Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited Myanmar for two days despite a wave of condemnation that his visit undermines ASEAN and legitimizes Myanmar’s deadly regime. Hun Sen is currently the chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2022, and is expected to lead ASEAN in diplomatic activity on how to navigate Myanmar’s political situation. As expected, Hun Sen was welcomed by the Myanmar officials, including Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, and was given a guard of honor. Accompanying Hun Sen are donations of medical equipment to fight Covid-19, comprising three million face masks, 200,000 N95 masks, 100,000 goggles, 30,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) suits, 30,000 face shields, 3,000 plastic boots, 50 ventilators appropriate for an ICU setting, 50 patient monitors and 50 oxygen concentrators. He was the first foreign leader to visit the country since the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected party and jailed it’s leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Since Feb 1, at least 1,435 people have been killed by the Tatmadaw in ruthless crackdowns on democracy protests. Conflict has also escalated in the nation’s border zones creating a humanitarian disaster where tens of thousands of people have been fleeing for their lives. Prompted by Myanmar’s exclusion from the bloc’s summit in 2021, the premier has repeatedly signaled his intent to bring the country back into the ASEAN fold, arguing that the economic union was “incomplete”.
Why has the Cambodian Prime Minister visited Myanmar, a nearly pariah nation in the world? Traditionally, Cambodia is a time-tested ally of Myanmar. This country has remained behind Myanmar solidly in times of crisis and challenges. Particularly, the current Hun Sen leadership is close to the military Junta of Myanmar. Cambodia has a different view about Myanmar and it’s a deeply pro-Junta as Hun Sen believes that ASEAN did not operate very smoothly in 2021 on the Myanmar issue. As the ASEAN chair, Hun Sen is determined to find a way to halt the violence and maintain the “ceasefire” in Myanmar while pursuing the bloc’s five-point consensus and bringing in humanitarian assistance. In his words, we cannot stand by passively while Myanmar falls apart and that we must find a way to resolve the stand-off between the opposing sides there and take advantage of all opportunities to pursue negotiations.
Although apparently the Cambodian leader focuses on political crisis in Myanmar, he has no concern for democracy, human rights and brutality of the military regime. He has no concern for the Rohingyas or any minority groups, which suits interests of Myanmar regime and its allies. Cambodia has launched a diplomatic blitz to rehabilitate the Junta first in ASEAN and then at the global level. Before taking over the revolving annual chairmanship of ASEAN, Hun Sen declared that he wanted the Burmese junta to be represented at the bloc’s meeting. In responding to questions of whether Cambodia can resolve the issue of the Myanmar junta, Hun Sen mentioned that any resolution would have to come from Myanmar itself, saying that the regional bloc was only one part of helping the member nation find a solution. “It isn’t based on whether Cambodia can resolve it or not, but Cambodia will try to compromise the situation of Myanmar to return it to a better situation.
Hun Sen is trying to use his personal influence as one of the oldest leaders in the region who is in power for more than 36 years and who even supported Vietnam’s invasion of his country in 1978. His own leadership in Cambodia is also deeply criticized, so his diplomatic role can also help him legitimizing his power in one of the small but historic nations on earth, Cambodia. Hun Sen often refers to ASEAN’s long-held convention of not interfering in each other’s internal affairs as an excuse of not creating any pressure on the Junta government. He plainly promotes the idea that under the ASEAN charter, no one has the rights to expel another member.
Support for the Hun Sen Initiative
The visit of Hun Sen enjoys support from some members of ASEAN and outside. Cambodia enjoys strong endorsement from two powerful regional partners of ASEAN and members of ASEAN Plus Three, China and Japan. In a statement of Japan’s MOFA, it is stated that Japan welcomes Cambodia’s active engagement as ASEAN Chair on the situation in Myanmar, and both ministers shared the view to coordinate closely. Another close ally of Myanmar, China, is also strongly in favor of Hun Sen and Cambodia, as well as Myanmar. The Chinese foreign ministry official, Wang Wenbin states that China appreciates Myanmar’s readiness to create favorable conditions for ASEAN’s special envoy to fulfill his duty and [he] works toward effective alignment between Myanmar’s five-point road map and ASEAN’s five-point consensus. In his words, “China will fully support Cambodia, the rotating chair of ASEAN, in playing an active role and making [an] important contribution to properly managing the differences among parties of Myanmar”. Members of ASEAN such as Thailand and Vietnam have strong support for Hun Sen visit. Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn said that ASEAN member-state Thailand’s top diplomat had sent a “congratulatory message” saying, “he strongly supported the outcomes of the Cambodia-Myanmar joint press release”.
