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Infrastructure Drive, Strong Domestic Demand to Sustain Philippine Growth

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The Philippines’ economic growth is expected to sustain its quick pace in 2018 and 2019 as the government’s infrastructure program is rolled out, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

In its new Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2018, ADB projects Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) growth at 6.8% this year and 6.9% in 2019, up from 6.7% in 2017. Rising domestic demand, remittances, and employment, in addition to infrastructure spending, will drive growth. ADO is ADB’s flagship annual economic publication.

“Along with domestic demand, the government’s infrastructure investments will fuel the country’s growth in the next few years, supported by a sound economic policy setting,” said Kelly Bird, ADB Country Director for the Philippines. “We expect this growth to further lift wage employment numbers, add to household incomes, and benefit more poor families across the archipelago.”

The Philippines remained one of the strongest growing economies in Southeast Asia in 2017. Domestic investment recorded 9% growth last year, moderating from a brisk 23.7% in 2016, although growth in fixed investment in industrial machinery, transport equipment, and public construction remained robust. Household consumption grew by 5.8% in 2017, from 7% in 2016, on the back of higher remittances and employment, with the unemployment rate falling by 1.3 percentage points to 5.3% in January 2018 as 2.4 million jobs were added. Public spending rose by 7.3% last year from 8.4% in 2016.

Consumer price inflation reached 3.2% last year from 1.8% in 2016 due to strong economic growth, higher international fuel prices, and Philippine peso depreciation, but well within the 2% to 4% target by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas—the country’s central bank. The country’s external debt further declined to 23.3% of GDP in 2017, from 24.5% of GDP in 2016.

Moving forward, ADB projects services will continue to drive GDP growth, along with manufacturing and construction industries. The approval of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law in December 2017 will augment tax revenues and provide additional fiscal space for more progressive public spending. The policy reforms are expected to yield additional 90 billion to 144 billion Philippine pesos ($1.73 billion to $2.76 billion) in tax revenue collection in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

With economic growth gaining momentum, inflation is projected to reach 4% in 2018 as global oil and food prices rise, and higher excise taxes on some commodities take effect. In 2019, meanwhile, inflation is expected to marginally decline to 3.9%.

The report notes there are external risks to the Philippines’ growth outlook from heightened volatility in international financial markets and uncertainty about global trade openness, although the country’s strong external payments position would cushion these effects.

A major policy challenge to the country’s growth outlook, according to the report, is managing the rollout of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, which is expected to raise public infrastructure spending to 7.3% of GDP by 2022 from 4.5% in 2016. The report provides suggestions on ways to enhance government capacity, including strengthening coordination between government agencies and improving technical capacity of staff within these agencies, and fostering stronger partnerships between government agencies, the private sector, and development partners.

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Southeast Asia

Why does the Indonesian government opt for China but ignore Japan in the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project?

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After the G-20 agenda, Jokowi and Xi Jinping took the time to witness the online trial of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project jointly by the two countries, in Bali.[1] The project, which is predicted to be completed in the middle of next year in 2023[2], is an Indonesian mega project that has attracted a lot of public attention. This project cannot be separated from the dynamics of competition involving Japan and China in the early stages of its submission.

In this article, I explain why the Indonesian government finally opted for China over Japan in constructing its high-speed train. The reasons behind I resume from the reports of both Indonesian media and government websites. Then I add my opinion to each reason and how much it influence decision-making.

Introduction

The high-speed rail project connects two of Indonesia’s most densely populated cities: Jakarta and Bandung. The program actually has been planned in advance by the Indonesian government since the era of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in 2012.[3]

At that time, Japan was the first to be involved in its development plan. Through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan has conducted a feasibility study on the project. However, after the era of Indonesian leadership changed, the plans for the project mandate shifted as well.[4]

Under Jokowi, Japan was no longer prioritized to continue the construction of high-speed trains. According to one of the leading Indonesian media, Kompas, Japan whereas has spent 3.5 million US dollars just to conduct the feasibility study since 2014.[5] Japan was disappointed with the decision of new Indonesian government to prefer China over the project. The disappointment was expressed by his ambassador for Indonesia, Yasuaki Tanizaki. He expressed his dissatisfaction with two things. First, the feasibility fund for the study Japan had issued was big enough, and second, technologically, Japan should be undoubted for the project.[6]

