Distinguished Experts Call for Strengthening India-Vietnam Public Diplomacy
“During our history we have extended mutual support to each other…(we) have been able to benefit from the support from Indian people and government not only during our struggle for national independence and reunification, but also national construction”, said H.E. Mr. Pham Sanh Chau, Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to India. Ambassador Chau was delivering the inaugural address at the International Symposium on “Public Diplomacy and India-Vietnam Engagements”, organised by the Society for Public Research and Empowerment (SPRE), New Delhi, India in collaboration with Centre for Vietnam Studies, New Delhi, and the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in India. The event was organised via video conference on June 12, 2020.
Ambassador Chau discussed the Vietnamese perspective on public diplomacy and appreciated the importance given by Indian government to public diplomacy initiatives. He said that diplomacy had three major tenets in Vietnam which included political diplomacy, economic diplomacy and cultural diplomacy. Through cultural diplomacy, the primary task was to take care of the Vietnamese residing abroad, he said. He reminded the participants that President Ho Chi Minh had laid the foundation of “Hand to Hand” diplomacy, which helped in winning hearts of foreigners. He maintained that Vietnam won the war against the United States by winning public opinion in Washington. He reiterated the significance of public diplomacy, and said that the India Study Centre and the Ho Chi Minh Academy can be important institutions to support public diplomacy initiatives between the two countries. He also spoke of the growth of Voice of Vietnam radio. Ambassador Chau also specifically mentioned about the significance of direct flights between Vietnam and India and said that it will help in increasing people-to-people contact.
Prior to the inaugural address, Dr. Mahjabin Banu, President, SRPE and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Vietnam Studies in New Delhi, who moderated this symposium, delivered the opening remarks. She said that public diplomacy is key to managing bilateral relations between India and Vietnam as it helps in promoting inter-cultural understanding. Dr. Banu maintained that this ongoing pandemic has provided an opportunity to engage in a larger Track II dialogues which can also be made possible through technological applications and video conferencing.She asserted that public diplomacy initiatives and geo-cultural cooperation among India, ASEAN and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation will deepen the integration. This is also very crucial when it comes to Vietnam, she added. Dr. Banu called for a concerted effort toward enriching public diplomacy initiatives between the two countries, and argued that it can redefine the nature of our bilateral economic and strategic relations as well.
Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Chief Patron of the Centre for Vietnam Studies delivered the welcome address. He congratulated Vietnam on its successful handling of Covid-19 pandemic despite sharing a border with China. He praised the accountability of the government of Vietnam. While expressing his thoughts on public diplomacy, Dr. Roy emphasized on the importance of the cultural aspects. He spoke about the success of German Institutes, Confucian Centers and the British Councils. In terms of public diplomacy, he maintained that what matters is what you are and not who you are. In his concluding remarks, he commended the fact that both India and Vietnam have to walk shoulder to shoulder in deepening cooperation between them. Dr. Roy also reminded the participants of the geographical importance of the Indo-Pacific and how India has remained an anchor in the region.
Dr. G. B. Harisha, Director of the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre at the Embassy of India in Hanoi delivered a special address. He threw light on the recent discovery of Shiva Linga in the Cham Temple complex. Dr. Harisha also discussed about the deep cultural relationship between India and Vietnam. He further spoke about the respect given to Swami Vivekananda Centre in Hanoi and also about the recently installed statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Hanoi. He said that although other ASEAN countries are known for deeper ancient ties with India, the most ancient inscriptions are found in Hanoi. He highlighted that about 2000 years back, Indian monks brought Buddhism to Vietnam. He reminded the participants about the significance of International Day of Yoga and said that it is celebrated at a very artistic level in Vietnam.
