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Vietnam President Visit to US for UNGA Meeting

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President Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Viet Nam addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

Following his visit to Cuba, Vietnam president Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited New York to attend 76th meeting of the UN (United Nations) General Assembly and participated in the deliberations related to the important aspects of global order and international development. He also attended Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Summit.  Vietnam President in his address at the global COVID-19 summit at New York stated that Vietnam is equally concerned about ending the Corona virus pandemic and helping countries regain the pre-COVID levels of economic growth. While supporting President Joe Biden’s initiatives related to supporting the international community in terms of medicines, vaccines, and diagnostic equipment, he concurred that the well-being of the humanity and the people in various parts of the world is critical at this moment. He stated that with new variants of COVID-19 emerging every day it is pertinent to note that there is need for accelerated early detection techniques, trailing the contacts, and developing foolproof quarantine mechanisms. He added that in many of the developing countries there is need for better testing facilities, oxygenators, oxygen equipment, lifesaving kit such as ventilators and while at the same time undertaking vaccination on a war footing.

He articulated that there is need for effective global cooperation, promoting resilient health care systems, maintaining supply chains of medicines and medical equipment, particularly in the Global South. He appreciated the fact that global health security fund has been instituted which will help the underdeveloped and developing countries in procuring many of these critical equipment. He stated that there is a need for effective vaccinations and undertaking preventive measures to contain the pandemic. Only then, he opined, that there will be an economic recovery of many of the economies across the world. 

Expressing concerns regarding maintaining the vaccine supplies, he avowed that Vietnam would be keen in joining the global COVAX program and undertake its role in supporting developing countries. He valued the fact that many of the countries have come forward to donate vaccines to Vietnam now when the country is suffering from resurgence of COVID-19 virus and increasing deaths because of the newer variants of this virus. He indicated that there is need for vaccinating minimum two-third of the global population the forthcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly next year. Vietnam has also donated 500,000 U.S. dollars for the global COVAX program and assured that Vietnam will be contributing to this endeavor in future also. He alluded to the fact that the Vietnam has promoted the ASEAN Region Response Fund in 2020 and many of the ASEAN countries have used 20.5 million U.S. dollars from this fund. He exuded confidence that in this endeavor against the Corona virus the global community will come together to protect the larger humanity.

During his visit to the US. the Vietnamese president also met CEOs (Chief Executive Officer) of major companies such as US Quantum group and even oversaw an agreement between the company and the Vietnamese group comprising of Kinhbac City Development Holding Corp (KBC) and Saigon Telecom Technology Joint Stock company. The CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the US’s Quantum group expressed that in Vietnam the company wouldbe willing to make an investment of $20 to $30 billion in future.  The major investment will be in the field of biotechnology research, vaccine production, health care and setting up a vaccine production center in Vietnam itself. 

During the visit of the Vietnamese president Vietnam and US have signed a memorandum of understanding between the agricultural departments of the two countries. During the meeting related to the signing of the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural development of Vietnam and US Grains Council it was expressed that Vietnam can emerge as a potential destination for ethanol fuel and this MoU would help Vietnam in promoting use of technology and science to promote green, sustainable, and low emission agriculture. The US Green Council would also provide COVID-19 test kits and COVID-19 treatment drugs for Vietnamese livestock. 

During the visit to US, Vietnamese president also met Vietnamese diaspora in New York to connect and exchange their views. He appreciated the role that the Vietnamese community has played regarding raising the issue of export of vaccines to Vietnam and raised funds for Vietnam’s COVID-19 vaccine fund. President appreciated the role played by the Vietnamese overseas community and stated that they comprise the extended family of the Vietnamese nation. He stated that the younger Vietnamese will be contributing to the development of the homeland with their knowledge and enthusiasm.

In his statement which he delivered during the UN General Assembly’s 76 session he acknowledged that with the reelection of Antonio Guterres as the UN Secretary General the organization will achieve the objectives and the priorities in the future. He further added that for protecting citizens and to sustain economic growth as well as ensuring social security there is a need for global corporation and effective approach. He stated that nontraditional security challenges are a threat for the humankind and issues such as diseases and climate change can change the future. He expressed concern that the global governance system and inequalities among nations have exposed the shortcomings and challenges in front of the global community. He alluded to the fact that tensions between major powers, unstable international system, and wars had been a major concern in the recent past. Without alluding to China, he stated that the disregard for international law and the unilateral acts of aggression has jeopardized the exercise of maritime legal rights for many littoral nations.

He stated that there is a need for effective countermeasures to contain coronavirus pandemic and there is a need for reinforcing global support for COVAX facility. This is necessary for fair and equitable distribution of vaccines and medications to the global South. He further added that countries which have low vaccination rate should be focused and necessary structural support should be provided. He indicated that because of this pandemic there is need to adapt to this scourge and the time has come for digital transformation and promoting self-reliance among economies. 

He buttressed the fact that their need for pursuing green technologies, promoting sustainable development, and undertaking functional changes for promoting trade and investment. He mentioned that global supply change needs to be maintained and under the agenda of 2030 of the UN sustainable development goals provides the edifice for undertaking cooperative development, easing of the debt payments, and accelerating recovery after Corona. He was also apprehensive of the fact that the climate change might be instrumental in harsher weather conditions, pollution, and incremental rise of the sea level. He added that to meet the target cut in greenhouse gas emissions there is need for financial support, capacity building and technology transfer to the developing countries. 

He stated with conviction that global peace security and stability is a perquisite for fostering global economic recovery and facilitating humanitarian assistance. He reinforced Vietnam’s commitment to the UN Charter and respect for the international law. He retreated Vietnam solidarity with Cuba and asked the international community to end the unilateral embargoes against Cuba. He stated that the need for justice for women and children in Afghanistan and establishment of independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel is critical. 

He outlined Vietnam support to multilateralism and ask for more democratic an effective UN. He stated that in the 35 years of Vietnam’s economic reforms program (Doi Moi) there has been multiple changes in the country which helped the country toget integrated with the international community for its progress and equality. He added that Vietnam has been collaborating within ASEAN for peace and prosperity in Southeast Asia and the larger Asia Pacific. He acknowledged clearly that there is need for enforcing maritime security, freedom of navigation and over flight in South China Sea. While outlining the role that the Vietnam has placed as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the term 2020-2021, he stated that Vietnam upholds the principle of partnership for sustainable peace. He indicated to the fact that Vietnam has been undertaking UN peacekeeping missions in Central African Republic and in South Sudan, and Vietnam is aspiring for a seat in the UN Human Rights Council for the term 2023- 2025. 

During his stay at the New York, President Phuc met President of the World Bank David Malpass as well as leaders of many countries such as President of the Republic of Korea, Danish Prime Minister, and President of Slovenia.  Apart from high-level business leaders, he also met John Kerry who is the US Special Presidential envoy for climate. He expressed that there should be more focus on developing renewable energy, better management of transnational water resources, and undertaking effective measures for climate change mitigation. 

While the visit of Vietnamese president has been short but highly effective as it engaged a wide variety of leaders and business entrepreneurs. Vietnam president has been very courteous in engaging the high-ranking leaders of Costa Rica, Colombia, Uruguay, Thailand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Latvia, Sweden, and many others. 

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

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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