The government’s choice over China in the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project in addition to causing disappointment for Japan also emerged in wild assumption in the public that Indonesian state-owned companies in the construction of high-speed trains will be taken control by China if something bad happened later on.[7] One of the Indonesian elites who are worried about this is Yusril Ihza Mahendra, according to him, “If they are (Indonesian state-owned companies) unable to pay, it is not impossible that China will acquire shares in the four state-owned companies consortiums. So, China started to control our state-owned companies”.[8]

The issue that the Jokowi administration had fallen into the grip of Xi Jinping’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) program, indeed, spreading across the country. The rumor is further strengthened by the number of other infrastructure projects that are financed by China. People then circulated the issue about China’s debt trap. They are worried China’s kindness on the debt will burden Indonesia in the future. However, in my opinion, that perception is not based on solid evidence. Granting debt by China is true as easy and not as strict as the provisions in the IMF or World Bank, which required the implementation of the ‘Washington Consensus’ (a term introduced by John Williamson in 1989[9]). But it does not mean that the financing provided by China is perfunctory, let alone China intends to entrap its borrowing countries with debt.

Negative rumors about China are often used as campaign material for certain political elites to attack the Jokowi government. The decision to choose China over Japan, I believe, is based on careful considerations in terms of economic and political factors, with the former reason playing more important role than the latter.

Therefore, I must emphasize that Jokowi’s decision to award the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train contract to China cannot be simply concluded that Indonesia has bandwagon against China. Throughout history, Indonesia has never once sided with any major power.

In this paper, I describe at least three reasons behind Indonesia prefers China for the construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train. I summarize these reasons from various media reports in Indonesia. These arguments include consideration of financing, balancing between the Asian Great Powers, and the implementation of a comprehensive strategy agreement between both countries.

Financing Considerations

According to my analysis, the financing considerationis the most influential factor why Jokowi finally chose China for high-speed train construction. In terms of financing proposals, the Chinese offer is indeed more profitable for the Indonesian government. The reason is Indonesia does not need to use its state budget. All financing is borne by China through a business-to-business (b to b) cooperation mechanism.[10]

On the other hand, the proposal made by Japan is burdensome for the Jokowi administration. Japan only undertakes the project if the financing construction is carried out with guarantees and the project’s risks must also be borne by the Indonesian government.[11]

Jokowi’s an objection to the offer from Japan is due to the lack of funds. Indonesia does have an interest in the presence of the first high-speed rail transportation mode in Southeast Asia.[12] However, with high costs and conditions that require guarantees from the government, it will suck up financial allocations for other infrastructure development. The Indonesian government emphasized that the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project should not be a burden on the state budget. The state budget according to Jokowi, will be focused on infrastructure development outside Java. As Jokowi said at the inauguration of the construction, “Since the beginning, the construction of the speed train connecting Jakarta-Bandung did not want to use state funds, why? Because we will focus (the state budget) for infrastructure development outside Java, the budget will go there”.[13]

As quoted from the Cabinet Secretariat Website of the Republic of Indonesia, it was stated that Jokowi emphasized three things regarding the speed train development plan: “1) Not using the state budget; 2) Not with government guarantees; 3) run by business to business (B to B) mechanism, whether it’s among state-owned enterprise or among the private sector”.[14]

So financing a project by fully devolving it into a business-to-business contract mechanism is the most rational choice. It is expected to be able to cover the limited financial gap without interfering with other allocation funds. For more details, in table 1.1 below I show a comparison of the proposals submitted by each party. I summarized this data from the Liputan 6 media.[15]

Table 1.1

Comparison of High Speed Rail Proposals between Japan and China

The ComparisonChinaJapan
Project Value5.5 Billion US Dollars6,2 Billion US Dollars
Government GuaranteeWithout Indonesian Government GuaranteeRequires Indonesian Government Guarantee
Contract SystemJoint venture company with project risk borne by the ventureEngineering, procurement and construction (EPC) with the risk borne by the government
Land ProcurementNo responsibility whatsoever by the Indonesian governmentThe responsibility of the Indonesian government
Local Content58,6 Percent40 Percent
Labor Absorption39 thousand people, only Chinese experts  involved35 thousand people, many of whom are workers from Japan
Transfer TechnologyIncluding technology transferWithout offering technology transfer

