After the civilian-democratic transition in Myanmar, the western sanctions on trade and investment in the country were lifted. This led to a huge inflow of foreign direct investment in key infrastructural sectors and energy sector because of the nascent stage of economic progress in the conflict-torn country. Regional giants like China and Japan as well as ASEAN countries have been increasing their economic aid, assistance and cooperation with the country notwithstanding the humanitarian concerns raised by international community. The Chinese involvement in the region, especially its investment in big infrastructure and energy projects in Rakhine province have been a subject of international deliberation and criticism. However, Japan too has been competing with China to check its hegemonic ambitions under the One Belt One Road initiative. Consequently, it has been increasing its existing economic cooperation and financial investment in Myanmar since 2012. Japan’s overall investment pale in comparison to that of China (which over the past 30 years has invested, while it did peak to 1.48 Billion USD in 2017. As of July 2018, Japan was number 10 in terms of investment, while China was number 1.
Japanese involvement in Myanmar has various layers; investments in infrastructure projects ( a strong example being rail system in Yangon), Thilawa SEZ Project, (Japan’s Industrial Decisions firm as well as Marubeni are involved in two coal projects, as well as assistance in capacity building. Significantly, a survey last year revealed that Myanmar population prefers Japanese because investments have resulted in job creation, and assistance to small and medium enterprises. This is also because of the generous loan agreements and economic grants that Japan has made while having a balanced relationship with the erstwhile Junta and the resurgent democratic polity. Resentment against China is not restricted to Myanmar, but has been evident in Africa, South East Asia and even South Asia. The phenomena of Debt Trap Diplomacy has accentuated it as China takes back every last penny and that too at prohibitively high rates.
Japan’s involvement in Rakhine State
While Myanmar has been showcasing the Thilawa SEZ (49% is owned by JICA and three Japanese banks) as one of it’s successes. Japan has been pro-actively involved in development of the Rakhine State (while the state is rich in natural resources, a significant percentage of population is below the poverty line). Foreign Minister visited Japan twice last year and in January 2019, Ms. Toshiko Abe, State Minister for Foreign Affairs visited Republic of the Union of Myanmar and issues pertaining to the Rakhine State were discussed. During her visit to Japan in October 2018, Aung San Suu Kyi had praised Japan for being understanding towards Myanmar’s stand on the Rohingya issue. While Aung San Suu Kyi has been facing widespread criticism for her lacklustre and indifferent approach towards the grave human rights violations against rohingya population, she has been seeking support of the investors like Japan to emphasize the fact that Myanmar being a young democracy can not take decisive action against these violations and acting against military establishment would imperil the stability of democratic government. Nevertheless, Tokyo has been providing noteworthy assistance in state capacity building and economic revival of the Rakhine state. Only recently, the Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA], and the Japan External Trade Organization [JETRO organized the Rakhine State Forum (February 21-23,2019). State Chancellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, made it a point to mention both these organisations during her address.
While China has invested in Rakhine State. A pipeline which commences from Kyaupkyu in Rakhine and extends till Yunnan Province in China, was inaugurated in April 2018 and China has also tried to play a role in resolving Rohingya Crisis. Tokyo’s approach towards Rakhine has been far more holistic. Japanese Envoy in an interview to the media, stated that the only way out was all round development – which included economics and politics. The Envoy also said that they would try to draw more investment
In 2018, Japan had announced assistance of over 20 Million USD for the conflict torn region. The Government of Japan and eight United Nations Agencies also signed a US$ 37 million value agreement to implement humanitarian and development projects in Shan, Kachin and Rakhine States.
While Japan is playing an important role in ensuring that Myanmar looks beyond China, it will also need to play a role in convincing Suu Kyi to adopt a different role towards Human Rights Issues and avoid curbs on the press (last year two Reuter’s journalists were arrested). While Suu Kyi has been trying to obfuscate, this will not be possible in the long run. The widespread concerns about the ongoings in Myanmar have a huge negative associative value for foreign investors who otherwise view an exceptional economic advantage in this highly under-developed and naturally endowed region with cheap labour. The fact, that some European companies have begun to exit from Myanmar, as a result of the Human Rights violations and EU is has threatened to withdraw the GSP is a strong reiteration of this point. Since investment inflows have a positive network effect that goes beyond geopolitical rivalries, it is important for the existing investors like Japan to urge the Myanmar goverment to take robust action to hold human rights violators accountable. This would go a long way in ensuring the sustainability of economic leverage that Myanmar possesses and lead to a paradigm of socio-economic stability in the region. Given the fact, that Japan, a democracy, is one of the key players in promoting the idea of a ‘Free and Open India Pacific’ (to check China’s rise) it is in a good position to do so. Myanmar will need to decide which path it needs to take – that of other authoritarian states in the region – or of a robust democracy, Japan can play an important role in the same.
*Prannv Dhawan leads the India Pakistan Research Project at the Council for International Relations and International Law. He is also a BA LLB Hons student at the National Law School University, Bangalore.
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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