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Indo-Pacific region and elections in New Caledonia

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The results of the May 12, 2019 parliamentary elections in New Caledonia reflect a lingering political split in this French territory, comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific. French loyalists won 28 seats in the 54-strong local legislature, just two seats more than the advocates of the region’s greater autonomy and even complete independence from Paris.

The local society is divided along political and geographical lines. The indigenous Melanesians (Kanaks) have been in the minority since 1969, and currently account for 39 percent of the islands’ population. They make up a 70-percent majority in two of the three provinces of the archipelago (the Northern Province and the Province of Loiote), and a 26-percent minority in the Southern Province, where pro-French sentiment is strong.

Elections in New Caledonia are more than just a local development and are a source of serious concern for both France and Australia.

France’s position. New Caledonia is France’s most faraway colony (17,000 km). The New Caledonians may hold two more referendums on independence before 2022 in keeping with the terms of the Noumea  agreement of 1998, which allows a second vote if the first one leaves the proponents of independence in a minority. During the first plebiscite held on November 4, 2018, 57 percent of New Caledonians voted in favor of preserving the archipelago’s status as an overseas French territory.
If New Caledonia gains broad autonomy, let alone independence, from France, this would change the strategic security pattern in the region, giving a boost to secessionist sentiments in US and European overseas territories  (French Polynesia, Reunion, Wallis and Futuna with an exclusive economic zone of 226,000 sq. km.), and seriously impairing Paris’ influence in the region. 

The Indo-Pacific region (IPR) is viewed by France as the Paris-New Delhi-Canberra-Noumea axis. (Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia).

By maintaining its sway over New Caledonia, France will retain its membership of the club of world powers, its continued role in the IPR and participation in theQuadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) between the United States, Japan, Australia and India, designed to check China’s attempts to secure for itself a place in the Indo-Pacific region.

Paris fears that an autonomous or fully independent New Caledonia would seek financial assistance from Beijing in exchange for allowing Chinese companies access to the archipelago.

New Caledonia is also a mainstay of French military presence in the Pacific, a platform for scientific research and a source of strategic resources, such as   chromium, cobalt, manganese, gold, copper, lead, and nickel. The archipelago boasts the world’s fifth largest reserves of nickel, whose exports are projected to reach 4 million tons in 2021.

Therefore, Paris is trying, first and foremost, to minimize the consequences of the current divisions within the local pro-French political parties – Calédonie Ensemble, Le Repubilcans Calédoniens, etc. And with good reason too, because even despite their defeat in the May 12 vote, the secessionist forces have been gaining strength increasing their presence in the local parliament from 18 to 25 seats in the decade between 2004 and 2014, and, according to the results of the May 12 elections, bringing their membership to 26.

The indigenous Kanak population is getting politically active too, showing a hefty 81 percent turnout in the November 4, 2018 independence referendum, which exceeds by more than twice the 40 percent voter turnout in national elections in France proper. Moreover, a meagre 3 percent of ethnic Kanaks voted for loyalists. By 2022, the number of Kanak voters is expected to rise even further, while that of French voters will remain at the present level.

Australia’s position. In the southwest, New Caledonia borders on the exclusive economic zone of Australia, with which it shares the region’s potential hydrocarbon reserves. In the southeast, it borders on the island state of Fiji, which is busy building up ties with China.

Canberra worries about the impact that the developments in New Caledonia could have on the secessionist movements on the Island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea and West Papua (a province of Indonesia), all the more so given the threat of Islamism and illegal migration. Canberra also prioritizes cooperation with Indonesia in the field of economics, science, culture, defense, and in tackling the consequences of natural disasters.

An uncontrolled process of sovereignty declarations in the South Pacific region threatens to destabilize the regional security system Canberra has been building there for quite some time now. New Caledonia’s potential independence would jeopardize an existing defense agreement between Australia and France, which provides the Australian Navy with access to French military bases in the archipelago.

Differed as they are on the format of cooperation with China, the Australian government and the opposition still recognize the need for building up trust between the two countries, and, above all, for  promoting closer economic ties with Beijing.

Here, however, Canberra’s vision about future of the IPR differs in many respects from Paris’. Australia is careful to avoid a head-on clash with China in the region, preferring instead to seek a balance of interests, mindful of the positions of all regional actors, especially international associations, such as the Quad, FRANZ, ANZUS, APEC, Pacific Islands Forum, etc.

