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The Myanmar Coup: What Does it Entail for India and China?

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Soldiers stand guard on a street in Naypyidaw on February 1, 2021, after the military detained the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country's president in a coup. AFP PHOTO

So the history has not ended nor the process of democratisation over. The second cold war knocks, the only difference it has altered the threshold. The practice of the cold war era is back as eagerness to capture power pushes forth dethroning the legitimate government and decrying the constitutional dictates in Myanmar. A coup is an attempt at capturing power by a military or civilian group, normally a power monger or dissenting, in violation of the constitutional law and the popular legitimacy. “It is an illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive.” (Powell & Thyne 2011).

The Coup, the Constitution and the UN

On the morning of February 1, 2011, Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military executed a coup deposing the Aung San Suu Kyi,  the democratically elected government of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Tatmadaw declared a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Min Aung Hlaing. The coup d’état occurred the day before the Parliament of Myanmar was due to swear in the members elected at the November 2020 general election, preventing this from occurring. President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained, along with ministers and their deputies and members of Parliament (Huaxia).

The coup has been declared under articles 417 and 418 of the Myanmar Constitution that authorises president to declare a state of emergency, following consultation with the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC). Half of the members of NDSC are civilians like President, Vice-President, and Speakers of both the Houses and other officials. The declaration of a state of emergency then transfers legislative, executive, and judicial power to the Commander-in-Chief per Article 418 (Constitution of Myanmar). However, this time the civilian members were not invited for meeting of NDSC to avoid opposition and articles 417 and 418 were called upon declaring one year emergency by Chairman Aung Min Hlaing, for which he is not legally entitled. It is the sole prerogative of President who in consultation with NDSC declares emergency in times of threat to national sovereignty and integrity.

The Myanmar constitution of 2008 has built in pro-military provisions that allow declaration of emergency in times of urgencies of national significance. There are several reasons behind the current development. Min Aung Hlaing is about to retire in July 2021 and there appeared no constitutional way of his return to power. The diplomatic circles view the development differently. It has been seen from the point of lapse of the services of Min Aung Hlaing in July 2021 who wields a significant influence in Myanmar politics and who has been placed by the US Treasury on its list of Specially Designated Nationals in 2019 for his role in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. Besides the Chinese alacrity to strategically align with the democratically elected government of Aung Su Kyi, which is ideologically closer to New Delhi and not much averse to its role in Myanmar’s future projects, the relationship of Min Aung Hlaing with the Chinese authorities in the previous years also adds to the narrative.  Here “the most significant player may prove to be China. A meeting last month between China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and Min Aung Hlaing may have been the pivotal point in determining the coup. How both China and the United States handle the crisis may be a critical marker for their own relationship”(Ibrahim).

Although the military has been harping over the electoral scandal in the November 2020 elections the decision to depose the government appears to be guided by the support it might have secured for the future expected course of actions internationally. The meeting with Chinese diplomat a month back also clouds the matter. As expected China backed by Russia has today on February 3, 2021 failed UN Security Council issue an agreed upon statement over the condemnation of the military coup in Myanmar. A top U.N. official urged the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to ‘collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar’ as the 15-member body considered a possible statement condemning Monday’s coup (France 24). China and Russia both enjoy the power of veto as permanent members of the Council. China believes that in the post-coup state the imposition of sanctions by UN or western powers would only make things worse in the state.

Now it is also feared that with the new military regime the future of Rohingya may turn worse as Min Aung Hlaing has a poor record in the past. China’s strategic relations with Myanmar have several dimensions for South-East and South Asia. Just like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) it is also pushing the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), as part of its BRI initiative to promote its trade and commerce. A part of CMEC has been completed and a major portion is yet to be completed. The project passes through the areas which are battleground to various ethnic minorities and government forces and this troubles the larger Chinese project.

The Indian Ocean: A Zone of Rivalry

While India, US, Japan and Australia have deepened their strategic ties in the Indian Ocean China’s landlocked provinces of Xinjiang and Yunnan see ‘sea vents’ through CPEC and CMEC at Gwadar and Kyaukpyu. They surround India and become more important for China in view of its continuous stifling in the South China sea by US and company. About 50 percent of the container traffic and 70 percent of the global trade in oil and gas takes place through the Indian Ocean region. Unfollowing Srilanka and Pakistan that have fallen a prey to the ‘debt trap diplomacy’ of China Myanmar follows a more cautious path and has turned down several Chinese projects. CMEC has also remained under shadow for quite long now. Myanmar’s NLD-led government has also raised eyebrows over several Chinese projects that endanger Myanmar’s strategic interest and environmental, social and economic life.

The India, Myanmar and Thailand trilateral road initiative that will connect Moreh (India) with Mae Sot (Thailand) via Myanmar is also under Chinese scanner. The initiative is believed to boost trade in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, and also among the other Southeast Asian states. The project plans to link states like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam also into its fold. In view of these expanding prospects of the zone the democratic regime of Myanmar has been more careful in its decisions that sometimes irk China. “In 2018, the NLD favorably amended Myanmar’s ownership agreement with China for the crucial deep-water port at Kyaukphyu from a 15% stake to 30% for Myanmar and cut project costs by 80%. Furthermore, much of the local human rights community remains wary of sustainability issues and threats to local livelihoods, and even Myanmar’s military distrusts Chinese involvement due to China’s history of supporting ethnic minority rebels (Lucas Myres).

Amidst all these sceptics at this juncture it is not hard to anticipate the understanding between the new regime and China, especially in view of its censoring of a common UNSC condemnation statement against the coup. The development may deeply incise Indian interests in the east (Act East Policy) as China tends to do through CPEC in the west and bring ‘another facet of cold war’ at the threshold of South Asia. While India is sailing in the South China Sea with joint exploratory programmes with Vietnam and few more China strengthens its String of Pearls around to wrench more control in the ocean. The reinstallation of the democratic regime is essential or the world may further witness the unleashing of the chaotic order of the first cold war endangering democracy and promoting dictatorships and war.

References

  • Constitution of Myanmar France 24.
  • Ibrahim, Azeem. Foreign Policy. Is Beijing Backing the Myanmar Coup?
  • Myres, Lucas.
  • Powell, Jonathan M.and Thyne, Clayton L. 1 March 2011. “Global instances of coups from 1950 to 2010 A new dataset”. Journal of Peace Research. 48 (2): 249–259.

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Southeast Asia

Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys

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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

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Southeast Asia

Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma

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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.

Capitalists invasion

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?

Less likely.

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.

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Southeast Asia

Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific

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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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