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Southeast Asia

Philippines beyond tourist destination

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Philippines are not only a tourist destination, but also a place of long history of conflicts that are active and ongoing even today. In the only majority Christian nation in Asia, where 82.9% of the population are Catholic religion and 5% of Muslim, many disputes between various groups exists.

Based on The World Bank the Philippines are one of the most dynamic emerging markets in the East Asia region. Poor governance, corruption, poverty, communist and Islamic insurgencies as well as terrorism are widespread. Human rights watch World report 2015 revealed widespread cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, impunity and enforced disappearances by state security forces. Even though killing has decreased compared to previous year activists, journalists, environmentalists and tribal leaders are remaining to be targets of attacks.

Main actors regarding disputes over sovereignty, territorial claims, ideology and system are government actors mainly the army, various Muslim separatist groups,, including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and two so called fractions of the first mention group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Further groups that are active in this part of the world are also the Communist New People’s Army, clan militias and criminal groups. The four mentioned groups are also regarded by many states as terrorist groups being active in the Philippines and in the neighborhood.

Conflict in the southern regions of the country between the government and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) started in the year 1991. The group was founded because of public dissatisfaction and inability of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to reach independence. ASG has been designated as a terrorist group by many states. Main reasons for the conflict are secession and ideology. ASG has so far kidnaped several people, fishers and tourists and also conducted bomb attacks, assassinations and extortions. Many injured and dead were seen. The group is based around Jolo and Basilian islands. It claims to promote an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The group is one of the smallest but the most active and the most extreme terrorist groups in the Philippines. Its ties reach also to Al-Qaida. Estimation about number of members varies. Group finances itself with robbery, piracy and ransom kidnappings. Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK) defines the conflict as a violent one in stage 3 out of five, as a violent crisis without change from previous years. Level three of intensity means a political conflict with sporadic use of force by one of the opposing sides with limited consequences.

The next important group in the country caught in conflict is Islamic group – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The conflict with government began in 1977 with group sought to create an autonomous Islamic state in the southern part of the state. The group that largely relied on improvised explosive devices has been involved in clashes with government troops over the years. No permanent ceasefire has been reached so far, even though the group way back in 2005 announced that it is dropping demand for fully autonomous Muslim state and has also been fighting with government troops against the ASG. Every group has its own goals and views on political and economic reform in the region. The conflict between the MILF and government over secession, ideology and resources in 2014 escalated to a violent crisis based on HIIK. A lot of progress has been made with peace talks, but minor fighting is still occurring. In March 2014 they signed with the government a comprehensive peace agreement concluding 17 years of peace negotiations. The peace accord created autonomous Bangsamoro region, with greater political autonomy in exchange to end the insurgency and calls for a separate state.

Conflict between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) versus government about secession, system and ideology and resources started in the year 1969 de-escalated into a non-violent crisis; stage two of intensity, a political conflict. No clashes were reported for the year 2014. It was Moro separatist movement leading organization for two decades.

Communist insurgency in the formal Spanish colony caused by New People’s Army (NPA) since 1930’s is not regarded as a threat to national security, and is perceived more as guerrilla and the criminal actor even though the group is labeled as a terrorist organization by the European Union and United States of America. The group has been involved with multiple peace talk with government through its different has also targeted foreigners in recent months and conducted attacks on infrastructure. Complex and lethal attacks against the Armed Forces of the Philippine were occasionally being carried out based on Philippines 2014 crime and safety report by the United States department of state Bureau of diplomatic security (OSAC). Carjacking, kidnappings, robberies and violent assaults also occur sporadically in one of the most populated country in the world.

A country composed of more than 7.000 islands has many internationally unresolved disputes over territory. No firm and international accepted border has been reached about Scarborough Reef with China, Taiwan and Philippines claims over territory. Unresolved remain also Spratly Islands claimed also by China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Furthermore maritime borders with Palau are still to be defined. Another territorial dispute regarding Philippines is also about North Borneo with the federation of Malaysia. Manila has to resolve internal and international disputes in order to remain a popular tourist destination where visitors will feel safe and where country can further benefit from this sector that represents a great deal of the country’s GDP.

Teja Palko is a Slovenian writer. She finished studies on Master’s Degree programme in Defense Science at the Faculty of Social Science at University in Ljubljana.

Southeast Asia

Learning to build a community from a ”Solok Literacy Community”in the West Sumatra

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Established on September 21, 2020 in Solok City, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. Solok Literacy Community initiated by the young people of Solok City has grown rapidly into a community that has its own trendsetter among young people. Bringing narratives smelling of education, The Literacy Solok Community has a movement with measurable progressiveness that can be seen from its flagship programs.

Starting from the free reading stall movement that has been moving in various corners of Solok City over the past few months. The concept of film surgery that provides proactive discussion space for all segmentation in society. “Diskusi Ngopi” activities which in fact is the concept of FGD (Focus Group Discussion), run with interesting themes and issues so that it can be considered as one of the favorite programs that are often attended by many young people in Solok. Then a class of interests and talents aimed at reactivating the soft skills and great talents of the children of Solok City.

Solok Literacy Community has a long-term goal of making Solok City as a Literacy City in 2025. With these noble targets, of course we together need small steps in the form of programs that run consistently over time. Because after all, a long journey will always begin with small steps in the process of achieving it.

Many appreciations and positive impressions from the surrounding community continue to be received by the Solok Literacy Community. This is certainly a big responsibility for the Solok Literacy Community to continue to commit to grounding literacy in Solok City. Solok Literacy Community activities can be checked directly through instagram social media accounts @solok_literasi. Carrying the tagline #penetrategloomy or penetrating the gloom and #lawanpembodohan, members of the Solok Literacy Community or better known as Soliters, will always make innovative breakthroughs in completing the goal of making Solok City 2025 as a Literacy City.

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Southeast Asia

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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Southeast Asia

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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