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Southeast Asia

China’s relations with Indonesia requires more cautious moves

photo: ANTARA

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Authors: Zhou Dong-chen & Muhammad Raihan Ronodipuro

At the invitation of Chinese military commission, Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto made a working visit to Beijing during December 17-19. It is clear that the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries has maintained good momentum, as Chinese military leaders expressed that the Chinese and Indonesian militaries should implement their consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, explore deepening cooperation in various areas, promote the two sides’ comprehensive strategic partnership and benefit the two countries and the region. Echoing his Chinese counterpart’s remarks, Prabowo highlighted the necessity of enhancing regular contacts and dialogues between the two militaries in order to jointly safeguard regional peace.

Though having been partners in modernizing Indonesian weaponry system, this is the first high-level visit to China by Indonesian Defense Minister with a view to discussing the efforts to further enhance cooperation in defense of the two countries. Yet, the rapidly growing power of China has constituted one of the most strategic dimensions in East Asia and beyond. For realist view, it represents a key driver of change in the dynamics of major power relations and will have significant impacts on the Asian-Pacific since the end of the WWII. True, the rise of China, even though it is claimed the peaceful rise, has become a dominant discourse within and outside public circles as well. For Indonesia which is the largest country in Southeast Asia and had complicated relations with China until the early 1990s, the rise of China unexceptionally presents an opportunity and challenge. Since normal relations between Beijing and Jakarta were restored less than three decades, Indonesia’s response to the rise of China is still evolving. As scholar Rizal Sukma observed that while recent developments suggest a marked improvement in bilateral relations, Indonesia’s policy of re-engagement towards China should also be perceived from the complex relationship of history, the primacy of domestic politics and the imperative of regional considerations.

Given this, the study argues that Indonesia’s policy towards China continues to reflect a degree of ambiguity and suspicion as well. On the one hand, Indonesia is sure to take the benefits of having good relations with China and begins to demonstrate increasing comfort in managing the bilateral relations with the rising economic giant. On the other hand, Indonesia remains ambiguous of China’s long-term goal and intentions in the region. This mentality has surely led Indonesia to pursue a policy of re-engagement characterized by a mixture of cooperative and suspicious approaches in its response to the rise of China.

There are several reasons to endorse the argument that China’s relations with Indonesia should be moving cautiously and attentively. First of all, since China and Indonesia shared modern sacrifices imposed by imperialist powers of Europe and Japan, it did help promote the reciprocal recognition of each other in 1950; yet it unnecessarily means that their relations have proceeded steadily. In effect it is quite opposite as their relations were subject to pressures stemming from each domestic concerns, particularly for the perceptions among the public and the elite have served as the key context within which Jakarta’s policy towards Beijing has been formulated and carried out. For example, in the early 1960s, attempts by both parties to forge a radical political alignment, primarily in terms of a united front against the West, failed to withstand the pressure emanating from Indonesia’s domestic politics, which was patently manipulated by the West. As a result, the Beijing-Jakarta axis was brutally brought to an end in 1965, followed by the suspension of their normal relations for more than 20 years.

Secondly, it is true that both China and Indonesia can’t ignore each other in a long run, it is because China has rapidly increased its power and influence since the 1980s while Indonesia as the largest country in the Southeast Asia has also aspired to be a regional power. In light of the vicissitude of the world politics, the two countries began to rethink of their relations in a more realist perspective. Yet, even during the 1980s, the anti-communist leadership of Indonesia was not moved by what China had already adopted the reform and openness policy. The dynamics of Indonesian politics which required the preservation and the enforcement of anti-communist ideology as the basis of regime legitimacy, arduously carried out the predominance of domestic political interests over other necessary concerns in Indonesia’s foreign policy. Only by 1990, did the two countries finally agree to resume direct trade and soon restored diplomacy. Even though, the restoration of normal relations did not improve substantially. Suspicions and sensitivity continued to characterize Jakarta’s attitude towards Beijing. The event in 1994 once again verifies this point when a labor unrest soon flared into an anti-Chinese riot in Sumatra. China’s official concerns were not only rejected but also accused of flagrant interfering in Indonesia’s internal affairs. As for China, the episode is a reflection of its lack of understanding in Beijing on Indonesia’s sensitivity on issues involving the ethnic Chinese minority in the country.

