The Russia-Ukraine war has cast a heavy shadow on the prospects of any positive developments in South China Sea and in Taiwan Straits. The US and the allies in the East Asian region are apprehensive of the fact that with the ongoing Russian incursions in Ukraine, China might activate its maritime aggressive activities in the adjoining region. More importantly, it is expected that China would also be undertaking specific measures to check the response of the countries such as Japan, Australia, US, and India. With the development of AUKUS it is expected that Britain will be also engaged in this region to protect its strategic interests and also along with a few other European nations such as Germany, it would be conducting a few sailing exercises and other measures so as to approach Indo- Pacific strategy with some action on ground.
China has been apprehensive of the fact that against Russia US was unable to do anything to protect Ukraine and therefore it will be under pressure to conduct its power projection in Taiwan Straits as well as in South China Sea. The year 2021 was marred with incidents such as laser beaming of the US aircraft by the Chinese ships, tailing of US ships by the Chinese submarines, and regular hydrographic survey ships being dispatched by China in the contested waters. These issues which of the international attention are likely to continue this year also. However, acknowledging the fact that China will be undertaking multiple sorties closer to the Air Defence Identification Zone(ADIZ) of Taiwan, therefore it is likely that Taiwan will be forced to upgrade its air defence systems and also purchase new equipment and aircrafts from the US.
In the year 202o Malaysia made a representation to the UN with regard to extended continental shelf. It was supported by countries such as Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia. This year also it is expected that the UN might see tensions between the other claimant States and China on the issue of maritime zones in South China Sea.
On the issue of economic complementarities, there will be some developments between China and Vietnam given the fact that Vietnam would be opening its tourism sector and also getting Chinese tourists on short term visas to support its tourism industry including hotels and tour business. However, with the resurgence of COVID-19 cases again in Chinese border town Baise which is closer to Vietnam border, Vietnam will have to be extra cautious before allowing Chinese tourists to visit Vietnam because its second phase of COVID-19 outbreak was spurred by illegal Chinese tourists.
China would be trying to seek markets and expand its export basket to the peripheral countries. Given the fact that Vietnam has already signed an FTA with European Union therefore China will meet competition from Vietnamese products and would have to devise a strategy to make its products much more lucrative to the western markets. Vietnam is expected to grow better than the ASEAN average and this might spur foreign direct investment in Vietnam particularly in sectors such as real estate, finance, information technology, communications, digital innovation and IT related services. In fact, Vietnam is also looking for setting up the pandemic research and innovation units along with other ASEAN member states which has been discussed way back in 2020 and the US has equally expressed its interest in developing the necessary infrastructure.
Vietnam is also looking for buildings energy is with other countries including Japan Australia and India so as to support its services industry and also seek better bilateral agreements with these countries. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP) which is under implementation phase would also require support from the participating countries, and Japan already has expressed its apprehensions with regard to the implementation plan and also complete adaptation to the tariffs and non-tariff barriers by the member countries.
China would be seeking to establish its manufacturing bases in countries such as Vietnam so as to reap the benefits of trade and circumvent the rules of origin criteria under the RCEP. It is expected that the party-to-party relationship between the communist parties of the two countries would continue unhindered. However, there would be serious dialogue on reinventing the core communist fundamentals and working alongside the other communist parties across the world including that of Cuba and North Korea. China would be also trying to seek avenues for its entry into Comprehensive Treaty of Trans Pacific partnership and in this regard, it might cajole Vietnam to facilitate its entry. China is also looking for developing its relationship with other Indochinese states and would be upgrading its military facility in Cambodia Ream base.
There has been issues with regard to China’s approach given the fact that Cambodian summit of ASEAN would be held this year and it is to be seen how China navigates within the ASEAN agenda and how it places its interest in the larger community of the organization.
One of the important areas which the two countries will be discussing in 2022 would be with regard to the Vietnam China trade facilitation and bilateral cooperation plan outline for the period 2021 to 2025. Other areas where Vietnam and China will be working closely includes apprehending transnational criminal, foreign policy dialogue, development of COVID-19 vaccine and diagnostic treatment, coordinated patrolling in border areas, and better implementation of Cat Linh and Ha Dong urban railway project. Last year the two foreign ministers have talked about promoting the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between the two nations. This year also there would be efforts to bring about comprehensive partnership in select sectors localities, and peoples. This year it is expected that detailed measures related to land border management, regular interaction between land border joint committee, and structured cooperation between different ministries is expected to be taken up between the two sides.
