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The US-Vietnam relations in 2020 and prospects in 2021

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Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, in Hanoi, Vietnam on October 30, 2020. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State visited Vietnam in late October 29-30, 2020 to discuss issues related to comprehensive partnership, and look for areas to further develop the relationship. The visit was short but very much focussed. In a number of documents which have been released by the US State Department, Vietnam holds an important place. The signing of the US Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership in 2013 was a manifestation of how the US wants to direct this relationship into more defence, strategic and economic domains. Subsequently, the visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister Phuc in May 2017, and also interactions during President Obama visit to Vietnam in 2016 followed with President Trump visit to Vietnam in November 2017 (for meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) buttresses the fact that the two sides want to work on improving the relationship.

Vietnam has increasingly been seen as a middle power, and a possible alternative to the Chinese production in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vietnam’s better recovery in the post COVID-19 phase clearly outlines the fact that the economy is going to do better in 2021 and would seek foreign direct investment to bring its economy back on track. President Trump has high hopes on the possibility of better cooperation with Vietnam, particularly in the areas such as political and diplomatic relations, science and technology, and issues related to environment and climate change.

Vietnam is also the non-permanent member of the Security Council for the year 2020-2021, and therefore it is increasingly seen that better coordination between United States and Vietnam would help in reining in the aggressive power in Asia. One of the major spin- offs of this burgeoning relationship is in the field of defence and security, and this has been highlighted by the visit of the two the US aircraft carriers in the past including USS Carl Vinson in 2018, and USS Roosevelt in 2020.

The US has also invited Vietnamese military personal for training in few of its higher military academies and command courses. Along with that the US is also looking for exporting arms and equipment to Vietnam as Vietnam’s defence expenditure has been steadily increasing in Southeast Asia, and it is looking for naval and air force modernisation. Vietnam also acknowledges the fact that in order to grow and reach the economic growth target of double digits it would require US markets for its products. The Vietnam-EU trade agreement has already opened European market to Vietnam, and in the wake of its better recovery, it can exploit those markets in a better way because of tariff concessions and easy trade facilitation measures. The signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has also opened possibilities between the 15 signatory countries. Vietnam is also member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership(CPTPP)and also is a participant in the APEC process. Enlisting of Vietnam as one of the Quad plus countries in the Quad architecture shows the relevance that the country has in the strategic matrix.

The US has also intensified its interactions with ASEAN in the year 20202 and one of the reasons has been the Vietnam chairmanship of ASEAN in 2020. During the 33rd US- ASEAN Dialogue which was held on August 4th at Washington DC, it was expressed that the US-ASEAN strategic partnership was important for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The US has been very forthcoming with regard to the issues related to South China Sea, and formalising the draft code of conduct so that the standard operating protocols could be adopted and peace can be sustained in the South China Sea for a longer run.

During the meeting the United States has buttressed the need for clear and transparent rules based on the UNCLOS, and commitment to the 2016 arbitration tribunal ruling. Under the chairmanship of Vietnam, the ASEAN has been able to address the Corona virus pandemic and the US has expressed faith in ASEAN resilience against unsustainable debt. The US also had declared more than US $ 87 million for providing emergency health, medicines and assistance to combat the coronavirus in the ASEAN region. One of the fundamental areas where Vietnam has bolstered the need for the US participation has been in the field of education and training of public health practitioners. This has been an achievement on the part of the Vietnam to get quality training from the US and develop synergies in the field of medicine and scientific research.

In the year 2020, the US and ASEAN celebrated the 5th anniversary of their strategic partnership. During deliberations throughout the year between the US and ASEAN it was expressed that USIndo-Pacific strategy and ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP)converge in terms of respect for sovereignty and rule of law as well as stress on rules-based frameworks, and developing transparency in the region so as to promote peace and security in those contested waters. During the ASEAN meetings the US has made commitment with regard to promoting public health emergency coordination system in Southeast Asia as well as endorsing data transparency and legal measures to support the Southeast Asian countries under the ASEAN ambit. The US State Department also created the health futures alumni network which promoted exchange programs from ASEAN member states and the US as well as coordination between the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The US has also proposed to put up a private-public medical education alliance and has expressed interest in investing in Vietnam to build its health sector capacities. Furthermore, within ASEAN the human capital is critical for promoting skills and developing resources so as to facilitate conditions for self-reliance. As the US proposed to provide financial assistance for developing and training midlevel executives under a separate program at Fulbright University in Vietnam at Ho Chi Minh city. The stress on technology and innovation as well as entrepreneurship shows that the US is interested in making Vietnam as one of the pioneering countries where innovation and research can be conducted.

