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Thailand – will diplomacy work?

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If it weren’t so sad, the state of affairs in Thailand following the May 2014 coup would be laughable. As Thailand inches its way to becoming a pariah state – not unlike North Korea – little is being done to halt what, to all appearances, is rapidly becoming an Orwellian nightmare.

Order 13 – formalizes penalties for imagined threats

Immediately after the overthrow of Thailand’s last democratically-elected Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the military junta government under the leadership of general Prayuth Chan-o-cha proceeded to tear at the country’s democratic ideals by doing away with any semblance of the rule of law. Nominally, the interim government was supposed to organize elections by the end of 2014, a promise that was nevertheless broken repeatedly as the date was pushed back to 2015, 2016 and now to 2017.

Such an overextended stay in power has not been easy to achieve, and the junta can boast a long list of human rights abuses, ranging from the banal (stifling press freedoms) to the Manchurian (forced reeducation programs for critics). For its latest dirty trick, the junta invented a few new offenses and provided for them under something called Order 13 – created under the laughable guise of protecting the public.

In the run up to the passing of Order 13, the junta had banned several innocuous activities, such as public gatherings of more than five people, the eating of sandwiches in public and the three-finger salute from the movie “Hunger Games”, all seen as seditious gestures. And should you be a hapless citizen unlucky enough to be caught, you run the risk of being sent to an “attitude adjustment camp”, a poorly used synecdoche meant to disguise acts of torture. Which is where Order 13 comes into play. The April decision conferred broad and sweeping policing powers on military officers with ranks as low as sub-lieutenant. According to junta spokesman, Colonel Piyapong Klinphan, the order was implemented to prevent crimes that pose a danger to public order, and includes the authority to seize assets without warrants, suspend financial transactions and ban anyone from travelling abroad.

Shortly after the order was announced, “journalist non grata”, Pravit Rojanaphruk was denied permission to travel to Helsinki to attend the World Press Freedom Day organized by UNESCO. According to Klinphan, the reason for detaining the reporter was simply that he was attacking the junta on social media. Other journalists critical of the junta have been threatened with prison or even execution, and a liberal use of the lese majeste laws has seen people accused of defaming the royal dog, a charge that carries a 15-year prison sentence.

And given the contents of the draft constitution, due to be voted upon in August, which awards even more powers to the military in what can be seen as a legal codification of the current undemocratic regime. The 250-strong senate will be appointed by the military and will have wide sweeping powers to block legislation, appoint the constitutional court and even bring in an unelected Prime Minister if general elections are inconclusive. The charter has been attacked by human rights groups and by Thai politicians. Former PM, Thaksin Shinawatra has called it a “charade” that will make Thailand look like Myanmar before political reforms.

Under the rudderless rule of the junta, Thailand is clearly a runaway train. Can international diplomatic efforts save the country from becoming Southeast Asia’s next North Korea? Sadly, not really.

The most common words being used by both the US and the European Union as they scold Prayuth are express concern and urge. It’s not hard to understand why the interim Prime Minister ignores the reaction of the rest of the world to his draconian penalties for relatively innocuous behavior. In his Guardian op-ed, muzzled reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk speculates that since Prayuth wasn’t elected, he feels he doesn’t have to please anyone, giving him free rein.

Immediately following the May 2014 coup, the brain trust behind the EU in Brussels stopped official visits and suspended free trade talks – hardly anything that would cause Prayuth to fret. Economic sanctions, or rather the threat of economic sanctions has done little but evoke a chuckle from Prayuth. Despite pressures from the European Parliament and other civil rights groups at the industrial scale slave labor in the fishery industry has taken, the European Commission stopped short of banning the imports of Thai, content with issuing yet another stern warning. Had the ban been passed, the Thai economy would have received a painful body blow that could have prompted Prayuth and his general colleagues to tone down their acts of violence.

For their part, the US has not done much more than their counterparts in Brussels – freezing military aid and issuing stern warnings has been the bulk of it. When the US ambassador to Bangkok bemoaned the state of human rights in the country, the junta opened an official investigation on lese majeste charges. Washington’s reaction was more silence.

So given all of the above – will diplomacy work?