The symposium included three distinguished panels catering to three distinct sub-themes. Each of these panels included two experts – one each from India and Vietnam. The three panel sub-themes included the following: instruments of public diplomacy; public diplomacy as a means of strengthening India-Vietnam ties; and, India-Vietnam cooperation in the emerging geopolitics of a post-covid world
Dr. Rajan Sudesh Ratna, Economic Affairs Officer at United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in New Delhi spoke on the first sub-theme of instruments of public diplomacy. He began by comparing the imperial struggles of both India and Vietnam. Dr. Ratna then spoke about how India had granted Vietnam the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status in 1975, even before Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO). He added that soon after granting the MFN status, India then went on to sign a trade agreement with Vietnam in 1978. Dr. Ratna spoke of the deep economic ties between India and Vietnam by stating facts that included India being the 7th largest trading partner of Vietnam and Vietnam being India’s 3rd largest trading partner in ASEAN and 14th largest trading partner globally. He also emphasized on how Indian generic drugs being the cheapest can help Vietnam. Dr. Ratna also stressed on the importance of science and technology as a means of connect between the two nations given that Indian software is globally recognized, and Vietnam also has gained due competitiveness in science and technology.
Ms. M. A. Hoang Manh, the next speaker, represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Vietnam. She spoke of an article she had written on ‘What does Vietnam share to the world?’. She said the answer lay in the UNESCO heritage and national parks, and not just coffee. She highlighted the 4000 years of history of Vietnam. Ms. Manh stressed that the most important purpose of public diplomacy is to connect and make people understand about Vietnam. She said that media can play a pivotal role in doing so. She informed the participants that the Voice of Vietnam, as mentioned by Ambassador Chau as well, has 24 channels and it can be an important instrument to promote Vietnam. She spoke of two proposals to help improve public diplomacy between India and Vietnam. One, she said, is to publish more and more articles in the newspapers carrying positive information about India as information about India was limited in Vietnam. Secondly, she called for publishing information about Vietnam in English language to promote Vietnam among the Indian audience.
Dr. Faisal Ahmed, Associate Professor at FORE School of Management in New Delhi, while speaking on public diplomacy as a means of strengthening India-Vietnam ties, described public diplomacy as a tool to reposition the image of a country in mind of the people of other countries. He talked about popular geopolitics and maintained that Vietnam has created an excellent regional and global image as a supporter of peace and humanitarian values. Discussing about cultural cooperation, he mentioned that the two sides have jointly created Indo-Vietnam Film and Cultural Forum which strengthens public diplomacy initiatives. He recommended that this cultural forum should undertake initiatives to organise film festivals, fashion shows, broadcasting of films, and should also print an India-Vietnam Film Magazine to depict each other’s real and reel life. He spoke about the need for mass connect amongst the youths, and across communities in both countries. Dr. Ahmed called for allocating more policy space to public diplomacy for leveraging its benefits in economic and strategic arenas as well.
Dr. Le Thi Hang Nga from the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences in Hanoi was the next speaker. She explained the five elements of public diplomacy viz. listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, exchange diplomacy and international broadcasting. She said the most important aspect was cultural diplomacy between Vietnam and India. She spoke of how well India has promoted cultural diplomacy by stating that thirty-seven cultural centers have been maintained by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and sculptures of Mahatma Gandhi have been established in forty countries on his 150th birth anniversary. Dr. Nga maintained that the most unique feature of Indian diplomacy can be domestic outreach, and emphasized that the North-East region of India is significant for the success of India’s Act East Policy. She mentioned about the newsletter started by the Indian Embassy in Vietnam which is published in Vietnamese, and spoke of the need of a similar newsletter in India by the Vietnamese Embassy.
The last panel focused on the sub-theme of India-Vietnam cooperation in the emerging geopolitics of a post-Covid world. Prof. G. Jayachandra Reddy, Director of the Centre for Southeast Asian and Pacific Studiesat Sri Venkateswara University in Tirupati began his talk with the Covid-19 pandemic situation. He said that Covid-19 is very different from all the previous pandemics – the one difference being on the impact on developed economies. He then discussed about the geopolitical blame game that began following the Covid-19 outbreak. He raised the question as to whether the virus was a coincidence or a planted tool and whether information was hidden and to what extent. He described how the United States has been targeting China and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and also how the European Union is supporting the resolution for enquiry. He expects that there would be a re-polarization of the world order with the growing relevance of geopolitics. He also emphasized that India and Vietnam shall be emerging as extremely competitive hubs in the long-run.
