In Asia’s New Geopolitics: Essays on Reshaping the Indo-Pacific, Michael R. Auslin presents a series of essays touching on major security issues in the Indo-Pacific region. Altogether, these essays form a comprehensive overview of the current geopolitical situation in the region from a U.S. perspective, providing ample recommendations for how the U.S. might balance against China. Although the volume’s broad scope is commendable, the essays within suffer from a handful of major weaknesses: one is a failure to consistently address and pinpoint China’s motivations in the region. Yet another is a failure to address the interests and incentives of malleable or unaligned powers in the region, and how these incentives might move a country to either balance against or bandwagon with China. The book also focuses primarily on historical context, with its one predictive essay, “The Sino-American Littoral War of 2025: A Future History,” saved for the very end, serving as the volume’s weakest point.
The book’s strengths in the form of strategic recommendations make themselves apparent in the first section, “Asia’s Mediterranean Strategy”. In this section, Michael R. Auslin correctly addresses a short-sighted focus on a single sub-region at a time as a weakness of U.S. Indo-Pacfic strategy, arguing for an approach that considers the region as a whole. This point is also reiterated in the book’s penultimate essay, “The Question of American Strategy in the Indo-Pacific.” The book’s second essay, “The New China Rules”, likewise addresses U.S. concerns over growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, pointing to China’s economic, military, and cultural statecraft. However, it is also in this section in which Auslin’s book begins to display its weaknesses. In this section, Auslin refers to China as a dominant global power. However, most of the specific geopolitical issues addressed in this essay entail regional (rather than global) concerns on China’s behalf, while the global influence Auslin addresses displays itself mostly in cultural forms. Some of this is explicit, such as the establishment of Confucius Institutes, while some of this is implicit, such as Hollywood’s choice to remove imagery and plots that might be offensive to the Chinese government from the films it produces.
One of the more interesting and convincing essays in the book, though one not without its own flaws, is “Can Kim Jong-Un Control His Nukes? Nuclear Safety, Accident, and the Specter of North Korea’s Atomic Arsenal.” In this essay, Auslin provides a fresh take, arguing that a nuclear accident is a much more likely threat from North Korea’s arms program than the oft-discussed topic of nuclear escalation. Auslin convincingly addresses a trust gap among North Korean officials in proffering up this argument. However, this essay also fails to consider whether North Korea would remain a regional threat should the country denuclearize, particularly given incidents of cyberattacks such as the 2014 Sony hack that the U.S. and its allies have attributed to North Korea. Auslin here also fails to consider whether North Korea’s conventional weapons would remain a regional threat in the event of denuclearization.
“Japan’s Eightfold Fence” perhaps serves as the most admirably interdisciplinary essay in the book, addressing Japan’s cultural foundations through a lens of historiography founded on modernization theory, integrating these approaches with a broad discussion of how Japanese national identity inflects contemporary Japanese internal politics. Auslin then uses this analysis of Japanese cultural history to describe the formation of the country’s strong nationalist tradition and the influence of this tradition on Japan’s foreign policy. In addressing these issues, Auslin provides an intriguing, if controversial, defense of a perceived Japanese cultural conservatism. The essay also leads in perfectly to the one that immediately follows it, “China Versus Japan”, which details the lengthy history behind (and projected long-term continuation of) the Sino-Japanese regional rivalry.
Perhaps the most out-of-place essay in the book is “India’s Missing Women”, the only essay in the book that focuses principally on South Asia rather than Northeast Asia. Additionally, it is also the only chapter in the book that focuses on small “p” politics issues of gender, identity, and human rights rather than broader diplomatic and military strategy. While an intriguing and insightful read, the reader can not shake the view that this essay belongs in a different book entirely.
The weakest portion of the book is undoubtedly its concluding essay, “The Sino-American Littoral War of 2025: A Future History.” This essay provides a relatively trite prediction involving current tensions escalating into a full-scale war between China and the U.S. A more compelling argument might have involved a list or qualitative probability analysis of competing scenarios, rather than simply retreading already common territory, with fairly little originality. The final essay in effect serves to highlight Auslin’s strengths at historical and cultural arguments in the previous essays, in contrast to a somewhat weak analysis that plays only with fairly safe and conventional ideas. At the very least, this essay could take more risks by making less conventional predictions about the future of the U.S.-China rivalry. Aside from this issue, however, the book’s overview of conflicts and rivalries in Northeast Asia – and how the U.S. might seek to work within this playing field – remains generally interesting and commendable.
