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South China Sea: The need for a lasting solution

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The developments in South China sea (SCS) during the months of March and April has brought the region to the limelight again. The countries and territories in the periphery of South China Sea (SCS) have been threatened by Chinese coastguards and fishermen militia. More recently, in the first week of April, Chinese Coast guard ships destroyed Vietnamese fishing boat QNg 90617 TS and left eight crew members scampering for life. These repeated drowning of other countries boats by Chinese coastguards and armed militia has threatened the livelihood of the fishing communities who thrive on the third largest fishing ground of the world. The exotic fishes and the possibility of mineral resources underneath the sea surface have made it a lucrative hunting grounds for the littoral countries but in the last couple of years, the tensions in the region have multiplied manifold. One of the reasons stated by Chinese is that US has been undertaking provocative surveillance sorties with its maritime aircrafts and conducting group sails to force freedom of navigation, and undermine China’s habitual access denial and area dominance aggression. China, on the other hand, has been giving alibi for its military maneuvers,and at times compete disregard for freedom of navigation under the UNCLOS. The PLA navy has been firing warning shots and even targeting surveillance aircrafts of the US with lasers guns. The Coronavirus pandemic and US inability to undertake large scale naval operations in the SCS have further enthused China to threaten its neighbours. The Chinese survey ship HD 8 which has been the epicenter of trouble in the past and has been conducting fictitious surveys to station itself in Exclusive Economic zone of other claimant countries is a matter of concern.

Few factors have added to PLA navy’s confidence. This included its recurring sorties and operationalizing of its two air craft carriers (Liaoning and Shandong) and conducting operations closer to Taiwan straits and Philippines, while at the same time threatening Indonesia as well as Japan in East China Sea. It seems that China is drawing the outer periphery of the nine-dash line which now includes non-disputed regions such as Vanguard bank and Natuna islands.  China has been sending its ships also to East China Sea knowing very well that at time of this global pandemic, it would use these to divert international attention and avert global accusations of dereliction of global responsibility by China. Coronavirus (COVID 19) has raised serious doubts about China’s commitment as a country which is a member of the UNSC, and its non-transparent attitude related to the declaration of the COVID 19 and the number of casualties. South China Sea and North Korea missile tests provide that alibi for China to divert attention also raise hyper nationalism in China, especially when President Xi Jinping has been facing huge internal dissent. In SCS, after China has completely assailed the PCA ruling in July 2016 which adjudicated in favour of Philippines, and dismissed all claims of EEZ for reclaimed islands that China has built in South China Sea. The lackadaisical attitude of the international community in terms of imposing penalties and bringing compliance with regard to the PCA ruling gave a long handle to the communist regime of China to station new weapons including surface to air missiles, and radars in few of the reclaimed islands.

More recently, the Chinese Haiyang Dizhi 8(HD 8) survey ship has returned to Vietnamese EEZ nearly 160 kms off the coast of Vietnam, and is approaching closer to Malaysian held islands, in complete disregard to international law, and the UNCLOS provisions. The survey ship is accompanied with Chinese coast guard vessels.

US State Department in support of Vietnam has stated, “we call on the PRC to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea”. Late last year, China stationed its one coastguard vessel closer to the oil rig operated by Russia’s Rosneft. Vietnam has also tried to put the issue in the UN Security Council agenda item to draw attention of the global community. However, more than discussions the international community must release a statement completely criticizing the UNSC permanent member global behaviour. On the part of regional countries and dialogue partner a unified statement castigating Chinese efforts to vitiate the regional order in SCS is a must. The Quad countries must undertake group sails on regular intervals and even a standoff with China would be a big lesson in the placid waters.

On the part of Vietnam, it must understand that the global realities and compulsions have changed over a period of time and identifying the US as a permanent enemy would do not augur well for their strategic interests. There is a need for signing the strategic partnership and security agreement with the US. The template can be drawn from the India-Japan global strategic partnership and the joint declaration on security cooperation. The visit of USS Roosevelt had not been received well within Chinese strategic community, and Vietnam must undertake measures so that dialogue partner countries ships (excluding China) must call on its ports. This show of strength along with regular interactions at ASEAN level, and also while drawing the agenda of the ADMM plus meeting later this year must mention the issue of SCS. There is a need to all parties to accept COC from legal point of view and the momentum must be supported with new ideas when Vietnam is the chair of ASEAN. China is likely to face economic hardships especially when the European and the US markets would not be able to generate the demand.