Source: Liputan 6

From the two proposals submitted, China’s offer for cheaper cost and its ability without involving state finances seems more rational for Indonesian government, so that the money can be used to realize Jokowi’s infrastructure ambitions. Moreover, according to Rini Soemarno, Minister of State-Owned Enterprises, China’s commitment to technology transfer can develop the Indonesian railway industry in the future.[16]

Balancing the Asian Great Powers

Another factor that caused the government’s choice to fall to China in 2015[17] was a strategic step to balance the power between Asian superpowers. As a small country, balancing power by means of hedging – not taking sides with one party, instead of acting opportunistically by embracing both – is the best survival mechanism in an anarchic world. As said by Kuik Cheng-Chwee (2008), that hedging is an act of avoiding risk by not choosing either bandwagoning or balancing against competing superpowers.[18]

When China and Japan are competing for influence in Southeast Asia, there is no other more effective way that ASEAN countries can do, including Indonesia, except by hedging. Hedging can be concluded to be beneficial because, in addition to avoiding provocations with the superpowers on one side, it also makes Indonesia more flexible when dealing with them.

Throughout history, the dynamics of competition between Japan and China in Indonesia have only been seen after China became a Rising Power, especially when the latter tried to further expand its economic influence after successfully carrying out economic reforms under Den Xiaoping’s leadership.[19]

Japan itself has a longer history of economic ties with Indonesia than China. Indonesia-Japan economic cooperation began between 1967-1970, when the investment faucet was first opened in Indonesia.[20] At that time, Japan was the third largest investor over the country after America and the Philippines (Kompas, 1971).[21] However, in 1977, Japan became Indonesia’s first largest investor (Okada Osamu, 1979).[22] Since then until now Japan has always been a partner of Indonesia’s strategic investors.

If it compared, the number between Japanese and Chinese foreign investment in Indonesia when they were fighting for the high-speed rail contract, it can see that at that time, Japanese investment was bigger than China. As of 2014 and 2015, Japan investements respectively are as follows: 2014 (6 Billion US Dollars) and 2015 (2.9 Billion US Dollars), while China: 2014 (1.1 Billion US Dollars) and 2015 (1, 5 Billion US Dollars).[23]

However, the emergence of China as a rising power due to its economic power has forced Indonesia to adjust its behavior towards the country. Slowly but surely, China’s economic influence in Indonesia began to shift Japan’s dominance. It can first be seen from their trade value recorded by the two country which reached US$44.5 billion in 2015, while at the same time, the trade value between Japan and Indonesia only recorded a value of US$31.3 billion.[24]

From those figures, both investment and trade transaction value, I agree with one opinion from the media of VOA Indonesia that concludes Indonesia’s relationship with China and Japan is to balance the two on all sides.[25] On the one hand, Indonesia still views Japan as its important investor partner, on the other hand, Indonesia embraces China as its strategic trading partner.[26] In terms of infrastructure project development in Indonesia, Japan has also been awarded quite prestigious projects such as coal-fired power plants and the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) construction in Jakarta.[27] Therefore, picking up China for speed train project is balancing step to avoid one side unhappy.

Japan and China are important in supporting Indonesia’s economic development so that it will be a loss if Indonesia is not able to manage the dynamics of competition between the two. Embracing one side means denying other party. By selecting China as the executor for Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project, Indonesia wants to show that the country is not a bandwagon to Japan. Instead, Indonesia is always open to any party offering strategic and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Preferring China is Indonesia’s way of balancing Japan’s influence over the years. Recognized or not, as a former Indonesia’s colonizer, Japan has a great leverage to the country. By being neutral towards both, Indonesia’s bargaining power will be even greater. It can be used to maximize its profits when it comes to bidding for Indonesian interest.

