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Indo-Pacific Region: A hotspot of rivalry

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The Pacific region in post-Cold-War period is fast changing its strategic complexion. This region had been under United States’ influence. But, the USA and its proxies like India Taiwan, and some other countries perceive that the region is in a state of flux. USA and its allies fear China may in future challenge USA’s undisputed dominance of the seas-lanes in the region.

China’s disputes

China has maritime disputes over some islands in the region (Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines). In East China Sea, there is dispute between China and Japan over islands of Diaoyu and Senkakus islands.

The USA assures China’s rivals that USA would be their `security provider’ in moment of need. The major stakeholders in the region ae the USA, China, Australia, ASEAN countries, Japan and South Korea. American presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama visited the region to strengthen partnership with littoral states.

The Indo-Pacific region is of great importance because of its impact on energy maritime and trade security. ASEAN and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation are important politico-economic players in the region. The APEC members account for 40 per cent of world’s population, 54 per cent of the World’s Gross Domestic Product and 44 per cent of the World’s trade. The ASEAN accounts for about 8.8 per cent of World’s population and three per cent of the total and area of Earth.

To block China’s ascendancy, all littoral states including Japan, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea and other middle ranking regional powers are modernizing their navies. China wants to surpass the USA not only in terms of GDP but also in respect of naval power.

India: Emerging us proxy in Indian Ocean

Robert Kaplan, in his book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and Future of American Power, argues that the geopolitics of the twenty-first century will hinge on the Indian Ocean. USA’s new protégé is India. To woo India firmly into its fold, USA offered to sell India US$ 3 billion (per one unit) Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advance Capability (PAC-3) missile defence systems as an alternative to Russian S-400 system. India ditched Russia from whom it had decided to purchase five S-400s Russian S-400s air defence systems at cost of US$5.4 billion.

With US tacit support, India is getting tougher with China. There was a 73-day standoff on the Doklam (Donglang in Chinese) plateau near the Nathula Pass on Sikkim border last year. Being at a disadvantage vis-a-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations.  In later period, China developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 10,000-ton-class missile destroyer 055 being built.

China wants to bridge its aircraft-carrier deficiency through anti-ship ballistic missiles and Xian H-6K bomber armed with advanced air launched cruise missiles. Chinese defence systems include DF-, Dong-Feng 21 (DF-21; NATO reporting name CSS-5 – Dong-Feng (literally: ‘East Wind’). Dong-Feng 21 is a two-stage, solid-fuel rocket, single-warhead medium-range ballistic missile developed by China Changfeng Mechanics and Electronics Technology Academy. A variant is DF-26 with range increased to 3,000 km (1,900 mi) to 4,000 km (2,500 miles). China has two supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, the YJ-12, with a range of 400 km, and the YJ-18, which can hit targets up to 540 km away. But they are no match for US subsonic

Harpoon anti-ship missile, which has been modified to give it a maximum range of about 240 km.  An anti-ship variant of US Raytheon’s Tomahawk land attack cruise missile, with a range of over 1,600 km, has been delivered to the US navy.

At us prodding, India revised its maritime strategy “Freedom to Use the Seas’ in 2015 to “Ensuring Secure Seas”. India obtained access to the US naval base in Diego Garcia, and to the French naval bases in Mayotte and Reunion islands, besides Australian naval base in Cocos (Keeling). It signed an agreement with Seychelles to develop and manage facilities on its Assumption Island, another agreement with Mauritius to develop dual- use logistics facilities in the Agalega Island, obtained berthing rights in Duqm Port in Oman and Maputo in Mozambique. Besides, she took up development of the Sittwe Port in Myanmar as part of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project for building a multi-modal sea, river and road transport corridor for shipment of cargo from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar through Sittwe. It upgraded its existing listening post in northern Madagascar.