Michael R. Auslin generally provides a reasonable argument for a broader, more comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy on behalf of the U.S. As a starting point, Auslin makes the agreeable suggestion of focusing less on sub-regions and specific issues and instead maintaining a broad view of the Indo-Pacific. However, the essays never quite make a consistent argument for China’s motivations in the region. The essays also assume, implicitly, that most states in the region would benefit principally from bandwagoning with the U.S. and balancing against China, while failing to consider what economic, political, military, or cultural incentives might motivate a state to bandwagon with China. Similarly, the essay on “India’s Missing Women” feels like an interesting, if unnecessary detour. Lastly, the essays in the book maintain their principal strength in historical analysis. However, the book’s one predictive essay effectively reveals this strength in contrast to the author’s weakness in providing insightful long-term or long-shot regional forecasts.
info: Asia’s New Geopolitics: Essays on Reshaping the Indo-Pacific by Michael R. Auslin, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, USA, 2020, 244p.
Miles of Hope: The Changing Face of Indonesia-South Korea Relations
The jubilant celebration of the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations between Indonesia and South Korea marks not just a milestone but a testament to the enduring power of diplomatic ties and cooperation. As a student of International Relations, it is inspiring to witness the evolution of this unique partnership and explore the boundless potential that lies ahead.
**The History of a Flourishing Friendship**
Over the past half-century, Indonesia and South Korea have shared a remarkable journey characterized by mutual support and collaboration across various sectors. As South Korean Ambassador to Indonesia, Lee Sang-deok, highlighted, this relationship goes far beyond mere diplomacy. It is a tale of firsts – Indonesia being the first country to invest directly in Korea, export production plants overseas, establish oil fields abroad, and host the inaugural KOICA office outside Korea. Indonesia’s role as a pioneer in joint ventures with South Korea extends to advanced weaponry development. This partnership is not only a testament to trust but also showcases the intricate web of relations that shape international politics.
**Strategic Partnerships and Key Roles**
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this bilateral relationship is the “Special Strategic Partnership” shared between the two nations. This special status highlights Indonesia’s unique place as South Korea’s essential partner in Southeast Asia. As the only Southeast Asian country engaged in such a partnership, Indonesia plays a crucial role in shaping regional dynamics. Furthermore, Indonesia’s involvement in implementing Korea’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Korea-ASEAN Solidarity Initiative (KASI) is a testament to its pivotal role in promoting regional cooperation. Serving as the Chair of ASEAN further underscores Indonesia’s importance in elevating the organization to an epicenter of growth.
**A Future-Oriented Partnership**
In today’s rapidly changing world, the adaptability and future-orientation of diplomatic ties are of paramount importance. Ambassador Lee’s remarks about transitioning from resource development and manufacturing investments to new horizons signify the evolving nature of this relationship. The commitment to fostering a future-oriented partnership is evident in the collaborative efforts in areas like IT, biohealth, climate change mitigation, and the development of new and renewable energy sources. These endeavors not only promise economic benefits but also underline the shared commitment to addressing global challenges.
**Enhancing Trade and Investment**
The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Indonesia and South Korea, which came into effect this year, heralds a new era of trade and investment. The active participation of South Korean companies in the development of Indonesia’s new capital city in East Kalimantan is a tangible example of the tangible benefits stemming from this agreement.
**Towards “Indonesia Emas 2045″**
One of the most exciting aspects of this evolving partnership is its alignment with President Joko Widodo’s vision of “Indonesia Emas 2045” or “Golden Indonesia 2045.” As Ambassador Lee eloquently stated, Korea is well-poised to be the optimal partner in realizing this vision. The proverb “Berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing” (“We share the burdens, and we carry the load together”) encapsulates the spirit of collaboration required to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
From the standpoint of students studying International Relations, the Indonesia-South Korea partnership is a rich source of insights into the intricate world of global diplomacy. In our assessment, this partnership is a testament to the enduring nature of diplomatic relationships. It has withstood the test of time, adapting to changing geopolitical landscapes, leadership transitions, and evolving global dynamics. Such resilience is particularly pertinent in a world where diplomatic ties often face uncertainties and disruptions. The bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Indonesia and South Korea is more than just a trade deal; it represents a deep-rooted economic symbiosis. It illustrates the interdependence of nations in the contemporary globalized world, showcasing how economic cooperation can transcend borders and bring about shared prosperity.Indonesia’s central role in ASEAN and its involvement in regional initiatives underscore the importance of understanding regional dynamics in modern international relations. It emphasizes that nations can wield influence and contribute to shaping the geopolitical landscape when they actively engage within a regional framework.The commitment to sustainability and future-oriented collaboration is praiseworthy. In a world grappling with urgent global challenges, such as climate change, the partnership between Indonesia and South Korea serves as a model of responsible diplomacy. This commitment sets an example of how nations can work together to mitigate the consequences of global crises and promote shared solutions.
