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Southeast Asia

The Parallels of Totalitarian M.O.

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The outlook of totalitarianism today is vastly diverse compared to the early tomid-20th century. Be it the draconian rule of Joseph Stalin commandeering the Communist party or the notorious Nazi campaign under Adolf Hitler, the monochromatic image of an authoritarian mentality no longer exists in modern reality. 

While the shades of a typical dictatorial regime could still be gathered from instances like the recent Coup d’état launched by the Junta: decimating democracy and trampling down the very tenets of humanity under a facade of national security, the diplomatic players like the National People’s Congress (NPC) equally exhibit the horrifying nature of a domineering mentality by demolishing the rudimentary facets underpinning basic rights of the citizens. Whether it’s a half-a-century rule muddled with blood and oppression or a 24-year democratic incarceration tightening the metaphorical noose with each successive day: the modus operandi of a militaristic mindset has evolved with time and the rendition of power today is hardly distinguishable from a political assertion.

Building up with the independence of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), the event was etched as one of the most celebrated struggles of freedom from the British colonial rule post World War II. So was the supposed agreement of ‘One Country Two System’ plan forged between the British and the People’s Republic of China; an apparent liberation of Hong Kong. Both moments proved chaotic despite their golden nature, painting a bleak picture in history.

Whilst Myanmar fell under a spiral of outright militaristic brutality, changing hands for over almost 50 years forward, Hong Kong existed in a phony reality of a free government. The Junta clenched the power openly in Myanmar while China opted to tighten the screws in the background: silently pushing the communist narrative in the peripheries of Hong Kong. The Junta crushed any democratic movement that even insinuated a resistance to its blooming authority in the country. China, on the other hand, adopted a similar strategy but in the guise of reforms through legislation: disqualifying pro-democracy legislators from the parliament of Hong Kong and actively meddling in the house to underpin a pro-Beijing sentiment.

By some miracle, a voice, to the otherwise servile citizenry of Myanmar, was brought to the surface under the banner of the National League of Democracy (NLD). Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the resistance, actively impeded the military rule that coursed smoothly over the preceding decades. Rallies of defiance riddled the streets in 1989 as Suu Kyi emerged as a public figure rejuvenating the dreams of freedom in Myanmar. However, the dreams were short-lived. Despite of a win in the 1990 general elections, leaders of NLD (now parliamentarians) were brought down to their knees as Junta ruthlessly seized the mandate, simultaneously putting the leaders, including Suu Kyi, under house arrest. 

Similar was the fate of pro-democracy activists who challenged the legitimacy of Chinese encroachment in the political affairs of Hong Kong. The communist agenda peddled by president Xi Jinping drubbed the fuming opposition in a relatively subtler manner. Instead of resorting to the same violent tactics adopted by China to pass the law of extradition of the Hongkongese convicts, the NPC routed through a schematic approach by passing the ‘National Security Law’ to safeguard the soundness of the legal system and maintaining the stability in the country. The pretense of this law was majorly used to corner the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong which increasingly surfaced after the Umbrella protests in 2014. The law proved essential in curbing the accumulated power of such fragments in Hong Kong which propagated over the years even under a prevailing threat of arrest and execution. The law managed to thump down the voices that even managed to hold demonstrations against the local governments, tensile enough to resonate the streets with tens of thousands of protestors and even pushing the NPC to back down on some occasions. Since the clearance of the National Security Law into the legislation, as many as 47 pro-democracy activists have been indicted for subversion, facing sentences verging life imprisonment. Some of the activists have either gone underground or fled to the United Kingdom, paving a clear passage for the pro-Beijing factions to decimate the remaining institutions of the city without an active opposition that once managed to pressure NPC in rescinding the extradition law.

Back to the front of Myanmar, the people’s leader, Aung Suu Kyi, eventually evaded the shackles of the military and formed the government; thus, began a tryst of the nascent democracy with the Junta in 2011. The democracy fledged for the first time since 1962 under the banner of NLD. However, the mechanism of this freedom was as superfluous as the parliament of Hong Kong hailing freedom whilst being controlled by the Peoples Republic. Myanmar’s constitution stood as a symbol of liberation. However, the charter was all but a ruse drafted by the very dictators who were once chided by the NLD. The constitution granted a quarter of the seats in both houses of the parliament to the Junta while NLD celebrated at the behest of the same dictators pulling the ropes. The innocent citizens failed to realize the power games running the paradox, failed to decipher the collusion of dominance. 

