Myanmar, a nation located at the junction of South Asia and Southeast Asia corridor saw a historic change when the democratic led government, National Leader for Democracy (NLD) overtook the power from the military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the historic election of 2015 thus ending the 60 years of military junta rule.
Backed by the democratic principles of equality, accountability, transparency and control of power, the NLD emerged as the ultimate guarantor of ensuring the aspiration of 50 million Myanmarese people. However, in the event of post election, NLD has failed to garner any advantageous position in Myanmar due to various constitutional amendments and restrictions. On top of that Rohingya problem emerged as another challenge to the newly installed government.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnically related to the Bengali people living for centuries in the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar are considered as one of the most persecuted people on the earth. However, notwithstanding their existence, Myanmar considers them as undocumented immigrants who have been living in Rakhine state of Myanmar for centuries. According to the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 which made a categorical distinction of Burmese Citizenship into three parts- Citizenship, associate citizenship and naturalized citizen effectively bars the Rohingya of acquiring the Burmese citizenship as the government doesn’t validate the history of Rohingya and their being a Burmese ethnic minority. In this regard of being stateless, without citizenship and ethnic group recognition, the Rohingya faced deep seated hatred and subject of being soft target and discrimination. The government employed different tactics including the proxy aggression and hybrid attack on the Rohingya leading to the mass outflow of Rohingya to the near adjoining states, including Bangladesh, Thailand and India. As of 2017 according to UNHCR more than 140,000 Rohingya has been displaced from their homeland.
In the recent years, the Myanmar military has sought a new strategy of driving out the illegal Bengali immigrants from their territory. In this regard, the military is using every available strategy including the killing, shooting and raping of the Rohingya to force them to leave the state. This has led to an escalation in hostilities and spawned a potent terror in Myanmar. The extensive offensive measures against what Myanmar government called illegal immigrants has preferably led to the rise of extremist militant and insurgent groups amongst the Rohingya. One such group- Harakah al- Yaqin now refers in English as the Arkan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has taken its birth. The group is well connected with most of the Muslim countries having the Rohingya connection and heritage with its base in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India according to the International Crisis Group report. The group issues fatwa to legitimize their violence and wants the Rohingya to join them in their fight against the Myanmar forces. The first coordinated strike of the group was conducted in 2016 when it attacked Myanmar border posts along the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Furthermore, in 2017 in the wee hour of August, the group mounted another coordinated attack on the police check posts and army bases in the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. This led the Government to conduct clear out operation across the Rakhine state bringing reports of killings, clashes and vigilantism against the Rohingya.
As such, the development of these episodes poses a significant challenge to Myanmar and India. As for Myanmar, the Rohingya issue has seriously deteriorated her status in the global community. Fresh from the rule of Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) for more than a decade, the Rohingya issue has brought a new challenge to the new Government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The counter offensive measures conducted by the Myanmar army against the Rohingya significantly deteriorated the status of Myanmar in her external relations as the world community poured their sympathy and concern for the Rohingya and condemned the violent act of the Myanmar government. Furthermore, the counter offensive measures of the Myanmar government have created a space for the rise of the Islamic terror in Myanmar which can gravely complicate the matters of the Rohingya living in the Rakhine state.
In the midst of the rise of Islamic jihadis, their appealing ideology in the Southeast Asia, the ARSA may jockey for power within the framework of the Islamic State (ISIS) thereby increasing the domain of security to a whole new level. As ISIS is gradually losing its battleground in the Middle East from the coalition forces of Russia and the United States, Southeast Asia has emerged as a new venue. Some of the Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia have opened up as an alternative theatre for the ISIS and it affiliated militants. Whether it’s the Jemaah Islamiyah of Indonesia or the Khatibah Nusantara of Indonesia they aligned and support themselves with the theology of ISIS and provides great inspiration for the new born jihadi and extremists to wage violence in their struggle. This situation can develop a headache to Myanmar particularly looking at the present situation of Rohingya issue as the armed Rohingya militants including ARSA might infuse the ISIS theology and collaborate within the domain of Southeast Asia terror groups and make the issue a greater one.
