf in the southwest of the island of Sumatra to the United Nations Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal State exercises sovereign rights concerning the exploration and exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources.

Therefore, this article argues that now is the right time for Indonesia to maximize its Continental Shelf claim under the law of the sea convention for at least three reasons.

First, one could not underestimate the economic potential of the Continental Shelf, since the US Truman Proclamation in 1945, countries have been aware of the economic potential from the oil and gas exploration in the continental shelf.

By being able to explore and exploit natural resources in the strategic continental shelf, at least Indonesia will gain more revenue to recover the economy. Even though indeed the oil and gas business is also hit by the pandemic, however, Indonesia’s extended continental shelf area might give a future potentials area for exploitation in long term. Therefore, it will help Indonesia prepare a long-term economic strategy to recover from the pandemic. After Indonesia can prove that there is a natural prolongation of the continental shelf.

Second, as the Indo-Pacific region is getting more significant in world affairs, it is strategic for Indonesia to have a more strategic presence in the region. This will make Indonesia not only an object of the geopolitical competition to utilize resources in the region, but also a player in getting the economic potential of the region.

And third, it is also showing that President Joko Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum agenda is not yet to perish. Even though in his second term of administration global maritime fulcrum has nearly never been discussed, this momentum could be a good time to prove that Indonesia are still committed to the Global maritime fulcrum by enhancing more maritime diplomacy.

Though this is not the first time Indonesia submit an extended Continental Shelf proposal to the CLCS, this time it is more likely to be accepted by the commission. Not to mention the geographical elements of natural prolongation of the continental shelf that has to be proved by geologist.

The fact that Indonesia has no maritime border with any neighboring states in the Southwest of Sumatra. Therefore, unlike Malaysia’s extended continental shelf proposal in the South China Sea that provoke many political responses from many states, it is less likely that Indonesia extended continental shelf proposal will raise protest from any states.

However, the most important thing to realize the potential benefit of the extended continental shelf as discussed earlier, Indonesia should have a strategy and road map how what to do after Indonesia gets the extended continental shelf.

*Arie Afriansyah is a Senior Lecturer in international law and Chairman of the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at University of Indonesia.

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The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam

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Photo courtesy - PTI

In its fourth year since the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, December 2020 witnessed an enhanced cooperation between New Delhi and Hanoi, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to defence and maritime cooperation, amid common concerns about China.

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In an effort to boost defence cooperation, the navies of India and Vietnam conducted atwo-day passage exercise (Passex) in the South China Sea on December 26 and 27, 2020, reinforcing interoperability and jointness in the maritime sphere. Two days before this exercise has begun, an Indian naval ship arrived at Nha Rong Port in Ho Chi Minh City to offer humanitarian assistance for the flood-affected parts of Central Vietnam.

Before this, in the same week, during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on December 21, both countries inked seven agreements on miscellaneous areas of cooperation and jointly unveiled a vision and plan of action for the future, as both countries encounter the common Chinese threat in their respective neighbourhoods.

Vietnam’s disputes with China

India’s bone of contention with China ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Both Vietnam and India share territorial borders with China. Well, it seems odd that despite its common socialistic political backgrounds, China and Vietnam remains largely hostile. 

Having a 3,260 km coastline, covering much of the western part of South China Sea, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Chinese claims based on the legally invalid and vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line concept, unacceptable for all the other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

In 2016, China lost a case brought out by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague when the court ruled that Beijing’s had no legal basis to claim ‘historic rights’ as per the nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it has been doing since 2013, some of them later militarized to gain favourable strategic footholds in the sea and the entire region.

The Paracel and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has been historically considered part of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave the erstwhile South Vietnam control of territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included these island groups. But, China lays claims on all of these islands and occupies some of them, leading to an ongoing dispute with Vietnam.

China and Vietnam also fought a border war from 1979 to 1990. But today, the disputes largely remain in the maritime sphere, in the South China Sea.

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been long regarded as India’s sphere of influence. But with the Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar megaproject proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting three continents, which is part of it, China has grand ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Theories such as ‘String of Pearls’ shed light on an overambitious Beijing, whichattempts to encircle India with ports and bases operating under its control.