Furthermore, President Joko Widodo’s vision of “Indonesia Emas 2045” resonates with the aspirations of many nations globally. It underscores the potential for one nation’s success to have far-reaching implications in an interconnected world. The proverb “Berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing” (“We share the burdens, and we carry the load together”) encapsulates the collaborative spirit required to navigate the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. In summation, the 50th anniversary of Indonesia-South Korea relations is not merely a commemoration but a celebration of a partnership that has defied time and embraced change. It stands as an example of diplomatic endurance, economic interdependence, and regional engagement. As students of International Relations, we eagerly anticipate the unfolding of this dynamic relationship and recognize its contribution to our understanding of global diplomacy and cooperation. The future holds immense promise, and together, Indonesia and South Korea are poised to seize the opportunities and confront the challenges it presents.
the Golden Jubilee of Indonesia-South Korea relations is more than just a milestone; it is a grand celebration of the past, a vibrant acknowledgment of the present, and a hopeful embrace of the future. This partnership has gracefully transcended geographical and temporal boundaries, shining brightly as a paragon of diplomatic tenacity, economic synergy, and regional camaraderie. As students dedicated to the realm of International Relations, we are not only privileged spectators but also active contributors to the evolving narrative of global diplomacy and cooperation. The horizon ahead is adorned with boundless potential, and Indonesia and South Korea, hand in hand, stand poised to both seize the opportunities and confront the challenges it unfolds.
Thailand’s “Asia’s Next Digital Hub” ambition: Where is Indonesia’s position in the digitalization race?
Thailand is one of the countries in Southeast Asia with an ambitious digital transformation program. The program is summarized in one policy called “Thai 4.0”. The Thai 4.0 policy itself is a policy that promotes digital industrial-scale transformation while establishing an economic corridor in eastern Thailand (“Eastern Economic Corridor”) (EEC, n.d). The Thai 4.0 policy is part of Thailand’s more extensive digital transformation policy, namely “A National Digital Blueprint,” which targets the development of Thailand’s digital economy in the next 20 years, where the Thai government targets Thailand to become a developed country in 2037 (Jongwanich, 2022a).
The National Digital Blueprint policy has been formulated by the “Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board” or NESDB since 2019 through the “Digital Outlook” study. The study produces digital transformation indicators and methods by gathering all stakeholders – including government, the private sector and related industries. This study will discuss opinions, suggestions or observations regarding the planned survey of digital transformation indicators, including Thailand’s digital economy. Thailand’s studies and policy formulation were carried out with consultation and evaluation by the OECD “Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development” (Santhika, 2022). From its advocacy function, the OECD also provides “Assessments and Recommendations” to the Thai government regarding digital transformation policies (OECD, n.d).
Thailand’s digital transformation policy looks very ambitious and promising. Various factors support this policy starting from infrastructure and regulations to geographical position. In 2020, 84 percent of the population shopped online compared to a global average of 77 percent, according to the 2021 Global Digital Report compiled by research firms “We Are Social and Hootsuite” (SCMP, 2021). This large number of internet users makes Thailand a good location for investing in the digital economy. The regulatory factors through the “Thai 4.0” policy above make Thailand one of the countries in Southeast Asia with the most expansive 5G network and the construction of the most advanced technology zone in the “Eastern Economic Corridor.” Thailand’s very strategic position also supports this vision where Thailand is in the “middle” of the Southeast Asia region, connecting the Pacific Ocean in the East and the Blue Continent in the West. All these factors support the ambition of “The Asia’s Next Digital Hub” in the Southeast Asia region (BangkokPost, 2021).
However, the ambitious policy poses several obstacles in its implementation. Some of these obstacles can be summarized into two: first, the selection of industries in Thailand to carry out digital transformation which seems not yet ready, especially in the EEC corridor.
According to Kohpaiboon (2020), this happened because the contours of Thailand’s economy, which has not yet been diversified, still show vulnerability from industrial-scale digital transformation – because Thailand’s economy is still very dependent on tourism. As many as 6 of the 10 selected industries only contributed 50 percent of gross manufacturing output. This uncertainty is even worse in the era of disruptive technology (Kohpaiboon, 2020).