As for India, the Rohingya issue has never flared up in its national security issue. However, in the changing circumstances, particularly in the globalised world of interconnectedness, New Delhi should be more cautious in the Rohingya issue. As India plans to deport around 40,000 Rohingya refugees who are staying in India and also refuses to join the declaration against Myanmar of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya at the recently held conference in Bali, it might bring challenges and a risk factor to India. The first risk emanates from the persistent instability situation in the border region of India and Myanmar. The border region of India and Myanmar is a home for various militant groups who use the cross-border affiliations in waging war against the Indian state. These groups have established clandestine networks in the neighboring states of Myanmar. As India faces an uphill task in combating the terror threat, the ARSA might add a new flavor to the ongoing conflicts. As the ethnic militants of the Northeast India need new bases and cooperation in its fight, they might seek direct and indirect support of the ARSA. More so, a coordination and cooperation from the ARSA also looks possible when the Indian state has failed to provide Rohingya the basic necessity when they are facing genocide and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Furthermore, the cooperation between the ARSA and the insurgent groups of the Northeast India might open up new bases and territory (Rakhine for Northeast Militants and Northeast India for the ARSA) to both the groups in their survival and struggle.
Second, India has huge investments at stake in Myanmar including the Kaladan Multi-Modal Project, tri-lateral highway and Oil and Gas project. In most cases, these projects passes via the Rakhine state of Myanmar and the stability of the region is one of the crucial factors for India. The Kaladan Multi-Modal project that India is building to connect Mizoram to Sittwe port in Myanmar passes through the Rakhine state of Myanmar. In the event of deporting huge number of Rohingya and not condemning Myanmar for the atrocities, the Rohingya militants, including the ARSA might act as a hindrance in these projects and on overall India quest of looking and acting east.
From the above picture, it looks clear that the rise of Rohingya insurgency has a serious implication to Myanmar and India. For Myanmar, the Rohingya issue has put Myanmar in the state of dilemma. The recognition of Rohingya as a Myanmar citizen will seriously deteriorate the status and fame of the NLD since Bamar or Burman (the ethnic group) constitutes the majority in Myanmar and are predominantly Theravada Buddhist. In the plight of recognizing Rohingya, it might deteriorate its support base amongst the majority groups and can even face a crisis mandate in the parliament and within the party. This will automatically please the Tatmadaw who are looking for an opportunity to come to power again by piercing and rupturing the foundation of NLD and its democratic conscience. As for India, it is in their interest to make a careful decision of the situation. New Delhi should wisely deal with the Rohingya issue keeping in context the security and the strategic importance of the region as well as the importance of the bilateral relations.
Indonesia: Balanced politics amid major powers
In 2020, Russia and Indonesia will mark 70 years to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Given that the epicenter of the geopolitical activity is currently shifting towards the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), the role of Indonesia as the planet’s strategically important location increases.
Along with Russia, there are a number of other countries that are as keen on developing ties with Indonesia. One of them is Australia, which is particularly active due to its geographical location.
Indonesia and Australia boast a comprehensive bilateral strategic partnership agreement, which defines them as “strategic anchors of the Indo-Pacific Region”. According to tradition, each newly elected Australian Prime Minister pays his first foreign visit to Indonesia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who took office on August 24, 2018, kept the tradition as well.
In Jakarta, Morrison met with Indonesian partners to discuss the details of a strategic cooperation agreement, which envisages economic cooperation, security measures, exploitation of marine resources, ensuring stability in the Indo-Pacific Region and social projects.
According to the Jakarta Maritime Policy Strategy (Global Maritime Fulcrum), Indonesia is regarded as the fulcrum between the Indian and the Pacific. Canberra also sees Jakarta as key to Australia’s defense strategy.
Indonesia’s territory embraces most of the archipelagoes north of Australia and these make a convenient springboard for a hypothetical threat to the Australian coast. In addition, Indonesia stands at the junction of marine and air routes from Australia to Europe and from Australia to Asia-Pacific countries. Joint naval exercises run by the Indonesian and Australian defense ministries account for 24% of the total, while 33% of the drills are held by the Air Forces, 30% by special services and special task forces, and 2% by the peacekeeping contingents.
Australia became the third country with which Jakarta signed a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement after the United States (2013) and China (2015). In 2017, the two parties signed the Joint Declaration on Maritime Cooperation, in 2018 – the Maritime Cooperation Action Plan, covering 85 areas with the participation of 17 Australian and 20 Indonesian departments and agencies.
