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Southeast Asia

Vietnam- India cooperation against China’s aggressiveness

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Vietnam and India are both facing aggressive China at their maritime and land borders respectively. The aggression which has been unleashed by China in the eastern Ladakh and also in the Arunachal Pradesh given the fact that China has been trying to change the line of actual control (LAC)so as to suit its own larger strategic motives. The US has made it very clear that it acknowledged Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India while reflecting the same in the case of South China Sea. It has warned China not to change the status quo in South China Sea. In this context the situation that both India and Vietnam are facing are identical. While India has made it very clear that despite several rounds of commander level talks (next one scheduled for October 12) it has not allowed Chinese encroachments and has made a very strong position on those heights which might see winter mobilisation of the armed forces from both sides. Vietnam, on the other hand, being the chairman of the ASEAN has made it very clear that the aggression that the China is releasing in the South China Sea would jeopardise any negotiations which are happening with regard to code of conduct and also hinder any negotiation process which is critical for developing regional sea code.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made statements in support of both India and Vietnam because of the ongoing aggressive tactics that China has adopted against the two Asian neighbours. In the case of India, the aggression of the China at the borders has been a major issue during the discussions in the Quad meeting held in Japan on October 6, it has also brought to the fore China ‘s attitude towards its neighbours. The Quad countries need to undertake countermeasures in this regard. The Quad countries have also undertaken a number of initiatives such as in encrypted communication between the military forces, highly specialised information exchange through dedicated software, and sharing of intelligence on a real-time basis. The logistic support agreement that India has entered into with the Quad countries particularly Australia, the US and Japan has developed a new network where the Quad partners can sustain their surveillance and intelligence collection as well as maritime sorties over a longer period of time. More recently India, France and Australia have also undertaken their first trilateral meeting to discuss issues related to Indian Ocean and how the Indian Ocean can be secured from political instability and aggression from external powers having revisionist agenda.

France has a number of assets in the Indo Pacific region and therefore it is seen that in case of any extension of the Quad, France will be a legitimate entrant into this. Vietnam which is being seen as a critical player in the developing dynamics in South China Sea has also been quoted by the Quad members to be a part of the futuristic Quad plus initiative. It is proposed that the Quad plus would include Vietnam, Korea and New Zealand so as to make it a more comprehensive umbrella network for a larger logistics and strategy cooperative network which can have a larger footprint in the Indo Pacific region. Therefore, these kinds of configurations are already providing the platform for both India and Vietnam to work on building synergies and talk in synchronised way to develop common agenda for countering China. It has been time and again stated that in terms of cooperation in various sectors such as space, cyber and intelligence cooperation there is much which needs to be done between the two countries. India has opened the space sector for participation by private multinational entities as well as friendly countries, and both India and Vietnam can work on developing spy satellite network which can provide real-time data utilised by both the countries. It can be done through joint venture programmes and also engaging the technical research institutions from the both sides to develop geospatial observation satellites which are focused on a geosynchronous orbit.

In areas such as maritime security there is much which is desired from both the sides. The cooperation with regard to Coast Guards and sea police, and also conducting naval exercises in South China Sea as well as group sail with like-minded countries would enhance maritime security and built intraoperative capabilities. Vietnam has been looking for developing its coastal security networks, and   India has been helping many of these littoral countries in Indian Ocean for coastal monitoring stations and donated few of the coastal radars which can help in monitoring the large coastline. In this context capacity building training and building better understanding is critical. The two countries should also start addressing the South China Sea as East Vietnam Sea in the joint statements so as to draw attention to this cause.

While both India and Vietnam are emerging economies and are looking for post Covid recovery therefore the two countries are trying not to enter into a war or skirmish in the contested borders- land and maritime. India and Vietnam have been conducting exercises in the South China Sea in the past but it needs to be reinvigorated so that proper messaging should be conveyed to China. Further, as both India and Vietnam would be joining as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in 2021 therefore it has become pertinent for the two countries to join hands together and raise issues in the highest table so as to draw attention to the Chinese aggressive moves in its periphery. This attention calling motion would do a lot good given the fact that most of the Europe in countries – UK, Germany and France have raised issues of concern in the UN and have castigated China on claiming territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zones in the South China Sea. The, US on its own, has been conducting massive show of force and there has been concerns that this might lead to major tension in the region.
In this context it is important to note that India and ASEAN need to reinvent the maritime security dialogue given the fact that Vietnam is now chair of ASEAN. This concept was proposed by India during the visit of the ASEAN heads of the states/leaders during the Republic Day parade in 2018. Even in the ASEAN outlook for the Indo Pacific there has been much reference with regard to the utility of the maritime security in conceptualising the Indo Pacific and creating secure structures so that maritime trade and commerce can be carried on unhindered. Vietnam can create necessary structures in which the ASEAN and the committed dialogue partners can contribute to the larger issue of security in the region. The Treaty of Amity and cooperation need to be framed so that there are penalising actions and also possibility of unified response in case of recalcitrant nation or nations. 