Further, Dr. Do Thu Ha, Professor at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, spoke about borders becoming much more blurred due to globalization. She reiterated the shift in power being brought forward by this pandemic. She maintained that Covid-19 is here to stay, and it is the time we reconsider our mobility, supply chains, relationships, etc. in accordance with this new scenario. Dr. Ha concluded by drawing attention to the impact of Covid-19. It is not to be underestimated and global order dynamics are expected to be hugely different from pre-Covid world, she added.
The event received immense knowledge support and cooperation from Dr. Sonu Trivedi, Director of the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre at the Embassy of India in Seoul; and, Dr. Manish Kumar, Officiating Director of the Centre for Vietnam Studies in New Delhi. It included active participation from speakers and delegates representing India, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Russia, and Switzerland. Toward the end, the forum was opened for Q&A. The Rapporteuring of the event was done by Mr. Mohammad Yusuf Khan. The event concluded with a vote of thanks.
(SPRE may be contacted at: spre.india[at]gmail.com)
Indonesia’s Leadership in ASEAN 2023: Young Generation as Game Changers in Echoing Regional Peace Narratives
‘ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth’ was announced by President Joko Widodo as the theme for the one-year relay of Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN at the ASEAN Summit agenda on 13 November 2022 in Cambodia. As can be seen, Indonesia has received a lot of trusts and a progressive image from the international order, as evidenced by its success at the G20 multilateral economic cooperation forum in 2022, and this year Indonesia is preparing to become the leader of the regional organization agenda of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Setkab, 2022). Indonesia openly gets many opportunities to introduce its identity to be more vocal regionally and multilaterally, one of which is introducing basic Indonesian principles such as Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (different but still one), which are compact or following the principles of international organizations which Indonesia chairs. As a reflection, ASEAN is indeed thick with diversity, so solidarity is one of the principles upheld. Archipelagically, Indonesia is a country composed of tracks of reconciliation with differences. So, in terms of harmonizing the differences that occur, Indonesia has vital ammunition for that.
The effort and enthusiasm of innovative and creative youth in various fields is a potent ammunition from Indonesia. According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), in 2021, the youth in Indonesia will be around 64.92 million people, or around 23.90% of Indonesia’s total population (Mahdi, 2021). What about the number of youths within the scope of ASEAN? ASEAN estimates that the total population of the younger generation will be around 220 million in 2038, which has yet to be accumulated with the estimated calculation of Timor Leste’s inclusion as the 11th member of ASEAN (CNN, 2022). So, the total population explosion must be utilized as the epicenter of progressive growth for all ASEAN countries. Referring to article 32 of the ASEAN charter, ASEAN leaders have three main tasks: spokesperson, chief executive, and tabling new initiatives. Also, in carrying out this leadership, the ASEAN chairperson must pay attention to several things: actively advancing and enhancing the interests of ASEAN members, guaranteeing ASEAN centrality, representing ASEAN, ensuring an adequate response, and carrying out its duties, principles, and functions to the fullest (ASEAN, 2008). There are three main pillars in the topic of ASEAN discussion; the first is the economic sector which is discussed in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), politics in the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), and socio-culture in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). A topic that is interesting to young people and has a variety of uniqueness due to the diversity of ASEAN is ASCC-based so socio-cultural terminology will be the main focus of writing. The heart of ASCC is to ensure the quality of life (QOL); quality of life of the ASEAN people through cooperative activities with the concept of being people-oriented, people-centered, environmentally friendly, and promoting sustainable development (ASEAN, 2016). Therefore, when Indonesia chaired ASEAN, he had a significant role in maintaining regional and domestic stability. When the quality of life and regional stability are met, the situation is safe and free from threats, and the obstacles to achieving ASEAN’s vision can be reduced in tension. Regarding peace, the young generation of ASEAN, especially in Indonesia, must be introduced and well-educated as a game-changer to create peace in the Southeast Asian region. So, this article simultaneously proves the question, how can Indonesian youth be actively involved in regional peace through the momentum of Indonesia’s chairmanship in ASEAN in 2023?
