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Southeast Asia

United States and France In Asia-Pacific

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Authors: Ansa Bint-e-Fayyaz and Nageen Ashraf*

Asia-Pacific region expands over a vast geographical area. As the name indicates, this area encapsulates the states largely contiguous to the western Pacific region. Although the definition of Asia-Pacific region is contested and a consensus is not found, most academicians have included area stretching vertically from Mongolia in the north to New Zealand in the south and horizontally, from Pakistan in the west to the island states of Oceania in the east, in the Asia Pacific region. The region spans over approximately 22% of global land.

This region accounts for more than 50% of global economy. It hosts some of the busiest straits like Malacca, Sunda and Lombok. The region’s characteristic of being the fastest growing region has attracted attention of all major powers and have become a hot zone for major power competition, especially the big three i.e. USA, China and Russia.

Asia Pacific region hosts one of the great powers and essentially the one that is in a fierce competition with the superpower US, i.e. China. While China is in a direct strategic competition with US they are naturally affront in the Asia Pacific region as well. Russia is another great power, parts of which are occasionally included in Asia Pacific region. It is another competitor of US in the region, the alliance of which with China could have serious repercussions for US and indeed it is the most feared and most conceivable possibility.

France, another major power, had relatively been less involved in the region since the Second World War, however the rising economic significance of Asia-Pacific and thereby its territories in the region has brought France onto the competitive chess board, where each state is trying to secure as much as is possible.

USA’s Interests in Asia-Pacific

Unlike the 20th century, where most of the world’s attention was towards Europe and America, the 21st century has proven to be an important century for the Asia Pacific region where we see the new emerging economies. The economic center has shifted from America and Europe to the emerging Asian states like China, and India which attracts USA to the region for multiple reasons. As a global hegemon, USA has always tried to control or at least influence the most important geo strategic areas of the world, and Asia Pacific gives a clear reason to USA to intervene in the region for its interests.

The major focus of USA is to curb the rise of any power that can be a threat to USA in future. In the Asia Pacific, China and North Korea remain a major threat to USA in various regional as well as International affairs. USA is also concerned about China’s support for the North Koreas rogue regime in the region. USA best tries to tackle China in the region but the economic interdependence of states on China will most probably leave USA alone in the effort. China has the best market all over the world and containment of such large market is not only difficult, but almost impossible.  Even most of the European states will not support USA in the containment of China since they know the consequences. These emerging markets serve as a wonderful opportunity for Europe and there are chances that Europe would prefer to be China’s partner instead of being its competitor.

USA already has deployed its naval fleet in all the International waters, 7th fleet being deployed in the Asia-Pacific region. Maintaining an influence in the region is also significant because of the fact that the region includes two major oceans, i.e. Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, so it plays an important role in commerce and trade through seas. Trump administration aims to deploy more missiles in the Asia-Pacific region. USA tried to engage India in various dialogues to make India become its partner in curbing the China’s rise, but unfortunately, India realizes that there are some issues which cannot be solved without mutual cooperation and consensus of the regional powers. Therefore, India, instead of siding itself with USA, has been trying to cooperate with China on many issues. But, in the recent Sino-Indian Ladakh stand-off, India was successful in making many states including USA to side with it, leaving China almost alone internationally. Mike Pompeo also inculpated China for showing aggression in various parts of the world. USA also has increased the presence of its naval forces in the region, giving China and the rest of the world a strong signal about its naval hegemony. To assert pressure on its competitor, USA currently has deployed 3 aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean.

As far as North Korea is concerned, there seems no improvement in the relations of both the states. Trump administration has been trying to bring NK to the negotiation table but the last meeting, held in Vietnam in 2019 failed and had no desirable outcome. As of July 29th, 2020, North Korea showed no interest in continuing the peace talks with the USA and is carrying on the nuclear program because it believes that it’s necessary to prevent any war in the region. Despite the strict sanctions and their even worse impacts because of the pandemic, NK is not considering the option of negotiating things with USA.