Against the Visit
Rights groups are calling the visit a charade. They openly argue that by failing to insist that he would meet with all parties to the conflict, including imprisoned political leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi, PM Hun Sen has demonstrated a clear authoritarian orientation that all issues can be sorted out in closed door talks between dictators. They argue that such kind stance of Hun Sen threatens to undermine the very fragile ASEAN decision that Myanmar political authorities cannot participate in future ASEAN events unless they abide by the 5 Point Consensus agreed by junta supremo General Min Aung Hlaing in April 2021. Activists also argue that with the false confidence generated by this ill-advised visit, the serious worry is the Tatmadaw will see this as a green light to double down on its rights abusing tactics seeking to quell the aspirations of the Burmese people. The worrying fact is that ASEAN has been making some efforts to stabilise the political conflict in Myanmar since the 2021 coup, but many view Hun Sen’s visit undermines this progress. Understandably, anti-coup activists and leading members of Myanmar’s shadow government, the National Unity Government, have also condemned the visit across social media. The most outspoken ASEAN members against the visit are Indonesia and Malaysia who led the process in 2021 to keep the Junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing out of ASEAN process for his blatant breach of 5-point consensus to which he was also a party.
Who has benefited from the Visit?
Undoubtedly, it is the military Junta of Myanmar who has gained exclusively from this visit orchestrated by the pro-Junta members within and outside of ASEAN. Myanmar and Cambodia are particularly happy with the outcomes of the visit. In the first place, the Myanmar Military has already achieved a huge diplomatic advantage from the visit of Hun Sen as he became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar and meet the regime’s leader, Min Aung Hlaing, since the military overthrew the country’s elected government in February 2021. Meanwhile, the two leaders discussed bilateral relations in a 140-minute meeting in the capital of Naypyidaw and they agreed that the ASEAN Special Envoy could be involved in the Myanmar peace process. Myanmar believes that Cambodia will rule with fairness during its chairmanship this year of the ASEAN. To Myanmar, there were “good results” from the Cambodian leader’s visit that boosted the military leadership as they argue that international pressure on Myanmar had not dialed down, but Myanmar would not bow to it.
Despite the satisfaction of Myanmar and Cambodia, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah criticized Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen for taking unilateral action in meeting the leader of Myanmar’s junta. The foreign minister further added, “We would expect that he could have at least consult – if not all – a few of his brother leaders as to what he should say.” He reminded that ASEAN position would not change that until there is clear progress on the five-point consensus Myanmar’s representation at the Asean summit and related summits at the end of the year should remain non-political. Indonesia is another powerful member of ASEAN also criticized that visit and identified it as a futile exercise.
Another immediate outcome of the visit is postponement of the first ASEAN meeting known as The ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat (AMM Retreat) initially scheduled on Jan. 18-19, 2022, in Siem Reap province under Cambodia’s 2022 chairmanship. Although COVID 19 was shown as a reason behind this decision, it is the division among the bloc’s members over Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar has played a vital role behind this new development. Discords within ASEAN over Hun Sen’s trip to Naypyidaw and a potential invitation to the Myanmar junta’s foreign minister to attend the ASEAN diplomats’ retreat might be why some ASEAN members chose not to attend the meeting. Precisely, the issue is members’ intense disagreement over ASEAN chair’s invitation to the Myanmar military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin have created an impasse. It may be mentioned that Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore had backed shutting out the coup leader from the regional bloc’s top summit in 2021 when Brunei was the Chair of the bloc. Analysts fear that the postponement effectively delays the official endorsement of Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn as ASEAN’s new special envoy for Myanmar.
By visiting Myanmar and meeting with Min Aung Hlaing, Hun Sen legitimized him and at the same time, weakened the role of ASEAN in playing a constructive role in the Myanmar crisis. The military leader in Myanmar had promised, among other things, to end violence and give an ASEAN special envoy access to all parties in the Myanmar political crisis, but he has done none of those things. Hun Sen has reversed the stance of the previous Chair Brunei, which created positive pressure on the Myanmar regime. Now the visit has questioned the credibility and limit of ASEAN to continue its meaningful and effective diplomatic role in mitigating the crisis in Myanmar, which has adverse impact on the future of democratic movement and the possible repatriation of the Rohingyas.
Will Indonesia Repeat the History of Population Mobility in Borneo?