Vietnam, as ASEAN Chair, need to undertake five step approach to solve the problem. Firstly, institutionalize a high powered committee to expedite and build consensus on the draft Code of Conduct (CoC) among ASEAN on a priority basis. Former prime ministers and heads of government can be involved in this committee so as to get political acceptance and develop trust among claimant countries. Secondly, it must undertake trilateral initiatives with dialogue partners and other claimants for hydrographic surveys and mapping of ocean floor. The ASEAN dialogue partners (except China) are indirectly affected because of Chinese tactics.  Thirdly, it must create a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) among the ASEAN nations and release a statement maintaining status quo. Fourthly, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation need to be formulated with regard to SCS. The agreement can be named as Zone of Peace, Freedom and Innocent Passage. This agreement need to be signed with all dialogue partners. Assurance of freedom of navigation should be the foundation of this agreement. Lastly, Vietnam have to make a universal appeal to the international community to undertake priority in resolving the SCS dispute which is critical for maritime security and promotion of trade and commerce in the region. A lasting solution is required on an urgent basis. 

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com

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Serving the country and the King: The Constitutional Court Justice Chiranit Havanond

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December is an auspicious month for Thai people. On the 5th of December, the Kingdom celebrates the legacy of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday. On the 10th of December, the country celebrates the birth of the constitution in Thailand. Few people are able to be involved on both occasions and serve the kingdom and the country. One of them is Dr. Chiranit Havanond, the Constitutional Court Justice and a Recipient of the Royal Scholarship, the Anandamahidol. Dr. Chiranit sat down with Dr. Rattana Lao, Senior Program Officer of the Asia Foundation to commemorate both occasions and reflect on his lifework for the Country and the King.

Dr. Rattana Lao: What was your educational trajectory? How were you prepared for the tough job?

Dr. Chiranit Havanond: I went to Chulalongkorn Demonstation School before pursuing a Bachelor of Law from Thammasat University. After graduation, I received the Anandamahidol Scholarship to pursue a Master of Law from Harvard University and a Doctorate of Law from George Washington University.

Receiving the Anandamahidol Scholarship is my greatest achievement. It is the most prestigious scholarship in the country because it is given by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol the great. I have served as a secretary of the Thammasat Division since 1996.

Dr Lao: You are one of Thailand’s most respectable and reputable judge, tell us more about your interesting career trajectory.

Dr. Havanond: I began my legal career as a judge of the Khon Kaen Provincial Court. Then I became Chief Justice of the Central Juvenile and Family Court. I later served as the Justice of the Supreme Court and now I am the Justice of the Constitutional Court.

Dr. Lao: As you travel through life, what is your inspiration?

Dr. Havanond: I am most inspired by His Majesty the late King of Thailand. He was an optimistic and visionary leader. He understood and effectively used the power of knowledge. He adapted various forms of knowledge for the betterment of the people. One of His Majesty’s greatest achievements was the Distance Learning Television under the Royal Patronage where more than one million five hundred thousand rural school students benefited from. The Program uses communication technology to transfer knowledge for young people in the deprived area. It becomes an important source of knowledge for so many people.

Dr. Lao: How do you adapt in the rapidly changing world?

Dr. Havanond: We are experiencing a Technological Revolution. Many things change so quickly. We are fortunate to have learnt from Self-Sufficiency Economy Philosophy from the late King. We need to be frugal and not overspend.

We also need to know the power of education. It is important to be well rounded and most importantly it is quintessential to live harmoniously with the world around us.

Dr. Lao: How do you see your life unfolded? What would be your legacy?

Dr. Havanond: For the rest of my life, I dedicate my humble self to the Country, the Constitution and the King. I want to use my legal knowledge for the betterment of the people. Being a Constitutional Court Justice is important. I want to make sure that my reading of the law serves to stabilize and strengthen Thailand.

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US-Bangladesh-Myanmar: Why US Rohingya rehabilitation announcement is appreciable?

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photo © UNHCR/Jiro Ose

According to the announcement of the State Department, US State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Immigration Julieta Valls Noyes arrived in Bangladesh on a four-day visit on Saturday (December 03). She visits the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar. Considering the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, Valls Noyce will meet with government officials during her visit to Bangladesh for showing generosity by sheltering Rohingya and other refugees. She will also meet with the officials of private and international partner organizations to highlight the commitment of the United States to support the Rohingya refugees and the local people of the populated country who have received shelter in this country. On December 7, the US Assistant Secretary of State will leave Bangladesh for Thailand.

