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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Needs New Maritime Approach in the Sea of Natuna Island

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The Indonesian Coast Guard wards off a foreign fishing boat in the North Natuna Sea on Feb. 24, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry)

The Indonesia-China conflict in the sea of the Natuna Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which was recently reportedly massively was not new. A similar event had occurred in March 2016, after eight Chinese fishermen were arrested by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Unit 11 Shark Boat officers. And the response made by the Chinese government at that time was similar. PRC still feels innocent because it considers Natuna sea as a traditional fishing location for a long time.In other words, the land is claimed as part of the U-shaped South China Sea area (known as the Nine-Dash Line). The area was declared by China in 1947. Therefore, the Chinese fishing vessels finally seemed to be shaking in and out even though Indonesia’s claim on the Natuna Islands EEZ was based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Actually, the maritime border agreement which covers continental shelf, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone with neighboring countries and the international community is not yet complete. Indonesia and Malaysia signed the establishment of continental shelf boundaries in November 1969. The approval for the establishment of Indonesian and Vietnamese continental shelf boundaries was signed in June 2013. Indonesia jurisdictional maps issued by the Indonesian Navy Hydrographic and Oceanographic Center shows that the EEZ boundary line (Exclusive Economic Zone) with Vietnam and Malaysia on the Natuna sea border many still need agreement. In EEZ – as the name implies – a country’s sovereign rights are limited and exclusive to economic rights, such as the exploration of marine resources, or oil and gas under the sea. Other countries, even including countries that do not have sea borders (land locked states) have certain access to the EEZ such as the rights of peaceful crossing vessels and flying in the sky above, laying cables and pipes under the sea, with regard to (shall have due regards) rights other countries’ rights

According to the Law of the Sea Convention, in the event of a dispute in EEZ, the settlement is not based on the jurisdiction and legal point of view of the state of EE jurisdiction, but on the principle of equality. This is by taking into account other relevant matters for the parties to the dispute and the international community as a whole. It should be noted in the Law of the Sea Convention that governing EEZ is in Chapter V whose templates constitute the sovereign rights of coastal states, and restrictions on those rights against other countries.

While the rights of an island nation are placed in Chapter IV whose templates include regulating the rights of other countries in waters in an island nation (such as the right to navigate peacefully and to fly, in a designated path). Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and China are coastal countries, while Indonesia is an archipelago. Considering the loosening of these rights, it is very important that a country that has EEZ jurisdiction as Indonesia proves to the international community the EEZ’s tenure and effective management capabilities. This includes maintaining and upholding their rights. It is not enough if a patrol boat or airplane is just circling around.

The problem, Natuna Island is not directly connected to China Sea. That’s why Indonesia is not the first and direct actor in South China Sea dispute. It is understandable that the act of China which claims to have the right or even territory over the territory in the South China Sea has long infuriated ASEAN countries, but not for Natuna. Malaysia brought violations and unilateral Chinese claims to the South China Sea to the United Nations. The proposal was submitted by the Malaysian government in mid-December. Earlier, in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under the auspices of the United Nations won the Philippines against China’s unilateral claim to the South China sea area. But China never show even just a little bit of respect to Philippines in South China Sea

The PCA court, which based its decision on the 1982 UNCLOS, ruled China had violated Philippine sovereign rights. The Nine Dash Line used as the reason for China were declared not to meet international legal requirements, and there is no historical evidence that China controls and controls resources in the South China Sea. However, the Chinese government did not accept the ruling. Another ASEAN country, Vietnam, is also involved in regional conflicts with China in the South China Sea.

Apart from the legal aspects of the South China Sea and Natuna ZEE, the real theft of fish by Chinese vessels has been going on for a long time but only now has wide attention. China really acts like a legal master of Natuna Sea and in many times show the bullying moves. That’s why the government of Indonesia needs new ways to improve the management of marine resources while improving the capabilities of maritime operations. The country’s geostrategic complexity, which consists of thousands of islands and comprises three Indonesian Archipelagic Sea Lanes areas and is open to international parties, requires the reliability of military operations. Especially those related to maritime interception operations. The operation must be carried out in any waters, both in the Republic of Indonesia and outside.