Thirdly, from the very beginning since 1990 when both countries resumed their relations, still Indonesia preferred dealing with China within a multilateral framework, either through ASEAN or the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). It is argued that ASEAN has been regarded in Jakarta as likely to be a more effective instrument for managing relations with a China regarded with apprehension and some foreboding. Similarly, the ARF has been taken by many Indonesian elites as a regime not only to engage China regionally but also to secure Beijing’s respect for international norms of inter-state relations. Prior to early 1998, Indonesia had begun to promote the economic dimension of bilateral relations with China. Since then, the contacts in overall terms have increased rapidly and remarkably. It is said that the great efforts to promote trade between the two sides since 1990 were obstructed by the financial crisis in 1997, yet, ironically it was the political implications of the 1997 financial crisis in Indonesia that opened up the opportunity for a much more cordial relationship between Indonesia and China to develop. For sure, the financial crisis which brought the Suharto regime from power served as a defining moment in bilateral relations of the two countries as the collapse of Suharto’s regime was followed in 1998. To certain extent, during the after the financial crisis, the ruling elites of the two sides did manage the issue well and did not let the long issue of Chinese diaspora in Indonesia out of control. Due to this, since 1998, the real improvement in the bilateral relations has become more evident, and the scope of bilateral cooperation has been expanding to include cooperation on areas such as security and defense. In 2005, China and Indonesia further established a strategic partnership which covered all the key areas such as security and defense technology cooperation. In addition, China’s image as a responsible and benevolent major power have also received further boost during the Tsunami disaster that struck Indonesia and other Indian Ocean countries in 2004.

Yet, as the past lessons have indicated that despite obvious improvements in bilateral relations, Indonesia and China are not immune from issues. Three issues might affect how Indonesia-China relations would evolve in the future. First, internationally Indonesia’s elite remain uncertain regarding China’s role and long-term intentions in East Asia. In this context, they are easy to follow the realism that a rising major power with an ancient pride aims to be a dominant power in the region would certainly revive Indonesia’s sensitivity. Although some of Indonesians have begun to display their willingness to trust China, but that trust takes time. A public opinion poll conducted by the Lowy Institute in 2006, for example, reveals that Indonesians trust Japan (76%) more than China (59%). For China to be fully trusted, it needs to consistently pursue a good neighbor policy towards Southeast Asia.  Second, domestically, there is still the issue regarding the public perceptions of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese. If there is a resurgence of anti-Chinese feeling in Indonesia, and if the issue of the ethnic Chinese minority once again becomes a political victim in Indonesia, then Indonesia-China bilateral relations is sure to be affected adversely. Due to this, both sides need to learn how to avoid their previous mistakes in the new era.

 China and Indonesia have learned the lessons from the past. As a result, the bilateral relations have been improved over the last two ten years in terms of maturity and stability. In spite of this, the reality still requires the ability of the two countries to steer in the course cautiously and attentively.

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Southeast Asia

Uncreative Teachers: Online Learning Is Ineffective

Kevin Fallo

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Inevitably, Indonesia has to apply online learning (in the network) during the Covid-19 pandemic, this aims to anticipate the spread of the Covid-19 virus itself. However, there are still many problems in its implementation.

The problems found during online learning come from students, educators, and even the system itself. This causes the existing curriculum targets not to be achieved.