There are two problems – the first being that the EU/US does not seem to have the political will, or even the genuine interest, to tick off a strategic Pacific ally. It would be foolhardy of the Thai people to expect much more than what has been seen over the past two years. The second problem stems from the nature of the Thai people themselves. Having been through similar scenarios over a dozen times in the past nine decades, allowing the military to overthrow an elected government has become ”the new normal”.

Thailand is shaping up to be a case study in the limits of diplomatic solutions in an age when growing interdependencies and geopolitical interests dwarf the imperative of upholding human rights. Short of being subjected to international sanctions, Thailand’s return to democracy is postponed indefinitely.

Southeast Asia

Golden Visa for Sam Altman: A New Momentum for Indonesia in the Artificial Intelligence Era

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Image source: X @sama

The Government of Indonesia has taken a strategic step in strengthening its position in the global technology arena by announcing the awarding of the Golden Visa to Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI. This marks Indonesia’s serious commitment to developing technology and innovation, with Altman being the first recipient of Indonesia’s Golden Visa. This visa is awarded as recognition and appreciation for the potential contribution of resources that the holder can bring to Indonesia.

The Golden Visa, which grants a residence permit for 5-10 years, is awarded with the aim of supporting the Indonesian economy. Holders of this visa, like Altman, will receive various benefits, such as priority inspection and service lanes at airports, ease of entry and exit from Indonesia, and extended residence periods. “We roll out the red carpet in return for the resources they can bring to Indonesia,” said the Director-General of Indonesian Immigration, Silmy Karim. This shows that Indonesia is offering significant conveniences and advantages to individuals deemed capable of making substantial contributions to the country.

However, this move raises important questions: What is the real significance of awarding the Golden Visa, and how can Indonesia maximize its benefits to compete with neighbouring countries like Singapore and Thailand on the global stage of technology and innovation? This becomes a crucial point of reflection for Indonesia to formulate effective strategies and policies in leveraging the presence of global technology figures like Altman to accelerate technological and innovative development in Indonesia. Below my point of view, and recommendation as Principal of Indonesia Applied Digital Economy and Regulatory Network (IADERN).

Golden Visa: A Strategic Step Towards the Future of Technology

The awarding of the Golden Visa by Indonesia to Sam Altman, a leading figure in the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI), demonstrates the country’s serious commitment to utilizing AI as a primary driver for its future. It reflects Indonesia’s vision to undergo an economic transformation towards a more knowledge and technology-based economy and to enhance its global competitiveness. AI is expected to bring innovative solutions to address various national challenges and promote efficiency and productivity across various industrial sectors.

Focusing on AI will also drive human resource development and digital infrastructure construction in Indonesia. It prepares the young generation of Indonesia with the skills needed for the digital era and creates new job opportunities in technology-based industries. Moreover, the presence of figures like Altman can open further opportunities for international investment and collaboration, strengthening the innovation and research ecosystem in Indonesia.

With this strategy, Indonesia hopes to not only catch up but also surpass neighbouring countries in the development and application of AI, creating an ecosystem that supports research, development, and entrepreneurship, and ultimately, fostering innovation and creativity throughout society. This is a significant step forward in harnessing the full potential of this technological revolution for the welfare and progress of the nation.

Leveraging Korika’s Strategic Plan

The presence of Sam Altman in Indonesia through the awarding of the Golden Visa can open the door for concrete collaboration with OpenAI to achieve the goals of the Strategic Plan (Renstra) created by the Committee for Artificial Intelligence Research and Innovation (Korika), which is an entity tasked with overseeing and guiding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI).  Here are some concrete steps that can be taken:

Establishment of a Joint Research Center:

Indonesia can collaborate with OpenAI to establish a joint research center focusing on AI development. This center can serve as a hub for joint research, new technology development, and innovation in the field of AI, involving researchers from Indonesia and OpenAI.

Training and Talent Development Programs:

Collaboration with OpenAI can include the development of training and education programs to enhance the skills and knowledge of Indonesian professionals and researchers in AI. This can include workshops, courses, and other training programs designed to build local capacity in AI.

Development of AI Applications and Solutions:

OpenAI and Indonesia can collaborate to develop AI applications and solutions that can be applied to various industrial sectors in Indonesia, such as health, education, and agriculture, to address local challenges and promote innovation.