Maritime operations require the reliability of the maritime security infrastructure and renewal of sea defense doctrine that puts forward intelligence and technology aspects. The maritime intelligence field must be improved so as to achieve strong surveillance capabilities. The world situation demands Indonesia be able to realize its sophisticated maritime intelligence capabilities. Maritime intelligence is a part of strategic intelligence in an effort to ensure national stability and efforts for sensing the strategic environment both at home and abroad.

Maritime intelligence focuses on its activities related to the maritime field or that influences the maritime capabilities of foreign countries and the country itself. National intelligence capacity and posture should be directed to strengthen maritime intelligence capabilities. No more sectarian intelligence operations, that is, those that limit the security and sectoral dimensions. For example, the Navy (Navy) no longer limits to naval intelligence, but more broadly namely maritime intelligence that is able to provide strategic information to national maritime institutions. Such as the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Environment, Customs and Police.

For this reason, the urgency of building a number of base infrastructure and facilities for maintaining warships is inevitable. The infrastructure is primarily to support the effectiveness of the third Fleet Command Headquarters located in Sorong, West Papua. During this time the Navy’s combat strength still relies on two regional fleets, namely west (Armabar), and east (Armatim). The number of warships owned by the Indonesian Navy is only 151 units (on the process of increasing). In fact, the number of Indonesian warships in the 1960s amounted to 162 ships.

The fleet command system tasked with fostering the ability of the Integrated Armed Weapon System (IAWS) consisting of warships, aircraft, marines and bases should be more synergized with other agencies that also manage the sea area. The capabilities of marine warfare and the readiness of marine operations at this time should be able to turn into non-war operations that support the enforcement of sovereignty and law at sea, and secure economic potential at sea.

The next important task is to form a reliable national system of marine inspectors with three important aspects. First, the informative aspect. The system must provide complete information about national marine conditions, both in terms of marine resources, water conditions, weather, important events at sea (accidents and incidents), signs of sea navigation that are very helpful for sailing ships, and all information about the sea the other. Second, integrative aspects. The overlapping of infrastructure procurement and installation of supervision equipment between departments can be overcome, so that there are savings in the state budget.

Because the amount of equipment or systems built do not collide in terms of coverage in an area or system and its functions. In addition, with interoperability solutions, the problem of intermittent owner of equipment along the critical strait, such as the Malacca Strait can be integrated. Third, is the collaborative aspect. This is more focused on the status of data exchanged. For example, data to eradicate Illegal Unregulated and Unreported Fishing Fishing such as fishing vessel lines (position, speed, heading), including Owner, Company Identity, Ship size, fishing gear type, permit expiration date, then log book database (fish species, location), marine biology parameter data (chlorophyll, upwelling), and boundary data. So in short, permanent strategic synergy is needed between the three institutions that have been the main managers of the national marine system, namely the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Navy, and the Director General of Sea Transportation  of the Ministry of Transportation.

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Southeast Asia

The Lives of Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia

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photo: © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

Authors: Harsh Mahaseth and Samyuktha Banusekar* 

The Rohingya in Myanmar fled to various countries, having been denied citizenship and persecuted in their home country. One of the countries that the Rohingya population was often found in is Malaysia, a country that is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol. Apart from the inconsistencies in international law, the Malaysian legal system also has certain lacunas in its legal system for the protection of refugees. The article further broaches the recent development in Southeast Asia that could lead to a positive contribution to the treatment of Rohingya refugees in these countries.

The Malaysian legal system has certain inconsistencies in meeting the standards set in international law for the treatment of refugees. Firstly, Malaysia’s Federal Constitution, which provides the main provisions relating to non-discrimination and equality is inadequate as a non-citizen’s right to equality is protected but not their right to non-discrimination. To elaborate further, Article 5 of the Federal Constitution recognizes that all citizens would have the right to be brought before a magistrate without undue delay and within 24 hours of arrest but the same right does not extend to non-citizens as they can be detained up to 14 days. Articles 9 (banishment, prohibition, and freedom of movement) and 10 (freedom of expression, assembly and association) contain more discriminatory provisions against non-citizens. This differentiation between rights available to citizens and non-citizens that are inherent within the Constitution would negatively impact the rights of non-citizens. Malaysia’s lack of proper domestic legislation for the protection of refugees is another inconsistency within the legal system of the country.