Australia finds Indonesia more important than Indonesia finds Australia. As a single continent, Australia attaches particular importance to foreign policy with a view to ensure its national security. As for Indonesia, it has a more introverted policy. Being the largest island nation on the planet, Jakarta aims to guarantee its security through internal consolidation of the many islands that make up the Indonesian state.
Pursuing the policy of “non-alignment”, Indonesia seeks to diversify foreign economic and foreign policy relations. This becomes clear from the previous development of the Indonesian-Australian relations: Jakarta would quickly freeze projects with Canberra once it spotted a disproportionate presence of Australia in Indonesian politics.
That was the case in 1999 when Jakarta withdrew from the Security Agreement, signed in 1995, in 2013 when it suspended defense cooperation and cooperation between special services, and 2016 when it suspended the language training of military personnel.
For Indonesia, a multi-vector foreign policy is crucial for maintaining a healthy balance of power in the region. For this reason, Moscow is an attractive economic partner for Jakarta. That Russian-Indonesian contacts have been developing at fast pace can be concluded from the fact that there have been several meetings between the two countries’ presidents, that Russia has been supplying Indonesia with weapons, that the two countries’ armed forces have held joint exercises, that Indonesian representatives have participated in business forums in Russia and that the Russian capital has revealed in interest in Indonesia’s projects in the mining industry.
Jakarta and Moscow are considering prospects for the introduction of a free trade zone in Indonesia and the EEU. Indonesia is also ready to join the Chinese global infrastructure project “One Belt, One Road.”
Under the project, Chinese investments in the Indonesian transport infrastructure amount to $ 6 billion, which is clearly not enough for a rapid growth of transit of commodities and haulages from China and the Asia-Pacific countries through Indonesia. Indonesia’s medium-term economic development plan stipulates local financing at 63% (4). The rest should come from foreign investors, which could include Russia.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Improving Vocational Education in Thailand: An interview with Khunying Sumonta Promboon
Bangkok – When robots are advancing and industries are playing catch up to technological advancement, vocational education plays a pivotal role in national development. Instead of arcane theory, vocational education trains students with sophisticated, hands on and practical skills needed to excel in the world of work. Vocational training offers an up to date and cutting edged techniques for students not only comply but push technical boundaries forward. Countries that excel in their industrialization all champion vocational education – Germany, China and Taiwan to name but a few.
Thailand, despite setting its eyes for Thailand 4.0 to transform its economy to digitalization, automation and robotics, is falling behind the race to the top. The World Bank found that 40% of the top tier international firms reported the inadequate skills as the major constraint. While the country is in much needed position for vocational education, there are only 1 million students in vocational school comparing to 2.5 millions in higher education. Although the country has more than 900 vocational colleges, students opt for higher education because better images and prestigious. When news about vocational education in Thailand are filled with images of violent students and gang fights amongst students, there is a dire need to reform this important sector. Rattana Lao, Program Officer in Policy and Research at the Asia Foundation, talked to Associate Professor Khunying Sumonta Promboon, the President of Chitralada Technology College on ways in which Thailand vocational education can reform itself to better respond to national demand: One step at a time.
What role should vocational education play in Thailand?
Vocational education should be the main educational track to educate and encourage young students to partake in the national development of the country. After receiving basic education of grade 1 to 9, the majority of students should enroll in vocational education. However, the case of Thailand is different. The majority of Thai students like to enroll in basic education of grade 10 to 12 and continue to enroll in universities rather than vocational education.
How can one promote vocational education?
Many factors need to be taken into account in order to incentivize more students to enroll in vocational education.
Firstly, students need to have guaranteed employment. Such employment should begin when they are still students, an internship of some sorts. This requires a close collaboration between educational institutes and corporates. A symbiosis between the two stakeholders is necessary. This is not widespread in Thailand. The opportunities are still inadequate and limited to a few top students in colleges rather than available equally to all students.
Secondly, the social attitude must change. In Thailand, parents want their children attend higher education and receive bachelor degrees, master degrees and PhD. To change this attitude, it will take time. It goes back to the first point that students need secure employment.
We incorporated these ideas into the creation of Chitralada Technology College. We want to take lead in enabling students who take vocational education with us being able to transfer into higher education later on– making the opportunities for education and employment aligned.
What are the problems of vocational education in Thailand?