A similar gimmick was pulled by the NLC in Hong Kong. By default, only half of the parliament could be elected by the general public while the remaining representation was squelched by the NLC by flooding the Hong Kong parliament with political allies matching the pro-democracy sentiments elected by the general population. The Peoples Republic of China actively leveraged the loopholes and deficiencies in the city’s electoral system to undermine the natural tendencies of the people of Hong Kong, thus, subverting the voice of the Hongkongers that then manifested in the form of protests which were deftly portrayed as a threat to national security and put to rest through legislations. A crafted scheme to divert the blame over the victims and claim control through both nefarious yet diplomatic means.

In Myanmar, the Junta not only disparaged the rights of the civilians but actively massacred the minorities of the state. The genocide of Rohingya is one of the most sinister realities of military brutality as, over the years, thousands of innocent Muslims were butchered in the Rakhine state in the name of ‘Ethnic cleansing’. Many were forced to flee to neighboring countries where they live a dismal life, wailing for their rights. The leader who once chanted against the abject chaos wrecked by the Junta, Aung Suu Kyi instead casted the very Rohingya as terrorists whilst defending the Junta in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The brutality, unfortunately, is matched within the boundaries of China. The state of Xinjiang has morphed into a nightmare for a Muslim community called ‘Uyghurs’. Accusing the community of rebellion and terrorism (quite like Rohingya), the pro-communist factions in China have detained between 1 million and 2 million Uighurs in over 1400 extrajudicial internment facilities since 2014. Torture has pervaded the state to levels beyond human limits. Sterilization, forced abortions, and ingestion of birth controls have diminished the birth rate of the community drastically. Suicide rates have turned rampant as China actively engages to eradicate the community to pave way for the dominant Han Chinese community to infiltrate the lucrative regions in Xinjiang. Under the pretense of ‘Educational camps’ China has blatantly campaigned to wipe off the Uighurs: on the same lines as fabricating the books, scriptures, and even practices of Hong Kong for years to weave the communist mentality in the generations whilst gradually eroding the original sentiments to the point that submission is the only option.

In recent reality, the Junta has overthrown the dummy government in Myanmar and regained control of the institutions. China, on the other hand, still actively denies its genocidal actions in Xinjiang and plans to pass legislation in Hong Kong to further exploit the electoral system to completely eliminate any last remaining remnants of democracy in the parliament. Whilst Junta has claimed a cumulative of 60 lives over persistent protests ranging since the launch of the coup in February, China has sped up its schemes to expedite the absorption of Hong Kong, paying no caution to the wind as the pro-Beijing factions simultaneously continue to squeeze the minorities like Uyghurs to keep the communist agenda afloat. In today’s day and age, it is difficult to bifurcate between legality and intervention, democracy and dictatorship no longer differ in appearance: totalitarians do not always don uniforms and arm artillery~The dictatorial mindset is enough to wreak havoc over the fundamentals of freedom and democracy.

The author is a political and economic analyst. He focuses on geopolitical policymaking and international affairs. Syed has written extensively on fintech economy, foreign policy, and economic decision making of the Indo-Pacific and Asian region.

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Southeast Asia

Management of Nuclear Mining in Indonesia

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Nuclear energy in its development is very rapid and plays a major role in improving the quality, as well as the added value of various products in various activities to improve people’s welfare. In accordance with its nature,  nuclear energy has two impacts, namely: the side of benefits to realize welfare;  and on the other hand, it has potential hazards that must be managed properly.  Based on this, Nuclear Mining Material as one of the strategic natural resources is a vital commodity that controls the lives of many people, must be controlled by the state with optimal management in order to obtain the maximum benefit for prosperity and welfare of the people as mandated in the 1945 Constitution Article 33 paragraph (2) and paragraph (3).  Therefore, the use of nuclear technology for human life needs to be monitored and regulated with regulations that consider the value of benefits and potential radiation hazards caused.

In order for the use of nuclear power to be optimized, it is necessary to make regulations that regulate utilization governance and prevent bad things from happening due to radiation hazards as a consequence of nuclear utilization containing radioactive substances and nuclear materials. Law Number 31 of 1964 concerning Basic Provisions of Atomic Energy is one of the first steps to strengthen nuclear power in Indonesia by means of Institutional Strengthening that utilizes (1) nuclear materials such as uranium and other radioactive materials, (2) reactor development and reactor utilization for electricity, and (3) utilization and development of radioisotopes in aspects of health, agriculture, industry, and others.  Then, since 1978 has ratified several international agreements including:

  1. Law Number 8 of 1978 concerning the Ratification of the Treaty on the Prevention of the Spread of Nuclear Weapons;
  2. Law Number 9 of 1997 concerning the Ratification of the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone ;
  3. Law Number 1 of 2012 concerning the Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
  4. Law Number 10 of 2014 concerning the Ratification of the International Convention for Suppression Acts on Nuclear Terrorism.