Malaysia’s immigration law is the central law that deals with issues concerning the treatment of refugees. This law, while answering some very important questions regarding refugee treatment in Malaysia also does not have principles of international law embedded within it. For instance, the adoption of the principle of non-refoulement and asylum, both of which have a vast scope of application, within this domestic law could enhance the protection given to refugees to a substantial level. Section 6 of the Immigration Act 18959/63 (Act 155) iterates that a person shall not enter Malaysia without a valid permit, and Section 6(3) reiterates that whoever contravenes subsection 1 shall be guilty of an offence and receive due punishment including being liable to whipping of not more than six strokes. In this regard, caning as a punishment imposed on refugees, albeit the factor that only adult males under the age of fifty-five are subjected to caning, would amount to torture, and would also violate human rights. Apart from this, a vast amount of powers are conferred on authorities under the Immigration Act, which could lead to arbitrary actions, and since there is also a lack of opportunity to review or challenge the decisions of the court regarding the status of refugees, this must be addressed. Despite having relief to gain restitution via employment tribunals and civil law lawsuits, there are several impediments to accessing justice along with financial hardships that make it difficult to utilize.

In recent years, the countries of Southeast Asia have attempted to enhance the protection given to Rohingyas. One such initiative which would impact this enhancement in the coming year would be “Protecting Rohingya Refugees in Asia” (PRRiA), which is a two-year initiative funded by the European Union’s Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) launched in mid-2021. This project puts together evidence-based research, programmatic and advocacy skill to frame a better-suited integrated regional protection response for Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia.

The project may contribute positively to the situation in Malaysia as well, considering that it is one of the countries that the project specifically focuses on. Regional protection policies such as encampment, temporary or proper detention areas and unconstrained urban settlement could be achieved through a systemized approach to the protection of refugees.

On an individual level, despite not having any international treaty or convention obligations imposed upon it at a formal level, Malaysia must take the initiative towards the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Ratifying either the Refugee Convention and the accompanying Protocol, or passing a law that governs refugee issues would contribute to the betterment of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. Policy concerns about the control of undocumented workers could also be viewed keeping in mind the broader political and economic environment that would flourish in light of foreign labour.

In conclusion, for the protection of refugees and also improving certain factors that would develop a country, refugees must not be viewed as passive victims that do not have a right to defend themselves and are in need of security and should be considered as the receivers of proper policy conditions for their protection, as also a means to improve factors related to foreign labour countries. The report can be accessed on this link

*Samyuktha Banusekar is a fourth year law student pursuing B.Com. LL.B. (Hons.) at School of Law, SASTRA Deemed University, India.

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Expanding the India-ASEAN Cyber Frontiers

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The recently concluded India-ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Dialogue (also known as the ‘Delhi Dialogue’) celebrated thirty years of the India-ASEAN relationship. The current year, designated as the ASEAN-India Friendship Year, highlights the significance of strengthening the partnership in an increasingly dynamic regional and geopolitical landscape. For India, ASEAN stands at the core of its vision for the Indo-Pacific,  as well as for its Act East Policy. For the ASEAN, India presents the solution for solidifying strategic autonomy as the great power competition between the US and China unfolds in the region.

It is argued that the great power competition is now about ‘technology’. According to this view, power transition theories emphasize the ‘innovation imperative’, and technological progress determines the viability for the ‘continuous rise’ of the rising powers. For India and ASEAN, capability and capacity building in this domain is now paramount to securing national interests.  

At the Delhi Dialogue, the Foreign Minister of Singapore remarked that the digital revolution is creating a complete revamp of the means of production and wealth generation for the future. He stressed that “if ASEAN can complement India’s natural leader in the arena, the two can remake not just the next two decades, but at least the next half-century”.

In the cyber domain, India and ASEAN face common challenges and vulnerabilities. While digital infrastructure in Southeast Asia (SEA) has been regularly exploited as launchpads for cyber-attacks worldwide, India has been at the top of the list of victims.

India-ASEAN in the cyber domain

Indian and ASEAN strategies in the cyber domain converge to a great extent. In discussions related to cyberspace governance in the United Nations (UN), both have adopted a balanced approach. Like India, the ASEAN countries want to safeguard cyber sovereignty (the view led by China and Russia), while supporting the multi-stakeholder approach (the view led by the US and Europe). It has been argued that ASEAN countries’ policies are focused more on avoiding social disruptions and controlling the spread of disinformation, than on technology issues. While the latter remains important, the former aspect has gained increasing significance for New Delhi in recent years.