French Interests in Asia Pacific

As Asia-Pacific region has become a hotbed for major power competition, France is no exception to the trend. The noticeable presence of France in Asia-pacific region has been as old as the colonial times, however post-second world war era is marked by a relative French dormancy in the region. Paris has pursued a significant revitalization in the region, particularly as the 21st century proceeds.

Paris favors a multipolar, free, stable and multilateral system, based on rule of law to ensure stability. Its major interests in Asia-Pacific involve protection of sovereign interests, French nationals residing in the region, territories and Exclusive Economic zones; promotion of regional stability through military and security cooperation; preservation of free and secure access to sea lines of communications; leveraging multilateral means for promotion of strategic stability; and cooperation to mitigate climate related issues in the region.

French strategy is based on the understanding that interstate competition in international arena cannot be stopped and one must board the same train as the topmost if it wishes to keep the pace equal. In the case of Asia-pacific, however, Paris is not on the same train as the big three i.e. US, China and Russia.

The most important factor that brings France to Asia-Pacific is its territorial possessions in the Pacific, including New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis & Futuna, and therefore a vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which makes her an important player in the region. Her involvement in the region has increased in the recent times, especially a bolder foreign policy has been observed under Emmanuel Macron’s regime.

French foreign policy in Asia-pacific is determined by two sets of inclinations. The first set comprises energy, telecommunication, automobile and wheat that inclines favorable policy towards states like China, while the second set comprise high technology industries, electronics, space and armaments that demand favorable policy towards states like Taiwan, South Korea and ASEAN nations, etc. These competing sets make her foreign policy inconsistent, as is illustrated by 1993 French trade of armaments with Taiwan amidst one-China policy, thereby alienating China.

The inconsistency of policy is also evident in arms sale, where frequent shift of inclinations has been observed owing to short-term opportunities in the market, as is visible in the case of Pakistan and India.

French foreign policy in Asia-Pacific is more aligned with the Quad nations that pursue an anti-China rhetoric. Despite the existence of cultural and economic ties and high trade volume, along with heavy Chinese tourism in France, Paris remains skeptical of Chinese political exceptionalism and its ambitions especially in Africa. Issues of Intellectual Property Rights and trade deficit are other areas of French concerns related to China. Conclusively, France takes a bumpy ride when it comes to China, sometimes accepting; other times criticizing.

Another noticeable French policy trend in Asia-Pacific is the rise in military and defense agreements and negotiations. India, for instance, has signed a Joint Action Plan on Indian Ocean with France, whereby the states will collaborate for better maritime environment using space assets and sharing intelligence. India had also pledged to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets from France, of which three dozen have been bought. Franco-Indian cooperation also span over other domains like space, civil nuclear use, clean energy, and urbanization etc.

France has also widened its defense and strategic partnership with Vietnam. The buildup of ties between a former colony and France accelerated in the past few years. The initial steps included Defence Cooperation Agreement 2009, followed by signature of strategic partnership in 2013; commencement of New Defense Policy Dialogue 2016 and later 2018. A Joint Vision Statement on defence cooperation was signed between the two countries that will last till 2028. Cyberspace, information exchange and people-to-people interaction are other areas of cooperation between Paris and Hanoi. An agreement to solve legacy issues related to Indochina war was also made.

Another defence deal was signed between France and Australia, whereby the later pledged to buy a dozen of French submarines at the cost of 50 billion Australian Dollars.

Japan, a Quad state, in cooperation with France, unveiled a 5 year road-map that was to be built to enhance cooperation in domains ranging from maritime cooperation to infrastructure assistance. This project has been unveiled essentially at a point when tensions in South China Sea are burning up.

Russia presents yet another major player of the Asia-Pacific region however, Franco-Russian ties could not convene partly because of Russo-phobia and partly because of Sino-Russian ties. The relations started to build around defence equipment trade, when France made a deal with Russia to sell amphibious assault ships, it was however scraped later due to Ukrainian crisis in 2014. The French President, Emmanuel Macron made endeavors in the last NATO summit to convince US president, Donald Trump and other allies to redirect the NATO policy, asserting that the Cold War was over and Russia was no longer an enemy. France also played a role in Georgia-Russia crisis and Ukraine-Russia crisis, however constructive engagement in essentially all domains is yet neither achieved, nor planned.