Looking back on youth involvement in ASEAN, for the first time in 2022, ASEAN held a Youth Dialogue under the chairmanship of Cambodia in ASEAN in 2022. This Youth Dialogue is being held jointly with the Republic of Korea (ROK) and resulted in policy recommendations as a form of commitment from the younger generation in preparing for the industrial revolution 4.0 in the era of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic (ASEAN, 2022). In other forums still under ASEAN’s attention, the younger generation has only made and submitted policy recommendations that have yet to be contributively and actively involved in the ASEAN process. Indicators or parameters of the younger generation’s influence in ASEAN regional forums still need to be determined because the younger generation still plays a passive role in ASEAN. On the other hand, many youth-based organizations, forums, communities, and start-ups in Indonesia exist. Until now, there are 2,346 start-ups in Indonesia, making Indonesia the first-ranked country with the most significant number of start-ups beating Singapore in second (Annur, 2022). Start-ups indicate the development of the young generation’s innovation and are a model and proof that Indonesia’s young generation already has the ammunition to put a ‘sense of influence’ among Southeast Asia’s younger generation. Indonesia’s momentum as chair of ASEAN in 2023 should further facilitate and provide opportunities for Indonesia’s young generation to become the epicenter of creation and innovation for the younger generation in the Southeast Asian region. The government must open up space for collaboration and cooperation between the younger generation of Indonesia and other young people in the ASEAN region so that the benefits generated are not only for the younger generation who will continue ASEAN in the future.
Citing the vital role of an ASEAN chairman, Indonesia has full power, for example, in recognizing the existence of a strategic and applicable youth regional forum according to the needs of the younger generation, for example, in cybercrime case studies. Events regarding cyber warfare and its derivatives are exciting and essential for the younger generation who live in an era of digital transformation where war, political weapons, the economy, and various aspects that can weaken national security are carried out through cyberspace. The point of cyber security at the ASEAN level must be a shared concern and mission. This mission can be focused on the younger generation, firstly through policy recommendations, secondly also through meetings or gatherings under the pillars of ASEAN in which the younger generation has not been a representative so far to listen to and interpret debates which also ultimately have an impact on their welfare, the younger generation can become observers in meetings involving high-ranking state officials, even though at the closing ceremony or summit, in the end, the younger generation can feel the atmosphere of meetings in ASEAN. In another form of involvement, the younger generation in Southeast Asia should have a common interest or shared goals, especially in viewing the centrality of ASEAN, and in this case, shared goals are formulated through meetings at the youth level which will ultimately position ASEAN to have a youth-way. The existence of multilateral forums such as dialogues and conferences will further increase awareness and a sense of solidarity with each other, so that common interests arise. The younger generation must promote, innovate, and integrate ASEAN in the focus of any issues that ASEAN will implement in the ASEAN leadership under Indonesia as its chairperson in 2023.
This analogy can describe the relationship of involvement and interrelationship between peace, the younger generation, and Indonesia’s leadership. Peace is a goal to be achieved, while the younger generation is a tool (game-changer) in achieving this goal, and Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2023 is the time or momentum. Through the younger generation, the concept of peace regarding fairness in opinion and innovation, the right to be protected from threats, and the right to be free to make choices these values will be reflected when the younger generation knows their position and what is the urgency and justification for their existence in this context. Indonesia’s leadership in several forums has been left from regional to multilateral. The low failure rate in these leadership positions indicates that peace as a form of embodiment of ASEAN’s vision and solidarity in its journey is possible, primarily through the younger generation’s involvement. Harmonization between the values upheld in each country in ASEAN, under the umbrella of ASEAN centrality, is expected not to become an obstacle to the unity of these ASEAN countries. Because the main actors are the younger generation, and the younger generation tends to have a character that likes to work together and produce new ideas exclusive to their field, the tendency to distort one another is rated low. Moreover, ASEAN is the driving force for the movement of the younger generation. A package that complements and fulfills one another.