The two countries being the emerging leaders in South Asia and Southeast Asia can do a lot more if the political interactions and the need to address their security concerns gets the resonating responses from both sides.

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com

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Southeast Asia

Learning to build a community from a ”Solok Literacy Community”in the West Sumatra

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Established on September 21, 2020 in Solok City, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. Solok Literacy Community initiated by the young people of Solok City has grown rapidly into a community that has its own trendsetter among young people. Bringing narratives smelling of education, The Literacy Solok Community has a movement with measurable progressiveness that can be seen from its flagship programs.

Starting from the free reading stall movement that has been moving in various corners of Solok City over the past few months. The concept of film surgery that provides proactive discussion space for all segmentation in society. “Diskusi Ngopi” activities which in fact is the concept of FGD (Focus Group Discussion), run with interesting themes and issues so that it can be considered as one of the favorite programs that are often attended by many young people in Solok. Then a class of interests and talents aimed at reactivating the soft skills and great talents of the children of Solok City.

Solok Literacy Community has a long-term goal of making Solok City as a Literacy City in 2025. With these noble targets, of course we together need small steps in the form of programs that run consistently over time. Because after all, a long journey will always begin with small steps in the process of achieving it.

Many appreciations and positive impressions from the surrounding community continue to be received by the Solok Literacy Community. This is certainly a big responsibility for the Solok Literacy Community to continue to commit to grounding literacy in Solok City. Solok Literacy Community activities can be checked directly through instagram social media accounts @solok_literasi. Carrying the tagline #penetrategloomy or penetrating the gloom and #lawanpembodohan, members of the Solok Literacy Community or better known as Soliters, will always make innovative breakthroughs in completing the goal of making Solok City 2025 as a Literacy City.

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Submit Extended Continental Shelf Proposal Amidst Pandemic: Why now is important?

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Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

Indonesia’s active cases of coronavirus have been getting more worrying with more than 100.000 active cases. With nearly a year of pandemic, Indonesia’s not only facing a serious health crisis but also an economic catastrophe. People lose their jobs and GDP expected to shrink by 1.5 percent. Jakarta government therefore should work hard to anticipate the worst condition in 2021.

With this serious economic threat, Indonesia surely has to explore maximize its maritime geographic potential to pass this economic crisis and gain more national revenue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And there where the Extended Continental Shelf submission should play an important role.

Recently this week, Indonesia submit a second proposal for the extended continental shelf in the southwest of the island of Sumatra to the United Nations Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal State exercises sovereign rights concerning the exploration and exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources.

Therefore, this article argues that now is the right time for Indonesia to maximize its Continental Shelf claim under the law of the sea convention for at least three reasons.

First, one could not underestimate the economic potential of the Continental Shelf, since the US Truman Proclamation in 1945, countries have been aware of the economic potential from the oil and gas exploration in the continental shelf.

By being able to explore and exploit natural resources in the strategic continental shelf, at least Indonesia will gain more revenue to recover the economy. Even though indeed the oil and gas business is also hit by the pandemic, however, Indonesia’s extended continental shelf area might give a future potentials area for exploitation in long term. Therefore, it will help Indonesia prepare a long-term economic strategy to recover from the pandemic. After Indonesia can prove that there is a natural prolongation of the continental shelf.

Second, as the Indo-Pacific region is getting more significant in world affairs, it is strategic for Indonesia to have a more strategic presence in the region. This will make Indonesia not only an object of the geopolitical competition to utilize resources in the region, but also a player in getting the economic potential of the region.

And third, it is also showing that President Joko Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum agenda is not yet to perish. Even though in his second term of administration global maritime fulcrum has nearly never been discussed, this momentum could be a good time to prove that Indonesia are still committed to the Global maritime fulcrum by enhancing more maritime diplomacy.

Though this is not the first time Indonesia submit an extended Continental Shelf proposal to the CLCS, this time it is more likely to be accepted by the commission. Not to mention the geographical elements of natural prolongation of the continental shelf that has to be proved by geologist.

The fact that Indonesia has no maritime border with any neighboring states in the Southwest of Sumatra. Therefore, unlike Malaysia’s extended continental shelf proposal in the South China Sea that provoke many political responses from many states, it is less likely that Indonesia extended continental shelf proposal will raise protest from any states.

However, the most important thing to realize the potential benefit of the extended continental shelf as discussed earlier, Indonesia should have a strategy and road map how what to do after Indonesia gets the extended continental shelf.