One of the achievements in the year 2020 has been the US-ASEAN smart cities partnership which would promote better understanding on transportation, connectivity and water management in select cities in Southeast Asia. The IT alliance program between USAID and 11 Vietnamese universities would help modernise Vietnamese technology and engineering institutes. This would promote Vietnam as an emerging technological hub in Southeast Asia.

As it has been seen in the year 2020,US supported ASEAN single window system so as to facilitate growing trade between ASEAN and United States and increasingly stressed on digital clearance system in customs. The US has also been working to strengthen women entrepreneurship and economic empowerment across Asia. Within Vietnam, a sizable percentage of small and medium enterprises has been managed by the women which shows the potential of Vietnamese society in galloping as the fastest growing economy in the region. One area which has been primarily focused is in terms of addressing the energy demand and also fulfilling electricity requirements in Southeast Asia. The US and Vietnam has been stressing on study of trafficking and forced Labour in the region. Under Vietnam chairmanship ASEAN has also proposed to study and improve maritime domain awareness with the US.

Invariably, it seems that the year 2020 has been a milestone year for developing better relationships between the US and Vietnam and also involving US in ASEAN activities. The number of projects as well as assistance programmes that the US has announced in the year 2020 clearly outlines the fact that the global power would look into this region with more focus, particularly in the emerging geopolitical challenges and the tensions in South China Sea. Vietnam, on its part, has been able to galvanise the support of the ASEAN countries in raising the issue of South China Sea, and the Extended Continental Shelf which has garnered support of the European countries and the US in the UN. The ASEAN leadership has brought about a new phase in developing partnership between the US and Vietnam. It is now increasingly speculated that the increasingly political interactions between the two sides might culminate in a US-Vietnam strategic partnership in future. However, much depends on how the Joe Biden’s government will steer this relationship to the next level or would there be a case of lost momentum in ties.

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

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.

***

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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South Korea’s finance of ‘green’ palm oil drives destruction in Indonesia

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In 2019, South Korea imported 745,000 metric tonnes of palm oil, up from 194,000 metric tonnes in 2005. It is one of the fastest-growing markets for the commodity in the world, driven by government policies to boost palm oil as a lucrative green industry and to secure food and energy supplies from overseas.

Most of this palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia and until recently was used in processed food, such as instant noodles. But under the country’s “Green New Deal” introduced earlier this year, palm oil is being promoted as a source of renewable energy, as biofuel for transport and power generation.

But palm oil’s green credentials are hotly debated. While the US and Europe are taking steps to restrict use because of links to widespread deforestation and high carbon emissions, South Korean public institutions have given millions of dollars in subsidies to companies developing plantations in Indonesia in the name of “green” development.

Environmental activists and lawyers in South Korea have become increasingly vocal about the industry’s links with human rights violations and deforestation in Indonesia, and are demanding the government stop financing destructive practices.

Demand soars

South Korea relies on overseas imports for 97% of its energy and 75% of its food resources. After the 2008 global food crisis, the government set out to secure both edible and industrial palm oil, launching an “Overseas Agro-resources Development” programme in 2009. That public loan scheme covered 70% of the business costs of private South Korean companies to produce and distribute wheat, soybean, corn and crude palm oil.

Palm oil is designated a strategic commodity under South Korean law. The Overseas Agriculture & Forest Resources Development and Cooperation Act, and the Overseas Resources Development Business Act are used as legal grounds to subsidise Korean palm oil companies overseas. The Korea Forest Service and various finance institutions classify oil palm development as “bioenergy afforestation” projects. This is a perverse use of the word afforestation, which generally means planting trees for environmental and climate benefits, not clearing tropical forest for monoculture plantations.