Curriculum

Based on the Decree of the Minister of Education and Culture of the Republic of Indonesia Number 719 / P / 2020 concerning Guidelines for Implementing Curriculum in Education Units in Special Conditions which was signed on August 4, 2020, it has the objective of providing flexibility for educational units to determine the curriculum according to the needs of students. However, it was reported from news.detik.com that the Minister of Education did not oblige to follow this emergency curriculum and provided 3 options, namely:

  1. Keep referring to the national curriculum
  2. Using an emergency curriculum
  3. To simplify the curriculum independently

Judging from the current situation, it is very difficult to follow and pursue the curriculum targets that are commonly used, therefore the next option is a very good option to run in the current online learning period. A simplification that does not make students stressed and can still focus on taking online learning.

Home Atmosphere & Student Psychology

Each student has a situation that is not the same as each other at home, different when students are in the same class, uniting them in one room and many individuals so that some problems at home can be forgotten for a moment and focus on learning.

In the classroom the teacher can pay attention to the psychology of each student and can apply special attention when one of the students experiences “problems” in the learning process. However, it is not fair if in online learning students are given the same demands while the teacher does not know how the psychology of each student is at his home.

Limited Access

One other big problem is the limited internet access, this can be affected by the internet network, internet quota, smartphone or other hardware. As a teacher, of course this kind of thing has been considered and made a more flexible learning policy, of course.

In practice, there are still teachers who do not understand this problem. Demanding students to be able to work on assignments in a matter of hours, this certainly makes students get pressure to be able to catch up on time within limitations.

Within these limitations it can cause negative attitudes to students, for example, such as students asking their parents to force their parents to buy quotas without understanding the economic conditions of the family, or students who even experience pressure due to inability in several matters related to online learning.

In this case, the teacher should give a long enough period of time for an assignment, giving time for students to meet the needs of access to online learning so that they can take part in this online teaching and learning process.

Creativity

Not only students are required to be creative in online learning, but teachers should also be creative in online learning to create a fun learning atmosphere.

Many cases occur in online learning so that it seems that the teacher is only limited to giving assignments at each meeting. Not without reason, this opinion was born in the community during the online learning period because generally that is the reality that happened in learning during the pandemic.

Teachers can use and take advantage of technology without having qualified skills in the technology field. The most important thing is the willingness and awareness to learn, unless the teacher doesn’t want to learn anymore. The existing limitations can be communicated by fellow teachers to create a creative breakthrough that can support this online learning.

There are many examples of the use of technology that can be used by teachers, one of which is the podcast through this media, students can listen to the teacher’s explanation anytime and anywhere, and of course listening to audio through podcasts is more efficient in using internet data.

To find out the understanding of the material in students, students can also repeat the material in their own style and then upload it into podcast media again. This does not only train students ‘understanding but also learners’ skills. Or teachers can use other means and methods to be able to teach in online learning.

Another example could be using an animaker, a website that creates simple animations that can be created to support learning to be more interesting. With animation media, of course this is more interesting than the powerpoints that are commonly used, especially during this learning period, powerpoints are generally distributed to students without further explanation.

Furthermore, there are many small problems that we see in the implementation of this online learning, one of which is the teacher who asks students to use whatsapp profile photos using personal photos, because previously the profile photos of students used photos of Korean idols. This can be used by the teacher to get closer to students and support learning by connecting learning with Korean idols.For example: In learning Indonesian, the teacher can ask students to make stories by including Korean idols as the main character.

The widespread use of Youtube, Tiktok, Instagram and other social media as a means of entertainment should be used by teachers to create creative learning. It is unfortunate if during this online learning period the teacher cannot create creative things which are of course useful for achieving the learning target itself. Rigid learning methods combined with heavy learning demands are a time bomb for students to be able to damage the psychology of the students themselves.

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Southeast Asia

Rediscovering the Sea: Comparing New Maritime Orientations of Turkey and Indonesia

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Authors: Tufan Kutay Boran and Hadza Min Fadhli Robby*

Sea has once more become one of the most contested regions in the arena of international politics. One of the main reasons is that sea hold reserves to crucial energy and food resources. These resources are needed to sustain the basic needs to be used for supporting the industries and ensuring human developments. Sea also becomes a new area of influence that countries use to increase their leverage in the midst of geopolitical contestation. This condition eventually propels some countries to rediscover their once-forgotten maritime orientation again. This article would like to explore how Turkey and Indonesia are implementing their new maritime orientation in the second decade of the 21st century.