Knowledge and Technology Exchange:

This collaboration can facilitate the exchange of knowledge, technology, and best practices between Indonesia and OpenAI, enabling the transfer of the latest technology and knowledge in the field of AI.

Funding and Investment in AI Research:

OpenAI can play a role in supporting AI research and development in Indonesia through research funding, scholarships, and investments in local AI startups and initiatives.

Development of AI Ecosystem:

Collaborating with OpenAI can assist Indonesia in building a strong and sustainable AI ecosystem, promoting entrepreneurship, innovation, and the development of AI communities.

Competing on the AI Innovation Stage: Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand

Singapore and Thailand have established themselves as centers of innovation and technology in Southeast Asia. With strong national strategies, Singapore has successfully attracted various global technology companies. Meanwhile, Thailand, through its “Thailand 4.0” initiative, has placed significant emphasis on digitization and innovation. Both countries have set high standards in technology and innovation development in the region.

However, Indonesia, with the step of granting Golden Visa to Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, is showing its ambition and readiness to enter this competition. This move is part of Indonesia’s effort to leverage the potential of Korika’s strategic plan and forge collaboration with OpenAI, hoping to position itself as a regional leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Indonesia offers a unique combination of a large market, quality talent, and government commitment to innovation and technology development. Indonesia, with its large population and dynamic market, has the potential to be a living laboratory for the development and implementation of AI solutions.

This creates opportunities to attract companies and investors from around the world to test and implement their technologies in Indonesia. Thus, the country can leverage its position to develop innovative and impactful AI solutions that directly address local challenges and needs, positioning itself as a leader in the development of socially and economically impactful AI applications.

 To strengthen this position, Indonesia needs to focus on developing and attracting high-quality AI talent. By drawing expertise from both domestic and foreign sources, Indonesia can become a prime destination for AI research and development, complementing the existing expertise in Singapore and Thailand.

Additionally, establishing research and development institutions focused on AI technology and innovation, and collaborating with international institutions like OpenAI, will enhance Indonesia’s AI research and innovation capacity. With an integrated and coordinated strategy, Indonesia can not only compete but also complement the successes of Singapore and Thailand, creating a dynamic and inclusive AI innovation ecosystem in the Southeast Asian region.

Conclusion

The granting of the Golden Visa to Sam Altman is not just a symbol of Indonesia’s commitment to technology and innovation but also a strategic step in leveraging momentum to strengthen the country’s position on the global stage. By leveraging Korika’s strategic plan and collaborating with industry leaders like OpenAI, Indonesia has the opportunity to not only catch up but also surpass its neighbours in the race towards an AI-dominated future.

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ASEAN Summit 2023: Shaping Southeast Asia’s Future and Beyond

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The 43rd ASEAN Summit held in Jakarta from September 5th to 7th, 2023, carries profound implications for the future of Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. As I reflect on the outcomes of this summit, it is evident that ASEAN has reaffirmed its role as a vital regional player and a catalyst for cooperation and progress. The theme “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth” encapsulates the essence of this summit. It underscores that ASEAN is not merely a geographical region but a dynamic force at the heart of growth and development in the Indo-Pacific. This theme reflects a vision of ASEAN that is forward-looking, ambitious, and committed to addressing the multifaceted challenges of our times. The adoption of the ASEAN Concord IV, a comprehensive blueprint for ASEAN’s future, is a testament to the organization’s resolve. It emphasizes the importance of security, economic growth, and a broader regional role. It is noteworthy that ASEAN is not content with maintaining the status quo; instead, it seeks to shape the evolving dynamics of the Indo-Pacific, placing itself at the center of growth and stability.

   Addressing security concerns within the region is paramount. The commitment to combating illicit drugs, maintaining a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, and upholding international maritime law in the South China Sea reflects ASEAN’s dedication to preserving regional stability. In a world marked by geopolitical tensions, these commitments send a clear message that ASEAN is committed to ensuring peace and security within its borders. Economic growth and sustainability are core principles embedded within the ASEAN Concord IV. The emphasis on balanced growth, economic disparities, innovation, and environmental sustainability demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of all ASEAN citizens. It recognizes that economic progress must be inclusive and sustainable to truly benefit the entire region. ASEAN’s expanding regional role, as outlined in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), is a significant development. It acknowledges the organization’s potential to influence the broader geopolitical landscape. By emphasizing the importance of international law and mechanisms for resolving regional disputes, ASEAN positions itself as a responsible and proactive player in the Indo-Pacific region.