Borneo is now in the spotlight due to the Indonesian government’s impending massive migration. Since the Indonesian government announced capital relocation plans in 2019, many people have been concerned about their mobility in Borneo. Thousands of civil servants and their families will be relocated to East Kalimantan in the first phase of this massive mobility. This mobility necessitates significant resources, both financial and in-depth consideration because people’s mobility is never an easy problem.
Population mobility in Indonesia is not a new phenomenon, according to historical sequences. Patterns and causes such as poverty, inequality, the role of government, the importance of relationships, and gender disparities all have an impact on this activity. The manifestation of success mobility in society is related to how this aspect is manifested. Furthermore, most people associate mobility with inequality. Individuals and communities are forced to relocate from their homes to places where they can find work or where they are ‘pushed’ to work as a result of inequality. As a result, most population mobility occurs voluntarily in search of a better life. However, in the context of capital relocation, the situation is quite different. People are heavily influenced by the context and location of the receiving area, particularly its political, economic, and socio-cultural aspects, as well as its historical context when they mobilize.
Population Mobility in Indonesian History
The Indonesian government declares transmigration as one of the population distribution policy instruments. Transmigration is regarded as one of the instruments of government policy that can help promote public welfare. Transmigration is another kind of population integration required to support national development. History recounts that transmigration in Indonesia began with the Dutch occupation, specifically during the situation of Indonesian politics in 1905. The government’s worry prompted the start of transmigration in Indonesia. The Dutch colonials observed the island of Java’s high population density.
During the New Order era, Kalimantan was the site of a massive project known as “transmigration.” This project aimed to relocate people from overpopulated islands in order to balance demographic development. Java, Indonesia’s main island, was home to more than 70% of the country’s population. Over the course of two decades, 170 million people from Java, Madura, Lombok, and Bali were relocated. Transmigration has a long history; it began in 1950, replicating a Dutch colonial government program, and was later continued by the Indonesian government after 1945, the year of independence. Previously, transmigration served three purposes: (1) to relocate millions of people from the most densely populated islands such as Java, Bali, and Madura to less densely populated islands, (2) to alleviate poverty by providing land and employment opportunities for Indonesians, and (3) to find other resources in those less densely populated islands. However, this program appears to be a failure. The findings are also supported by the report from Forest Peoples Programme which stated that the transmigration process in the “outer islands,” particularly in Kalimantan, has triggered conflict between transmigrants and indigenous people. The native or indigenous people claimed that the national government provides them with limited access, in contrast to the transmigrants. On the other hand, indigenous people appear to have lacked the adequate infrastructure to support their lives (such as roads, health facilities, schools, etc). On the other hand, land ownership status became very important because indigenous people felt that their indigenous government did not give them their rights and land certificate despite having legal evidence of their land. More than 60% of Kalimantan’s rainforests have been cut down for the transmigration program, causing indigenous people to lose their homes and food sources. Without a doubt, the goal of transmigration threatens the lives of indigenous people. Transmigration enabled landless peasants and homeless people from urban Java to escape. However, by doing so, they destroyed the forest and contributed to environmental degradation in Kalimantan. It can be assumed that the transmigration program has so far failed to alleviate population pressure and poverty in Java. There is opposition to the transmigration program because indigenous people believe it violates their rights. According to the migrants, the transmigration program was only about political tools and power.
The Foresight of Population and Labour Mobility in Borneo
Like the first population mobility in the 1905s, the Indonesian government’s plan to relocate the capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan has many advantages and disadvantages today. Indigenous peoples, environmental activists, and social scientists are all concerned about the massive plan to transform 200,000 hectares of forest into the country’s new administrative headquarters. This project adds to the existing mining, logging, and oil palm plantation concessions, all of which have had a significant impact on Borneo’s rainforests and forest-dependent communities.
The relocation of the capital could have serious social and economic ramifications for millions of people, particularly Jakarta workers. They don’t know what will happen to them in Kalimantan. Despite the fact that thousands of civil servants and their families will be relocated to East Kalimantan in the first phase of this massive mobility, productive industries that support workers’ lives, such as food and beverage, education, and health services, must not be overlooked in this action. Talking about productive industries entails discussing the labor that went into them. Once they have relocated to a new capital, they should be able to find work or start a new small business. The Indonesian government has not yet prepared for this. Baumann (2016) stated in her book “The Debate about the Consequences of Job Displacement” that workers who have recently relocated to another area (in this case, new capital) are more likely to lose their jobs simply because they have recently begun a new job. These new employment relationships are insecure because they are frequently mismatched and more likely to be terminated prematurely.