*Arie Afriansyah is a Senior Lecturer in international law and Chairman of the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at University of Indonesia.

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Southeast Asia

The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam

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Photo courtesy - PTI

In its fourth year since the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, December 2020 witnessed an enhanced cooperation between New Delhi and Hanoi, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to defence and maritime cooperation, amid common concerns about China.

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In an effort to boost defence cooperation, the navies of India and Vietnam conducted atwo-day passage exercise (Passex) in the South China Sea on December 26 and 27, 2020, reinforcing interoperability and jointness in the maritime sphere. Two days before this exercise has begun, an Indian naval ship arrived at Nha Rong Port in Ho Chi Minh City to offer humanitarian assistance for the flood-affected parts of Central Vietnam.

Before this, in the same week, during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on December 21, both countries inked seven agreements on miscellaneous areas of cooperation and jointly unveiled a vision and plan of action for the future, as both countries encounter the common Chinese threat in their respective neighbourhoods.

Vietnam’s disputes with China

India’s bone of contention with China ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Both Vietnam and India share territorial borders with China. Well, it seems odd that despite its common socialistic political backgrounds, China and Vietnam remains largely hostile. 

Having a 3,260 km coastline, covering much of the western part of South China Sea, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Chinese claims based on the legally invalid and vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line concept, unacceptable for all the other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

In 2016, China lost a case brought out by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague when the court ruled that Beijing’s had no legal basis to claim ‘historic rights’ as per the nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it has been doing since 2013, some of them later militarized to gain favourable strategic footholds in the sea and the entire region.

The Paracel and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has been historically considered part of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave the erstwhile South Vietnam control of territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included these island groups. But, China lays claims on all of these islands and occupies some of them, leading to an ongoing dispute with Vietnam.

China and Vietnam also fought a border war from 1979 to 1990. But today, the disputes largely remain in the maritime sphere, in the South China Sea.

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been long regarded as India’s sphere of influence. But with the Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar megaproject proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting three continents, which is part of it, China has grand ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Theories such as ‘String of Pearls’ shed light on an overambitious Beijing, whichattempts to encircle India with ports and bases operating under its control.

China has also opened a military base in Djibouti, overlooking the Indian Ocean, in 2017 and it has also gained control of the strategic port of Hambantota in the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the same year.

Chinese presence in Gwadar in Pakistan, where the Maritime Silk Route meets the land route of BRI, is also a matter of concern for India. Moreover, the land route passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is under Pakistani control, but is also claimed by India.  China has also been developing partnerships with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to its ports in the Bay of Bengal.

Notwithstanding all this, India’s response has been robust and proactive. The Indian Navy has been building partnership with all the littoral states and small island states such as Mauritius and Seychelles to counter the Chinese threat.

India has also been engaged in humanitarian and developmental assistance in the Indian Ocean region, even much before the pandemic, to build mutual trust and cooperation among these countries. Last month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Sri Lanka to revive a trilateral maritime security dialogue with India’s two most important South Asian maritime neighbours, the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foe’s foe is friend

The Indian Navy holding a Passex with Vietnam in the South China Sea, which is China’s backyard, is a clear message to Beijing. This means, if China ups the ante in the Indian Ocean or in the Tibetan border along the Himalayas, India will intensify its joint exercises and defence cooperation with Vietnam.

A permanent Indian presence in the South China Sea is something which Beijing’s never wish to see materialise in the new future. So, India’s engagement with Vietnam, which has a long coast in this sea, is a serious matter of concern for Beijing.

During this month’s virtual summit, Prime Minister Modi has also reiterated that Vietnam is a key partner of India in its Indo-Pacific vision, a term that Beijing vehemently opposes and considers as a containment strategy against its rise led by the United States.

Milestones in India-Vietnam ties – a quick look-back

There was a time when India supported Vietnam’s independence from France, and had opposed US-initiated war in the Southeast Asian country in the latter half of the previous century. Later, India hailed there-unification of North and South Vietnams.

Even though India maintained consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams before the re-unification, it was elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972, thereby establishing full diplomatic ties that year.

During the Vietnam War, India supported the North, despite being a non-communist country, but without forging open hostilities with the South. Today, India partners with both France and the United States, Vietnam’s former colonizers, in its Indo-Pacific vision, comfortably along with Vietnam as geopolitical dynamics witnessed a sea change in the past few years and decades.

Way ahead

Today, these two civilizational states, sharing religio-cultural links dating many centuries back, is coming together again to ensure a favourable balance of power in Asia. Being a key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘Quad Plus’ conceptualisation, Vietnam’s role is poised to increase in the years to come as China continues to project its power in Asia and beyond.

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