China has also opened a military base in Djibouti, overlooking the Indian Ocean, in 2017 and it has also gained control of the strategic port of Hambantota in the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the same year.

Chinese presence in Gwadar in Pakistan, where the Maritime Silk Route meets the land route of BRI, is also a matter of concern for India. Moreover, the land route passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is under Pakistani control, but is also claimed by India.  China has also been developing partnerships with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to its ports in the Bay of Bengal.

Notwithstanding all this, India’s response has been robust and proactive. The Indian Navy has been building partnership with all the littoral states and small island states such as Mauritius and Seychelles to counter the Chinese threat.

India has also been engaged in humanitarian and developmental assistance in the Indian Ocean region, even much before the pandemic, to build mutual trust and cooperation among these countries. Last month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Sri Lanka to revive a trilateral maritime security dialogue with India’s two most important South Asian maritime neighbours, the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foe’s foe is friend

The Indian Navy holding a Passex with Vietnam in the South China Sea, which is China’s backyard, is a clear message to Beijing. This means, if China ups the ante in the Indian Ocean or in the Tibetan border along the Himalayas, India will intensify its joint exercises and defence cooperation with Vietnam.

A permanent Indian presence in the South China Sea is something which Beijing’s never wish to see materialise in the new future. So, India’s engagement with Vietnam, which has a long coast in this sea, is a serious matter of concern for Beijing.

During this month’s virtual summit, Prime Minister Modi has also reiterated that Vietnam is a key partner of India in its Indo-Pacific vision, a term that Beijing vehemently opposes and considers as a containment strategy against its rise led by the United States.

Milestones in India-Vietnam ties – a quick look-back

There was a time when India supported Vietnam’s independence from France, and had opposed US-initiated war in the Southeast Asian country in the latter half of the previous century. Later, India hailed there-unification of North and South Vietnams.

Even though India maintained consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams before the re-unification, it was elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972, thereby establishing full diplomatic ties that year.

During the Vietnam War, India supported the North, despite being a non-communist country, but without forging open hostilities with the South. Today, India partners with both France and the United States, Vietnam’s former colonizers, in its Indo-Pacific vision, comfortably along with Vietnam as geopolitical dynamics witnessed a sea change in the past few years and decades.

Way ahead

Today, these two civilizational states, sharing religio-cultural links dating many centuries back, is coming together again to ensure a favourable balance of power in Asia. Being a key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘Quad Plus’ conceptualisation, Vietnam’s role is poised to increase in the years to come as China continues to project its power in Asia and beyond.

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South Korea’s finance of ‘green’ palm oil drives destruction in Indonesia

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In 2019, South Korea imported 745,000 metric tonnes of palm oil, up from 194,000 metric tonnes in 2005. It is one of the fastest-growing markets for the commodity in the world, driven by government policies to boost palm oil as a lucrative green industry and to secure food and energy supplies from overseas.

Most of this palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia and until recently was used in processed food, such as instant noodles. But under the country’s “Green New Deal” introduced earlier this year, palm oil is being promoted as a source of renewable energy, as biofuel for transport and power generation.

But palm oil’s green credentials are hotly debated. While the US and Europe are taking steps to restrict use because of links to widespread deforestation and high carbon emissions, South Korean public institutions have given millions of dollars in subsidies to companies developing plantations in Indonesia in the name of “green” development.

Environmental activists and lawyers in South Korea have become increasingly vocal about the industry’s links with human rights violations and deforestation in Indonesia, and are demanding the government stop financing destructive practices.

Demand soars

South Korea relies on overseas imports for 97% of its energy and 75% of its food resources. After the 2008 global food crisis, the government set out to secure both edible and industrial palm oil, launching an “Overseas Agro-resources Development” programme in 2009. That public loan scheme covered 70% of the business costs of private South Korean companies to produce and distribute wheat, soybean, corn and crude palm oil.