Philippines stands up to Chinese “grey zone” bullying
Laser, water cannon, and now a floating barrier – I explain how Manila is mustering the courage to deal with China’s recent “grey zone” tactics.
On September 22, during a routine patrol around the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, referred to as Huangyan Dao by Beijing and parallelly as Bajo de Masinloc by Manila, the Philippine Coast Guard found a 300-metre-long “floating barrier” placed by their Chinese counterpart, which effectively prevented Filipino boats from accessing a rich fishing spot around the aforementioned shoal, lying about 120 nautical miles away from the Philippine coast and about 480 nautical miles away from the Chinese coast, i.e., four times the distance from the former.
The Philippine Coast Guard removed this blockade in compliance with a presidential order on the same. While international law (UNCLOS) clearly recognises Manila’s sovereign rights over all living and non-living resources in the area as part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Beijing refuses to honour or even acknowledge this fact. Instead, it has given shape to its own baseless, overarching claims, seen as a “nine or ten dash line” in Chinese maps, depending on whether the island of Taiwan is included in it or not. Notably, this farcical line covers almost 90 per cent of the entire South China Sea.
Offensive Chinese posturing
The latest incident occurred while ASEAN’s first non-combat naval drills, named the Solidarity Exercise, were about to conclude and just a month after another incident of a large Chinese Coast Guard ship reportedly using water cannon against a much smaller Philippine boat occurred, inviting condemnation from Washington, Manila’s foremost security ally in the region. Eleven years ago, the Scarborough Shoal was the site of a standoff between Manila and Beijing, following the detention of some Chinese fisherfolk by the Philippine Navy for intruding into the area that fell within Philippine EEZ.
Tensions were diffused only after the U.S. brokering a deal, and following this the Philippine Navy pulled itself out from the area, but the Chinese never left the resource-rich lagoon since then. This led Manila to take the course of international arbitration in 2013, which Beijing refused to cooperate, and later it defied an arbitration ruling that came in the former’s favour in 2016. Earlier this year, in February, China deliberately hit a Philippine Coast Guard vessel with a military-grade laser, which even lead to the temporary blinding of some of its crew.
Coming back to the most recent incident of Chinese Coast Guard building a “floating barrier” on Philippine waters, it should be read as the latest in a series of decades-long dispute involving China on the one side and five ASEAN countries, namely Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, plus Taiwan on the other side. With or without a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, which is currently being negotiated between the two sides, China’s overall offensive strategic posturing towards its neighbours can never be expected to turn benign as long as its overarching claims persist.
The recent provocative actions by China fit into the larger frame of expansionist tendencies it has been showcasing throughout the last one decade, both along its land borders and the seas. China is trying to gain maritime foothold bit by bit through the skilful use of its growing military power, stopping short of a war, but remaining coercive, thereby pushing other countries in the neighbourhood into a defensive mode. These tactical moves, lying in the “grey zone” between peace and war, represent a new normal and a serious challenge to the status quo of the current regional security order lead by the United States Navy and its allies.
Augmented U.S. alliance
Earlier in this April, the United States and the Philippines conducted their largest-ever annual military drills, the three-week-long Exercise Balikatan, meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder’ in the Philippine language of Tagalog, with more than 17,600 combined troops participating, including simulated drills of attacks on enemy warships and live-fire exercises performed for the first time. With Beijing in mind, Manila has also given the U.S. a wider access to its military bases under a recently revived defence pact. Alongside strengthening Manila’s defence capabilities, it grants Washington a stronger foothold to counter what it sees as a bigger threat in the broader region – Beijing’s possible invasion of Taiwan.
The Philippines is a major non-NATO ally of the U.S. for the last two decades and the two countries have forged several security pacts in the past such as the Mutual Defence Treaty of 1951, the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1998 and the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement of 2014. At the same time, the Philippines is overlooking the reality of a large Chinese economic footprint in the country, including the disturbing fact that China still holds about forty per cent stake in its national power grid and that Chinese engineers are still working on critical infrastructure projects across the archipelago.
Manila needs economic decoupling, supply chain diversification and new trading partners to reduce its dependency on China and to stamp out the possibility of Beijing weaponising economic vulnerabilities for geopolitical gains, although a distant prospect. In other words, a security strategy alone is inadequate to deal with the challenges posed by China, which calls for a comprehensive one. However, former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte used to follow a policy of accommodating China, looking at the prospect of promising economic ties, even while Beijing continued to exercise its exclusionary policy in the neighbourhood.