Indonesia does have Law Number 10 of 1997 concerning Nuclear Power. However, there are still many provisions that have not been regulated and provisions that do not keep up with the times along with the development of nuclear power in the world of science and technology. In fact, the elements contained in nuclear have not all been used by Indonesia and there are still illegal buying and selling practices to date. Whereas nuclear elements, such as monazite, contains U (0.1-0.3%), Th (± 6%), LTJ (60%), and phosphate. LTJ has enormous benefits and its supply is currently dominated by China. Based on the records of the Ministry of Industry, every production of 1 ton of tin is estimated to produce 22 kg of monazite, which means that 34,000 tons have been produced monazite in the last 17 years (there are 2000 tons of thorium and 170 tons of uranium).  If there is a  regulation related to this, it will certainly ensure legal certainty and governance, and this can be a huge economic potential for the country.

At this time nuclear energy has contributed about 11% of the world’s energy and there are 452 nuclear reactors actively operating and spread across 31 countries in the world with a total capacity of 399,354 MW. Each year it is estimated that more than 66,883 tons of uranium are needed to run these reactors. Now as many as 54 new reactors are being built in 19 countries, and it is estimated that by 2035 the world’s uranium demand will increase by about 30% to 72,000-122,000 tons.  The existence of NZE (Net Zero Emission)  targets by many countries, mostly by 2050, and only a few countries by 2060, causes the possibility of projected nuclear power plant construction to increase.

Indonesia is one of the countries that has committed to achieving the Net Zero Emission (NZE) target by 2060 through Presidential Regulation No. 98 of 2021 concerning the Economic Value of Carbon based on the principles of welfare and the principles of sustainable development. The consequence of setting this target is that Indonesia must gradually reduce the use of fossil energy sources and replace them with clean energy sources derived from new and renewable energy, with the aim of national interest and preservation of national functions for the sustainability of future generations.

Based on exploration data that has been carried out by BATAN (National Nuclear Energy Agency which has now merged into the National Research and Innovation Agency, Indonesia has the potential for Uranium and Thorium (elements of nuclear used) in the Kalan and Ketapang (West Kalimantan areas), Kawat (East Kalimantan), Katingan, Mentawa and Darab (Central Kalimantan ), Singkep (Kepulauan Riau), Bangka Belitung, Sibolga (Sumatera Utara) and Mamuju (Sulawesi Barat). If Indonesia can take advantage of the opportunity for these natural resources for national development and community welfare, then Indonesia can contribute as a supplier of nuclear mining materials later. The International Energy Agency  (IEA) 2021 projects that by 2040 there will be an increase in the number of nuclear power plants that are likely to exceed the projected supply of uranium in the same period (World Nuclear Association, 2021). This is likely to have an impact on competition among nuclear power plant managers to get a guaranteed uranium supply.

Based on data owned by BAPETEN (Nuclear Energy Supervisory Agency), export and import activities for nuclear materials, in 2017 there were imports of 28.08 kg, in 2018 as much as 28.14 kg, and in 2019 as much as 41.69 kg.  In Law No. 7 of 2014 concerning Trade there is no specific regulation on trade related to nuclear power.  Whereas in the field of nuclear power also cannot be contained export and import activities, as well as their prohibitions and restrictions. Given that the Indonesian state has limited fulfillment of the needs of nuclear materials and radioactive substances that must be met from domestic production, export, and import activities, as well as the possibility of re-export of used sources are very potentially needed as a gateway to traffic between countries. In Law Number 6 of 2023 concerning the Stipulation of Government Regulations in Lieu of Law Number 2 of 2022 concerning Job Creation into Law, there are regulations related to the mining of nuclear-excavated materials. This arrangement partially deleted several articles of Law Number 10 of 1997 concerning Nuclear Energy, partly added new articles and partially replaced existing articles. However, unfortunately, the two laws have not explained specifically related to regulations regarding the licensing of exports and imports of nuclear-excavated materials directly related to nuclear materials and radioactive substances.