The first problem is the social bias. People prefer basic education because its more prestigious. The second problem is students do not know the diversity of career paths. They know only limited choices of teachers, soldiers and doctors. The educational counselling in Thailand needs an improvement.
What does Chitralada Technology College try to do?
There are two institutes within the same umbrella. The first is Chitralada Vocational School and the second is Chitralada Technology College. There are total number of 800 students in these two institutes. Although we are small in sizes, we would like to lead best practices in term of vocational educational practices. There are many programs that we offer for students.
What is your strategy to promote vocational education in Thailand that is different from others?
We have extensive networks of 67 businesses throughout Thailand as well as partnered with other organizations. In total, we have MOUs with more than 80 institutions. We partnered with Singapore, China and Germany.
Can you give examples?
With China, we partnered with Leshan Vocational Technical College. They accept our students’ exchanges for culinary school. There is also Tienjin Sino-German Vocational Technical College that we partner about mechatronics. With Singapore, we work with Singapore Polytechnique. We are beginning to initiate exchanging programs with Temasek and Singapore Polytechnique. Last year, we took Singapore students to Sumutsongkarm to visit local communities who produce shrimp pastes. It’s impressive idea they are creating. There is also Senior Expert Project we partner with Germany. Mostly it is about mechanics and mechatronics.
How do these collaborations help Thailand?
These are successful countries who implemented vocational education and we can learn from them.
There are a lot of pictures of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. How does HRH inspire this college?
Her idea is to educate students according to their talents. Those who do not like academic track should have the opportunity to pursue other alternatives. Her Royal Highness plays a monumental role to guide our college’s direction and inspires us to excel. When HRH visits other countries, HRH enables the college to expand our collaboration with successful institutions from abroad.
We want to change the images of vocational students in Thailand from being violent students to be responsible students.
Indonesia shaping the South East Asian foreign policy of India and Sri Lanka
Authors: Srimal Fernando and Megha Gupta*
Indonesia with more than 17,000 islands, occupies a key geopolitical position in the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc. In the recent past Indonesia has been trying to strengthen its foreign policy outlook both diplomatically and economically through bilateral or multilateral means.
Indonesia with its large population, military capabilities, vast territory and rich natural resources in Southeast Asia is trying to align with India possessing similar power potentialities in South Asia. With this strategy in mind Indonesia has been trying to access the 1.3 billion Indian consumer market and also has been trying to cooperate with Sri Lanka due to its vital geographical position in the Indian Ocean. In this regard, there has been a growing bilateral and trilateral interest among these three countries such that they can tap into the consumer and producer market hence generating higher revenue. However, these three financial hotspots have found themselves in the forefront of challenges posed by globalization and this makes it vital for them to revive their cooperation in different areas.
Over the past few decades, Indonesia has made several development landmarks through restructuring its polity and society. The economy and foreign policy goals of this nation have constructively transformed from President Sukarno to Joko. Furthermore, in the 1980’s Indonesia also took a large step in establishing the regional body of ASEAN. Since then for more than a quarter century, ASEAN has been the most important reason for bilateral and multilateral engagements between Indonesia and the two South Asian countries.
Currently, the two-way trade between Indonesia and India stands at about $18.13 billion according to the Indonesia’s Central Statistics Agency (bps). With this mutually beneficial relationship, in the coming years Indonesia and India are planning to enhance their bilateral trade to $50 billion. There is also said to be an increased strategic, defense and security partnership between the two which got reiterated with the state visit of the Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Similarly, the trade between Indonesia and Sri Lanka has doubled from $418 million in 2011 to around a billion dollar in the recent past and the ties between the two is set to improve further with the establishment of a future Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The year 2018 has also marked the 66th Anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Indonesia and Sri Lanka where the visit of the Indonesian President after 40 years saw the signing of a series of agreements between the two island nations.
Since the Bandung Summit of 1955, the Indonesia’s relationship with India and Sri Lanka has been strong. Later ASEAN has played a leading role in making this partnership grow further. However, India’s cooperation with Indonesia and ASEAN serves as a test bed for the new ideas to grow between the two regions.
Indonesia positioned between Southeast Asia and Australasia is a crucial gateway for India and Sri Lanka to further their foreign, economic and security endeavors in these two regions.
*Megha Gupta, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.
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