The implementation of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Selecting China for the construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project also can be interpreted as a part of the implementation of the increasingly bilateral relations between the two countries. If in 2005 the ties between Indonesia and China was only limited to Strategic Partnership, in 2013 the relationship increased to a strategic comprehensive partnership. During his visit to Beijing in 2014, while attending the APEC meeting, Jokowi said this in front of Xi Jinping:

“The relationship between Indonesia and China has been going on for hundreds of years. This has become an asset for the two countries to become comprehensive strategic partners. Going forward, I want this comprehensive strategic partnership to be even more concrete”.[28]

Feng and Huang (China’s Strategic Partnership Diplomacy) as cited by Georg Struver (2017), explain that the improvement of agreement to comprehensive strategic partnership ideally must be followed by the realization of cooperation in various fields that are broader and more detailed, and with a formal mechanism.[29] In brief, the countries that have bound themselves in a comprehensive strategic partnership with China literally are ready to cooperate on a more specific and detailed agenda.[30] Futhermore, in implementing a comprehensive strategic partnership, communication channels that will facilitate exchanges between government officials are also established (Feng and Huang, China’s Strategic Partnership Diplomacy).[31]

In the context of Indonesia-China relations, further talks on a comprehensive strategic partnership occurred when Jokowi met Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2015. As announced by the official website of the cabinet secretariat of Indonesia, both agreed to realize the benefits of a strategic comprehensive partnership that were more tangible for the people of both countries.[32] During the meeting, both the Indonesian and Chinese governments issued a joint statement signing of the 8 points of cooperation, and one of these proclamations, as stated in point three, is, “The MoU between the Minister of state-owned enterprises (Indonesia) and the National Commission for Development and Reform (China) for the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail Construction Project”.[33] So, as mentioned earlier, Indonesia’s selection of China in the high-speed rail project is the next step of implementing a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Conclusion

Judging from the various factors above, China’s offer to build a fast train with the cheaper and more profitable is the main ground in choosing the country compared to the factor as balancing forces and further implementation of the commitment to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The reason is very simple. In the midst of ambitions to build infrastructure, Jokowi needs large funds, so reasons other than economic matters do not play a major role.


[1] Rangga Pandu Asmara Jingga, “Jokowi – Xi Jinping Saksikan Uji Coba Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Antara, 2022, https://www.antaranews.com/berita/3248037/jokowi-xi-jinping-saksikan-uji-coba-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung

[2] This was conveyed by Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment: “We hope that President Xi Jinping can attend the operational inauguration of the Jakarta-Bandung fast train in the middle of next year together with President Joko Widodo”. The statement quoted from the news by Rangga Pandu Asmara Jingga, “Jokowi – Xi Jinping Saksikan Uji Coba Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Antara, 2022, https://www.antaranews.com/berita/3248037/jokowi-xi-jinping-saksikan-uji-coba-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung

[3] Achmad Hanif Imaduddin, “Rekam Jejak Proyek Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung, Dikaji Era SBY dan Peletakan Batu Pertama Jokowi,” Tempo, 2022, https://bisnis.tempo.co/read/1645382/rekam-jejak-proyek-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung-dikaji-era-sby-dan-peletakan-batu-pertama-jokowi

[4] Eiben Heizier & Dwi Arjanto, “Hari Ini 6 Tahun Lalu: Kilas Balik Proyek Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung Dimulai,” Tempo, 2022, https://bisnis.tempo.co/read/1552433/hari-ini-6-tahun-lalu-kilas-balik-proyek-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung-dimulai

[5] Muhammad Idris, “Kilas Balik China-Jepang Rebutan Proyek Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Kompas, 2022, https://money.kompas.com/read/2022/07/30/081759826/kilas-balik-china-jepang-rebutan-proyek-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung?page=all

[6] Fiki Ariyanti, “Jepang Kecewa dengan RI Karena Proposal Kereta Cepat Ditolak,” Liputan 6, 2015, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2309629/jepang-kecewa-dengan-ri-karena-proposal-kereta-cepat-ditolak

[7] Idris Rusadi Putra, “Yusril Khawatir 4 BUMN Pembangun Kereta Cepat Dikuasasi Cina,” Merdeka.com, 2015, https://www.merdeka.com/uang/yusril-khawatir-4-bumn-pembangun-kereta-cepat-dikuasai-china.html

[8] Idris Rusadi Putra, “Yusril Khawatir 4 BUMN Pembangun Kereta Cepat Dikuasasi Cina,” Merdeka.com, 2015, https://www.merdeka.com/uang/yusril-khawatir-4-bumn-pembangun-kereta-cepat-dikuasai-china.html

[9] Stephen R. Hurt, “Washington Consensus,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Washington-consensus or See: Shidarta “Antara Washington, Beijing, Dan Jakarta,” Binus University, 2017, https://business-law.binus.ac.id/2017/04/16/antara-washington-beijing-dan-jakarta/