The upcoming decade will see increment of French involvement in Asia-Pacific region, as Paris advances its cooperation with the partner states and build new partnerships with other states in the region.

Conclusion

As the economic and strategic essentiality of Asia-Pacific region deepens, so does the interests of international competitors in the region. The race of states to seek partnerships with the regional states, rooted in the desire to increase influence in the region, has turned it into a hotbed for strategic and economic competition between the major powers. The major power competition in the region is not limited to trade and economic domain, but has increasingly shifted to military and defense domain, especially in the last decade. The rising tensions, particularly those between China and US in the South China Sea, makes it a potential conflict zone, however an all-out war between the major powers seems inconceivable because of extensive economic interdependence. France, as of late 20th century and the present century, is also expanding its footprint in the Asia-pacific region owing to intertwinement of its interests with this region’s development.

As the time proceeds, French and American presence in the region is expected to increase owing to incremental economic rise of the region vis a vis other regions around the world.

*Nageen Ashraf, student of Bachelor in “Defense and Diplomatic studies” at Fatima Jinnah Women University.

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Southeast Asia

Application of PLTU Batubara in the Perspective of Kalimantan people

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Photo: Wikipedia

Indonesia is one of the largest coal producers and exporters in the world. Since 2005, there have been many small pockets of coal reserved on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua. This makes Indonesia increasingly utilize all natural resources that have existed in the ancestral lands to make coal energy sources as a Steam Power Plant (PLTU) in addition of abundance basic materials, this coal-based PLTU is considered to have better efficiency in terms of price. Cheaper and faster in process compared to other energy sources.

Behind the efficiency of coal, which is used as the main fuel, there is a process that is considered ineffective for local residents and the surrounding environment, because in PLTU, coal is burned to take heat and steam, so it can release combustion residue in the air. From this combustion residue, it will spread to aquatic plants or enter the human lungs. Coal is burned to take heat and its steam releases combustion residue in the air. The remainder of this combustion will spread to aquatic plants or enter human lungs.

In the theory, all of this has been filtered so that the smoke that comes out is not dangerous, but the reality can be different from the facts in the field.

Inside the PLTU smoke, there are pollutants which contain dangerous compounds such as mercury and other compounds such as arsenic, lead, PM 10, sox and PM 2.5. These particles stay in the air for a long time and can fly hundreds of kilometers. If humans are exposed to mercury or pm 2.5 continually, there will be asthma, respiratory infections, lung cancer and even damage to the brain, kidneys and heart. It is clear that the air environment and settlements are not good for local residents due to the danger of compound content that will threaten the health of the surrounding community, especially since the PLTU distance from residents’ settlements is not a safe distance. This is evidenced by the case that occurred in November 2018, Sangah Sangah village Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan, experienced 5 houses destroyed, 11 others were damaged and the main road collapsed due to mining activities that were too close to public facilities and settlements.  

Kalimantan, Borneo, some of farmers in the suburbs of Samarinda Timur have lived for 20 years as neighbors that  are very close to the coal mines in this village. Meanwhile, according to the regulations of the minister of environment and regional regulations Kutai Kartanegara the minimum distance between mining activities and settlements is 500 M but in fact, all of the regulations are not applied. While the existence of a coal-fired PLTU has made clean water is only a history. The residents stated that they only relied on rainwater and water from the emblem that brought along the silt Previously, before there was a coal mine, the rice fields were not damaged, the environment was beautiful and safe, but the situation drastically changed since the coal power plant, residents’ crops such as rice fields and so on were exposed to mud so that they produced plants that were not of the same quality as before.

This is very unfortunate because in 1991 this village was designated as a village of rice barns with a production of 2600 tons of unhulled rice in every harvest time. Disappointment and despair began to appear on the faces of the villagers who felt the problems that were increasingly choking local residents, not only polemic about the environment and plants. The existence of a coal company and a PLTU have also claimed the lives of several villagers due to the reclamation of coal mines.