Julieta Valls Noyes took over as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Immigration at the US State Department on March 31, 2022. Prior to this, she served as the Deputy Director and Acting Director of the Foreign Service Institute from 2018 to 2021. It should be noted that Washington has offered to permanently resettle more than half a hundred Rohingyas skilled in various jobs in the United States. Those displaced Myanmar nationals are currently under humanitarian shelter in Bangladesh in various refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. A list of more than half a hundred Rohingyas who have agreed to be resettled in the United States has also been recently shared with Dhaka.

Even after 5 years of displacement, the Western world, including the United States, is thinking of relocating some Rohingyas to their country permanently as there is no favorable environment for repatriation in Rakhine.

Initially, the United States will take some Rohingyas on a pilot basis. Its main purpose is to simplify the process. Once the process begins, more demand will come from the US at a later date.

During a recent visit to Dhaka, US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Affairs Afrin Akhter told media outlets, ‘We are working in coordination with the Bangladesh government on the Rohingya rehabilitation plan. We have identified a number of Rohingya for resettlement in the United States, who are interested in going there. We are working on this. We have resettled about 10,000 Rohingyas from Malaysia, Thailand and other countries. I want to rehabilitate Rohingyas from Bangladesh in the same way. The United States is committed to Rohingya cooperation.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the rehabilitation of the Rohingya in a statement on the fifth anniversary of Myanmar’s genocide against the Rohingya. He said that as an urgent part of the humanitarian response, the United States is working to increase the resettlement of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and other parts of the region in significant numbers. Its purpose is to enable them to rebuild their lives in the United States.

Before making this announcement, the United States sent a proposal to Bangladesh. Considering various aspects, Bangladesh did not agree at the beginning but later agreed. And requests the United States to take more Rohingya. In this context, the United States has initially given a pilot-based list. The relevant ministries and departments are working on this.

Since 2017, 500 to 600 Rohingyas have migrated to different countries of the world under family reunification. Along with the US, Canada has also offered to rehabilitate the Rohingya from Bangladesh.

Every year a Bangladesh-led Joint Response Plan (JRP) is developed to fund the Rohingya. The United States will be asked to plan JRP for several years in the meeting with Bangladesh. The country has already offered this to Bangladesh.

Due to various global crises, including Ukraine crisis, it has become difficult for the United States to allocate money separately for the Rohingya every year. They want to stand by Bangladesh in the Rohingya crisis. And for this, instead of a one-year JRP, it has proposed a multi-year JRP, so that they can commit in advance.

The United States has contributed the most to the Rohingya crisis so far. At this year’s UN General Assembly, the US Secretary of State announced $170 million in additional humanitarian aid. Since 2017, the country has contributed more than 190 million dollars to the Rohingya crisis.

United States wants to resettle Rohingya from Bangladesh. Julieta Valls Noyes, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Immigration of the US Department of State come Bangladesh for this purpose. During her visit to Bangladesh, Julieta will meet at various levels of the government on rehabilitation including visiting the Rohingya camps. That being said, there are several reasons why Julieta’s visit is promising for Bangladesh. It would be appreciated if the US administration works with Bangladesh government. It will reflect better mutual understanding between both administrations. The west and well-wishers of the promotors of humanitarian issues can follow the US footprint. 

Bangladesh has helped avert a major regional crisis by sheltering more than 7 million Rohingya who have fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar since August 2017. Providing food and shelter to this large number of refugees was not an easy task for the Bangladesh government. Bangladesh liberally opened its borders. Even though it faces financial, environmental and security challenges, the government is working hard to ensure that these displaced people can have a safe life in the refugee camps. Five years have passed since Bangladesh signed the repatriation agreement with Myanmar in November 2017. But the Myanmar government has not done anything for the safe return of the Rohingyas and the silence of the international community on this issue is sad. Again in 2018, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) signed a tripartite agreement with Myanmar to create favorable conditions for the safe return of the Rohingya. But the Myanmar government is yet to confirm that.

Bangladesh has developed housing and other facilities for the relocation of Rohingya to Bhasanchar in Noakhali to address landslide risk, drug smuggling, human trafficking, gender-based violence and conflict, as well as environmental degradation in the refugee camps area. But the silence of Myanmar and the international community on their repatriation is disappointing. Particularly, the insufficient stance of Bangladesh’s two giant neighbors (India and China) in the Rohingya issue is disappointing. In such a context, the announcement of the United States to rehabilitate the Rohingyas will raise optimism. Through this, it is expected that the international community will show sincerity in solving the Rohingya problem in Bangladesh and the world conscience will be awakened.