[10] Muhammad Idris, “Ini 3 Alasan China Dipilih Jokowi Garap Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Kompas, 2021, https://money.kompas.com/read/2021/10/31/180449326/ini-3-alasan-china-dipilih-jokowi-garap-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung?page=all

[11] Ilyas Istianur Praditya, “Perbedaan Proposal Proyek Kereta Cepat Cina dan Jepang,” Liputan 6, 2016, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2440916/perbedaan-proposal-proyek-kereta-cepat-china-dan-jepang

[12]Even though, the dream was realized earlier in Laos as reported by CNBC Indonesia. The media mentioned Laos had inaugurated its high-speed train on December 2, 2021. Read here:  https://www.cnbcindonesia.com/news/20211203165155-4-296523/ri-disalip-laos-negara-pertama-punya-kereta-cepat-di-asean

[13] Disfiyant Glienmourinsie, “Di Depan China, Jokowi Pamer Kereta Cepat Tak Pakai APBN,” Sindo News, 2016, https://ekbis.sindonews.com/berita/1078962/34/di-depan-china-jokowi-pamer-kereta-cepat-tak-pakai-apbn

[14] Humas Kementerian, “Tunggu Tawaran Investor, Presiden Jokowi Bantah Batalkan Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Setkab, 2015, https://setkab.go.id/tunggu-tawaran-investor-presiden-jokowi-bantah-batalkan-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung/?yop_poll_tr_id=&yop-poll-nonce-1_yp566770c865861=585cd070f7

[15] Ilyas Istianur Praditya, “Perbedaan Proposal Proyek Kereta Cepat Cina dan Jepang,” Liputan 6, 2016, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2440916/perbedaan-proposal-proyek-kereta-cepat-china-dan-jepang

[16] Ilyas Istianur Praditya, “Perbedaan Proposal Proyek Kereta Cepat Cina dan Jepang,” Liputan 6, 2016, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2440916/perbedaan-proposal-proyek-kereta-cepat-china-dan-jepang

[17] Intan Umbar Prihatin, “Indonesia pilih China garap proyek kereta cepat, Jepang marah-marah,” Merdeka, 2015, https://www.merdeka.com/peristiwa/indonesia-pilih-china-garap-proyek-kereta-cepat-jepang-marah-marah.html

[18] Ahmad Nurcholis, “Indonesia Joins The AIIB: Bandwagoning or Hedging Strategy?,” (Thesis, Shandong University, 2020), 7.

[19] Ezra F Vogel, “China under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership,” East Asia Forum, 2011, https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2011/09/27/china-under-deng-xiaopings-leadership/

[20] Miftakhul Rizki, “Investasi Asing Jepang Di Indonesia Masa Orde Baru Tahun 1967-1974,” Avatara, Volume 1, Nomor 2 (Mei, 2013): 235

[21] Miftakhul Rizki, “Investasi Asing Jepang Di Indonesia Masa Orde Baru Tahun 1967-1974,” Avatara, Volume 1, Nomor 2 (Mei, 2013): 235.

[22] Miftakhul Rizki, “Investasi Asing Jepang Di Indonesia Masa Orde Baru Tahun 1967-1974,” Avatara, Volume 1, Nomor 2 (Mei, 2013): 235.

[23] Data is processed from various sources: Kata Data (https://databoks.katadata.co.id/datapublish/2016/08/03/5-negara-investasi-terbesar-di-indonesia-2014), Tempo (https://bisnis.tempo.co/read/738350/singapura-teratas-dari-5-investor-asing-terbesar-ri-2015), Kata Data (https://databoks.katadata.co.id/datapublish/2016/08/04/5-negara-dengan-investasi-terbesar-ke-indonesia-2015), Loka Data (https://lokadata.beritagar.id/chart/preview/5-negra-dengan-nilai-investasi-asing-terbesar-di-indonesia-2015-2020-1597724790)

[24] Kata Data, “2015, Perdagangan Indonesia-China Capai 15 Persen,” Kata Data, 2016, https://databoks.katadata.co.id/datapublish/2016/12/07/2015-perdagangan-indonesia-cina-capai-15-persen