France, for its part, sticks to a more confrontational tactic as it tries to maintain its status as a Pacific power. However, the financial assistance that the states of Oceania are getting from Australia ($1.3 billion) is way bigger that what is provided by France ($100 mln.). (2)

Simultaneously, Canberra would like to see a rise in the humanitarian aspect of the French policies in Oceania.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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Southeast Asia

Learning to build a community from a ”Solok Literacy Community”in the West Sumatra

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Established on September 21, 2020 in Solok City, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. Solok Literacy Community initiated by the young people of Solok City has grown rapidly into a community that has its own trendsetter among young people. Bringing narratives smelling of education, The Literacy Solok Community has a movement with measurable progressiveness that can be seen from its flagship programs.

Starting from the free reading stall movement that has been moving in various corners of Solok City over the past few months. The concept of film surgery that provides proactive discussion space for all segmentation in society. “Diskusi Ngopi” activities which in fact is the concept of FGD (Focus Group Discussion), run with interesting themes and issues so that it can be considered as one of the favorite programs that are often attended by many young people in Solok. Then a class of interests and talents aimed at reactivating the soft skills and great talents of the children of Solok City.

Solok Literacy Community has a long-term goal of making Solok City as a Literacy City in 2025. With these noble targets, of course we together need small steps in the form of programs that run consistently over time. Because after all, a long journey will always begin with small steps in the process of achieving it.

Many appreciations and positive impressions from the surrounding community continue to be received by the Solok Literacy Community. This is certainly a big responsibility for the Solok Literacy Community to continue to commit to grounding literacy in Solok City. Solok Literacy Community activities can be checked directly through instagram social media accounts @solok_literasi. Carrying the tagline #penetrategloomy or penetrating the gloom and #lawanpembodohan, members of the Solok Literacy Community or better known as Soliters, will always make innovative breakthroughs in completing the goal of making Solok City 2025 as a Literacy City.

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Indonesia Submit Extended Continental Shelf Proposal Amidst Pandemic: Why now is important?

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Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

Indonesia’s active cases of coronavirus have been getting more worrying with more than 100.000 active cases. With nearly a year of pandemic, Indonesia’s not only facing a serious health crisis but also an economic catastrophe. People lose their jobs and GDP expected to shrink by 1.5 percent. Jakarta government therefore should work hard to anticipate the worst condition in 2021.

With this serious economic threat, Indonesia surely has to explore maximize its maritime geographic potential to pass this economic crisis and gain more national revenue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And there where the Extended Continental Shelf submission should play an important role.

Recently this week, Indonesia submit a second proposal for the extended continental shelf in the southwest of the island of Sumatra to the United Nations Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal State exercises sovereign rights concerning the exploration and exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources.

Therefore, this article argues that now is the right time for Indonesia to maximize its Continental Shelf claim under the law of the sea convention for at least three reasons.

First, one could not underestimate the economic potential of the Continental Shelf, since the US Truman Proclamation in 1945, countries have been aware of the economic potential from the oil and gas exploration in the continental shelf.

By being able to explore and exploit natural resources in the strategic continental shelf, at least Indonesia will gain more revenue to recover the economy. Even though indeed the oil and gas business is also hit by the pandemic, however, Indonesia’s extended continental shelf area might give a future potentials area for exploitation in long term. Therefore, it will help Indonesia prepare a long-term economic strategy to recover from the pandemic. After Indonesia can prove that there is a natural prolongation of the continental shelf.

Second, as the Indo-Pacific region is getting more significant in world affairs, it is strategic for Indonesia to have a more strategic presence in the region. This will make Indonesia not only an object of the geopolitical competition to utilize resources in the region, but also a player in getting the economic potential of the region.

And third, it is also showing that President Joko Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum agenda is not yet to perish. Even though in his second term of administration global maritime fulcrum has nearly never been discussed, this momentum could be a good time to prove that Indonesia are still committed to the Global maritime fulcrum by enhancing more maritime diplomacy.

Though this is not the first time Indonesia submit an extended Continental Shelf proposal to the CLCS, this time it is more likely to be accepted by the commission. Not to mention the geographical elements of natural prolongation of the continental shelf that has to be proved by geologist.

The fact that Indonesia has no maritime border with any neighboring states in the Southwest of Sumatra. Therefore, unlike Malaysia’s extended continental shelf proposal in the South China Sea that provoke many political responses from many states, it is less likely that Indonesia extended continental shelf proposal will raise protest from any states.

However, the most important thing to realize the potential benefit of the extended continental shelf as discussed earlier, Indonesia should have a strategy and road map how what to do after Indonesia gets the extended continental shelf.

*Arie Afriansyah is a Senior Lecturer in international law and Chairman of the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at University of Indonesia.