   The Myanmar crisis presents one of the most pressing challenges in the region. ASEAN’s condemnation of the violence and its commitment to the Five-Point Consensus, along with the Troika mechanism, reflect a united front to address this complex issue. While the path to resolution is challenging, ASEAN’s engagement sends a strong message that it is actively working toward a peaceful resolution. The gesture of welcoming Timor-Leste into the ASEAN family signifies an expansion of the organization’s influence. While details are yet to be finalized, this move reflects ASEAN’s willingness to embrace new members and deepen its regional engagement. The decision to elevate the ASEAN Secretariat to the status of the ASEAN Headquarters is a step towards enhancing the organization’s effectiveness. It reflects a recognition that a strong and centralized institution is essential for the successful implementation of ASEAN’s goals. Global engagement is also a key aspect of ASEAN’s vision. The organization’s concern for the Middle East conflict and its support for a two-state solution demonstrate a commitment to peace and stability beyond its immediate region. This reflects ASEAN’s aspiration to contribute positively to global affairs.

   The 43rd ASEAN Summit in Jakarta has positioned ASEAN as a central force for unity, cooperation, and progress in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. The adoption of the ASEAN Concord IV and the various commitments made during the summit reflect a vision of ASEAN that is forward-thinking, proactive, and committed to addressing regional and global challenges. As we move forward, it is crucial to recognize that ASEAN’s role extends beyond regional boundaries. It is a beacon of hope for collaborative and inclusive growth, a promoter of peace and security, and a responsible global player. In a world characterized by uncertainty, ASEAN’s resilience and determination offer a promising path for a better future not only for its member states but for the entire Indo-Pacific region and the world. The outcomes of the 43rd ASEAN Summit demonstrate that the organization’s principles, when translated into action, can shape the course of regional and global affairs, making it a cornerstone of stability and progress in the 21st century.

  Beyond what has been discussed, the outcomes of the 43rd ASEAN Summit also shed light on several crucial aspects that warrant further examination in the realm of International Relations. One such aspect is the commitment to upholding international maritime law in the South China Sea. This commitment underscores the importance of maritime security and the complex web of territorial disputes in the region. It invites students and scholars of international relations to explore the intricate dynamics of maritime sovereignty, the role of international law, and the implications of these disputes on regional stability.  Moreover, the ASEAN Concord IV’s emphasis on innovation resonates with the growing relevance of technology and innovation in global affairs. It encourages a deeper exploration of how technological advancements impact international relations, from cybersecurity challenges to the transformative potential of artificial intelligence. Understanding the nexus between technology and diplomacy becomes increasingly vital in an era of rapid technological change. The adoption of the Troika mechanism as part of the response to the Myanmar crisis offers a practical example of conflict resolution mechanisms within regional organizations. It invites students to analyze the effectiveness of such mechanisms and their potential application in other regional conflicts. The study of conflict resolution strategies is a fundamental component of international relations research and education. Furthermore, the summit’s focus on environmental sustainability aligns with the global discourse on climate change and ecological preservation. Students can delve into the implications of regional organizations like ASEAN engaging in environmental issues and the role they can play in advancing global environmental agendas, including the Paris Agreement. The potential expansion of ASEAN to include Timor-Leste prompts discussions on the dynamics of regional integration and the prerequisites for membership. It encourages students to explore the criteria and processes for joining regional organizations and the implications for both existing members and the prospective entrant. Such inquiries are central to the study of regionalism in international relations.

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Biden’s ASEAN Summit Absence Sparks Multilateral Concerns

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The recent convening of the 43rd ASEAN Summit in Jakarta serves as a poignant reminder of the pivotal role that multilateral cooperation continues to play in upholding peace, stability, and prosperity across the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. President Joe Biden’s conspicuous absence at the ASEAN Summit sends a clear message that the United States prioritizes rivalry over multilateral cooperation, as well as a penchant for narrowly defined alliances instead of comprehensive multilateral engagement.

