“The stability and prosperity of our region,” Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad claimed earlier this week, “rely heavily on a united and integrated ASEAN.” The call for regional unity came as Malaysia’s prime minister was conferred an honorary doctorate in Thailand in the field of social leadership, entrepreneurship and politics, an occasion that marked Mahathir’s second visit to the country since winning a landmark election in May this year. His earlier visit saw him pledge to facilitate peace in the southern border provinces of Thailand amid a persistent separatist insurgency.
While his speech may have been stirring, Mahathir’s grandiose vision of a more unified ASEAN community does not extend to his own government’s policies, at least judging by the escalating border dispute Putrajaya has ignited in recent weeks with neighbouring Singapore. The same Mahathir that called for regional unity in Thailand is refusing to remove ships from disputed waters, while a senior member of his party threatened Singapore with “pain by a thousand cuts”. The provocative language harkens back to the long and tense relationship between the two countries since their 1965 split, with boundary issues typically flaring up in parallel with domestic politics.
This latest dispute straddles two sets of issues. On the maritime side, Malaysia’s October claim to extended limits of the Johor Bahru port has been rejected by Singapore on the grounds that the new boundaries exceed previous claims. In terms of airspace, Malaysia has voiced opposition to the Instrument Landing System (ILS), an assisted navigational aviation facility for Seletar Airport. Malaysia protests the system’s implementation on the grounds that it infringes on national sovereignty and creates adverse impacts on flight paths and shipping in Pasir Gudang.
Mahathir’s renewed aggression toward Singapore marks a notable about-face from predecessor NajibRazak’s efforts to build stronger ties between Malaysia and the city-state. Najib sought to increase mutual trust through cross-border infrastructure and education projects. “We certainly do not want to return to the era of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric between our two countries,” he declared earlier this year in a barely-veiled barb at Mahathir’s preceding stint in office. “It was an era that we want to forget.”
That attitude was echoed by international observers, who held high hopes for bilateral relations upon Mahathir’s election as PM in May despite his widely-known frosty attitude towards Singapore. A few months in, those hopes have given way to somber disillusionment. The tensions of the past several weeks have revived uncomfortable memories of cross-causeway relations during Mahathir’s first stint in power, when he ruled Malaysia with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003.
One focal point of tensions is Mahathir’s so-called 2001 “crooked bridge” plan, designed to replace the causeway linking the two countries with a bridge to allow ships to cross the Johor Strait. Singapore refused to back the project, declaring the bridge unnecessary as long as the causeway was in good condition. Mahathir’s insistence on building Malaysia’s end of the bridge, and more recent attempts to revive project discussions, have confirmed fears that his return to power would revive old issues previously laid to rest.
It’s difficult to determine exactly why Mahathir is so blatantly after confrontation with Singapore. Two main theories have emerged to explain the PM’s enmity towards Malaysia’s tiny neighbour. According to the first theory, the idiosyncratic Mahathir holds a grudge from his university days in Singapore, where he faced anti-Malay prejudice and condescension from Singaporeans.
Mahathir does indeed have a history of holding grudges. Long before the Seletar airport issue and the revival of the Johor Strait bridge project, Mahathir had one-time protégé Anwar Ibrahim thrown in jail on trumped up sodomy charges after they disagreed over financial policy in the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Anwar, who has since re-emerged as a critical political ally for Mahathir, was just one of a long list of political opponents to suffer similar fates during Mahathir’s first tenure.
That trend has carried over into the premier’s second term. Having already spoken at length of his soured impression of successor Abdullah Badawi, the newly reinstated leader is now going after predecessor Najib. Arrested in July in connection with the billion-dollar corruption scandal surrounding state investment fund 1MDB, Malaysia has also filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs for its involvement in the embezzlement of large sums of money. The unfolding case against Najib is being held up as a litmus test of Mahathir’s commitment to justice. The supposedly “bitter” Mahathir is unlikely to disappoint.
The second theory, however, may offer a more straightforward explanation. It suggests Mahathir is using this latest spat with Singapore as a means of drawing attention away from domestic problems. A Nikkei Asian Review report released earlier this year held Mahathir’s government responsible for a rapidly declining ringgit, with the new administration lacking in substantial new economic policies and failing to curb capital outflow.
Mahathir’s economic woes are compounded by rising concerns over Malaysia’s ballooning debt. In the wake of the 1MDB scandal, realizations that government debt exceeds RM1 trillion – more than $238 billion – are ringing national alarm bells. The benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Composite Index has fallen nearly ten percent since Mahathir took office.
Amid rising debt, dubious economic policies, and broken election promises, Mahathir’s comments in Thailand earlier this week belied what could very well be a conscious strategy of exploiting regional tensions to maintain domestic control. While ASEAN unity almost certainly is the only path to shared regional prosperity, Mahathir does not seem to be to be listening to his own advice.
Biden’s ASEAN Summit Absence Sparks Multilateral Concerns
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.