To summarize, population mobility is frequently used as a short-term coping strategy rather than an anticipatory adaptation strategy, especially for individuals or households lacking the economic and social capital to relocate. It may also make those moving to new capital more vulnerable. As a result of these factors, the government should devise creative solutions and adequate plans for the people, especially workers. To avoid repeating history and to create a vibrant place in new capital, the government should work with the private sector, civil society organizations, local communities, and academics to develop sustainable infrastructure and basic services, as well as social protection and income-generating opportunities. Finally, massive mobility in Borneo necessitated a more thorough understanding of the need for multi-sectoral and inclusive policies and measures that combined research, planning, design, and capacity building, with a particular emphasis on workers.
Reclaiming our future
The Asia-Pacific region is at a crossroads today – to further breakdown or breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future.
Since the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) was established in 1947, the region has made extraordinary progress, emerging as a pacesetter of global economic growth that has lifted millions out of poverty.
Yet, as ESCAP celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, we find ourselves facing our biggest shared test on the back of cascading and overlapping impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, raging conflicts and the climate crisis.
Few have escaped the effects of the pandemic, with 85 million people pushed back into extreme poverty, millions more losing their jobs or livelihoods, and a generation of children and young people missing precious time for education and training.
As the pandemic surges and ebbs across countries, the world continues to face the grim implications of failing to keep the temperature increase below 1.5°C – and of continuing to degrade the natural environment. Throughout 2021 and 2022, countries across Asia and the Pacific were again battered by a relentless sequence of natural disasters, with climate change increasing their frequency and intensity.
More recently, the rapidly evolving crisis in Ukraine will have wide-ranging socioeconomic impacts, with higher prices for fuel and food increasing food insecurity and hunger across the region.
Rapid economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has come at a heavy price, and the convergence of these three crises have exposed the fault lines in a very short time. Unfortunately, those hardest hit are those with the fewest resources to endure the hardship. This disproportionate pressure on the poor and most vulnerable is deepening and widening inequalities in both income and opportunities.
The situation is critical. Many communities are close to tipping points beyond which it will be impossible to recover. But it is not too late.
The region is dynamic and adaptable.
In this richer yet riskier world, we need more crisis-prepared policies to protect our most vulnerable populations and shift the Asia-Pacific region back on course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as the target year of 2030 comes closer — our analysis shows that we are already 35 years behind and will only attain the Goals in 2065.
To do so, we must protect people and the planet, exploit digital opportunities, trade and invest together, raise financial resources and manage our debt.
The first task for governments must be to defend the most vulnerable groups – by strengthening health and universal social protection systems. At the same time, governments, civil society and the private sector should be acting to conserve our precious planet and mitigate and adapt to climate change while defending people from the devastation of natural disasters.
For many measures, governments can exploit technological innovations. Human activities are steadily becoming “digital by default.” To turn the digital divide into a digital dividend, governments should encourage more robust and extensive digital infrastructure and improve access along with the necessary education and training to enhance knowledge-intensive internet use.
Much of the investment for services will rely on sustainable economic growth, fueled by equitable international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). The region is now the largest source and recipient of global FDI flows, which is especially important in a pandemic recovery environment of fiscal tightness.
While trade links have evolved into a complex noodle bowl of bilateral and regional agreements, there is ample scope to further lower trade and investment transaction costs through simplified procedures, digitalization and climate-smart strategies. Such changes are proving to be profitable business strategies. For example, full digital facilitation could cut average trade costs by more than 13 per cent.
Governments can create sufficient fiscal space to allow for greater investment in sustainable development. Additional financial resources can be raised through progressive tax reforms, innovative financing instruments and more effective debt management. Instruments such as green bonds or sustainability bonds, and arranging debt swaps for development, could have the highest impacts on inclusivity and sustainability.
Significant efforts need to be made to anticipate what lies ahead. In everything we do, we must listen to and work with both young and old, fostering intergenerational solidarity. And women must be at the centre of crisis-prepared policy action.
This week the Commission is expected to agree on a common agenda for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, pinning the aspirations of the region on moving forward together by learning from and working with each other.
In the past seven-and-a-half decades, ESCAP has been a vital source of know-how and support for the governments and peoples of Asia and the Pacific. We remain ready to serve in the implementation of this common agenda.
To quote United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “the choices we make, or fail to make today, will shape our future. We will not have this chance again.”