The problem faced by Indonesia today is that there is no positive law that can reach the development of scientific and technological advances related to nuclear power and has not been able to meet the needs of nuclear power safety, security, and facility arrangements.  Then,  there is no special criminal regulation to ensnare all forms of action faced related to the misuse of nuclear materials, radioactive substances, and ionizing radiation plants that can threaten the life of the nation, state, and society.

If the legal legitimacy of the management of nuclear mining already exists, it is not impossible that the use of nuclear power will increase in various sectors, especially in mining, radioactive mineral processing, nuclear energy, energy storage, and radioactive mineral-based batteries. National competitiveness as a positive impact of nuclear technology can also be stronger. In addition, Indonesia’s radioactive mineral-based natural resources can be utilized optimally, then business actors are potentially increasingly interested in investing in the nuclear industry, and public safety and security from radiation hazards are guaranteed. Absolutely, taking into account the balance of existing living environments, while maintaining the environment despite nuclear mining activities. This is also a demand against nuclear mining companies that must meet the provisions in Law No.  32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management.

The author hopes that this paper can contribute to the preparation of laws and regulations on the management of nuclear mining materials so that Indonesia immediately has a legal rule for nuclear mining activities, as well as complementing Government Regulation Number 52 of 2022 concerning Safety and Security of Nuclear Mining which was published earlier.

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Southeast Asia

Behind the cancellation of Tesla’s investment in Indonesia

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Authors: Yeta Purnama and Wulan Fitriana*

In April 2022, the issue of Tesla’s interest in investing in Indonesia attracted the attention of the domestic public, following a meeting held by Elon Musk, the owner of a prominent electric car company, with the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan. The meeting discussed nickel raw materials for the electric car supply chain.

This was then followed up directly by President Jokowi during the implementation visit to SpaceX in May 2022. During the visit, they also did not reach an agreement, although in August 2022 Luhut said the value of the nickel purchase contract from Tesla reached US$ 5 billion or the equivalent of IDR 74.5 trillion. However, until mid-2023, an official agreement on Tesla’s investment plans had not yet been announced.

Instead of setting investment in Indonesia, recently Tesla was even rumored to be opening an electric car factory in neighboring Malaysia. Even though Indonesia has been intensively lobbying with a nickel concession offer to Tesla, the offer does not seem convincing enough to involve Indonesia in fulfilling the supply chain for battery raw materials at the company. For Tesla, a sustainable company comes first Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is the main reason to be considered. However, on the other hand nickel companies in Indonesia are still far away from being sustainable. This can be interpreted that one of the reasons for Tesla canceling its investment is because the company’s concern for ESG is still low.

Battery production ecosystem which is not sustainable

As a company that owns track record Pretty good ESG with shoes total 65/100 according to disclosure Refinitiv, there are at least two reasons why Tesla has not provided further information or even thwarted its intention to make Indonesia an investment destination. The first reason is regarding the poor production ecosystem. Several nickel mines in Indonesia have not even been included in the ESG rating agency which is an important aspect to attract international investors concern to climate change.

Second, half-hearted regulations in an effort to reduce emission reductions. For example, by perpetuating nickel mining companies meet energy needs by using coal-fired power plants to support smelter activities. The emission footprint in fulfilling the electric vehicle supply chain is a false solution for the government to reduce greenhouse gas emission reductions.

This is exacerbated by company non-compliance with regulations, one example is the downstream policy. It is known that illegal export of nickel ore occurred due to the export ban and required the process of refining nickel in the country. This fraud was also influenced by differences in the price of nickel ore at home and abroad. Miners tend to choose exports because the price of nickel ore in the domestic market tends to be lower than the export price.

This activity is known to have caused losses to the state due to loss of royalties and export duties from companies.

Even though the government has issued regulations as stated in the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Regulation Number 11 of 2020 concerning the Third Amendment to the Regulation of the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Number 07 of 2017 concerning Procedures for Setting Benchmark Prices for Sales of Metal Minerals and Coal. However, this has not been implemented properly in the field.

Based on the results of the 2021 evaluation, it shows that among the 73 companies, there are smelters, miners, and trader, there are as many as 65 companies that have been assessed according to the HPM, the rest are still not in accordance with the stipulated HPM and are even still under international regulations.