According to the news published at the same time, the United States has given a list of half a hundred Rohingyas based on their families. Initially, the United States will take some Rohingyas on a pilot basis. Its main purpose is to simplify the process. Once the process begins, more demand will come from the US at a later date. Earlier, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the rehabilitation of the Rohingya in a statement on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the genocide in Myanmar. Since 2017, 500 to 600 Rohingyas have migrated to different countries of the world under family reunification. Along with the US, Canada has also offered to rehabilitate the Rohingya from Bangladesh. The United States has contributed the most to the Rohingya crisis so far. Since 2017, the country has contributed more than 190 million dollars to the Rohingya crisis. Out of the large number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the resettlement of 600 Rohingya is not a big thing in terms of numbers, but it has a lot of political importance.

There is no dispute that diplomacy should be given the highest priority so that the Rohingya refugees can return safely to their homes as soon as possible. We look forward to the formation of committees for careful repatriation and the sincere implementation of earlier agreements. On the one hand, we have yet to find any convincing indication of fundamental humanitarian change in Myanmar’s ruling Rohingya policies. On the other hand, there is no sign of imposing sanctions or blockades or putting pressure on the mindless criminal elements of the regime without endangering the people of the country. Rather, the flow of Rohingya refugees is still ongoing. For this reason, the question is very relevant that the refugee repatriation agreement with Bangladesh is their strategic initiative? Or are they serious about taking back refugees?

In September this year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on the United Nations to take concrete steps for sustainable Rohingya repatriation. She expressed deep concern over Rohingya repatriation as the international community’s attention gradually shifted to Myanmar’s new global and internal conflicts. Now when the Rohingya resettlement process of the United States begins, the depth of the Rohingya problem will appear again in front of the world. The United Nations and international partners need to take concrete steps and projects to create an enabling environment for the sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas. For this, proper diplomatic activities should be strengthened on the part of Bangladesh. Bangladesh needs to be exposed to the world at large risk by harboring a large number of Rohingya population. At the diplomatic level, there should be an effective discussion with the friendly countries to resolve the Rohingya problem. It needs to be established that the Rohingya problem is not just a problem of Bangladesh and Myanmar – it is humanitarian and global.

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Why does the Indonesian government opt for China but ignore Japan in the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project?

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Image source: Wikipedia

After the G-20 agenda, Jokowi and Xi Jinping took the time to witness the online trial of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project jointly by the two countries, in Bali.[1] The project, which is predicted to be completed in the middle of next year in 2023[2], is an Indonesian mega project that has attracted a lot of public attention. This project cannot be separated from the dynamics of competition involving Japan and China in the early stages of its submission.

In this article, I explain why the Indonesian government finally opted for China over Japan in constructing its high-speed train. The reasons behind I resume from the reports of both Indonesian media and government websites. Then I add my opinion to each reason and how much it influence decision-making.

Introduction

The high-speed rail project connects two of Indonesia’s most densely populated cities: Jakarta and Bandung. The program actually has been planned in advance by the Indonesian government since the era of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in 2012.[3]

At that time, Japan was the first to be involved in its development plan. Through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan has conducted a feasibility study on the project. However, after the era of Indonesian leadership changed, the plans for the project mandate shifted as well.[4]

Under Jokowi, Japan was no longer prioritized to continue the construction of high-speed trains. According to one of the leading Indonesian media, Kompas, Japan whereas has spent 3.5 million US dollars just to conduct the feasibility study since 2014.[5] Japan was disappointed with the decision of new Indonesian government to prefer China over the project. The disappointment was expressed by his ambassador for Indonesia, Yasuaki Tanizaki. He expressed his dissatisfaction with two things. First, the feasibility fund for the study Japan had issued was big enough, and second, technologically, Japan should be undoubted for the project.[6]

The government’s choice over China in the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project in addition to causing disappointment for Japan also emerged in wild assumption in the public that Indonesian state-owned companies in the construction of high-speed trains will be taken control by China if something bad happened later on.[7] One of the Indonesian elites who are worried about this is Yusril Ihza Mahendra, according to him, “If they are (Indonesian state-owned companies) unable to pay, it is not impossible that China will acquire shares in the four state-owned companies consortiums. So, China started to control our state-owned companies”.[8]

The issue that the Jokowi administration had fallen into the grip of Xi Jinping’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) program, indeed, spreading across the country. The rumor is further strengthened by the number of other infrastructure projects that are financed by China. People then circulated the issue about China’s debt trap. They are worried China’s kindness on the debt will burden Indonesia in the future. However, in my opinion, that perception is not based on solid evidence. Granting debt by China is true as easy and not as strict as the provisions in the IMF or World Bank, which required the implementation of the ‘Washington Consensus’ (a term introduced by John Williamson in 1989[9]). But it does not mean that the financing provided by China is perfunctory, let alone China intends to entrap its borrowing countries with debt.