[25] VOA, “Indonesia Lebih Suka China daripada Jepang untuk Proyek Kereta Api,” VOA, 2015, https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/indonesia-lebih-suka-china-daripada-jepang-untuk-proyek-kereta-api/2939028.html

[26] VOA, “Indonesia Lebih Suka China daripada Jepang untuk Proyek Kereta Api,” VOA, 2015, https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/indonesia-lebih-suka-china-daripada-jepang-untuk-proyek-kereta-api/2939028.html

[27] VOA, “Indonesia Lebih Suka China daripada Jepang untuk Proyek Kereta Api,” VOA, 2015, https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/indonesia-lebih-suka-china-daripada-jepang-untuk-proyek-kereta-api/2939028.html

[28] Rustam Agus, “Jokowi Ingin Kerja Sama Dengan Tiongkok Lebih Nyata,” Bisnis.com, 2014, https://kabar24.bisnis.com/read/20141109/19/271461/jokowi-ingin-kerja-sama-dengan-tiongkok-lebih-nyata

[29] Georg Struver, “China’s Partnership Diplomacy: International Alignment Based on Interests or Ideology,” The Chinese Journal of International Politics, (2017): 45.

[30] Ibid., 45.

[31] Ibid., 45.

[32] Humas Sekretariat Kabinet, “Disaksikan Presiden Jokowi dan Presiden Xi Jinping, RI-RRT Tandatangani 8 Kerjasama,” Setkab, 2015, https://setkab.go.id/presiden-rrt-xi-jinping-sambut-presiden-jokowi-dengan-upacara-kenegaraan/

[33] Humas Sekretariat Kabinet, “Disaksikan Presiden Jokowi dan Presiden Xi Jinping, RI-RRT Tandatangani 8 Kerjasama,” Setkab, 2015, https://setkab.go.id/presiden-rrt-xi-jinping-sambut-presiden-jokowi-dengan-upacara-kenegaraan/

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Can ‘border guard’ diplomacy strengthen ties between Myanmar-Bangladesh?

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photo: The Irrawaddy

The 8th Border Conference between Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) has started. The conference, which started today Thursday (November 24, 2022) in Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw, will continue for 5 days.

A 10-member delegation led by BGB Director General Major General Sakil Ahmed participated in the conference. In addition to the senior officials of BGB, the delegation includes representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand, a 15-member delegation led by Myanmar Police Force Deputy Chief of Police Major General Aung Naing Thuy participated in the conference. Apart from senior BGP officials, the team includes representatives from the ministries of Defence, Home Affairs, External Affairs and Immigration and Population Affairs.

The conference started with a formal meeting at 9 am local time in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw on Thursday (November 24).

In the conference, de-escalation of the tense situation on the border caused by the recent internal conflict in Myanmar, violation of airspace, combating inter-state terrorism and preventing the activities of cross-border criminal gangs, prevention of illegal infiltration, prevention of other drugs and human trafficking including yaba and crystal meth ice, increasing mutual cooperation in the overall security of the border, Exchange of various information related to the border, conducting joint patrols, organizing regular coordination meetings or flag meetings at the region and battalion levels, repatriation of detained or imprisoned citizens of both countries, return of forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens to their original homeland and discussion on various ways to increase mutual trust between BGB and BGP will be.

In addition, the conference will have very effective and fruitful discussions on the repatriation of detained or imprisoned citizens of both countries, the return of forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens to their original homelands and various ways to increase mutual trust between BGB-BGP. The Bangladesh delegation is scheduled to return to Dhaka after the conference on November 28.

A flag meeting was held between a nine-member Bangladesh delegation led by the captain of Teknaf 2 BGB Battalion and a nine-member delegation led by Lt. Col. Kao Na Yan Shor, commanding officer of Border Guard Police Branch No. 1, Myanmar Maungdu, at Shahpari Island in Cox’s bazar on Sunday at 10 am.

Last August and September, massive gunfire and mortar shelling erupted between the country’s army and the Arakan Army, an insurgent group in Rakhine state, inside Myanmar on the Tumbru border in Naikshyongchari. On August 28, two shells fired by Myanmar landed in the territory of Bangladesh. Bangladesh strongly protested by summoning the Myanmar ambassador several times over the incident of firing on the border.

In a flag meeting on October 30 at Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) both expressed remorse for recent border incidents. BGB discussed the issue of border shelling at the beginning of the meeting. Several times there were protests against mortar shells and helicopter flights violating the airspace inside Bangladesh.