Chinese navy’s snooping in Indian Ocean is rising (Deccan Herald, March 3, 2019).  Upon Indian navy’s protest, Chinese flotilla had to move away from Port Blair. Till 2025, China, currently in grip of corona virus, Bangkok unrest and Xinxiang Uighur, has to do a lot to end American one-upmanship.  

China’s thinking

China is suspicious of India’s role as a US proxy in the Indo-Pacific region. It regards the arc from The Bay of Bengal to East China Sea as a hot-spot of rivalry. China’s blue Book warns if India China itself and the USA failed to engage with each other more constructively in view of their overlapping interest, the Indian Ocean could end up `as an Ocean of conflict and trouble’. Chinese Battle Group and submarine often moved in Indian Ocean though after giving prior movement-notice to littoral states.

China has deployed `Xia’ class nuclear submarines with SLBMs in South China Sea. They can reach south-western quadrant of the Indian Ocean via Strait of Malacca or Sunda in a short time.

China is building energy relationship worldwide especially in Central Asia, Russia, Africa, Middle East and Gulf countries.

China gets about 70 per cent of its oil imports from West Asia and Africa through tankers. China is creating a strategic petroleum reserve and is building a fleet of super-tankers for transport of energy to China.

China’s ‘string of pearls’

The USA has over 800 naval bases while China has only two  that is Mombasa and Djibouti, aside from controversial Hambantota (Sri Lanka). Yet, the US propaganda is that China is setting up bases along the sea lanes from Middle East to South China Sea. The bases have dual objectives to protect energy and strategic interests.

USA’s ring

Doubtless the USA is the dominant super-power in the Indo-Pacific region. Majority of the littoral states including India. Australia, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Spith Koprea are under American influence.

The USA has powerful naval bases at Diego Garcia, Busen, Guyan Island, Yongson base (South Korea) and Okinawa (Japan).The USA has stationed its littoral combat ships at Singapore besides accessing facilities of Vietnamese port Cam Rank Bay.

India’s outreach

The revised Indian Maritime doctrine 2009 states that India wants to build a Blue Water Navy capable of defending not only its homeland d, but also wider security and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region. In view of South East Asia and South China Sea region, India created regional Andaman and Nicobar Tri-Service Command in 2001 at Port Blair.

India’s Natural gas C Corporation Videsh Limited has oil fields in Russias Sakhalin region. Vietnam allotted two more gas exploration blocks to ONGC-VL during Indian president Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam in September 2014.

Indian navy wants to attain underwater nuclear power projection capability by year 2025. By said year, Indian navy will have network-centric approach and land-attack assistance capability. The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System has become operational since 2016. It will provide positional information of about 1500 kilometers around the Indian mainland.

India is already a partner in the US Security architecture of Indo-Pacific Region. Indian navy’s new acquisition project in the pipeline adds up to well over Rs. 300000 crore over the next 15 years.

Conclusion: Despite adverse advisory opinion on Chagos Island, including Diego Garcia atoll, by International Court of Justice, United States’ forces is still entrenched there. Besides, France maintains naval bases in the Indian Ocean and stations frigates off its Reunion islands. China has a string of naval assets in the region from Gwadar to Djibouti.

India’s ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean does not augur well for the region. It should let Indian Ocean remain the zone of peace.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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Southeast Asia

Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys

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Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.

For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.

Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.

The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.

The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.

Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.

The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.

Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.

Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.

Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.

But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.

Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.

The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
 first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank

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Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma

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With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.

Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective

I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.

It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.

Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management

Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.

I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.

The heart of forest management

People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.

Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.

Can legal change help the people?

Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.

As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.

Capitalists invasion

Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.

Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?

Less likely.

What can we do to protect the forest?

There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.

To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.