Turkey and Mavi Vatan Doctrine

In Turkey’s case, the geopolitical game is currently focused on two main areas: The Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Dominant players in international politics have recently turned their faces to the Eastern Mediterranean as a new energy source. Especially after 2010, at the time when Egypt and Israel discovered their natural gas reserves. However, as a peninsular state, Turkey has more than 8,333 kilometers of coastline. The country also has more than 462,000 square kilometers of potential maritime jurisdictional area. In these years, Turkey is also conducting oil and gas exploration activities with six oil and gas exploration and drilling vessels in the Black Sea and East Mediterranean Sea. However, Turkey’s efforts seem to bother some countries in the region. Turkey’s relations with neighboring Greece came to the brink of a hot war due to the continental shelf discussions.

On the other hand, France saw the Mediterranean’s developments as an opportunity and managed to sell Rafale jets to Greece. Countries such as Israel and UAE have also clearly positioned themselves, particularly after November 27, when Turkey and Libya signed a maritime agreement that established the EEZ of both countries under UNCLOS principles. Although Turkey’s bilateral relations experienced a downfall with the mentioned countries (Israel, UAE, and France), Turkey is continuing in a determined manner for the first time in the history of exploration and drilling activities. These activities continue today under the doctrine of the “Mavi Vatan” (Blue Homeland) doctrine. So why Blue Homeland doctrine is essential for Turkey’s new maritime orientation?

The concept of MaviVatan was first indoctrinated in 2006 by Retired Admiral Cem Gürdeniz. According to Gürdeniz, the scope of Blue Homeland doctrine consists of all maritime jurisdiction zones (inland waters, territorial waters, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone), declared or undeclared, and rivers and lakes. The Blue Homeland, in an exact sense, is an extension at sea and seabed of our homeland located between 26-45 East longitudes and 36-42 North latitudes. The Blue Homeland is the name of the Turkish zone of interest and jurisdiction over salty and fresh waters located between 25-45 East longitudes and 33-43 North latitudes. On the other hand, it designates Turkey’s maritime policy as its grand strategic goal for its people in the 21st century. It symbolizes the redirection from a land-based to a new sea-based orientation.  

Nowadays, Turkish authorities and the Turkish people are undoubtedly appreciating the intensity of petrol and gas exploration activities at both seas after Turkey’s long hiatus at two seas. Some authorities even trace back this hiatus to the Ottoman Empire’s 16th century, supposedly the most glorified Ottoman maritime era. Contrary to the previous periods, the Turkish government’s realization of these exploration activities and the investment of national capital and ships’ deployment receive significant support from the Turkish people. This policy also alleviates the public’s reaction against the Turkish economy’s deterioration, which is in a downward trend, especially after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also important to point out that the sharp decline of the Turkish Lira against the U.S Dollar since January 2020 has become another critical issue that has been observed closely by Turkish people. Amid the economic crisis, Turkish people consider the Eastern Mediterranean’s developments and the relations with their neighbor Greece, also a Turkish ally in NATO, as a more outstanding national issue. These developments bring some relational problems to the homeland.

Nevertheless, both the public opinion from the pro-government and opposition sides have united a legal pot in Turkey’s most prominent cause. This unity was rooted in the Turkish public’s concern on the Black Sea’s economic potential and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. After some exploration period, President RecepTayyip Erdogan announced that the Fatih drillship discovered 320 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves off the Black Sea coast on August 21, 2020. Although the Turkish people welcomed this news with great joy, experts argued that the mentioned gas extraction would take approximately 3-5 years. The Turkish government is planning to extract the gas resources during the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey in 2023.