Budget constraints hinder digital transformation progress in Thailand. Private investment in Thailand’s digital economy only amounted to 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2019. Limited budget allocations in a number of government agencies are also a problem, especially the relatively small funds allocated to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society as well as the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology to promote digital transformation in respective fields (Jongwanich, 2022b). This can be seen from the digital transformation fund allocation of only 2.5 billion baht which will be set aside for digital development projects that will be financed by the Digital Economy and Community Development Fund (DE Fund), while Thailand’s education budget itself is 300 billion baht (Sharon, 2022; Lessa-Nguansuk., Suchit, 2023). This shows the contrast in allocating funds for digital transformation needs with other primary priorities in Thailand.
Suppose you look at it from Indonesia’s side. In that case, Indonesia also has the vision to become a developed country in 2045, with digital transformation being one of the main pillars or instruments in its “Indonesia Maju 2045” program. Indonesia is also on its leadership in the G20 2022 and the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2023, bringing various digital transformation initiatives to both conferences. As in the 2022 G20, Indonesia initiated the 2022 “Digital Economy Working Group” (DEWG) and Indonesia initiated the formation of the “Digital Economy Framework” at its chairmanship in the ASEAN 2023 Chairmanship. Despite being one of the key players in the development of digital transformation in the region, Indonesia also found various challenges in carrying out the transformation process.
In contrast to Thailand, whose challenges are focused on two causes: diversification and budget, Indonesia is experiencing challenges in terms of human resources, access and digital infrastructure in its implementation. In the context of human resources, Indonesia currently lacks digital talent (digital talent gap); where 1000+ technology companies in Indonesia are actively looking for technology talent in 2018, a 5x increase from 2017 while there is a gap of 600,000 per year between tech talent/digital talent with demand from the technology sector in Indonesia (ITB, 2021). This is exacerbated by the fact that only 20% of the total 4,000 campuses in Indonesia have Information and Communication Technology (ICT) study programs.
Regarding access and infrastructure, Indonesia still needs to have adequate access and infrastructure development, which has created gaps. The gap in access and infrastructure in Indonesia is caused by many, from the broad geographic contours to the limited electricity resources that are evenly distributed. The gap is also reflected in significant differences in bandwidth power (outside and within Java), the unavailability of adequate and affordable internet devices such as modems, the inability to produce local content and knowledge, including a lack of literacy, adequate digital skills and gender-based gaps (ELSAM, 2022). Infrastructure gaps like this hinder the digital transformation process in Indonesia.
Referring to the 2023 “Digital Quality of Life Index” issued by Surfshark, Indonesia is ranked 67th out of 121 countries assessed globally. Meanwhile, Thailand is ranked 51st or 16 points ahead of Indonesia. In the Asian region, Indonesia is ranked 21st while Thailand is in 12th position out of 35 countries in Asia assessed. This index assesses five variables: internet quality, affordability, cyber security, online government services, and electronic infrastructure. From these five variables, Thailand outperforms Indonesia. According to Kaziukonis, CEO of Surfshark, Indonesia has the opportunity to improve all sectors related to Digital Quality of Life, especially regarding internet affordability (CNN, 2021).
As two middle-power countries and quite influential in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Thailand are “competing” with each other in the digitalization process to win the race. With its unique characteristics and challenges, each country can start to resolve the problems arising from this ambitious policy. Thailand can diversify its economy, which depends on tourism, or Indonesia should take advantage of the demographic bonus as digital-ready talent after graduating from college. Both countries have the same potential to achieve their respective goals of becoming digital countries by the 2040s. However, one question needs to be addressed and is worth to be pondered: Do innovation and transformation need to be suppressed by policy or do we need policies that are also innovative to accommodate these changes?
Justice for Indonesia’s Sea Sand Export Policy: Deprivation of Environmental Rights
July 28, 2022, was a historic day as the UN General Assembly approved a resolution stating that everyone has the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (UN, 2022). The declaration expresses consensus on the recognition of the right to a healthy environment, that the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right that must be fulfilled by countries around the world. In simple terms, this declaration recognizes the harmony of human life with nature.
The Declaration is a leap forward by providing a normative space that both guarantees and gives hope for the improvement of non-human conditions that affect human beings as a human right. The Declaration provides affirmation for governments to promote, protect, and fulfill this right to the environment. It creates space for greater justice and opportunities for environmental advocacy, as well as demands for greater accountability of relevant actors (Andersen, 2022).