Myanmar expressed grief over the border tension, helicopter flights, firing and mortar fire from Myanmar and the loss of life and property on the border of Bangladesh. Also, Myanmar’s BGP has promised that such incidents will not happen in future. At the same time, BGB-BGP agreed to work together on the border situation. The meeting discussed working to stop infiltration, drug smuggling.

BGP pledged to uphold a peaceful stance on the border in order to prevent the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar from being impacted by the civil war in Myanmar. Such a meeting demonstrates that all parties have a culture of open communication, mutual trust, and confidence that will serve to clear the road for the repatriation of the Rohingya.

The border conference between Myanmar-Bangladesh gives senior leaders of participating militaries and security personnel the chance to forge closer ties of friendship and collaboration. Participants are also able to share best practices and lessons learned.

Additionally, it strengthens participants’ mutual understanding of each other’s advantages and main challenges in border regions, fostering cooperation in the face of transnational threats.

The militaries cooperate to find solutions to problems that they share and to look for chances for training exchanges between the participating countries. Myanmar and Bangladesh both can consider the conference to be a crucial occasion for Armies to comprehend the regional ties.

Recognizing that it is more difficult to detect security issues such as transnational threats, narcotrafficking, illicit mining, illegal immigration, and other transnational crime in the border areas due to their thick topography.

The security of the border is a challenge and a shared goal for all neighboring states. Our two countries have long-standing cooperation, but it was strengthened between the two forces with this conference, strengthening cooperation and building trust measures, which is a key factor in achieving hemispheric security objectives. The participants can openly discuss the issues at hand as well as the successful solutions put forth in each nation.

Bangladesh and Myanmar must place a high priority on maintaining a secure state border and takes the necessary precautions to stop the flow of terrorist combatants, illicit drug and weapon trafficking, and other international organized crime.

Cross-border and other security threats have grown more complicated over the past few years, and difficulties are piling up quickly. Threats including international organized crime, human trafficking, terrorism, and drug trafficking are too great for any state to handle on its own. It is essential to increase cooperation on both a regional and global scale.

We encourage regional cooperation to increase readiness and foster confidence in fending off global dangers while upholding human rights.

In order to combat terrorism and violent extremism within border security and management and implement the holistic approach to security, both parties should emphasize the importance of enhancing cooperation between the government, law enforcement, and civil society. Results are only attained by employing comprehensive and constructive – hard and soft – solutions to border security management including both government, security and defense enforcement forces and civil society players.

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Southeast Asia

Sustain instability in Myanmar is censure to India’s Act East Policy: Time for Proactive measure

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Myanmar’s political situation is worsening and will remain so, as the UN special envoy for Myanmar warns of an acute political, human rights, and humanitarian crisis. The Arakan Army (AA), having a ceasefire with the military just before the coup, is now fighting against Tatmadaw (now Sit-Tat), and a fierce battle is going on in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The recent conflict poses considerable security implications for regional security in particular and India’s internal security in the northeast region, with the military resorting to harsh crackdowns with lethal weapons, even fighter aircraft.

Current situation 

The implication of AA raising arms against Sit-tat is huge as; first; AA is one of the most influential, more disciplined, well-equipped Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs) and is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with for the military junta. Second, it will shift the balance of power toward the resistance forces. Previously, the AA has trained and provided technical support to numerous armed forces resistance groups. It enhances the National Unity Government (NUGs)-a group of ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) politicians, activists, and representatives of several ethnic minority group strength to fight Sit-Tat. Recently, NUG claimed that People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) and allied EROs effectively control half of Myanmar’s territory and demanded official recognition at the 77th UN general assembly. Seeing losing grip, the Sit-Tat extended its hand to negotiate with various armed groups. However, many armed groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and Chin National Army (CNA), refused to negotiate on the pretext that the peace talk is not inclusive without the participation of NUG. 

With Sit-Tat getting overwhelming support from Russia and China, India’s policy toward Myanmar is that of ‘Twin-Track.’ The policy maker fears taking any black-and-white approach considering the hard-earned peace in the northeast region after decades of insurgency.