“I find these acts very imperialistic. The government is helping companies to take resources from other countries because we are resource-poor,” said Chung Shin-young, a lawyer with Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL), who has been investigating South Korea’s palm oil industry and leading the campaign to stop public finance of the industry.

Public and private investment in the palm oil industry has also been driven by the use of palm oil as a transport fuel since the mid 2000s. Since 2015, South Korean companies importing or exporting petroleum fuel products have had to ensure their oil products are at least 2.5% biodiesel. The proportion was later increased to 3%. As of 2017, palm oil and its by-products accounted for 88% of South Korea’s biodiesel imports.

Public money funds deforestation and human rights abuses

South Korean palm oil producers found themselves in the international spotlight in 2016 when environmental advocacy group Mighty Earth, in partnership with the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), exposed massive forest clearance in the palm oil concessions of Korindo and Posco International in Indonesian-administered Papua. Satellite data and drone images showed that Korindo had cleared 30,000 hectares of rainforest in the previous two years while Posco International had cleared 19,000 hectares in the previous four.

Korindo established its first oil palm plantation in Papua in 1998. Recent years have seen a marked expansion of its activities in the province, with 30,000 hectares of forest cleared between 2013 and 2016. (Image: Mighty Earth)

“The Korean model of palm oil plantation deforestation harkens back to the old, dark days of the palm oil industry when forests, wildlife and indigenous lands were obliterated for the purpose of establishing giant expanses of monoculture plantations, the profits of which mainly go to foreign owners,” said Deborah Lapidus, senior campaign director at Mighty Earth.

The problem is these two companies have been operating their palm oil business with public money from the Korea Forestry Service and the Export-Import Bank of Korea (Korea Exim Bank), said Chung.

“If you look at the detailed statement of the government loan to Posco International, you will learn that they rarely run a business on their own money. But it’s not only Posco International. LG International, Daesang, and JC Chemical before them got a loan from the Korea Forestry Service,” said Chung. Her team was one of the first local groups to investigate South Korean palm oil companies’ links to rights violations and massive deforestation in Indonesia since 2016, together with the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements (KFEM). 

“The agency’s very first public loan to the palm oil industry was to an oil palm afforestation company, Daesang Holdings, in 2008. In total, 3.8 billion-won (around US$3.2 million) was financed for a bioenergy afforestation project in Indonesia,” explained Shin Gun-seop, an administrative officer at Korea Forest Service’s Overseas Resources Development Office.

Between 2010 and 2019, Korea Forest Service provided 40.1 billion won (around US$33 million) to plant oil palms in around 24,000 hectares, mostly in Indonesia, according to Shin. Daesang Holdings, LG International Corp., Kodeco, and JC Chemical were some of the recipients of these public loans.

Livelihoods destroyed

The expansion of South Korean palm oil companies has put indigenous communities’ livelihoods at risk, many of whom had been displaced from their forest land in the past.

“My concern is that the presence of Korindo and Posco International in Papua will further widen gaps and deepen injustices in Papua where big business take everything and the local community is left with empty hands. For most indigenous Papuans, forests are their supermarkets, banks, hospitals and sacred places. Massive forest conversion means they lose their livelihoods,” said Angky Samperante from the Papuan rights group Yayasan Pusaka. His team has been struggling to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment of Papua against Korean palm oil companies since 2010.

A family from the Kowin Marind tribe whose land has been affected by deforestation to make way for a Korindo plantation in Papua (Image: Mighty Earth)

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been closely monitoring Korindo’s operations since complaints against its destructive practices and human rights violations were first made by Mighty Earth in 2017, but has stopped short of stripping it of its sustainability certification. Korindo Group published a statement on its website in July 2019 saying it rejected complaints that it was involved in illegal forest fires but agreed to work with FSC to improve its standards.