Palm oil is designated a strategic commodity under South Korean law. The Overseas Agriculture & Forest Resources Development and Cooperation Act, and the Overseas Resources Development Business Act are used as legal grounds to subsidise Korean palm oil companies overseas. The Korea Forest Service and various finance institutions classify oil palm development as “bioenergy afforestation” projects. This is a perverse use of the word afforestation, which generally means planting trees for environmental and climate benefits, not clearing tropical forest for monoculture plantations.

“I find these acts very imperialistic. The government is helping companies to take resources from other countries because we are resource-poor,” said Chung Shin-young, a lawyer with Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL), who has been investigating South Korea’s palm oil industry and leading the campaign to stop public finance of the industry.

Public and private investment in the palm oil industry has also been driven by the use of palm oil as a transport fuel since the mid 2000s. Since 2015, South Korean companies importing or exporting petroleum fuel products have had to ensure their oil products are at least 2.5% biodiesel. The proportion was later increased to 3%. As of 2017, palm oil and its by-products accounted for 88% of South Korea’s biodiesel imports.

Public money funds deforestation and human rights abuses

South Korean palm oil producers found themselves in the international spotlight in 2016 when environmental advocacy group Mighty Earth, in partnership with the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), exposed massive forest clearance in the palm oil concessions of Korindo and Posco International in Indonesian-administered Papua. Satellite data and drone images showed that Korindo had cleared 30,000 hectares of rainforest in the previous two years while Posco International had cleared 19,000 hectares in the previous four.

Korindo established its first oil palm plantation in Papua in 1998. Recent years have seen a marked expansion of its activities in the province, with 30,000 hectares of forest cleared between 2013 and 2016. (Image: Mighty Earth)

“The Korean model of palm oil plantation deforestation harkens back to the old, dark days of the palm oil industry when forests, wildlife and indigenous lands were obliterated for the purpose of establishing giant expanses of monoculture plantations, the profits of which mainly go to foreign owners,” said Deborah Lapidus, senior campaign director at Mighty Earth.

The problem is these two companies have been operating their palm oil business with public money from the Korea Forestry Service and the Export-Import Bank of Korea (Korea Exim Bank), said Chung.

“If you look at the detailed statement of the government loan to Posco International, you will learn that they rarely run a business on their own money. But it’s not only Posco International. LG International, Daesang, and JC Chemical before them got a loan from the Korea Forestry Service,” said Chung. Her team was one of the first local groups to investigate South Korean palm oil companies’ links to rights violations and massive deforestation in Indonesia since 2016, together with the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements (KFEM). 

“The agency’s very first public loan to the palm oil industry was to an oil palm afforestation company, Daesang Holdings, in 2008. In total, 3.8 billion-won (around US$3.2 million) was financed for a bioenergy afforestation project in Indonesia,” explained Shin Gun-seop, an administrative officer at Korea Forest Service’s Overseas Resources Development Office.

Between 2010 and 2019, Korea Forest Service provided 40.1 billion won (around US$33 million) to plant oil palms in around 24,000 hectares, mostly in Indonesia, according to Shin. Daesang Holdings, LG International Corp., Kodeco, and JC Chemical were some of the recipients of these public loans.

Livelihoods destroyed

The expansion of South Korean palm oil companies has put indigenous communities’ livelihoods at risk, many of whom had been displaced from their forest land in the past.

“My concern is that the presence of Korindo and Posco International in Papua will further widen gaps and deepen injustices in Papua where big business take everything and the local community is left with empty hands. For most indigenous Papuans, forests are their supermarkets, banks, hospitals and sacred places. Massive forest conversion means they lose their livelihoods,” said Angky Samperante from the Papuan rights group Yayasan Pusaka. His team has been struggling to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment of Papua against Korean palm oil companies since 2010.

A family from the Kowin Marind tribe whose land has been affected by deforestation to make way for a Korindo plantation in Papua (Image: Mighty Earth)

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been closely monitoring Korindo’s operations since complaints against its destructive practices and human rights violations were first made by Mighty Earth in 2017, but has stopped short of stripping it of its sustainability certification. Korindo Group published a statement on its website in July 2019 saying it rejected complaints that it was involved in illegal forest fires but agreed to work with FSC to improve its standards.