Unlike the US and some of the Western allies, ASEAN countries have so far refrained from using cyber attribution as a political tool. This is similar to India’s policy which has not yet adopted the ‘naming and shaming’ approach towards its cyber adversaries, despite a few instances of indirect inferences by officials and leaders.

A major challenge for India and ASEAN has been China’s exploitation of cyberspace. Over the years, China-based threat actors have wreaked havoc in cyberspace, with motives ranging from commercial espionage to political espionage. An exponential increase in China-linked cyberattacks is witnessed in India and SEA countries whenever disagreements and conflict arise on borders (e.g., the Galwan valley clashes) or in the maritime domain (e.g., the South China Sea dispute).

India-SEA cyber relationship has broadened and deepened over the past decade, both on bilateral and ASEAN levels. India has been part of deliberations on cybercrime, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) security, and emerging technologies at the ASEAN Digital Minister’s Meeting and the ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meeting.

Bilaterally, India-Singapore relations have significantly improved, with the Indian Prime Minister hailing the ‘warmest and closest’ relationship between the two lions (countries). Singapore is among the most active SEA countries in cybersecurity discussions at the UN. It participates in both the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE) and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on ‘Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the context of international security’.

India-Malaysia relations have also improved since the new leadership took reign in 2021. In April 2022, the two countries reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and agreed on a faster revival of ties in the post-covid period. Malaysia is deemed ‘neither a technology powerhouse nor a prolific hacker’. However, Malaysia has worked towards developing a strong national cyber strategy and uses global cooperation mechanisms for enhancing its capabilities in fields like foreign intelligence gathering.

As a natural leader in SEA, Indonesia has championed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). Though Indonesia lacks a comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy, Indonesia’s leadership in the ASEAN framework remains important for developing frameworks for collective cyber resilience. For India, these present excellent case studies for developing an active cyber diplomacy approach and fostering global cooperation mechanisms in the cyber domain.

Way Ahead

ASEAN provides the SEA countries with an avenue for advancing strategic autonomy in an increasingly competitive Indo-Pacific. The ASEAN centrality in the region is respected by the West which now seeks to engage the ASEAN countries diplomatically, economically, and politically.  ASEAN centrality has also meant that Chinese aggressiveness has driven other regional middle powers like India, Australia, and Japan towards ASEAN, thus elevating its stature further. However, in recent decades, China has made significant inroads in the SEA markets and is now seen as an important political partner as well. Despite concerns over increasing Chinese imprints on SEA’s digital domain, Chinese technological capabilities and policies attract several SEA countries.

The US-China rivalry puts India and SEA at risk in cyberspace as the rivalry will percolate towards allies and partners. In this light, the need is for developing a third way in the cyber domain – a Cyber Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). India-ASEAN engagement can address the technological gaps and cybersecurity issues, without being drawn into the rising great power competition in the region. The partnership can encompass digital infrastructure, 5G technology, cyberspace governance, and the       construction of a new South-South paradigm in cyberspace.

As fears of a ‘Digital Cold War’ emerge in the Indo-Pacific, a Cyber NAM can be a significant diplomatic effort towards a peaceful and secure cyberspace.

(Views are personal)

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Vietnam’s role in eliminating Khmer Rouge in Cambodia

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Khieu Samphan (left) and Nuon Chea in the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). File photo. Photo: ECCC

Right from the time of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam has adopted a liberal socialist welfare state emulating the erstwhile USSR. Within the historical narrative related to Indochina region the atrocities committed by Khmer Rouge has been listed as one of the darkest periods of history in Cambodia. Khmer Rouge after coming to power were suspicious of Vietnamese intentions and has developed an antagonistic attitude towards Vietnam. There have been skirmishes between the armed forces of the two countries and Khmer Rouge was strongly supported by China at that time. The establishment of People’s Republic of Kampuchea after the defeat of Pol Pot which was a replacement for the authoritarian Pol Pot regime. Led to the re institution of the state institutions and the protection of the religion and trade. The support which was given to the other opposition parties by the US which have fled Cambodia and shortage refuge in Thailand. 