Negative rumors about China are often used as campaign material for certain political elites to attack the Jokowi government. The decision to choose China over Japan, I believe, is based on careful considerations in terms of economic and political factors, with the former reason playing more important role than the latter.

Therefore, I must emphasize that Jokowi’s decision to award the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train contract to China cannot be simply concluded that Indonesia has bandwagon against China. Throughout history, Indonesia has never once sided with any major power.

In this paper, I describe at least three reasons behind Indonesia prefers China for the construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train. I summarize these reasons from various media reports in Indonesia. These arguments include consideration of financing, balancing between the Asian Great Powers, and the implementation of a comprehensive strategy agreement between both countries.

Financing Considerations

According to my analysis, the financing considerationis the most influential factor why Jokowi finally chose China for high-speed train construction. In terms of financing proposals, the Chinese offer is indeed more profitable for the Indonesian government. The reason is Indonesia does not need to use its state budget. All financing is borne by China through a business-to-business (b to b) cooperation mechanism.[10]

On the other hand, the proposal made by Japan is burdensome for the Jokowi administration. Japan only undertakes the project if the financing construction is carried out with guarantees and the project’s risks must also be borne by the Indonesian government.[11]

Jokowi’s an objection to the offer from Japan is due to the lack of funds. Indonesia does have an interest in the presence of the first high-speed rail transportation mode in Southeast Asia.[12] However, with high costs and conditions that require guarantees from the government, it will suck up financial allocations for other infrastructure development. The Indonesian government emphasized that the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project should not be a burden on the state budget. The state budget according to Jokowi, will be focused on infrastructure development outside Java. As Jokowi said at the inauguration of the construction, “Since the beginning, the construction of the speed train connecting Jakarta-Bandung did not want to use state funds, why? Because we will focus (the state budget) for infrastructure development outside Java, the budget will go there”.[13]

As quoted from the Cabinet Secretariat Website of the Republic of Indonesia, it was stated that Jokowi emphasized three things regarding the speed train development plan: “1) Not using the state budget; 2) Not with government guarantees; 3) run by business to business (B to B) mechanism, whether it’s among state-owned enterprise or among the private sector”.[14]

So financing a project by fully devolving it into a business-to-business contract mechanism is the most rational choice. It is expected to be able to cover the limited financial gap without interfering with other allocation funds. For more details, in table 1.1 below I show a comparison of the proposals submitted by each party. I summarized this data from the Liputan 6 media.[15]

Table 1.1

Comparison of High Speed Rail Proposals between Japan and China

The ComparisonChinaJapan
Project Value5.5 Billion US Dollars6,2 Billion US Dollars
Government GuaranteeWithout Indonesian Government GuaranteeRequires Indonesian Government Guarantee
Contract SystemJoint venture company with project risk borne by the ventureEngineering, procurement and construction (EPC) with the risk borne by the government
Land ProcurementNo responsibility whatsoever by the Indonesian governmentThe responsibility of the Indonesian government
Local Content58,6 Percent40 Percent
Labor Absorption39 thousand people, only Chinese experts  involved35 thousand people, many of whom are workers from Japan
Transfer TechnologyIncluding technology transferWithout offering technology transfer

Source: Liputan 6

From the two proposals submitted, China’s offer for cheaper cost and its ability without involving state finances seems more rational for Indonesian government, so that the money can be used to realize Jokowi’s infrastructure ambitions. Moreover, according to Rini Soemarno, Minister of State-Owned Enterprises, China’s commitment to technology transfer can develop the Indonesian railway industry in the future.[16]

Balancing the Asian Great Powers

Another factor that caused the government’s choice to fall to China in 2015[17] was a strategic step to balance the power between Asian superpowers. As a small country, balancing power by means of hedging – not taking sides with one party, instead of acting opportunistically by embracing both – is the best survival mechanism in an anarchic world. As said by Kuik Cheng-Chwee (2008), that hedging is an act of avoiding risk by not choosing either bandwagoning or balancing against competing superpowers.[18]

When China and Japan are competing for influence in Southeast Asia, there is no other more effective way that ASEAN countries can do, including Indonesia, except by hedging. Hedging can be concluded to be beneficial because, in addition to avoiding provocations with the superpowers on one side, it also makes Indonesia more flexible when dealing with them.