The Korean palm oil industry has been linked with the suffering of indigenous communities in Indonesia from the start. Korindo Group started the first “Korean” palm oil business in Merauke, Papua province, in 1995. There the Marind and Mandobo peoples had already been forced from their customary forest by the central government’s development plan in the early 1970s. PT. Tunas Sawa Erma, the palm oil company of Korindo Group, acquired a palm oil business permit in 1997 and by December 2001 had planted palms over 7,800 hectares of land. This set the scene for the next set of large-scale Korean palm oil ventures in Indonesia from 2007.

The major players

Apart from Korindo, six other big South Korean companies have become major players in the palm oil industry, financed by public money. Almost US$200 million worth of public funding has been given to these companies to develop over 65,000 hectares of palm oil plantations in Indonesia. These estimates are based on publicly available and verified data from the Korea Forest Service, Export-Import Bank of Korea and the South Korean parliament. And according to an independent investigation by APIL (Advocates for Public Interest Law), almost all of these companies have ongoing land and rights violation conflicts with local communities.

Local advocacy groups have been running a campaign to stop government loans to the palm oil companies in Indonesia since APIL and KFEM (Korean Federation for Environmental Movements) published a report based on their investigation in 2019.

“It’s our tax money going into the industry that is complicit in land grabbing, indigenous people’s rights and labour rights violations. We are pushing Korean export credit agencies to have their own human rights standards to follow when providing a public finance loan to overseas projects like the palm oil industry. It is the government offices’ constitutional responsibility to avoid any human rights violations,” said Chung.

Carbon emissions

Local scientists are also raising their concerns about the government’s growing “carbon debt” given its support for the palm oil industry.

“South Korea has been using a by-product of crude palm oil called Palm Fatty Acid Distillate (PFAD) as a main source of bioenergy. Due to its high carbon intensity and environmental cost, PFAD would not be permitted as a main source of biodiesel in countries like the US and UK,” said Shin Jung-Yull from Korea Energy Agency’s audit division.

According to Shin’s 2018 PhD dissertation, PFAD accounted for 47% of Korea’s biodiesel feedstock in 2015, and emits 5.7 times more greenhouse gases than alternative oils. The European Union plans to phase out palm oil-based transport fuels by 2030, because of the deforestation and higher emissions they cause.

Mounting pressure

Since 2015, South Korean lawmakers have also been questioning the relevant ministries over the effectiveness and sustainability of public financing in the overseas palm oil industry through parliamentary inspections and research service reports.

Under public pressure, Korea Forest Service excluded Korindo from receiving overseas public financing and seized additional loan support for oil palm afforestation projects in 2019. This was after the agency introduced new evaluation criteria requiring companies to provide evidence, such as satellite images, to prove that they are not responsible for “conversion of forest”. However, companies receiving loans before 2019 are not bound by the stricter criteria.

Membership of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – the global certification organisation set up to promote ethical palm oil – is not included in public financing criteria, and neither is a commitment to No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policies.

Despite this, there has been huge public pressure on companies to take action. Posco International voluntarily joined RSPO membership and introduced a zero-deforestation policy for its palm oil plantation in Indonesia’s Papua province in March this year.

When asked to respond to the international outcry over their activities in Indonesia, Joyce Eun Jeong Seo of Posco International’s Sustainable Management Department told China Dialogue: “In carrying out the palm oil business in Indonesia, Posco International and its subsidiary PT Bio Inti Agrindo recognised and complied with indigenous customary laws as a top priority and strives to fulfil the level of social responsibility required by international norms as a responsible global company.”

Posco International was the first South Korean business to introduce a NDPE (no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation) policy earlier this year. But between 2012 and 2017, its subsidiary in Papua cleared 26,500 hectares of mostly primary forest to establish a plantation. (Image: Google Earth, Landsat / Copernicus)

But Korean citizens have only just started to demand more transparency about the palm oil supply chain and the problems around this ubiquitous commodity. 

“We all know that our country has to rely heavily on overseas resources for our food and energy. But the government cannot blind its citizens by using ‘national interest and security’ logic to justify human rights violation, deforestation and carbon emissions,” said Kang Myung-hwa, a 34-year-old citizen from Seoul.

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