Rifts back in spotlight
Tensions have been simmering again since last year with the election of a former dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as the President of Philippines, who vowed to follow a tough policy in dealing with China. Consequently, U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris visited the Southeast Asian archipelago in November last year, and in return President Marcos Jr. visited the U.S. in May this year, which was in fact the first visit by a Philippine leader to the White House in almost a decade. The visit followed April’s military drills and President Biden reaffirmed U.S. military’s support to the Philippines, describing it as “iron-clad”.
At the same time, President Macros Jr. is also trying to reach out to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, as evident from his recent visit to Beijing in the beginning of 2023, harbouring hopes of an amicable management of disputes. Unfortunately, just weeks later, the laser incident happened, signalling China’s lack of interest to settle disputes any time soon. When it comes to hard security, China is aware of its strengths and also its limitations against the combined might of U.S. and its regional allies. Reinvigorated defence ties with Washington supposedly gave Manila the confidence to stand up to China’s overtly belligerent activities in the South China Sea.
Beijing’s ultimate ambitions for the broader region, i.e., a complete dominance and the expelling of the U.S., can never materialise without solidifying its territorial claims in the neighbourhood in the first place, which subsequently calls for sustained acts of securitisation and militarisation of the region. This can never happen without provoking its Asian neighbours and also without changing the status quo, which would invite the United States and its allies to respond. All these scenarios point to the hollowness of China’s seemingly benign initiatives such as the “Global Security Initiative” and tend to derail its own efforts in projecting itself as a “responsible” great power in the world.
Miles of Hope: The Changing Face of Indonesia-South Korea Relations
The jubilant celebration of the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations between Indonesia and South Korea marks not just a milestone but a testament to the enduring power of diplomatic ties and cooperation. As a student of International Relations, it is inspiring to witness the evolution of this unique partnership and explore the boundless potential that lies ahead.
**The History of a Flourishing Friendship**
Over the past half-century, Indonesia and South Korea have shared a remarkable journey characterized by mutual support and collaboration across various sectors. As South Korean Ambassador to Indonesia, Lee Sang-deok, highlighted, this relationship goes far beyond mere diplomacy. It is a tale of firsts – Indonesia being the first country to invest directly in Korea, export production plants overseas, establish oil fields abroad, and host the inaugural KOICA office outside Korea. Indonesia’s role as a pioneer in joint ventures with South Korea extends to advanced weaponry development. This partnership is not only a testament to trust but also showcases the intricate web of relations that shape international politics.
**Strategic Partnerships and Key Roles**
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this bilateral relationship is the “Special Strategic Partnership” shared between the two nations. This special status highlights Indonesia’s unique place as South Korea’s essential partner in Southeast Asia. As the only Southeast Asian country engaged in such a partnership, Indonesia plays a crucial role in shaping regional dynamics. Furthermore, Indonesia’s involvement in implementing Korea’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Korea-ASEAN Solidarity Initiative (KASI) is a testament to its pivotal role in promoting regional cooperation. Serving as the Chair of ASEAN further underscores Indonesia’s importance in elevating the organization to an epicenter of growth.
**A Future-Oriented Partnership**
In today’s rapidly changing world, the adaptability and future-orientation of diplomatic ties are of paramount importance. Ambassador Lee’s remarks about transitioning from resource development and manufacturing investments to new horizons signify the evolving nature of this relationship. The commitment to fostering a future-oriented partnership is evident in the collaborative efforts in areas like IT, biohealth, climate change mitigation, and the development of new and renewable energy sources. These endeavors not only promise economic benefits but also underline the shared commitment to addressing global challenges.
**Enhancing Trade and Investment**
The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Indonesia and South Korea, which came into effect this year, heralds a new era of trade and investment. The active participation of South Korean companies in the development of Indonesia’s new capital city in East Kalimantan is a tangible example of the tangible benefits stemming from this agreement.