Regulating Quality Journalism: A Mission Impossible Against Algorithm
Authors: Hanif Abdul Halim and Haekal Al Asyari*
Due to the shift in modes of communication from mass to personalized media; concerns of digital platforms monopolizing the news have risen. Several issues surrounding publisher rights, disinformation, and journalist ethics become a wakeup call for legislators.
The idea of a regulation that holds global digital platforms responsible for providing economic value to news content produced by local and national media has surfaced since National Press Day in 2020. On the commemoration of National Press Day last February, President Joko Widodo requested the Ministry of Communication and Informatics, the Press Council, and related stakeholders to finalize the clauses regarding publisher rights that will be included in the Presidential Decree Bill.
The Indonesian media industry has been anxious for quite some time with the presence of applications such as Baca Berita (Babe) which seem to gain more profit from news content than the media outlets that produce it. With the Bill including publisher rights, the media will receive some form of royalty for content distributed on digital platforms such as search engines (Google), social media (Facebook or X), and news aggregators (Google News, Yahoo News, LINE News) that fetches media content with no revenue share. Until today, the Bill in question ‘Presidential Regulation (Perpres) concerning Digital Platform Responsibility for Quality Journalism’ still awaits the President’s approval.
The Bill’s pain points
Seeing its purpose, the draft regulation considers several things related to the responsibility of digital platform companies to prevent fake news and respect for copyrights. Such companies are expected to be responsible for supporting quality journalism by upholding information sovereignty and algorithm transparency. In addition, media companies and digital platforms are also asked to work together regarding profit sharing to protect publisher rights.
However, the Bill is also seen as a threat by digital platforms and content creators. There are at least two issues of the draft that must be highlighted. First is the potential for abuse of power from the government which could endanger freedom of information. This is based on the obligation of digital platform companies to prevent the dissemination and commercialization of content that is deemed to not be in accordance with the Journalistic Code of Ethics. According to article 7(b) of the Bill, Digital platforms are required to remove content which are inconsistent with the Journalistic Code of Ethics based on recommendations from the Press Council. Currently, anyone could make a living in the digital realm if they understand the rules of the game. However, the presence of this regulation will give the Press Council power over which content creators could be monetized and which cannot.
Second, the public is also worried that in the future digital platforms would oppose to the regulation or even threaten to leave Indonesia if the Bill is left unrevised. Until now, at least two platform companies (Meta and Google) have expressed their objections. Google has stated that if the draft is issued without revisions, it could potentially limit news online and only benefit a small number of conventional media companies, leaving a negative impact on the digital news ecosystem.
Quality journalism and digital platforms
For the most part, quality journalism aims to uncover and educate readers about facts that are matters of public concerns by keeping with journalistic ethics of independence, transparency, trustworthiness, and objectivity. But it is a contention whether all digital platforms involve themselves in the activities of journalism and whether adherence to the code of ethics could ensure quality.
The Bill assumes digital platforms to be under the same scope of ‘journalists’ bound by the Journalistic Code of Ethics. According to the Code, they are expected to act independently, produce news that is accurate, balanced and in good faith. Furthermore, Digital platforms would be expected to fact-check the information, as well as to immediately retract, correct, and verify inaccurate news accompanied by an apology to its readers, listeners and or viewers. This would also apply to user generated content (“UGC”) since the Code of Ethics is synchronized with the Cyber Media reporting guidelines.
The algorithmic dilemma
The stressing point is who will determine whether a journalistic product is in accordance with the Code or not. For those who are in favor of the Bill, believe that the Journalistic Code of Ethics must be trusted to the Press Council as the institution possessing legal basis. With a note that the ‘executors’ of the bill ought to be independent, professional, and free from the interests of the Government, digital platforms or media companies.
On the contrary, those who are against the Bill criticizes the danger of granting authority to a non-governmental body the power to determine what content appears online and which news publishers are allowed to earn advertising revenue.
It is a contestation between the longstanding presence of the Press Council as a main actor in protecting freedom of the press and the inevitable algorithm of digital platforms. The speed and accuracy of the algorithms owned by Meta, Google, and others alike in recent years have become the answer to people’s needs for fast and accurate information. The algorithm allows search engines to move in a fraction of a second, presenting news personalized according to our interests.
Regulating digital platforms and news media
Efforts to regulate news and the digital media are not only carried out in Indonesia. In 2022 the Government of Canada issued a law to ensure fair profit sharing between digital platforms and news providers as well as strengthen media collective bargaining. The Canadian government observed the dominance of platform companies in the media ecosystem to be unbalanced because of platform providers earning far greater profits compared to media companies that produced the news.
Similarly, the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) was issued to regulate the relationship between digital platforms and conventional media, stipulating that conventional media can request special treatment from digital platforms in relation to the way their content is moderated. Such special treatment includes platforms providing reasons why content will be rented and guarantees that their complaints will be ‘processed and resolved with priority and without undue delay’. If the media find that their content or news is often stung – if not removed – by digital platforms, then the act provides space for media and digital platforms to amicably solve their disputes.