Throughout history, the dynamics of competition between Japan and China in Indonesia have only been seen after China became a Rising Power, especially when the latter tried to further expand its economic influence after successfully carrying out economic reforms under Den Xiaoping’s leadership.[19]

Japan itself has a longer history of economic ties with Indonesia than China. Indonesia-Japan economic cooperation began between 1967-1970, when the investment faucet was first opened in Indonesia.[20] At that time, Japan was the third largest investor over the country after America and the Philippines (Kompas, 1971).[21] However, in 1977, Japan became Indonesia’s first largest investor (Okada Osamu, 1979).[22] Since then until now Japan has always been a partner of Indonesia’s strategic investors.

If it compared, the number between Japanese and Chinese foreign investment in Indonesia when they were fighting for the high-speed rail contract, it can see that at that time, Japanese investment was bigger than China. As of 2014 and 2015, Japan investements respectively are as follows: 2014 (6 Billion US Dollars) and 2015 (2.9 Billion US Dollars), while China: 2014 (1.1 Billion US Dollars) and 2015 (1, 5 Billion US Dollars).[23]

However, the emergence of China as a rising power due to its economic power has forced Indonesia to adjust its behavior towards the country. Slowly but surely, China’s economic influence in Indonesia began to shift Japan’s dominance. It can first be seen from their trade value recorded by the two country which reached US$44.5 billion in 2015, while at the same time, the trade value between Japan and Indonesia only recorded a value of US$31.3 billion.[24]

From those figures, both investment and trade transaction value, I agree with one opinion from the media of VOA Indonesia that concludes Indonesia’s relationship with China and Japan is to balance the two on all sides.[25] On the one hand, Indonesia still views Japan as its important investor partner, on the other hand, Indonesia embraces China as its strategic trading partner.[26] In terms of infrastructure project development in Indonesia, Japan has also been awarded quite prestigious projects such as coal-fired power plants and the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) construction in Jakarta.[27] Therefore, picking up China for speed train project is balancing step to avoid one side unhappy.

Japan and China are important in supporting Indonesia’s economic development so that it will be a loss if Indonesia is not able to manage the dynamics of competition between the two. Embracing one side means denying other party. By selecting China as the executor for Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project, Indonesia wants to show that the country is not a bandwagon to Japan. Instead, Indonesia is always open to any party offering strategic and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Preferring China is Indonesia’s way of balancing Japan’s influence over the years. Recognized or not, as a former Indonesia’s colonizer, Japan has a great leverage to the country. By being neutral towards both, Indonesia’s bargaining power will be even greater. It can be used to maximize its profits when it comes to bidding for Indonesian interest.

The implementation of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Selecting China for the construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project also can be interpreted as a part of the implementation of the increasingly bilateral relations between the two countries. If in 2005 the ties between Indonesia and China was only limited to Strategic Partnership, in 2013 the relationship increased to a strategic comprehensive partnership. During his visit to Beijing in 2014, while attending the APEC meeting, Jokowi said this in front of Xi Jinping:

“The relationship between Indonesia and China has been going on for hundreds of years. This has become an asset for the two countries to become comprehensive strategic partners. Going forward, I want this comprehensive strategic partnership to be even more concrete”.[28]

Feng and Huang (China’s Strategic Partnership Diplomacy) as cited by Georg Struver (2017), explain that the improvement of agreement to comprehensive strategic partnership ideally must be followed by the realization of cooperation in various fields that are broader and more detailed, and with a formal mechanism.[29] In brief, the countries that have bound themselves in a comprehensive strategic partnership with China literally are ready to cooperate on a more specific and detailed agenda.[30] Futhermore, in implementing a comprehensive strategic partnership, communication channels that will facilitate exchanges between government officials are also established (Feng and Huang, China’s Strategic Partnership Diplomacy).[31]

In the context of Indonesia-China relations, further talks on a comprehensive strategic partnership occurred when Jokowi met Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2015. As announced by the official website of the cabinet secretariat of Indonesia, both agreed to realize the benefits of a strategic comprehensive partnership that were more tangible for the people of both countries.[32] During the meeting, both the Indonesian and Chinese governments issued a joint statement signing of the 8 points of cooperation, and one of these proclamations, as stated in point three, is, “The MoU between the Minister of state-owned enterprises (Indonesia) and the National Commission for Development and Reform (China) for the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail Construction Project”.[33] So, as mentioned earlier, Indonesia’s selection of China in the high-speed rail project is the next step of implementing a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Conclusion

Judging from the various factors above, China’s offer to build a fast train with the cheaper and more profitable is the main ground in choosing the country compared to the factor as balancing forces and further implementation of the commitment to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The reason is very simple. In the midst of ambitions to build infrastructure, Jokowi needs large funds, so reasons other than economic matters do not play a major role.