This decision underscores a strategic focus in Washington – one that seeks to further its interests through alternative avenues. Such a move carries profound implications for regional dynamics. Even as the summit was postponed to accommodate the U.S. President’s schedule

It implies that the U.S. may increasingly lean towards pursuing its strategic interests through alternative pathways, possibly emphasizing bilateral or smaller multilateral arrangements. However, this approach risks undercutting the broader benefits that robust multilateral engagement offers, especially in a region as diverse and interconnected as the Asia-Pacific.

Multilateral cooperation, exemplified by forums such as the ASEAN Summit, provides an invaluable platform for addressing intricate regional challenges, facilitating dialogue, and bridging gaps among nations with diverse interests. By favoring more limited partnerships, the U.S. may inadvertently curtail its capacity to shape regional developments comprehensively and inclusively.

In the face of mounting geopolitical complexities, China stands out for its steadfast commitment to fostering collaboration and peaceful development. This commitment sharply contrasts with the United States’ preference for bilateral and “small-multilateral” formats.

China acknowledges the enduring value of multilateralism in promoting regional stability and development. Its engagement with ASEAN underscores cooperation, economic interdependence, and peaceful coexistence, aligning closely with the goal of establishing an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and collaboration.

The United States’ strategy towards ASEAN appears motivated by a desire to maintain the organization’s division rather than unity. Such instability aligns with Washington’s geopolitical interests in the region, as an unsettled ASEAN is perceived as more susceptible to U.S. influence and manipulation. This approach risks undermining ASEAN’s unity and its collective pursuit of shared objectives.

While some regional countries may be tempted to align more closely with the United States for various reasons, they must exercise caution and evaluate the potential implications of such alignment. The U.S. has displayed a willingness to foment chaos and turmoil in the region to enhance certain countries’ dependence on it. This approach poses significant risks to the stability and resilience of Asia-Pacific nations.

Over the past decade, China’s unwavering commitment to a comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN has yielded numerous benefits for the region. Expanding trade between China and ASEAN underscores the importance of open markets and economic interdependence on a global scale.

China’s support for pragmatic collaboration initiatives has not only spurred economic prosperity but also facilitated cultural exchange and people-to-people interactions throughout Southeast Asia. This approach, founded on principles of shared growth and mutual benefit, aligns seamlessly with ASEAN’s tenets, bolstering the organization’s influence in regional affairs.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s declaration to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries and work towards a “Code of Conduct” underscores China’s unwavering commitment to transforming the South China Sea into a region characterized by peace, friendship, and cooperation.

Throughout its history, ASEAN’s resilience and centrality have remained defining features. This resilience empowers ASEAN to withstand external pressures and manipulation, ensuring its decisions reflect the collective interests of its member states. The China-ASEAN alliance strengthens this resilience, safeguarding ASEAN’s independence and its ability to carve out its destiny.

As the United States continues to pursue its geopolitical objectives through diverse means, the Asia-Pacific region finds itself at a crucial juncture. ASEAN members must remain steadfast in adhering to the principles of dialogue, cooperation, and peaceful growth that have underpinned the organization’s success for decades.

In this context, China’s unwavering support for ASEAN’s vision and its resolute commitment to multilateralism become all the more significant. China contributes to regional stability and development by promoting cooperation, economic growth, and people-to-people exchanges, reinforcing ASEAN’s pivotal role as a critical force for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

Each ASEAN meeting serves as a litmus test for genuine multilateralism, with participating nations carefully identifying between actors genuinely seeking collaboration and those knowingly contributing to conflict. Given the current political climate, Washington’s policy decisions have huge repercussions, with any miscalculation potentially leading to unfavourable outcomes and increased diplomatic discontent.

Consequently, the United States must carefully weigh the long-term repercussions of its approach and strike a judicious balance between bilateral alliances and active engagement in global forums. A more comprehensive and inclusive engagement strategy in the Asia-Pacific can foster trust, spur collaboration, and secure a future marked by peace and prosperity for all nations in the region.

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