Previously, under operation sunrise, Sit-Tat helped India to ambush insurgents in its territory. The ASEAN nations were initially hopeful of negotiations and came up with a five-point action plan to solve the crisis but now banned the Myanmar generals ASEAN until any progress on the peace plan. The Western sanctions remain primarily ineffective due to prolonged isolation and the self-sustaining economy of Myanmar, but a change in the policy, especially from India, with Western countries’ support, can change Myanmar’s situation.

Challenge to India’s Internal Security 

With people’s perception toward Sit-Tat is shifting drastically since the coup, and now people are calling it ရွံစရာ (jun zaja), which means loathsomeness and disgust. The image of Sit-Tat will continue to deteriorate, considering its human rights violations, which was not the case during the previous military rule. According to the UN report, more than 1.3 million people have been displaced, nearly 28,000 homes destroyed, and an undetermined number of innocent people, mainly children and women, have lost their lives following the coup. With over 40,000 Myanmar refugees taking shelter at 60 camps in Mizoram, the situation is posing a serious challenge to India’s national security. The current crisis has blocked India’s gateway to the southeast Asian nation and India’s ambitious Act East Policy (AEP) is at a standstill. AEP without a stable Myanmar is neither fruitful nor feasible. Also, continuous infighting and the increasing influence of EAOs have reduced the sit-tat capacity to support India’s counter-insurgency operations. Further, the reports of the Myanmar junta joining hands with the Indian insurgent group has forced India to contemplate reorienting northeast India’s security apparatus. 

On the other hand, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) repeated incursion at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) pushed New Delhi to deploy the Indian army at the border, keeping the responsibility of COIN operations with Assam Rifle. Currently, only one army brigade of more than 35 out of 46 battalions of Assam Rifle (AR) is available for COIN operation. There is a massive workforce shortage of AR personnel at the Myanmar border, and even the customs department faces a crunch of human resources and inadequate warehouse facilities, leading to increased drug trafficking and illegal trade along the border. Various reports show the increase in drug trafficking and smuggling of exotic animals in northeast India, Southeast Asia, and beyond following the Myanmar coup. The possibility that the ‘Golden Triangle,’ infamous for illegal drug trafficking, converting ‘into the ‘Golden Quadrilateral,’ i.e., the Northeast region becoming a prominent hub for drug smuggling, is relatively high and goes beyond ‘urgent attention.’ 

Changing Approach

India must change course from ‘Twin -Track’ to that of proactiveness and start supporting democratic forces. Myanmar, which is so critical and at crossroads to ‘India’s Neighbourhood First policy and AEP, is not finding a due place in India’s foreign policy initiative and lacks ‘Myanmar consciousness‘ as well advocated by Jaideep Chanda in his book ‘Irrawaddy Imperative: Reviewing India’s Myanmar Strategy.’ However, there is a sharp contrast in China’s policy initiative. Despite the situation in Myanmar, China vows to provide unconditional support to the military junta and is even considering pursuing EAOs to stop supporting pro-democracy forces and recognise the military junta. Therefore, India’s strategic manoeuvre must be in sync with India’s policy initiative and must be bold in taking any black-and-white approach. The resolution comes from the power of strength and not from maintaining the status quo. 

With the prevailing situation, chances are dim that Sit-Tat can establish control over the country. Further, neither the UN nor the ASEAN countries have recognized the military junta. Also, next year’s proposed election will undoubtedly fall short of international standards for free and fair elections, leading to further crises. In this regard, India’s foreign policy regarding Myanmar seems passive; thereby, India must make course corrections and support democratic forces. India’s support will strengthen New Delhi’s connection with Myanmar’s people and improve its global image as a democratic country, somewhat dented by India’s undeclared support to Russia in the ongoing conflict. New Delhi’s stake in Myanmar is very high; the Kaladan multi-modal project, which is supposed to connect the northeast region with the Bay of Bengal and a trilateral highway that extends India’s reach to Thailand, is yet to be completed. Further, apart from forging ties with the democratic forces, New Delhi must look into changing the security apparatus of Northeast India. This change in security apparatus requires making Assam Rifle purely a border guarding force and enhancing the capability and capacity of state police forces in dealing with the insurgency in the region. Therefore, New Delhi needs a holistic correction in its national security apparatus in northeast India and must keep its strategic initiative in line with its Act East Policy. Failing to do so allows other state actors like China and Russia to play a more significant role where India’s initiative could make a difference.

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