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The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam

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Photo courtesy - PTI

In its fourth year since the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, December 2020 witnessed an enhanced cooperation between New Delhi and Hanoi, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to defence and maritime cooperation, amid common concerns about China.

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In an effort to boost defence cooperation, the navies of India and Vietnam conducted atwo-day passage exercise (Passex) in the South China Sea on December 26 and 27, 2020, reinforcing interoperability and jointness in the maritime sphere. Two days before this exercise has begun, an Indian naval ship arrived at Nha Rong Port in Ho Chi Minh City to offer humanitarian assistance for the flood-affected parts of Central Vietnam.

Before this, in the same week, during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on December 21, both countries inked seven agreements on miscellaneous areas of cooperation and jointly unveiled a vision and plan of action for the future, as both countries encounter the common Chinese threat in their respective neighbourhoods.

Vietnam’s disputes with China

India’s bone of contention with China ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Both Vietnam and India share territorial borders with China. Well, it seems odd that despite its common socialistic political backgrounds, China and Vietnam remains largely hostile. 

Having a 3,260 km coastline, covering much of the western part of South China Sea, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Chinese claims based on the legally invalid and vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line concept, unacceptable for all the other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

In 2016, China lost a case brought out by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague when the court ruled that Beijing’s had no legal basis to claim ‘historic rights’ as per the nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it has been doing since 2013, some of them later militarized to gain favourable strategic footholds in the sea and the entire region.

The Paracel and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has been historically considered part of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave the erstwhile South Vietnam control of territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included these island groups. But, China lays claims on all of these islands and occupies some of them, leading to an ongoing dispute with Vietnam.

China and Vietnam also fought a border war from 1979 to 1990. But today, the disputes largely remain in the maritime sphere, in the South China Sea.

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been long regarded as India’s sphere of influence. But with the Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar megaproject proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting three continents, which is part of it, China has grand ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Theories such as ‘String of Pearls’ shed light on an overambitious Beijing, whichattempts to encircle India with ports and bases operating under its control.

China has also opened a military base in Djibouti, overlooking the Indian Ocean, in 2017 and it has also gained control of the strategic port of Hambantota in the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the same year.

Chinese presence in Gwadar in Pakistan, where the Maritime Silk Route meets the land route of BRI, is also a matter of concern for India. Moreover, the land route passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is under Pakistani control, but is also claimed by India.  China has also been developing partnerships with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to its ports in the Bay of Bengal.

Notwithstanding all this, India’s response has been robust and proactive. The Indian Navy has been building partnership with all the littoral states and small island states such as Mauritius and Seychelles to counter the Chinese threat.

India has also been engaged in humanitarian and developmental assistance in the Indian Ocean region, even much before the pandemic, to build mutual trust and cooperation among these countries. Last month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Sri Lanka to revive a trilateral maritime security dialogue with India’s two most important South Asian maritime neighbours, the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foe’s foe is friend

The Indian Navy holding a Passex with Vietnam in the South China Sea, which is China’s backyard, is a clear message to Beijing. This means, if China ups the ante in the Indian Ocean or in the Tibetan border along the Himalayas, India will intensify its joint exercises and defence cooperation with Vietnam.

A permanent Indian presence in the South China Sea is something which Beijing’s never wish to see materialise in the new future. So, India’s engagement with Vietnam, which has a long coast in this sea, is a serious matter of concern for Beijing.

During this month’s virtual summit, Prime Minister Modi has also reiterated that Vietnam is a key partner of India in its Indo-Pacific vision, a term that Beijing vehemently opposes and considers as a containment strategy against its rise led by the United States.

Milestones in India-Vietnam ties – a quick look-back

There was a time when India supported Vietnam’s independence from France, and had opposed US-initiated war in the Southeast Asian country in the latter half of the previous century. Later, India hailed there-unification of North and South Vietnams.

Even though India maintained consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams before the re-unification, it was elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972, thereby establishing full diplomatic ties that year.

During the Vietnam War, India supported the North, despite being a non-communist country, but without forging open hostilities with the South. Today, India partners with both France and the United States, Vietnam’s former colonizers, in its Indo-Pacific vision, comfortably along with Vietnam as geopolitical dynamics witnessed a sea change in the past few years and decades.

Way ahead

Today, these two civilizational states, sharing religio-cultural links dating many centuries back, is coming together again to ensure a favourable balance of power in Asia. Being a key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘Quad Plus’ conceptualisation, Vietnam’s role is poised to increase in the years to come as China continues to project its power in Asia and beyond.

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