What needs to be done in the future

Inviting Tesla to become a net investor in the country is a fairly good effort from the government in diversifying cooperation partners, despite its dependence on investment from China which is quite problematic in the environmental and governance sectors. However, there are several things the government needs to do in the future to attract foreign investment, especially in maximizing the management of nickel resources in the country. First, it is necessary to carry out policy reforms that are truly serious in the energy transition effort.

One of them concerns the application of Risk-Based Licensing mandated by the Job Creation Law. This bill is not supported by the availability of a database on risk mapping, while environmental permits have been abolished, resulting in threats to environmental quality degradation.

Second, the government needs to retire dependence on fossil energy as early as possible, by starting a mix of energy transitions more quickly, including overcoming over supply electricity must pushed with policy. Because, currently the policies made by the government in making a road map for the transition of new energy and renewable energy in the EBET Bill are still half-hearted and there are still many fake solutions in the bill, for example such as geothermal and coal gasification which are actually efforts to extend the life of dirty energy in Indonesia. domestic.

Third, the government needs to carry out strict supervision and proper regulation. Especially regarding environmental and governance issues which are important aspects to create a more sustainable corporate ecosystem. Because of ideals net zero carbon will not be achieved effectively without involving a number of parties and stakeholders.

*Wulan Fitriana, Researcher at CELIOS.

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Southeast Asia

ASEAN needs to walk a tightrope



Photo by ASEAN2022 Phnom Penh Media Center/Khem Sovannara & Yim Sovathana - AKP

The Quad leaders’ statement clearly reiterated the importance of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the context of the Indo-Pacific. Said the statement:

“Today we reaffirm our consistent and unwavering support for ASEAN centrality and unity. We are committed to ensuring the Quad’s work is aligned with ASEAN’s principles and priorities and continues to support implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)”

The statement also referred to Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2023.

This statement is important for several reasons. First, there have been differences between ASEAN and the US with several ASEAN leaders expressing concern over the consistent deterioration in ties between China and the US. Countries like Singapore have repeatedly reiterated, that they would not like to make choices between Beijing and Washington, since they share robust economic ties with both countries.

At the Boao Forum, often referred to as China’s Davos, held in March 2023, the Singapore PM again underscored the global ramifications of strained ties between China and the US. The Malaysian PM, Anwar Ibrahim perceived to be pro-US, expressed concern over US’ ‘decoupling’ from China.

Second, ASEAN countries which also share close economic links with the US have recently begun to speak about ‘De-dollarisation’ which refers to reducing dependence upon the US dollar for trade. The Malaysian PM, Anwar Ibrahim also spoke about Asian Monetary Fund (this idea was initially mooted by the Malaysian PM in the late 1990’s when he was Malaysia’s Finance Minister).  Like many other regions, ASEAN is wary of US’ increasingly insular economic policies in recent years. While seven Asean countries — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – are part of the US led IPEF (Indo Pacific Economic Framework) they have complained about IPEF not having a trade component.

Third, Indonesia has taken a different stance from the west on the Russia-Ukraine war. Like India, which is the current chair of G20, Indonesia too has pointed to the need for addressing disruptions caused to the global supply chains by the Russia-Ukraine war. Yet, it is an important stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific and is also important in the context of the goal of reducing economic dependence upon China and altering global supply chains. Apart from Vietnam and India, Indonesia has been one of the favoured countries for companies seeking to re-locate from China.

In spite of all the above differences, several ASEAN states have begun to show greater interest in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific. ASEAN came up with its first Indo-Pacific vision in 2018, but it has clearly stated that it’s approach vis-à-vis the Indo-Pacific is different from that of the US and not targeted at China. In recent months however, some ASEAN countries have begun to express their discomfort with regard to China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour on the South China Sea issue. Philippines, a US ally, which had in recent years been trying to strike a balance between US-China, has once again strengthened security ties with US. In February 2023, Philippines provided the US military access to four more military bases in the ASEAN nation. The US defence department while commenting on Philippines decision to grant access to four more military bases said that this:

“will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities,”

In conclusion, the ASEAN grouping is very important in the current geopolitical context and while it needs to walk a tightrope between China and the US it is an important player in the context of the Indo-Pacific for several reasons. As mentioned earlier, ASEAN countries are especially important in the changing economic architecture, where many western countries are seeking to reduce their dependence upon China and many US firms are expanding their operations in ASEAN countries – especially Vietnam. Apart from this, several ASEAN nations do not want to adopt a confrontationalist stance with Beijing due to their economic interests as well as geographical proximity but are not comfortable with China’s assertive behaviour and thus need to find common cause with the Quad.

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