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Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific

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In the Indo-Pacific context, there are multiple partners all aiming for economic fulfillment along with maritime security and safety. Countries ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea seem to be more worried about the freedom of navigation and overflight as Chinese aggressiveness is rampant and expansionist is a scary idea. The region from India to Bangladesh has a huge potential of interconnectedness and if connected to the Southeast Asian countries, it would also help in India’s Act East Policy and India’s neighbourhood first policy and further help out in strengthening relations to the far East as in Japan. All these countries combined can create an interconnected chain of mutual and common interests with balanced ideas of economic, military, social, political and people to people exchanges which would in turn help develop a multilateral.

Who can lead this Multilateral Initiative and Why?

Japan can be the prime crusader for this multilateral as it has excellent relations with all the parties and is the pioneer of the free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan has excellent diplomatic, economic and infrastructural relations with all the possible partners as it provides ODA loans, aid and assistance. Japan being the pioneer of Free and Open Indo-Pacific can be guiding force for this multilateral in the maritime domain which would help create a new regional grouping consisting of South Asia and Southeast Asia primarily based on maritime. Japan is the only developed country among all the other players and with its expertise, it can surely guide, help, support and take along all the countries. Japan most importantly is a non-aggressive nation and believes in mutual respect unlike China. Japan has no dept trap issue unlike China. Japan is known for quality in infrastructural development and with their expertise in science, technology and innovation can well lead these countries. Japan’s reputation of honesty, no corruption and extreme detailed paper work is commendable.

What are the benefits from this Multilateral Initiative?

This multilateral would help connect the Indian Ocean (India) to Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh) to the South China Sea (ASEAN) and the East China Sea (Japan)- would help in the creation of water interconnected network from South Asia to Southeast Asia. This could be the first regional maritime grouping covering South Asia to Southeast Asia. This maritime grouping can create a network of ports which could also become an economic hub and intersecting points of investment and infrastructural development (already Japan is investing in a big way in all these countries). India’s Northeast would get a greater economic, infrastructural and people-to-people exchange as it would connect India to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor already exists and could pave the way for Bangladesh and Kolkata greater port exchange which could be developed as nodal points in Bay of Bengal and would help in easy and cheaper freight. These countries can also aim for the strengthening of defence and security relations in the domain of maritime and can also aim for a logistics support agreement and a network from Indian Ocean to Bay of Bengal to South China Sea to East China Sea and would help tackle Chinese aggressiveness and China has been mapping the waters in all these waters and so, to protect one’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, defence relations must be build.

An ecosystem based on Digitalization, Science, technology and Innovation can be formed which would help create a united cyber security law and all this could ultimately lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution. South Asia and Southeast Asia would be lucrative markets and labour distribution and generation of employment can be done through the ports, logistics network, economic and trade exchanges and interactions. This multilateral would form a resilient supply chain in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the domain of Indo-Pacific. Marine economy can be a major factor of this multilateral initiative as it would be a major success in the maritime domain. This multilateral can also work on vaccine diplomacy and work on future health hazards mechanisms.

Why Bangladesh must think of adopting the Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Bangladesh must adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy and create its own objects and call it the SAMODHRO NITI. Bangladesh has the capability of being an excellent maritime power and it is a major leader in the Bay of Bengal and to be an effective part of this multilateral. The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) would be a key binder. Bangladesh must realise that China by building dams on the Brahmaputra River would actually create issues for Bangladesh’s fishery catchment areas as it would get inundated with salt water and to stop that Bangladesh must work to strengthen its position to tackle China. Also, China could also create water issues for Bangladesh and Bangladesh must look at ways to safe guard its water resources. Thereby, Bangladesh must work towards countries who face similar issues with China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is an excellent example of cooperation but this Multilateral if formed can be a stronger initiative and Bangladesh benefits from it as being a hub of textile, leather and pharmaceuticals and this Multilateral has all the efficiency of becoming an economic hub which would benefit Bangladesh too. If Bangladesh adopts an Indo-Pacific Policy, then its market in Japan, the US and Europe would become stronger due to shared interests and can also sign a Free Trade Agreement with EU like Vietnam did.

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