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Southeast Asia

Jokowi’s response to COVID-19: A question of legacy?



As the fourth most populous country in the world and as the largest archipelago, Indonesia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been slow and facile. The country confirmed its first two COVID-19 cases on 2 March and it took them almost a month to declare this pandemic as public health emergency on 31 March. As of 20 April, Indonesia has registered 6,760 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 590 deaths with the latter being the highest in the region. Moreover, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has put Indonesia’s mortality rate at more than 8%, the highest in the world ahead of even Italy, Iran, China, Japan and Spain.

All of this suggests severe mismanagement by President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and his administration during the initial and the most crucial months of the ongoing crisis. Jokowi’s initial response stemmed from his desire to carry on with his reforms to establish his legacy and it seems that the fear for the same legacy is making him act now.

Why the delay?

For Jokowi, the year 2020 was expected to be the most important year for his economic plans which would have defined his legacy. Having tasted success with his economics – well known as Jokowinomics – in the first term, it was expected of Jokowi to double-down on his pro-growth approach under Jokowinomics 2.0. This possibly is the reason why it is widely argued that Widodo has been more concerned about the economic and social impact of COVID-19 than about the country’s weak health system during the recent pandemic.

Under Jokowinomics 2.0, the new omnibus legislation on the creation of employment and to improve Indonesia’s investment prospectus is deemed pivotal. Through this legislation, Jokowi aims to replace dozens of overlapping measures in a bid to improve the investment climate and create jobs in Indonesia. Analyst Jefferson NG notes that the success of Jokowi’s agenda depends on his ability to push through his legislative agenda by this year for him “to effect visible change before he steps down.” The importance of this bill and Jokowi’s ‘ability to push’ can be understood by the latter conveying to the House of Representatives to complete the law in a maximum of 100 days. The ongoing pandemic might delay the passing of the law in the stipulated time.

While shutting down the economy could have been one of the primary reasons behind Jokowi’s delayed response, the lack of political challenge and fear of political loss could be another major reason. In Indonesia’s political structure, a President can only serve for a maximum of two terms and Jokowi is already in his second term. There is no fear of him losing another election in case of negative public popularity owing to his delayed response to the crisis. There are also slim chances of him facing any backlash from within the parliament as he currently leads a majority coalition which controls roughly 74% of the parliament. This coalition involves several Indonesian political elites who have all been rivals of Jokowi and his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) it is suggested that this coalition was formed to ensure an easy passage for the success of Jokowi’s reform agenda.

Expected backlash

While it appears that economic considerations and no immediate threat to his presidency seemed to have led to Jokowi’s delayed response, the President and his administration have now sprung into action. Alongside increasing mortality rate and growing international pressure, it is the fear of public outrage, the backlash from the Islamist allies and overall loss of legacy that might have led to Jokowi’s changing approach.

Widodo has been extremely wary of public outrage and protests. In the last twelve months, Indonesia has witnessed three major protests: mass protests over the presidential election results of 2019, protests against suggested amendments to the Criminal Code and protests by labour unions against the omnibus legislation. Now, Jokowi’s delayed response to the COVID-19 pandemic has generated the potential for another public protest fuelled with anti-Chinese sentiments. Anti-Chinese sentiments are never far below the surface in Indonesia. Just like in the rest of the world, online trolls in Indonesia are accusing the Chinese of introducing the virus. Indonesia has already been witnessing violent protests against Chinese workers in several locations. Further, there is also a strong possibility of backlash from the Islamists after Jokowi’s banning of Mudik on 21 April. Jokowi already has the history of facing public protests and backlash from the Islamists during the ‘212 movement’ owing to the alleged blasphemous statements made by his close association with former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), an ethnic Chinese Christian. This history along with the “Chinese virus” and Widodo’s favouring of Chinese investment, will make him vulnerable if the majority Islamists along with the protesters once again take the baton of anti-Chinese and anti-Jokowi sentiments.

Conclusion: Loss of legacy?

Jokowi first came to power in 2014 with his reformist agenda prioritizing infrastructure, development and economic reforms. All of his priorities went into second gear with his re-election for his second and final term last year. Jokowi is relying upon all of the above to define his legacy. It is often said that his goal is to be the country’s next “Father of Development”, a title once held by Suharto, Indonesia’s last dictator. It is the hunger for this legacy which led to his delayed response to the COVID-19 crisis and it is now the fear for his legacy which is making him act. Jokowi seems to have understood that if the crisis goes haywire in Indonesia from here on, COVID-19 will trump all his economic reforms and goals to define him as the country’s “Father of Disaster”.

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Southeast Asia

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



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

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

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

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

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Southeast Asia

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



Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Southeast Asia

The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam



Photo courtesy - PTI

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


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

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

Vietnam’s disputes with China

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

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

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

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

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

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

Foe’s foe is friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way ahead

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

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