The game-changer idiom construction in the title refers to the player context, which can bring about change very effectively. When the younger generation already has a portion of involvement, then the younger generation should make the most of this position. The more optimal the role of the younger generation, the more ASCC points will be achieved and creating ASEAN as the epicenter of growth, meaning that the full significance of change is approaching the final goal, then the young generation’s point as a game-changer will be realized. In the track record of making peace with differences, the young generation sparks significant peace (volcanically) in voicing an issue. It means that Indonesia’s ammunition through the younger generation as a game-changer is no longer wishful thinking, but a reality based on factual evidence.
ASEAN “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper” this slogan reminds us to be ready for various opportunities and challenges and ignites the spirit of achieving shared prosperity. Indonesia’s chairmanship in ASEAN is one of the venues for strengthening Indonesian identity globally; Indonesia can realize the noble values of Pancasila, which are not rigid but adapt to the urgency of ASEAN in the next year. By involving the younger generation in a comprehensive and participatory manner, there is a strategic relationship between Indonesia’s leadership as momentum, the younger generation as a game-changer or tool, and peace that is trying to be vocalized and echoed because ASEAN matters. In the end, after the common goals are achieved, mutual benefits can be added value for Indonesia and ASEAN itself.
The impact of AUKUS against China and Russia on the security of Asia and the world
The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia revealed the details of a joint plan aimed at establishing a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, in order to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region, within the framework of the (Aukus) agreement of a defensive nuclear nature between the United States of America, Britain and Australia, which It was announced in December 2021. Here the question remains, about: Does the Aukus agreement qualify the world for a nuclear war between China, America and the countries allied with them? Whereas, under this agreement known as the “Aukus” agreement, Australia will receive the first nuclear-powered submarines, among at least three by the United States of America. The allies will also work to form a new fleet that will use the latest advanced technologies, including British-made Rolls-Royce reactors.
For its part, the United States of America strengthened its alliance with NATO countries in Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the Asia-Pacific region, or the Indo-Pacific in the American sense, Washington strengthened the Quadruple Security Dialogue Alliance, which also includes Australia, India and Japan, and then the Aukus Nuclear Alliance with the participation of Australia and the United Kingdom. These two steps are uncomfortable for Beijing and Moscow, which warn that such moves threaten to ignite a new cold war between all parties. This is what was stated in the report of the Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV, quoting one of the speeches of Chinese President “Xi Jinping”, assuring that:
“China and Russia need to take more joint measures to protect our security and interests more effectively, and that there is no formal alliance between the two countries.” However, Chinese President “Xi Jinping” confirmed to his Russian counterpart, Putin, that “this relationship goes beyond even the alliance between the two parties”. Accordingly, the Chinese and Russian presidents began to form an “independent financial infrastructure”, to reduce their heavy dependence on Western banks and their exposure to punitive measures from the West. Through their proposal to hold a possible tripartite summit with India, it began with the visit of Russian President “Putin” to the capital, New Delhi, and his meeting with Indian Prime Minister “Narendra Modi”, and then the two parties’ agreement for India to obtain the S-500 missile system. All of these Russian and Chinese moves are to obstruct US influence in response to its existing alliances against them.
Here, China denounced the massive cooperation program, warning that the (Aukus nuclear defense agreement) between Washington, Australia and Britain represented “a wrong path and a threat to regional and international security. China’s mission to the United Nations also accused the western allies, led by the United States, of obstructing efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. Certainly, building a number of security and defense blocs of a nuclear nature, such as the Okus agreement to develop NATO’s infrastructure in the Asian region, will inevitably lead to a confrontation that will last for many years. This was stated in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s warning of the dangers of nuclear proliferation with the nuclear propulsion submarine program launched by the United States, Australia and Britain.