Return of the Marcos and Great-Power Competition
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., more commonly known as “Bongbong,” won an outright majority in the recent presidential election in the Philippines. Son and name-bearer of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos paved the way for the country’s most notorious political dynasty’s shocking return to power. In the words of Filipino columnist Benjamin Pimentel, “It’s as if Kylo Ren emerged and the Empire is back in power.”
In announcing his desire to work for all people, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the world should judge him based on his presidency, not his family’s past.
“To those who voted for Bongbong, and those who did not, it is his promise to be a president for all Filipinos. To seek common ground across political divides, and to work together to unite the nation.” saidVictor Rodriguez, spokesperson for Marcos, in a statement.
However, the pragmatic words seem to have failed to sway the opposition as he faces countless accusations of election irregularities. Their opponents are horrified by Marcos’ brazen attempt to reinvent historical narratives from his family’s era in power. A protest against Marcos was staged by approximately 400 people outside the election commission on 10th May, primarily by students.
Human rights group Karapatan urged Filipinos to reject Marcos’ new presidency, which it sees as a product of lies and disinformation designed “to deodorise the Marcoses’ detestable image”.
HISTORY OF MARCOS: People Power” Uprising
Ferdinand Marcos Jr is not a new name in the Philippines’ political scenario. The “bloodless revolution” of 1986 in the Philippines that ousted the infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was none other than Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s father.
The world leaders at the time praised the mass demonstration after hundreds of thousands marched along EDSA streets to protest a fraudulent election. Through the People Power” Uprising, Filipinos proved that a peaceful uprising can challenge a ruthless dictatorship and overthrow military rule.
Marcos Jr and his family escaped to Hawaii following the rebellion and after his return to the Philippines in 1991, Marcos Jr served in congress and the senate. With his return to the Malacañang Palace in 2022, the world anxiously watches whether history will repeat itself or democracy will prevail as Marcos Jr. relentlessly defends his father’s legacy, refusing to apologise or acknowledge the atrocities, plunder, cronyism, and extravagant living, which resulted in billions of dollars of state wealth disappearing during the dictatorship.
MARCOS JR’S FOREIGN POLICY: Continuity or Change?
Considering his political alignment with Rodrigo Duterte, the outgoing President, who has been exceedingly vocal about his anti-Washington, pro-China stance, it is no secret Marcos Jr. favours Beijing. According to Richard Heydarian, a South China Sea observer and professor of political science, “Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. is the only candidate who has signalled almost perfect continuity with the incumbent populist pro-China president in Malacañang.”
However, Marcos Jr seems to be a President that might play the game more strategically compared to his successor. Among Marcos’s many accolades for his father, one was maintaining a strong security alliance with Washington. Even though, he is politically aligned with Duterte who sought to pivot away from the United States and towards China, Marcos will seek a balancing act. Philippines under Marcos will continue engaging with China, in-line with Duterte’s Pro-China Policy but at the same time will engage, and even bolster a closer tie with the USA, to safeguard Philippines’ sovereignty amidst an aggressively rising China.
When asked if he would ask the American’s help in dealing with China, Marcos Jr said, “No. The problem is between China and us. If the Americans come in, it’s bound to fail because you are putting the two protagonists together.” This statement shows a sense of maturity and solid understanding of the ground realties of the region. Marcos Jr. seems to be the President that keeps his country’s national interest at the very core of all his decisions. He understands how easy it is for a small country to be stuck in the middle of a great-power competition, and that more often and not, it harms the small country’s interests. He envisions Manila as neither heavily dependent on Washington for its security needs nor become a pawn in China’s greater geopolitical ambitions. He wants to have an independent foreign policy, regardless of deepening U.S.-Chinese competition. One that predominantly benefits his country, Philippines.
In contrast to Duterte, Marcos Jr has a very warm and embracing approach towards the USA. Being treaty allies, Marcos Jr refers to their alliance as “a very important one.” He maintained that the alliance “has stood us in good stead for over a hundred years and that will never disappear from the Philippine psyche, the idea and the memory of what the United States did for us and fought with us in the last war.”
Marcos Jr seems to be a realist who understands that in International Politics, states must “engage whenever possible, and contain wherever necessary.” On asked about Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, he argued that “Philippines will not cede any one square inch to any country, particularly China, but will continue to engage and work on our national interest.”
To summarise, Marcos will, in all probability, modify Duterte’s foreign policy in a way that maximizes the strategic benefits for the Philippines and avoids confrontation with the USA and China.
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