**Towards “Indonesia Emas 2045″**
One of the most exciting aspects of this evolving partnership is its alignment with President Joko Widodo’s vision of “Indonesia Emas 2045” or “Golden Indonesia 2045.” As Ambassador Lee eloquently stated, Korea is well-poised to be the optimal partner in realizing this vision. The proverb “Berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing” (“We share the burdens, and we carry the load together”) encapsulates the spirit of collaboration required to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
From the standpoint of students studying International Relations, the Indonesia-South Korea partnership is a rich source of insights into the intricate world of global diplomacy. In our assessment, this partnership is a testament to the enduring nature of diplomatic relationships. It has withstood the test of time, adapting to changing geopolitical landscapes, leadership transitions, and evolving global dynamics. Such resilience is particularly pertinent in a world where diplomatic ties often face uncertainties and disruptions. The bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Indonesia and South Korea is more than just a trade deal; it represents a deep-rooted economic symbiosis. It illustrates the interdependence of nations in the contemporary globalized world, showcasing how economic cooperation can transcend borders and bring about shared prosperity.Indonesia’s central role in ASEAN and its involvement in regional initiatives underscore the importance of understanding regional dynamics in modern international relations. It emphasizes that nations can wield influence and contribute to shaping the geopolitical landscape when they actively engage within a regional framework.The commitment to sustainability and future-oriented collaboration is praiseworthy. In a world grappling with urgent global challenges, such as climate change, the partnership between Indonesia and South Korea serves as a model of responsible diplomacy. This commitment sets an example of how nations can work together to mitigate the consequences of global crises and promote shared solutions.
Furthermore, President Joko Widodo’s vision of “Indonesia Emas 2045” resonates with the aspirations of many nations globally. It underscores the potential for one nation’s success to have far-reaching implications in an interconnected world. The proverb “Berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing” (“We share the burdens, and we carry the load together”) encapsulates the collaborative spirit required to navigate the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. In summation, the 50th anniversary of Indonesia-South Korea relations is not merely a commemoration but a celebration of a partnership that has defied time and embraced change. It stands as an example of diplomatic endurance, economic interdependence, and regional engagement. As students of International Relations, we eagerly anticipate the unfolding of this dynamic relationship and recognize its contribution to our understanding of global diplomacy and cooperation. The future holds immense promise, and together, Indonesia and South Korea are poised to seize the opportunities and confront the challenges it presents.
the Golden Jubilee of Indonesia-South Korea relations is more than just a milestone; it is a grand celebration of the past, a vibrant acknowledgment of the present, and a hopeful embrace of the future. This partnership has gracefully transcended geographical and temporal boundaries, shining brightly as a paragon of diplomatic tenacity, economic synergy, and regional camaraderie. As students dedicated to the realm of International Relations, we are not only privileged spectators but also active contributors to the evolving narrative of global diplomacy and cooperation. The horizon ahead is adorned with boundless potential, and Indonesia and South Korea, hand in hand, stand poised to both seize the opportunities and confront the challenges it unfolds.
Thailand’s “Asia’s Next Digital Hub” ambition: Where is Indonesia’s position in the digitalization race?
Thailand is one of the countries in Southeast Asia with an ambitious digital transformation program. The program is summarized in one policy called “Thai 4.0”. The Thai 4.0 policy itself is a policy that promotes digital industrial-scale transformation while establishing an economic corridor in eastern Thailand (“Eastern Economic Corridor”) (EEC, n.d). The Thai 4.0 policy is part of Thailand’s more extensive digital transformation policy, namely “A National Digital Blueprint,” which targets the development of Thailand’s digital economy in the next 20 years, where the Thai government targets Thailand to become a developed country in 2037 (Jongwanich, 2022a).
The National Digital Blueprint policy has been formulated by the “Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board” or NESDB since 2019 through the “Digital Outlook” study. The study produces digital transformation indicators and methods by gathering all stakeholders – including government, the private sector and related industries. This study will discuss opinions, suggestions or observations regarding the planned survey of digital transformation indicators, including Thailand’s digital economy. Thailand’s studies and policy formulation were carried out with consultation and evaluation by the OECD “Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development” (Santhika, 2022). From its advocacy function, the OECD also provides “Assessments and Recommendations” to the Thai government regarding digital transformation policies (OECD, n.d).
Thailand’s digital transformation policy looks very ambitious and promising. Various factors support this policy starting from infrastructure and regulations to geographical position. In 2020, 84 percent of the population shopped online compared to a global average of 77 percent, according to the 2021 Global Digital Report compiled by research firms “We Are Social and Hootsuite” (SCMP, 2021). This large number of internet users makes Thailand a good location for investing in the digital economy. The regulatory factors through the “Thai 4.0” policy above make Thailand one of the countries in Southeast Asia with the most expansive 5G network and the construction of the most advanced technology zone in the “Eastern Economic Corridor.” Thailand’s very strategic position also supports this vision where Thailand is in the “middle” of the Southeast Asia region, connecting the Pacific Ocean in the East and the Blue Continent in the West. All these factors support the ambition of “The Asia’s Next Digital Hub” in the Southeast Asia region (BangkokPost, 2021).