Ensuring freedom of information
One of the signs of deteriorating media industry is the decline of conventional media newsroom; despite their presence of guarding the nation for decades. The impact that digital companies have had on this situation is difficult to deny. With their system and algorithm, digital platforms could become an oligopoly group that controls the mass media market in Indonesia.
All in all, the Government’s support behind the Bill is motivated by the best of intentions. However, it should be kept in mind that ensuring quality journalism must always be well balanced with the freedom of information and public interest.
*Haekal Al Asyari is a Law Lecturer at Universitas Gadjah Mada and a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Debrecen, Hungary.
Empowering Communities and Achieving Sustainable Development: CODI’s Housing Initiatives in Thailand
Bangkok, the vibrant heart of Thailand, presents a paradoxical landscape. While gleaming skyscrapers and luxurious condos grace its skyline, numerous slums persist, housing a substantial portion of the city’s population. In response to this pressing issue, I, as a writer deeply passionate about sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), would like to shed light on the transformative initiatives led by the Community Organisation Development Institute (CODI). These endeavours not only provide secure housing but also align with key SDGs, specifically SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).
Empowering Communities Through CODI
CODI, a public organisation, was established in 2000 to address housing and land insecurity. Its mission revolves around supporting community organisations and their networks, striving to enhance living standards, income, housing, and environmental conditions in both urban and rural settings. CODI’s approach integrates financial support, coordination with government and non-governmental entities, and community cooperation, aligning with multiple SDGs, including SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).
CODI’s approach to empowering local communities goes beyond just providing housing; it fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility among residents. This community-driven model not only addresses immediate housing needs but also creates a platform for residents to actively participate in decision-making processes regarding their living conditions. This empowerment aligns with SDG 11’s vision of sustainable cities and communities by promoting inclusivity and resilience from within.
Linking CODI’s Efforts to SDGs
- SDG 1: No Poverty
CODI’s initiatives are instrumental in alleviating poverty by providing secure and affordable housing options for the urban and rural poor.
- SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being
Improved living conditions, access to clean water, and sanitation facilities through CODI’s efforts directly impact the health and well-being of slum residents.
- SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
The Baan Mankong Collective Housing Programme, launched in 2003, exemplifies CODI’s commitment to creating sustainable and inclusive urban communities. By upgrading slum housing city-wide, CODI contributes significantly to this goal.
The alignment of CODI’s initiatives with multiple SDGs underscores the interconnectedness of sustainable development goals. For instance, improved housing and living conditions (SDG 11) have a direct positive impact on the health and well-being (SDG 3) of residents, breaking the cycle of poverty (SDG 1) in the long run. This holistic approach reflects CODI’s understanding of the complex web of challenges that slum communities face and the need for multifaceted solutions.
Baan Mankong Programme: A Model for Slum Upgrading
The Baan Mankong Programme, the jewel in CODI’s crown, is Thailand’s city-wide slum upgrading initiative. Launched in 2003, it embodies a community-driven development approach with national policy support. The programme aims to resolve housing and land insecurity issues for the nation’s poorest urban citizens, directly contributing to SDG 1, SDG 3, and SDG 11.
The Baan Mankong Programme’s success lies not only in its scale but also in its adaptability to diverse urban contexts. It demonstrates that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for sustainable development. By tailoring solutions to the specific needs and conditions of different communities, CODI exemplifies a nuanced approach that can be replicated in various global urban settings facing similar challenges.
Measuring Success: CODI’s Impact
CODI’s endeavours have not been in vain. Over the years, they have successfully implemented projects in numerous communities, benefiting thousands of households. Through flexible finance options, community participation, and policy support, CODI has made significant strides towards achieving SDGs 1, 3, and 11.
CODI’s ability to secure funding and navigate policy frameworks highlights the importance of collaboration between government agencies and non-governmental organisations in achieving sustainable development goals. This collaborative approach ensures that initiatives are not only successful but also sustainable in the long term.
Conclusion: Charting a Sustainable Future
CODI’s dedication to improving housing and living conditions for slum dwellers in Thailand aligns seamlessly with several Sustainable Development Goals. By addressing the issue of slum housing, they contribute to reducing poverty (SDG 1), promoting sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), and enhancing the health and well-being of residents (SDG 3). As a passionate advocate for sustainability and the SDGs, I believe CODI’s commitment to empowering communities serves as a beacon of hope in the pursuit of a more equitable and sustainable world.
In the backdrop of bustling Bangkok, CODI’s work stands as a testament to the transformative power of community-driven development and the invaluable role it plays in achieving the global SDGs.
CODI’s success in addressing slum housing challenges in Bangkok provides a valuable blueprint for similar initiatives worldwide. It emphasises the significance of local empowerment, collaborative approaches, and tailored solutions in achieving sustainable development. CODI’s story serves as an inspiration for global efforts to tackle the complex and interconnected challenges of poverty, health, and urban development in an ever-changing world.
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