[1] Rangga Pandu Asmara Jingga, “Jokowi – Xi Jinping Saksikan Uji Coba Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Antara, 2022, https://www.antaranews.com/berita/3248037/jokowi-xi-jinping-saksikan-uji-coba-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung

[2] This was conveyed by Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment: “We hope that President Xi Jinping can attend the operational inauguration of the Jakarta-Bandung fast train in the middle of next year together with President Joko Widodo”. The statement quoted from the news by Rangga Pandu Asmara Jingga, “Jokowi – Xi Jinping Saksikan Uji Coba Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Antara, 2022, https://www.antaranews.com/berita/3248037/jokowi-xi-jinping-saksikan-uji-coba-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung

[3] Achmad Hanif Imaduddin, “Rekam Jejak Proyek Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung, Dikaji Era SBY dan Peletakan Batu Pertama Jokowi,” Tempo, 2022, https://bisnis.tempo.co/read/1645382/rekam-jejak-proyek-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung-dikaji-era-sby-dan-peletakan-batu-pertama-jokowi

[4] Eiben Heizier & Dwi Arjanto, “Hari Ini 6 Tahun Lalu: Kilas Balik Proyek Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung Dimulai,” Tempo, 2022, https://bisnis.tempo.co/read/1552433/hari-ini-6-tahun-lalu-kilas-balik-proyek-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung-dimulai

[5] Muhammad Idris, “Kilas Balik China-Jepang Rebutan Proyek Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Kompas, 2022, https://money.kompas.com/read/2022/07/30/081759826/kilas-balik-china-jepang-rebutan-proyek-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung?page=all

[6] Fiki Ariyanti, “Jepang Kecewa dengan RI Karena Proposal Kereta Cepat Ditolak,” Liputan 6, 2015, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2309629/jepang-kecewa-dengan-ri-karena-proposal-kereta-cepat-ditolak

[7] Idris Rusadi Putra, “Yusril Khawatir 4 BUMN Pembangun Kereta Cepat Dikuasasi Cina,” Merdeka.com, 2015, https://www.merdeka.com/uang/yusril-khawatir-4-bumn-pembangun-kereta-cepat-dikuasai-china.html

[8] Idris Rusadi Putra, “Yusril Khawatir 4 BUMN Pembangun Kereta Cepat Dikuasasi Cina,” Merdeka.com, 2015, https://www.merdeka.com/uang/yusril-khawatir-4-bumn-pembangun-kereta-cepat-dikuasai-china.html

[9] Stephen R. Hurt, “Washington Consensus,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Washington-consensus or See: Shidarta “Antara Washington, Beijing, Dan Jakarta,” Binus University, 2017, https://business-law.binus.ac.id/2017/04/16/antara-washington-beijing-dan-jakarta/

[10] Muhammad Idris, “Ini 3 Alasan China Dipilih Jokowi Garap Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Kompas, 2021, https://money.kompas.com/read/2021/10/31/180449326/ini-3-alasan-china-dipilih-jokowi-garap-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung?page=all

[11] Ilyas Istianur Praditya, “Perbedaan Proposal Proyek Kereta Cepat Cina dan Jepang,” Liputan 6, 2016, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2440916/perbedaan-proposal-proyek-kereta-cepat-china-dan-jepang

[12]Even though, the dream was realized earlier in Laos as reported by CNBC Indonesia. The media mentioned Laos had inaugurated its high-speed train on December 2, 2021. Read here:  https://www.cnbcindonesia.com/news/20211203165155-4-296523/ri-disalip-laos-negara-pertama-punya-kereta-cepat-di-asean

[13] Disfiyant Glienmourinsie, “Di Depan China, Jokowi Pamer Kereta Cepat Tak Pakai APBN,” Sindo News, 2016, https://ekbis.sindonews.com/berita/1078962/34/di-depan-china-jokowi-pamer-kereta-cepat-tak-pakai-apbn

[14] Humas Kementerian, “Tunggu Tawaran Investor, Presiden Jokowi Bantah Batalkan Kereta Cepat Jakarta-Bandung,” Setkab, 2015, https://setkab.go.id/tunggu-tawaran-investor-presiden-jokowi-bantah-batalkan-kereta-cepat-jakarta-bandung/?yop_poll_tr_id=&yop-poll-nonce-1_yp566770c865861=585cd070f7