The local community certainly did not remain silent, so they filed a protest by one of the residents of Nyoman Derman from Kertabuana Village, Kutai Kertanegara Regency. Nyoman intercepted heavy equipment but was instead arrested and given a 3-month prison sentence on the grounds of disrupting company operations. When the community takes an active role to defend and protect all assets owned by the government, the government does not protect. On the contrary, this is not in accordance with the constitution of our country which upholds human rights which are emphasized in the 1945 Constitution in article 27 to article 34 of the 1945 Constitution which regulates Human Rights.

The problems do not end with environmental problems but also at the same time claiming the lives of many local residents. The excavation of ex-coal mining holes resulted in many human lives being lost, among others in 2011-2018 in East Kalimantan as a result of the mining excavation hole itself. At least, it has been claimed the lives of as many as 39 people. Between 2014-2018 nationally, there were 115 people who died as a result of mining holes

This can’t be underestimated into an ordinary problem caused by the longer, it continues to claim casualties due to 3,500 former mine pits that have not been properly filled so that it continues.

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Southeast Asia

The Impacts of the Covid-19 on Vietnam’s Workforce

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By March 2021, Vietnam has experienced 3 phases of the Covid-19 pandemic (phase 1: from March to April 2020; phase 2: from July to September 2020; phase 3: from January to March 2021), with 2,575 infected cases, 302 cases undergoing treatment, 2,234 recovered cases and 35 deaths. Similar to many other countries in the world, Vietnam has suffered serious impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in all fields: economy, politics, culture, social life, yet the most direct influences were on Vietnamese workforce.

Major impacts that the Covid-19 epidemic has exerted on the Vietnamese workforce can be summarized as follows:

First, the impacts on the employees’ job

This was one of the basic and direct dominant impacts over others. According to the Report of the General Statistics Office of Vietnam (GSO), due to the sudden fall in the labor force in the2nd quarter, the general number of employees (aged 15 and above) in the economy in 2020 sharply decreasedin comparison to that in 2019. The number of working employees aged 15 and abovewas53.4 million people (a decrease of 1.3 million people compared to that in 2019 – arespective decrease of 2.36%). A comparison of the decrease in the number of labor force between 2019 and 2020 is shown in Figure (1). This demonstrated an obvious drop in the number of jobsfor Vietnamese workforce under the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic.

Figure 1: Labor force growth/decrease rate

Unit: %

(Source: GSO)

The Covid-19 pandemic did not only deprive many workers of opportunities for formal employment, but also left them inunemployed. To be specific: generally in 2020, the number of under-employed workers was roughly 1.2 million, an increase of 456.7 thousand people compared to that in 2019. The underemployment rate in the working age group is 2.51%. (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Number of people and underemployment rate by quarter, 2019-2020

(Source: GSO)

With animproving multilateral diplomacy and expanding international relations, Vietnam now has diplomatic relations with 189 countries and territories around the world,maintains close relations with more than 30 countries and three major countries (China, Russia, India) are comprehensive strategic partners. Economic-trade relations play a key role in the international relations of Vietnam and the country is currently considered an attractive destination for investment and international cooperation in Southeast Asia. As a result, the Covid pandemic has influenced Vietnam’s economic relations with their international partners in both ways. Approximately one third of businesses suffered shortage of input materials; the larger the enterpriseswere, the more serious the shortage was; domestic and foreign consumption markets were narrowed, export orders declined and goods circulation faced various difficulties … Due to theweak financial potentials and liquidity in the business sector, the fact thatthe COVID-19 pandemic spread with complicated progressesresulted in production delays, difficulties in production capital, with 52.8% of businesses experiencing a decline in annual business profits4 in 2020. Therefore, businesses were forced to use redundancy, unpaid job leave, shortened working hours … as temporary solutions to maintain their operation and stability.

However, thanks to proactive and creative countermeasures at all levels and decisive policies to prevent economic slowdown, Vietnam’s economy has developedits ownresilience, gradually resumed its operation under new normal conditions, becoming one of three countries in Asia with positive growth in 2020.Accordingly, the number of unemployed and underemployed workers in the fourth quarter of 2020 witnessed a sharp decrease compared to that in the previous quarters and gradually stabilized.