Indonesia and The Vision of Global Maritime Fulcrum

Despite holding status as one of the largest archipelagic states globally, Indonesia did not pay much attention to its maritime policies until very recently. Some works have been done in the past to operationalize Indonesia’s sovereignty in its ocean. Deklarasi Djuanda (Djuanda Declaration) and Wawasan Nusantara (Indonesia’s geopolitical outlook) are fundamental works that tried to strengthen Indonesia’s status archipelagic nation. Nevertheless, the strong focus on land-based security and defense policy has forsaken Indonesia’s maritime credentials.

The rediscovery of the sea and maritime policy in Indonesia began when Marty Natalegawa (Indonesian Foreign Minister, 2009-2014) tried to formulate a new approach towards the current geopolitical issue in the Asia-Pacific. According to Natalegawa, the key to managing the potential conflicts in Asia-Pacific is maintaining the “warm peace” through ‘multi stakeholdership.’ Multi stakeholder ship could be defined as a way to ensure that the conflict between parties contested zone (such as the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea) is solved through continuous dialogues and deliberations. This idea proposed by Natalegawa was also known as “dynamic equilibrium.” The legacy of dynamic equilibrium was carried on by Natalegawa’s successor, Retno Marsudi (Indonesian Foreign Minister, 2014-now). Using the principle of inclusiveness and multi stakeholdership, Indonesia is trying to reinstate itself as one of the key leaders in ocean governance. Through Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision, Indonesia was keen to take greater responsibilities in domestic maritime and global ocean politics. Related ministries and agencies, such as the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, were created following the vision. During Indonesia’s chairmanship in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Indonesia has tried to put its ideas on maritime governance issues by proposing IORA Concord. IORA Concord has become one of the roadmaps that reflects Indonesia’s agenda as a global maritime fulcrum.

The idea attracted the Indonesian society’s attention since many thought that this would be one of the main breakthroughs that would create a more significant impact on the Indonesian economy and Indonesian foreign policy. Many Indonesian lawmakers have also indicated their support toward the GMF. Lawmakers also noted that the Indonesian government should fully utilize and dedicate all of its resources so that the people could enjoy the maximum benefit from this policy. In this context, lawmakers highlighted that the Indonesian government should protect its ocean resources, particularly in the fisheries sectors. Some ideas under the GMF doctrine were realized. One of these is creating fisheries’ docks and tollaut (sea highways) that help with the distribution of needs and resources through Nusantara’s vast islands.

Nevertheless, the GMF was eventually abandoned during the second term of Joko Widodo’s presidency. The coordinating ministry responsible for the maritime issue is still operational, but this coordinating ministry’s works focused on managing foreign trade and investments in Indonesia. Some limited activities to ensure coastal security is still handled by the coordinating ministry with the Ministry of Defence. Unfortunately, the works to ensure the resource sovereignty in the Indonesian oceanic territory remains in limbo.

Conclusion

Turkey and Indonesia have dedicated themselves to assert their identities as maritime nations. Despite having differences in geographical and geopolitical conditions, both governments have similarities in considering the sea as part of their future. Taking notes of the geopolitical conflicts and the potential of undiscovered resources in their oceanic sovereignty zones, Turkey and Indonesia establish doctrines that align with their foreign policy principles. Turkey, perhaps trying to achieve its economic goals for the first time in its history with a genuinely neo-realist and active policy in both seas. However, this neo-realist attitude is seen as disturbing steps by other states trying to have a say in the region. Even though the AK Party government has not given up its determination and attitude with the support of its people, Turkish authorities have idealistically emphasized that they are ready to talk with other states in the context of good faith.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is staying away from the bigger goals of becoming a regional leader in maritime governance. The main factor that finally determines Indonesia’s current maritime vision is the fulfillment of Indonesia’s economic and development goals. Therefore, most maritime sectors’ works are more focused on attracting investors and building infrastructures instead of constructing a grand vision and comprehensive policy frameworks that entail all sectors. A more pragmatic and bilateral-oriented Jokowi is trying to avoid more problems to gain more advantages. Finally, in Indonesia’s case, foreign policy must be home-originated and based on domestic needs, but a more confident stance needs to be taken.