However, the fight for the right to a healthy environment has been severely challenged in developing countries. This is mainly due to the focus on economic development, even if it neglects the environmental issue. Cleared forests, polluted water, air pollution, and so on are detrimental to local communities. People are losing the sources of livelihood that they once had. There is a deprivation of rights there (Purnomo, 2014). This is even more worrying after the issuance of Government Regulation (Peraturan Presiden) No. 26/2023, which opens export taps for sea sand (CNBC, 2023). The regulation has become controversial and has caused pro and con reactions. Those in favor of this rule are mainly businesspeople who will benefit and overseas partners who need ocean sand resources. However, local communities might be directly affected by this policy. This piece doesn’t necessarily argue whether it should support or reject the recent policy. Instead, this piece wants to put more emphasis on the environmental right. Therefore, the question is “What efforts need to be made to ensure the holding of the right to a healthy environment?”
On Eco-Cosmology as World View
Skolimowski in his eco-cosmology shows an interesting way of thinking that when nature becomes a place for all human activities, be it the search for freedom and honor, it is necessary to raise responsibility for humans in instituting justice and sustainability for the universe itself as a place for humans to live (Skolimowski, 1990).
This means there needs to be a conscious reciprocal relationship with nature, thereby raising ecological awareness. This perspective is a renewal of anthropocentrism ideas which previously only focused on humans as the center of the universe. If previously anthropocentric thought stated that nature was a fork and plate (instrumental), then Skolimowski stated that nature is a space for our activities (sanctuary).
Eco-Cosmology Meets Democratic Public Participation
I see the implementation of this view as being in line with democracy, which is a collective decision process, as the best way to encourage human responsibility for the environment. This is especially true for one aspect of democracy, namely public participation. Apart from that, theoretical and practical studies related to public participation are already well established so implementation only needs to adapt to the contours of local culture.
This is because public participation has an urgency to ensure that every policy produced is for the common good, not just for certain parties (Rahma, 2019). By holding public participation, it will provide various benefits such as improving the quality of policies, long-term cost efficiency, building consensus, coordinating implementation, and building trust (Creighton, 2005).
For the benefits of public participation to be achieved, several principles need to be included as guarantees in every policy-making, namely 1) everyone has the right to be involved, 2) public contributions can influence policies, 3) sustainability and communication of interests of all parties, 4) public feedback on participation mechanisms, 5) objective information, 6) intensive discussion space.
Arnstein’s Ladder. Source: Pusat Studi Lingkungan Hidup UGM
The study of public participation is deepened by Arnstein’s eight rungs, which are narrowed down to three rungs: non-participation, tokenism, and citizen power (PSLH, 2022). Simply put, public participation demands two rights: the right to access information and the right to access justice.
Then how is the public participation process in Indonesia’s sea sand export policy?
Unfortunately, this export policy is considered to lack public participation. The existing policy-making process is considered non-transparent (DPR, 2023). The lack of participatory invitation from the government and the lack of access to academic studies as the basis for this policy is a particular concern. The lack of communication of this policy is feared to ignore the ecological impacts that may occur (Kompas, 2023a). Meanwhile, this policy also does not mention the existence of fishermen. In fact, fishermen are the profession closest to the sea, so any changes in the sea will potentially have an impact on these fishermen (Kompas, 2023b). To further worsen the situation, this lack of public participation seems to be an ingrained problem in Indonesia (Rahma, 2018; Afinnas et al, 2022; Putri et al, 2022).
Sea sand export policy does not fulfill the existing principles of public participation
The government’s arbitrary actions in making its policies can also be said to be in the non-participation group or specifically, on the first rung of the ladder, namely manipulation because it occurs despite the government’s claim that this policy has gone through years of in-depth study, yet it is not based on mature and open academic data and analysis (Kompas, 2023c).
Under these conditions, the public can still participate in social movements. The essence of a social movement is that individuals and groups who are not in the power structure join together for some common cause because the only way they can have influence is through their numbers (Innes & Booher, 2000). The community together with NGOs, needs to create a coalition and unite to push for a review of this policy together with the government so that local elements such as the interests of fishermen are discussed with high attention by the government.
The community, on the other hand, should not be silent about this potential betrayal of human rights, but encourage the government to respond to these aspirations through social movements.
As such, this piece advocates for the government to conduct a review of the sea sand export policy. This review needs to involve broad public participation, including fishermen, academics, and environmental organizations. The review also needs to consider the possible ecological and social impacts, and ensure that the policy does not conflict with the right to a healthy environment.
I believe that by conducting a review of the sea sand export policy, the government can ensure that this policy is made transparently, accountable, and in favor of the public interest.
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