Secondly, the Covid-19 pandemic affected employees income

Loss of job opportunities, shortened working hours, layoffs, unemployment had direct impacts on employees’ income. According to the Report of the General Statistics Office, compared to that in 2019, the average monthly income of Vietnamese employees in 2020 decreased in all three economic sectors. Specifically: In 2020, the average income of employees was 5.5 million VND, a 2.3% decrease compared to that of 2019 (equivalent to 128 thousand VND less). Income of employees in service sector witnessed the highest decrease of215 thousand VND; followed by those in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, with 156 thousand VND. Employees in industry and construction suffered the lowest decrease, with 100 thousand VND /person/ month. This impact was clearly illustrated in Figure 3 below:

Figure 3: Average income of workers by economic sector, 2019-2020

Unit: million dong

(Source: GSO)

Third, the Covid-19 pandemic directly affected the employeesmental factors

When employment and income are affected, workers’ mental health will be direcly influenced too. To be specific, employees may experience frequent anxiety, pessimism, insecurity and mood swings. Results from a scientific survey showed that: only 8% of office employees and managers suffer from stress and pressure during a pandemic, but up to 86.9% of workers have feelings of anxiety, pessimism, insecurity and mood swings. This impact was most evitable among workers with children (including married or single parents), female workers, and especially female migrant workers with children.

In addition, the Covid-19 crisis created aninconsistent impact on relations among employees’ family. In particular, forsome part of employees, family relationships were greatly improved when members stayed at home and spent more time together; on the other hand, a large part had the opposite experience(more disputes, domestic verbal or behavior abuse), especially forimmigrated workers and female immigrated workers with children. This was an evitable consequence when they worried about their health and future. TheCovid-19 pandemic also increased the risk of gender-based violence. Statistics of the Central Vietnam Women’s Union showed that, during Covid-19social distancing, the number of calls from violence-suffering women to the Association’s hotline increased by 50%; the number of victims receiving rescue assistance and acceptance to the House of Peace also increased by 80% over the same period last year.

Some solutions from the Government and businesses to contribute to overcoming the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on Vietnamese workforce

Solutions from the Government of Vietnam

Confronting serious impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on the economyoverthree consecutive phases, the Government of Vietnam actively put their focus on administrating and providing methods as well as decisive actions with the mottos: “Fight the pandemic like fighting against enemies”, “Go to each alley, knock on each door andcheck on each person”; and “dual goals” (preventing and combating the pandemics while promoting socio-economic development), “lightning-speed tracking, zoning”, “four On-sitesguidelines”(on-site commands, on-site forces, on-site vehicles and equipments, on-site logistics), withcore focus on the active role of local governments. These directions were supported by all administrative levels, branches, localities and citizens. The Government as well as their organizations called for and mobilized all social resources for the pandemic prevention; citizens and business groups actively joined hands to fight the epidemic despite numerous difficulties. (For example, when the medical lacked espiratory machines, Vingroup immediately produced their own to provide for the country).

Also since then, the Government has quickly introduced monetary, fiscal, and social security policies in order to support businesses and people during the most difficult period of COVID-19 shock. Specifically: a financial package of 180 billion VND to support business; zero-interests loans to pay wages to workers; Social protection package of 61.580 billion VND (for employees who were distanced, delayed or lost their jobs due to post-pandemic impacts); 11.000 million VND of electricity bill discount; bank loans interest rates reduction; 285.000 billion credit package for commercial banks…..These practical guidelines and measures have assisted businesses to overcome difficulties, improved perseverence, gradually normalized or adjusted their production and business plans, enhancing digital transformation and trade promotion… These activitieshave created positive impacts on stabilization of job, incomes, daily necessity and mental health of the workforce.

Second, solutions from businesses and unions

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the enterprise community quickly came up with new directions and solutionsin order tocontinue their operation duringhard time. Approximately two thirds of enterprises have applied at least one of the abovementioned solutions, trying to adapt their production activities to new normal conditions.