The danger of the Aukus nuclear agreement for China comes that it will be the first time ever around the world, in which three fleets sail together and in full coordination, namely the American, British and Australian fleets, across the Atlantic and Indian oceans in the Indo-Pacific region in the American concept or Asia Pacific in the Chinese concept under the slogan of preserving freedom of navigation. It certainly raises China’s anger and fears and threatens regional security in areas of direct influence of China. The biggest Chinese fear comes from the Okus defense nuclear agreement between the United States, Australia and Britain, given that, starting in 2027, the United States and the United Kingdom will establish a base that includes a small number of nuclear submarines in the Perth region of Western Australia, before the Australian capital, Canberra, buys three American Virginia-class submarines, with other options offered to Australia by Washington to buy two more submarines. This threatens long and continuous confrontations between China and the signatories to the Aukus nuclear agreement, due to its impact on the safety and security of China and its immediate regional surroundings.
Therefore, the Chinese warning came that the “Aukus Agreement” may lead to igniting an arms race in the region, with the three countries being accused of causing a setback in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. China looks with resentment, especially at the rapprochement that began in the past years in the Indo-Pacific region between the authorities of Taiwan and the United States of America, because of its decades-old military support for the island in the face of Beijing. Chinese President “Xi Jinping” accused the United States of leading Western efforts towards “containing, encircling, and completely suppressing China”. Here came the American response to China, with reference to Beijing’s raising the concerns of several countries in the Asia-Pacific region, through its threats to invade Taiwan, which enjoys democratic rule, according to Washington, in addition to the American emphasis on the need to protect the region surrounding China, given the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea in the face of its Japanese and South Korean neighbors and the security of the region.
The Aukus defense nuclear agreement represents a major leap for Australia, as this step for Australia, an ally of the United States, is a major development of its military capabilities. It became the second country after the United Kingdom to acquire Washington’s nuclear technology. The submarines are characterized by their ability to operate more and faster compared to the current fleet of diesel-powered submarines, and Australia will be able, for the first time, to launch long-range strikes against its enemies, according to the Australian perception. The Aukus agreement includes sending a group of Australian Navy personnel, starting from the current year 2023, to the American and British submarine bases for training on how to use the new nuclear submarines. This is a major step within the “Aukus” tripartite partnership agreement signed by the three countries, “USA, Britain and Australia” in 2021.
However, US President “Joe Biden” denied these Chinese and international accusations, stressing that the agreement aims to promote peace in the region from the American point of view, and that submarines will operate with nuclear energy and are not armed with nuclear weapons. During his meeting with UK and Australian ministers, “Rishi Sunak and Anthony Albanese” in San Diego, California, he said the agreement would not jeopardize Australia’s commitment to being a nuclear-weapon-free country.
The last analysis remains for analysts and foreign policy makers with regard to China and Russia after Washington concluded the Aukus nuclear defense agreement with Britain and Australia in the face of China and Russia mainly, that the United States of America, with its reckless behavior in the foreign arena, has brought the situation to the point that the world is about to enter into a global military and nuclear conflict between America itself on the one hand and China and Russia on the other hand through its alliances directed against them globally, such as the Aukus nuclear alliance with Britain and Australia and the Quadruple Alliance with Japan, South Korea, India and Australia.
Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship 2023 plays a pivotal roles on ASEAN Power Grid repercussions
Authors: I Dewa Made Raditya Margenta; Hidayatul Mustafidah Rohmawati*
Indonesia’s presidency at the next ASEAN Chairmanship may hold the key to unlocking the region’s most ambitious and promising energy project, the ASEAN Power Grid (APG) project.
This year, Indonesia will chair a multilateral meeting (again) called the 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship, with the theme of “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth.” This meeting will hone in on enhancing ASEAN’s institutional capacity and effectiveness to be a fast-growing, inclusive, and sustainable economic region. This chairmanship will also further strengthen Indonesia’s diplomatic influence following the success of the G20 Presidency in 2022.
