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.
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.
Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys
Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.
For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.
Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.
The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.
The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.
Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.
The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.
Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.
Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.
Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.
But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.
Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.
The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank
Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma
With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.
Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective
I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.
It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.
Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management
Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.
I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.
The heart of forest management
People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.
Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.
Can legal change help the people?
Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.
As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.
Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.
Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?
What can we do to protect the forest?
There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.
To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.
Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific
In the Indo-Pacific context, there are multiple partners all aiming for economic fulfillment along with maritime security and safety. Countries ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea seem to be more worried about the freedom of navigation and overflight as Chinese aggressiveness is rampant and expansionist is a scary idea. The region from India to Bangladesh has a huge potential of interconnectedness and if connected to the Southeast Asian countries, it would also help in India’s Act East Policy and India’s neighbourhood first policy and further help out in strengthening relations to the far East as in Japan. All these countries combined can create an interconnected chain of mutual and common interests with balanced ideas of economic, military, social, political and people to people exchanges which would in turn help develop a multilateral.
Who can lead this Multilateral Initiative and Why?
Japan can be the prime crusader for this multilateral as it has excellent relations with all the parties and is the pioneer of the free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan has excellent diplomatic, economic and infrastructural relations with all the possible partners as it provides ODA loans, aid and assistance. Japan being the pioneer of Free and Open Indo-Pacific can be guiding force for this multilateral in the maritime domain which would help create a new regional grouping consisting of South Asia and Southeast Asia primarily based on maritime. Japan is the only developed country among all the other players and with its expertise, it can surely guide, help, support and take along all the countries. Japan most importantly is a non-aggressive nation and believes in mutual respect unlike China. Japan has no dept trap issue unlike China. Japan is known for quality in infrastructural development and with their expertise in science, technology and innovation can well lead these countries. Japan’s reputation of honesty, no corruption and extreme detailed paper work is commendable.
What are the benefits from this Multilateral Initiative?
This multilateral would help connect the Indian Ocean (India) to Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh) to the South China Sea (ASEAN) and the East China Sea (Japan)- would help in the creation of water interconnected network from South Asia to Southeast Asia. This could be the first regional maritime grouping covering South Asia to Southeast Asia. This maritime grouping can create a network of ports which could also become an economic hub and intersecting points of investment and infrastructural development (already Japan is investing in a big way in all these countries). India’s Northeast would get a greater economic, infrastructural and people-to-people exchange as it would connect India to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor already exists and could pave the way for Bangladesh and Kolkata greater port exchange which could be developed as nodal points in Bay of Bengal and would help in easy and cheaper freight. These countries can also aim for the strengthening of defence and security relations in the domain of maritime and can also aim for a logistics support agreement and a network from Indian Ocean to Bay of Bengal to South China Sea to East China Sea and would help tackle Chinese aggressiveness and China has been mapping the waters in all these waters and so, to protect one’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, defence relations must be build.
An ecosystem based on Digitalization, Science, technology and Innovation can be formed which would help create a united cyber security law and all this could ultimately lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution. South Asia and Southeast Asia would be lucrative markets and labour distribution and generation of employment can be done through the ports, logistics network, economic and trade exchanges and interactions. This multilateral would form a resilient supply chain in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the domain of Indo-Pacific. Marine economy can be a major factor of this multilateral initiative as it would be a major success in the maritime domain. This multilateral can also work on vaccine diplomacy and work on future health hazards mechanisms.
Why Bangladesh must think of adopting the Indo-Pacific Strategy?
Bangladesh must adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy and create its own objects and call it the SAMODHRO NITI. Bangladesh has the capability of being an excellent maritime power and it is a major leader in the Bay of Bengal and to be an effective part of this multilateral. The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) would be a key binder. Bangladesh must realise that China by building dams on the Brahmaputra River would actually create issues for Bangladesh’s fishery catchment areas as it would get inundated with salt water and to stop that Bangladesh must work to strengthen its position to tackle China. Also, China could also create water issues for Bangladesh and Bangladesh must look at ways to safe guard its water resources. Thereby, Bangladesh must work towards countries who face similar issues with China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is an excellent example of cooperation but this Multilateral if formed can be a stronger initiative and Bangladesh benefits from it as being a hub of textile, leather and pharmaceuticals and this Multilateral has all the efficiency of becoming an economic hub which would benefit Bangladesh too. If Bangladesh adopts an Indo-Pacific Policy, then its market in Japan, the US and Europe would become stronger due to shared interests and can also sign a Free Trade Agreement with EU like Vietnam did.
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