[15] Ilyas Istianur Praditya, “Perbedaan Proposal Proyek Kereta Cepat Cina dan Jepang,” Liputan 6, 2016, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2440916/perbedaan-proposal-proyek-kereta-cepat-china-dan-jepang

[16] Ilyas Istianur Praditya, “Perbedaan Proposal Proyek Kereta Cepat Cina dan Jepang,” Liputan 6, 2016, https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2440916/perbedaan-proposal-proyek-kereta-cepat-china-dan-jepang

[17] Intan Umbar Prihatin, “Indonesia pilih China garap proyek kereta cepat, Jepang marah-marah,” Merdeka, 2015, https://www.merdeka.com/peristiwa/indonesia-pilih-china-garap-proyek-kereta-cepat-jepang-marah-marah.html

[18] Ahmad Nurcholis, “Indonesia Joins The AIIB: Bandwagoning or Hedging Strategy?,” (Thesis, Shandong University, 2020), 7.

[19] Ezra F Vogel, “China under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership,” East Asia Forum, 2011, https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2011/09/27/china-under-deng-xiaopings-leadership/

[20] Miftakhul Rizki, “Investasi Asing Jepang Di Indonesia Masa Orde Baru Tahun 1967-1974,” Avatara, Volume 1, Nomor 2 (Mei, 2013): 235

[21] Miftakhul Rizki, “Investasi Asing Jepang Di Indonesia Masa Orde Baru Tahun 1967-1974,” Avatara, Volume 1, Nomor 2 (Mei, 2013): 235.

[22] Miftakhul Rizki, “Investasi Asing Jepang Di Indonesia Masa Orde Baru Tahun 1967-1974,” Avatara, Volume 1, Nomor 2 (Mei, 2013): 235.

[23] Data is processed from various sources: Kata Data (https://databoks.katadata.co.id/datapublish/2016/08/03/5-negara-investasi-terbesar-di-indonesia-2014), Tempo (https://bisnis.tempo.co/read/738350/singapura-teratas-dari-5-investor-asing-terbesar-ri-2015), Kata Data (https://databoks.katadata.co.id/datapublish/2016/08/04/5-negara-dengan-investasi-terbesar-ke-indonesia-2015), Loka Data (https://lokadata.beritagar.id/chart/preview/5-negra-dengan-nilai-investasi-asing-terbesar-di-indonesia-2015-2020-1597724790)

[24] Kata Data, “2015, Perdagangan Indonesia-China Capai 15 Persen,” Kata Data, 2016, https://databoks.katadata.co.id/datapublish/2016/12/07/2015-perdagangan-indonesia-cina-capai-15-persen

[25] VOA, “Indonesia Lebih Suka China daripada Jepang untuk Proyek Kereta Api,” VOA, 2015, https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/indonesia-lebih-suka-china-daripada-jepang-untuk-proyek-kereta-api/2939028.html

[26] VOA, “Indonesia Lebih Suka China daripada Jepang untuk Proyek Kereta Api,” VOA, 2015, https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/indonesia-lebih-suka-china-daripada-jepang-untuk-proyek-kereta-api/2939028.html

[27] VOA, “Indonesia Lebih Suka China daripada Jepang untuk Proyek Kereta Api,” VOA, 2015, https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/indonesia-lebih-suka-china-daripada-jepang-untuk-proyek-kereta-api/2939028.html

[28] Rustam Agus, “Jokowi Ingin Kerja Sama Dengan Tiongkok Lebih Nyata,” Bisnis.com, 2014, https://kabar24.bisnis.com/read/20141109/19/271461/jokowi-ingin-kerja-sama-dengan-tiongkok-lebih-nyata

[29] Georg Struver, “China’s Partnership Diplomacy: International Alignment Based on Interests or Ideology,” The Chinese Journal of International Politics, (2017): 45.

[30] Ibid., 45.

[31] Ibid., 45.

[32] Humas Sekretariat Kabinet, “Disaksikan Presiden Jokowi dan Presiden Xi Jinping, RI-RRT Tandatangani 8 Kerjasama,” Setkab, 2015, https://setkab.go.id/presiden-rrt-xi-jinping-sambut-presiden-jokowi-dengan-upacara-kenegaraan/

[33] Humas Sekretariat Kabinet, “Disaksikan Presiden Jokowi dan Presiden Xi Jinping, RI-RRT Tandatangani 8 Kerjasama,” Setkab, 2015, https://setkab.go.id/presiden-rrt-xi-jinping-sambut-presiden-jokowi-dengan-upacara-kenegaraan/

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