However, the ambitious policy poses several obstacles in its implementation. Some of these obstacles can be summarized into two: first, the selection of industries in Thailand to carry out digital transformation which seems not yet ready, especially in the EEC corridor.
According to Kohpaiboon (2020), this happened because the contours of Thailand’s economy, which has not yet been diversified, still show vulnerability from industrial-scale digital transformation – because Thailand’s economy is still very dependent on tourism. As many as 6 of the 10 selected industries only contributed 50 percent of gross manufacturing output. This uncertainty is even worse in the era of disruptive technology (Kohpaiboon, 2020).
Budget constraints hinder digital transformation progress in Thailand. Private investment in Thailand’s digital economy only amounted to 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2019. Limited budget allocations in a number of government agencies are also a problem, especially the relatively small funds allocated to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society as well as the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology to promote digital transformation in respective fields (Jongwanich, 2022b). This can be seen from the digital transformation fund allocation of only 2.5 billion baht which will be set aside for digital development projects that will be financed by the Digital Economy and Community Development Fund (DE Fund), while Thailand’s education budget itself is 300 billion baht (Sharon, 2022; Lessa-Nguansuk., Suchit, 2023). This shows the contrast in allocating funds for digital transformation needs with other primary priorities in Thailand.
Suppose you look at it from Indonesia’s side. In that case, Indonesia also has the vision to become a developed country in 2045, with digital transformation being one of the main pillars or instruments in its “Indonesia Maju 2045” program. Indonesia is also on its leadership in the G20 2022 and the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2023, bringing various digital transformation initiatives to both conferences. As in the 2022 G20, Indonesia initiated the 2022 “Digital Economy Working Group” (DEWG) and Indonesia initiated the formation of the “Digital Economy Framework” at its chairmanship in the ASEAN 2023 Chairmanship. Despite being one of the key players in the development of digital transformation in the region, Indonesia also found various challenges in carrying out the transformation process.
In contrast to Thailand, whose challenges are focused on two causes: diversification and budget, Indonesia is experiencing challenges in terms of human resources, access and digital infrastructure in its implementation. In the context of human resources, Indonesia currently lacks digital talent (digital talent gap); where 1000+ technology companies in Indonesia are actively looking for technology talent in 2018, a 5x increase from 2017 while there is a gap of 600,000 per year between tech talent/digital talent with demand from the technology sector in Indonesia (ITB, 2021). This is exacerbated by the fact that only 20% of the total 4,000 campuses in Indonesia have Information and Communication Technology (ICT) study programs.
Regarding access and infrastructure, Indonesia still needs to have adequate access and infrastructure development, which has created gaps. The gap in access and infrastructure in Indonesia is caused by many, from the broad geographic contours to the limited electricity resources that are evenly distributed. The gap is also reflected in significant differences in bandwidth power (outside and within Java), the unavailability of adequate and affordable internet devices such as modems, the inability to produce local content and knowledge, including a lack of literacy, adequate digital skills and gender-based gaps (ELSAM, 2022). Infrastructure gaps like this hinder the digital transformation process in Indonesia.
Referring to the 2023 “Digital Quality of Life Index” issued by Surfshark, Indonesia is ranked 67th out of 121 countries assessed globally. Meanwhile, Thailand is ranked 51st or 16 points ahead of Indonesia. In the Asian region, Indonesia is ranked 21st while Thailand is in 12th position out of 35 countries in Asia assessed. This index assesses five variables: internet quality, affordability, cyber security, online government services, and electronic infrastructure. From these five variables, Thailand outperforms Indonesia. According to Kaziukonis, CEO of Surfshark, Indonesia has the opportunity to improve all sectors related to Digital Quality of Life, especially regarding internet affordability (CNN, 2021).
As two middle-power countries and quite influential in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Thailand are “competing” with each other in the digitalization process to win the race. With its unique characteristics and challenges, each country can start to resolve the problems arising from this ambitious policy. Thailand can diversify its economy, which depends on tourism, or Indonesia should take advantage of the demographic bonus as digital-ready talent after graduating from college. Both countries have the same potential to achieve their respective goals of becoming digital countries by the 2040s. However, one question needs to be addressed and is worth to be pondered: Do innovation and transformation need to be suppressed by policy or do we need policies that are also innovative to accommodate these changes?
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