In this year’s chairmanship, Indonesia raises three priority issues in the economic sector: recovery and rebuilding, digital economy, and sustainability. These priorities implementation is translated into 16 Priority Economic Deliverables for 2023. One of the priorities focuses on building sustainable energy security through interconnectivity and market obligation. Therefore, this is a gate opener for a more substantial commitment to the long-awaited ASEAN energy project, ASEAN Power Grid.
Quo Vadis of the ASEAN Power Grid.
The ASEAN Power Grid project is the flagship program mandated in 1997 by the ASEAN Heads of State/Governments under the ASEAN Vision 2020. The project intends to boost grid modernisation and resilience, promote clean and renewable energy integration, and increase regional multilateral electricity trading between ASEAN member states. It could also provide an electricity solution for remote or undeveloped areas inaccessible by national transmission lines.
The ASEAN Power Grid could also assist the ASEAN member states in shifting their fossil fuel dependency by optimising renewable energy sources. ASEAN is projected to need an additional 479 GW of electricity by 2040 to fuel its economy. However, all ASEAN member states have a firm reliance on fossil fuels. Currently, fossil energy is still the primary electricity source in ASEAN, around 75% of the electricity production mix.
At the same time, the electricity generated from renewable energy sources also grows annually. Besides, ASEAN has abundant renewable energy potential; 8,119GW Gross Capacity of solar and 342GW of wind. Optimising renewable energy in the project could contribute up to 112,267 million tons of CO2e and 64 thousand tons of N2O of emission reduction by 2040. It could also significantly reduce the dependence on fossil fuels around 259 million tons of coal, 11.2 million tons of oil and 77 million m3 of natural gas. The ASEAN Power Grid project, therefore, could heavily rely on renewable energy and, ultimately, intertwine the economic development and climate mitigation in the ASEAN region.
Economically, the ASEAN Power Grid can reduce the annual operational costs of the ASEAN power sector by USD 1 billion. It corresponds to a supply cost reduction of around USD 1 per MWh. Increasing the cross-border interconnection infrastructure in ASEAN has further economic advantages and can support higher percentages of renewable energy use. The annual operations costs can be cut by 4-5 billion USD.
Other benefits also include potential green jobs. It is estimated that 100,000 – 200,000 green jobs could be created in 2040 and grow up to 700,000 in a more ambitious scenario.
(De)bottleneck the problem through multilateral cooperation
However, realising the ASEAN Power Grid has to deal with numerous challenges, primarily political mistrust towards the project. Some ASEAN members highly value the ideas of nationalism and sovereignty. Besides, the concept of self-sufficiency also becomes the bottleneck of cross-border electricity trade. For instance, exporting renewable energy is prohibited in Malaysia and Indonesia. Consequently, only half of the key cross-border ASEAN Power Grid interconnections were in operation from the first announcement.
Governments often need to be made aware of the potential of regional electricity connectivity. This connectivity could close the gap between electricity supply and demand, potentially widening in the next two decades. Furthermore, the uneven distribution of natural resources endowments within regions also prohibits the accomplishment of self-sufficiency, and it needs multilateral collaboration to realise energy security.
Therefore, Indonesia’s presidency on ASEAN Chairmanship 2023 must be the perfect timing to strengthen the ASEAN’s political will on the ASEAN Power Grid. As the natural leader within ASEAN, Indonesia could optimise their influence to enhance the political trust between members. Indonesia may not want to lose the political momentum when the G20 presidency was successfully held amid unprecedented circumstances, such as the Russia-Ukraine war.
As the leader, Indonesia might encourage the development of a consistent yet adaptive intergovernmental collaboration framework in the energy sector. This commitment is crucial for risk sharing and providing a clear line in the planning and permitting. This commitment is also vital as a certainty for the multilateral or private financiers to support the project financing.
In light of the significance of the ASEAN Power Grid for the regional economy and efforts to mitigate climate risk, it will be interesting to examine Indonesia’s viewpoint and political decision in the 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship.
*Hidayatul Mustafidah Rohmawati is a research staff of Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center (PYC). She has research interest in biobased energy and green industry sectors. She completed her degree from Universitas Brawijaya, Indonesia.
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