The government instituted by Vietnam and the government in exile with Norodom Sihanouk as president and his deputy as Prime Minister, were seen as the two power centres. Vietnam has supported the re-establishment and restoration of public life in Cambodia in the late 1980s because of economic hardships and strong economic boycott adopted by the United States has led to more hardships to the Cambodian citizens. As a result of which Vietnam has justified its intervention in Cambodia to protect the citizens and the hardships brought about by Pol pot regime. Subsequently Vietnam withdraw its forces from Cambodia in 1989. In terms of protection of religion particularly Buddhism and restoration of monasteries large number of Vietnamese have helped Cambodians to adhere to the religion. However, withdrawal of Vietnamese forces led to a power struggle between different factions of Cambodia. 

Following the negotiations in 1991 there was a agreement between different fractions which led to the formation of the coalition government under supreme National Council which was headed by Norodom Sihanouk and brought about representatives of the three factions representing different political orientations and royal representatives.  The effective control of Cambodia was in the hand of the Phnom Penh regime and the conclusion of a peace agreement in 1991 led to first establishment of peace and protection of human rights across Cambodia. 

The disarming of Cameroon was a major issue for the UN operations particularly UN Security Council and therefore it was thought that is structured de-weaponization of the rival factions should be done. Under the UNSC and its mandate way back in 1992-93 the national elections were held in July 1993. These were seen as one of the most free and fair elections across Cambodia. The election of FUNCINPEC led to the return of Prince Norodom Sihanouk to the seat of power. The Khmer Rouge resistance was eroded because of the lack in foreign funding and subsequently thousands of supporters defected to the government and joined Cambodian army. Vietnam has been instrumental in looking into the safe transition and exchange of power between different factions. 

While much of the history has been documented but the Vietnamese army sacrifices to free Cambodians from brutal Khmer Rouge regime was not celebrated in the way it should have been. It was seen that more than 30,000 Vietnamese troops were killed before final withdrawal in September 1989. The Vietnamese soldiers underwent serious hardships and were supported by the Cambodians who were helping them in a limited way.  

Vietnam’s sending of troops to Cambodia in late 1978 was primarily to protect the millions of Cambodians who have fled the urban centres to rural locations because more than 202 million people have died and executed by the Khmer Rouge regime. The Vietnamese army despite limited rations and supplies have tried to protect the population and because of the Vietnamese attack the Pol Pot fled from Cambodia. Immediately after driving US from Saigon, the engagement of Vietnam in Cambodia was seen as the draining of Vietnamese resources as many of the refugees had started trickling into Vietnamese borders. While Vietnam has fought against French and the Americans their role in Cambodia has been underplayed and many of the Vietnamese soldiers who returned from Cambodia felt that they were not given due recognition by new Cambodian government. 

Even Cambodia has been ignorant of the fact that Vietnam was the one country which rescued them from the hardships of regime. In fact, the friendship monument in Phnom Penh clearly reflects the Vietnam’s role in driving Pol pot away. It was also a redemption of Vietnam’s glory and history which showcased that Vietnam could play a significant role in the Indochinese history. If one investigates the four years that they had ruled Cambodia, the brutal regime was responsible for forcing millions of people to work in community farms, but this forced social engineering was detrimental to the society and economy of Cambodia. The bloodshed also had aftereffects because many families died from exhaustion, disease, and starvation. 

One of the important aspects of Pol pot regime was the support from the hill tribes and they are known respect for Buddhism as a religion. Pol pot was instrumental in isolating people and abolished money, religion, and private properties. In the history of Cambodia Khmer Rouge regime, the South 21 jail in the capital was seen as notorious because more than 17,000 men, women and children were detained in that centre during the rule of the regime. The full horrors of the regime were discovered when the documented stories and oral history narrated by people in their diaries and verbal communication highlighted the deplorable conditions of living and the killing fields which brought Cambodia to the verge of complete economic downturn and retreating the country to the primitive age. 

The UN established tribunal decided and brought Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. In November 2018 the UN administered tribunal give sentences to Pol pot brother Khieu Samphan for crimes against humanity and genocide. The Pol pot regime also conducted ethnic genocide against Cham  and Vietnamese minorities. In fact, the role that Vietnam has placed in computing history needs to be revisited and loaded for its efforts in protecting the Cambodians as well as other ethnic minorities. 

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