*Hadza Min Fadhli Robby, Lecturer, Department of International Relations, Universitas Islam Indonesia

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Southeast Asia

No such thing as sustainable palm oil”? What nonsense

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Last week an Italian scientist, Roberto Gatti, made headlines in Malaysia when he proclaimed that there is “no such thing as sustainable palm oil”. The only problem is that Mr Gatti is wrong.

Indeed, oil palm producers have for the last 15 years become the lightning rod for the public’s growing anger on issues relating to deforestation, global warming, subpar labour practices, and transboundary haze.

Only a silent few have questioned these allegations, leading the vast majority of the public to swallow these headlines hook, line, and sinker – leaving the narrative unchallenged. It is as if the endless supply of information in today’s modern era, through quick and easy forms of digital content has reached a point of overload. Sadly, it has worn us down and induced a premature form of mental fatigue, taking away our ability to distinguish between credible research and catchy ‘clickbait’, and ultimately what is right and wrong, and whether we should even question it.

The palm industry is a vital agricultural player today, globally. Whilst it only occupies less than 0.5% of the total area under agriculture today, it accounts for 37% of all the oils and fats produced in the world and continues, in spite of the Covid-19 calamity, to secure jobs for well over 5 million people globally, most of which are smallholder farmers who depend on this crop for their livelihood.

Is everything perfect and rosy? Absolutely not. The oil palm – like all agricultural crops requires one thing – LAND. And this is where the dilemma arises. In this context, we must acknowledge that the oil palm has contributed towards large tracks of deforestation, even though over the last 25 years it has accounted for less than 5% of global deforestation. Boycotting palm oil and replacing this with an alternate vegetable oils is of course a decision which people or big brands are free to make. However, the price for such action will be high, as it is proven beyond doubt that replacing palm oil with any alternate vegetable oil will result in using up to 10 times more land to produce the same quantity of oil. Even the International Union for the Conservation of nature (IUCN) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have recognised this urging, and support the production and use of sustainable palm oil, thereby preventing greater impacts on the environment, biodiversity, and communities.

The problem with studies like that of Mr Roberto Gatti, is that his pseudoscience has intentionally singled out the oil palm without putting things in perspective, and informing the reader that commodities such as beef, soy, maize, poultry, timber production and more account for over 90% of the world’s deforestation today, and are still in the infancy when it comes to providing consumers with a supply chain that does not come from recently deforested land.

Palm oil, however, has such a scheme in place today, where buyers can be assured of no deforestation, no new peat development, and no exploitation of workers. It is called the Principles and Criteria, which is set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil or ‘RSPO’ – a standard which with supreme confidence, I can state goes beyond any similar sustainability standard in the world today – even when it comes to olive oil production in Spain, rapeseed production in France, soy production in the US, or canola production in Australia.

The palm oil sector is far from perfect and I will be the first to state that there is still a long road ahead in terms of making sustainable palm oil the norm, but the first steps were taken over 15 years ago to create a multi-stakeholder platform, where buyers and consumers could be assured that the palm oil in the products they use and consume has indeed been grown and sourced sustainably. The aspirations remain high, and today we see the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification schemes, providing an amazing platform to raise the floor of the “many” instead of just focusing on raising the ceiling of the “few”. 

Together, we will drive the RSPO, MSPO and ISPO standards forward, regardless of the spurious claims by people like Mr Roberto Gatti, and hopefully take inspiration in the words of wisdom from the late Chinese philosopher, Confucius: “It is better to light a candle than to curse darkness”.

Sustainable palm oil is the “light” – it is the future – and any efforts to squash this movement will only move us back into darkness, where we will lose our way, remain silent, and fail to speak up when half-baked truths grab headlines. In the end, this is about taking ownership and holding fast – especially when the headwinds are the fiercest. It is about appreciating that sustainability is a shared problem, requiring individual changes that must start today. This includes you.  

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