The Korean palm oil industry has been linked with the suffering of indigenous communities in Indonesia from the start. Korindo Group started the first “Korean” palm oil business in Merauke, Papua province, in 1995. There the Marind and Mandobo peoples had already been forced from their customary forest by the central government’s development plan in the early 1970s. PT. Tunas Sawa Erma, the palm oil company of Korindo Group, acquired a palm oil business permit in 1997 and by December 2001 had planted palms over 7,800 hectares of land. This set the scene for the next set of large-scale Korean palm oil ventures in Indonesia from 2007.

The major players

Apart from Korindo, six other big South Korean companies have become major players in the palm oil industry, financed by public money. Almost US$200 million worth of public funding has been given to these companies to develop over 65,000 hectares of palm oil plantations in Indonesia. These estimates are based on publicly available and verified data from the Korea Forest Service, Export-Import Bank of Korea and the South Korean parliament. And according to an independent investigation by APIL (Advocates for Public Interest Law), almost all of these companies have ongoing land and rights violation conflicts with local communities.

Local advocacy groups have been running a campaign to stop government loans to the palm oil companies in Indonesia since APIL and KFEM (Korean Federation for Environmental Movements) published a report based on their investigation in 2019.

“It’s our tax money going into the industry that is complicit in land grabbing, indigenous people’s rights and labour rights violations. We are pushing Korean export credit agencies to have their own human rights standards to follow when providing a public finance loan to overseas projects like the palm oil industry. It is the government offices’ constitutional responsibility to avoid any human rights violations,” said Chung.

Carbon emissions

Local scientists are also raising their concerns about the government’s growing “carbon debt” given its support for the palm oil industry.

“South Korea has been using a by-product of crude palm oil called Palm Fatty Acid Distillate (PFAD) as a main source of bioenergy. Due to its high carbon intensity and environmental cost, PFAD would not be permitted as a main source of biodiesel in countries like the US and UK,” said Shin Jung-Yull from Korea Energy Agency’s audit division.

According to Shin’s 2018 PhD dissertation, PFAD accounted for 47% of Korea’s biodiesel feedstock in 2015, and emits 5.7 times more greenhouse gases than alternative oils. The European Union plans to phase out palm oil-based transport fuels by 2030, because of the deforestation and higher emissions they cause.

Mounting pressure

Since 2015, South Korean lawmakers have also been questioning the relevant ministries over the effectiveness and sustainability of public financing in the overseas palm oil industry through parliamentary inspections and research service reports.

Under public pressure, Korea Forest Service excluded Korindo from receiving overseas public financing and seized additional loan support for oil palm afforestation projects in 2019. This was after the agency introduced new evaluation criteria requiring companies to provide evidence, such as satellite images, to prove that they are not responsible for “conversion of forest”. However, companies receiving loans before 2019 are not bound by the stricter criteria.

Membership of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – the global certification organisation set up to promote ethical palm oil – is not included in public financing criteria, and neither is a commitment to No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policies.

Despite this, there has been huge public pressure on companies to take action. Posco International voluntarily joined RSPO membership and introduced a zero-deforestation policy for its palm oil plantation in Indonesia’s Papua province in March this year.

When asked to respond to the international outcry over their activities in Indonesia, Joyce Eun Jeong Seo of Posco International’s Sustainable Management Department told China Dialogue: “In carrying out the palm oil business in Indonesia, Posco International and its subsidiary PT Bio Inti Agrindo recognised and complied with indigenous customary laws as a top priority and strives to fulfil the level of social responsibility required by international norms as a responsible global company.”

Posco International was the first South Korean business to introduce a NDPE (no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation) policy earlier this year. But between 2012 and 2017, its subsidiary in Papua cleared 26,500 hectares of mostly primary forest to establish a plantation. (Image: Google Earth, Landsat / Copernicus)

But Korean citizens have only just started to demand more transparency about the palm oil supply chain and the problems around this ubiquitous commodity. 

“We all know that our country has to rely heavily on overseas resources for our food and energy. But the government cannot blind its citizens by using ‘national interest and security’ logic to justify human rights violation, deforestation and carbon emissions,” said Kang Myung-hwa, a 34-year-old citizen from Seoul.

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