Demonstrating the motto“love and support”, many businesses used different combined measures, such as deferred goods payment (used by 33.3% of businesses), shared orders (used 7.9 % of businesses), barter goods (used by 3.8% businesses), customers loans (used by 2.8% of businesses) …

Besides, in order to join hands with businesses in supporting employees, government organizations, especially trade unions, constantly stand out to help workers overcome their difficulties (for example: The Trade Union of Ho Chi Minh City Industrial  -Processing Zone has organized various activities such as visiting, sending gifts, supporting funding and persuading landlords to reduce house rental, especially for female pregnant workers or those nursing a child under 12 months old …)

In general, the Covid-19 pandemic has created great impacts on all aspects of life in Vietnam, especially the workforce – the most vulnerable group facing numerous difficulties so far. However, the Government and people of Vietnam are determined and strictly follow these policies: “Joining hands to protect the workers’ interests and rights, encouraging workers to overcome difficulties together”;targeting at “dual goals” to secure stable jobs and income for employees, supporting post-Covid-19 business recovery. On the spirit of “Employees First”, the government and enterprises are unanimously determined to overcome theevitable challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, to make Vietnam a spotlight in the region and the world in preventing Covid-19 in generaland protecting the legitimate rights of employees in particular.

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Southeast Asia

Why Indonesia is keeping a distance from the Indo-Pacific “Quartet”

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Caption: Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, along with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi held the 2nd Japan-Indonesia Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministerial Meeting (“2 + 2”). in Tokyo, Japan, March 30, 2021. (Twitter/MofaJapan_jp)

Japan and Indonesia agreed to expand defense cooperation and conduct joint exercises in the South China Sea. Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi stated so after meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Prabowo Subianto. The Indonesian Minister of Defense and Minister of Foreign Affairs are visiting Tokyo for bilateral talks with their Japanese counterparts and to attend the second 2 + 2 ministerial meetings since 2015. It has not been announced when and the specific location for the joint exercise

In October last year, the parties held a naval exercise in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off the west coast of Natuna Island. Indonesia and China are at odds over the demarcation line of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, so observers believe that holding a new joint exercise there could be considered a provocation to China. Furthermore, Japan can, by all means, emphasize that it is developing military relations with its partners in Southeast Asia in response to China’s increasingly assertive policy in this region.

Japan, along with the United States, Australia and India are part of the “Indo-Pacific quartet”, one of the main regional mechanisms against China. Indonesia is unlikely to par- ticipate in this “quartet” soon, it is difficult to have such a plan at this time.

The reason is simple; the contradictions and frictions between Indonesia and China have not yet reached the point where it takes such clear anti-China move. Otherwise this will undoubtedly have a negative backlash against Beijing, and the disadvantages it causes outweighs the advantages it can take into account. Indonesian leaders understand this very well.

Compared with Vietnam, which has a much more tense relationship with China, however shows no sign of any intention of joining the “quartet”. The members “quartet” themselves have not named specific candidates for the new members of the coalition.

In the short term, There’s no such country that can enter the quartet, although the quartet itself is not always consistent, so it is difficult for Indonesia to enter this anti-China force in the near future. Indonesia is trying to balance relations between China and Japan.

This mere incident cannot be regarded as having a certain symbolic signi cance, or that Indonesia wants to join the anti-China Force with the West. Because Indonesia’s foreign policy has always insisted on seeking a balance between major powers. If it joins the United States and the encirclement of its allies against China, can be said to violate its principle, and it is not a good thing for Indonesia’s national interest in the entire region.

So, Indonesia will still maintain neutrality. China and Indonesia are very intense in the South China Sea. The dispute is an issue of maritime rights and interests in the northern waters of the Natuna Islands. Although Indonesia has long insisted on not recognizing China’s “nine-dash line” proposition and the traditional fishing rights of Chinese fishermen in the waters, it is maintaining the so-called territorial water rights.

Indonesia believes that it could be maintained by its strength. Therefore, on the Natuna Island issue, judging by some signs of Indonesia’s past behavior, it does not want external forces to intervene. All parties must eliminate interference from external forces and focus on the negotiation of “norms” involving the interests of the region, to truly turn the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.

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