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Amidst BBNJ Negotiations: The Philippine Diplomacy

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With the increased footprint and growing anthropogenic pressures in the marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) started the negotiations for an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) within the overarching framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to manage and conserve marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). Since the official negotiations commenced in 2017 through the UNGA Resolution 72/249, there have been three Intergovernmental Conferences thus far – the first one on 17 September 2018, the second on 25 March-5 April 2019, and the third on 19-30 August 2019. The fourth and last session was supposed to be held last 11 March 2020, but this has been postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. It is in this regard that this postponement can be utilized by the Philippines to leverage itself better in the remaining BBNJ negotiation.

The Philippines has taken the position of adopting a new ILBI within the UNCLOS and not merely endorsing an enhanced administration and implementation of existing tools and instruments for the management of BBNJ. It advocates a rules-based and an integrated approach towards the BBNJ that is hinged on the principles of common heritage of mankind, rights and jurisdiction of adjacent coastal states, special recognition to environmentally vulnerable states, precautionary principles, and transparency. The various statements released by the Philippine Delegation (PhilDel) principally address the loopholes in the present management of BBNJ by stressing environmental justice hinged on fair and equitable access and distribution of benefits among all stakeholders within the ambit of sustainable development.

Philippine maritime diplomacy vis-à-vis BBNJ has highlighted the neo-liberal focus on the common problem-solving for the management of common resources. The International Relations theory of neo-liberalism underscores a system-level approach for cooperative strategies by building institutions that can create and regulate norms, rules and procedures to overcome the anarchic environment of the global order and consequently influence states to align their interests, and thereby attain enhanced collective outcomes and solutions in response to global and regional problems. International institutions serve therefore as policy outputs that represent the consensus of states that try to accentuate their absolute gains more than relative gains.

As an archipelagic country with 7,641 islands, its geographical conditions and boundaries are salient factors in the Philippines’ diplomatic activities. As a major fishing country, the Philippines is one of the top fish-producing countries in the world, contributing to the employment of 1.5 million Filipinos nationwide in 2010. The average annual contribution of the fishing sector in the country’s economy has been increasing through the years, and is currently valued at 3.6 percent. Given this economic salience of the fishing sector in the Philippines, the country has high stakes and exhibits huge interest in coming up with an ILBI on BBNJ that would be instrumental in evading the tragedy of the commons and overcoming the unequal access to and utilization of marine genetic resources. Being a low-middle income country that is tantamount to having a weak power within the international order, the Philippines has tried to position itself advantageously in the BBNJ negotiations by maximizing the neo-liberal approach. It has entered into coalition-building with other developing states that encounter similar struggles in the negotiations in order to pool a greater bargaining capacity. In spite of the limits of multilateralism, a smallpower like the Philippines may have more elbow room in the consensus-based multilateral set-up in BBNJ instead of a bilateral arrangement for inter-state relations.

As any global environmental agenda is embroiled with North-South politics, the Philippines has tried to leverage itself by entering into coalition with the Group of 77 (G-77) countries throughout the BBNJ negotiations. The G-77 has emerged as the largest coalition of the so-called developing countries from the South within the United Nations, and it has proven itself to be instrumental in articulating these countries’ collective identity and economic interests and in synergizing their negotiating capacity. From the Philippine perspective, converging with the G-77 is thus advantageous for a developing country like itself which aspires economic growth and seeks to correct the information asymmetry and imbalance of representation in the international system specially with regard to the thorny issues in BBNJ like distribution of biodiversity and access to capacity building and technology transfer (CB & TT). However, in spite of the promises of G-77, the group has been continuously challenged and being re-defined as bifurcations in interests emerge. For instance, the Philippines supports the proposal of referring to “environmentally” relevant UNCLOS clauses as part of the general provisions of the Treaty, but this was rejected by China. These internal interests diverge mainly due to the faster growth of other larger developing countries within G-77, specifically the BASIC (Brazil, China, India and South Africa) group.

Amidst the BBNJ negotiations and a changing G-77 collective identity, the Philippines can maximize its expanded network for international collaboration and cooperation, and explore other pathways of its diplomacy. As G-77 interests branch off internally, the PhilDel can utilize a greater degree of multi-level diplomacy by building alliances with countries forming part of other regional groups, such as the Coral Triangle Initiative and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, that are also members of the G-77. By highlighting their common economic, security and political interests, the Philippines can bring out these common dependencies that can solidify their position. As neo-liberalism also encompasses the role of non-state entities in international cooperation, the Philippines can bolster its non-state public diplomacy by forging greater collaboration with non-state actors like the environmental NGOs and the private sector, laying stress on ideational and material interests common with state preferences. Finally, the Philippines can also bolster its science diplomacy. As pertinent technology attributable to CB & TT is scattered among states, research centers, higher education institutions, business sector, and other non-state actors, the country can utilize network model that will expand the flows of CB & TT not only from North to South but also explore South-South passage, harnessing the variegated strengths of the Southern countries and endorsing multi-directional flows of impact.

Maria Pilar Lorenzo is an independent researcher and consultant currently based in Belgium. She obtained her Advanced Master in Cultures and Development Studies from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and Master of Public Administration from the University of the Philippines. She is a Fellow of the Regional Academy on United Nations, an Affiliate of the Philippine Society for Public Administration and of the Asian Society for Public Administration. In May 2020, she has been selected and featured by the YSEALI Women’s Leadership Academy as one of the leading women in Southeast Asia.

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Southeast Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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Southeast Asia

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

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Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Southeast Asia

The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam

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Photo courtesy - PTI

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

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

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

Vietnam’s disputes with China

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

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

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

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

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

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

Foe’s foe is friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way ahead

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

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