Connect with us

Southeast Asia

A Little Britain’s Reach Out To The Big Indo-Pacific



As the ideological schism in today’s world deepens, the leaders of the liberal camp are ramping up their activities in the regions they have not paid much attention to before. The main purpose of the military, diplomatic, and economic efforts of the Global West is to expand the sphere of influence, preventing their “non-democratic and revisionist” vis-à-vis, China and Russia, from building up their capabilities.

The Indo-Pacific, which provisionally includes all nations in the vast space stretching from the Horn of Africa to Oceania, has seen the fiercest and comprehensive confrontation. So far, the ideologists of the concept have failed to come up with any parameters that would congeal this space into a full-fledged region. Initially, in 2007, Tokyo believed the Indo-Pacific could be a window of opportunity to develop its infrastructure and guarantee the freedom of navigation. However, Washington picked up this term and reduced all the efforts solely to preserving its own global leadership.

The U.S. failure to implement its “pivot to Asia” and its lack of a clear alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative made Washington turn to its NATO allies for assistance. In 2018, France—a country that has overseas territories in the region—released its Indo-Pacific strategy. In 2020, Germany published its own principles of an Indo-Pacific policy, despite having been “pushed out” of Asia after World War I.

A Tilt to the East

In March 2021, Great Britain announced a new vision of itself in today’s world. “Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy” is London’s plan for action amid the global crisis and with a view to overcoming the unfavorable consequences of the structural changes in the global order. The tilt towards the Indo-Pacific is one of the central elements in the new strategy. Clearly, the tilt has appeared under the influence of the U.S. with its initiative of building a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

British analysts believe that the vast spaces of the Indian and Pacific Oceans will play the key role in building a new world order and in forging “open societies” in the “competitive age.” The region remains the origin of transnational threats common for many states, and these threats cannot be handled unilaterally. Probably, as in the times of the empire, only the leaders of the progressive humanity are capable of handling such issues, even though they catalyze most of them. The authors of the report believe that London’s approach to the Indo-Pacific must be holistic, claiming that Great Britain is ready to be a European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence.

“White Elephants” of the Southern Seas

Despite the holism proclaimed, a year into the launch of the strategy evidences London’s clear emphasis on military aspects of security. This time, the Royal Navy is to epitomize the true freedom and openness. In April 2018, the UK established a permanent naval base east of the Suez, in Bahrain, Britain’s first in more than 40 years. Plans involve ensuring the Royal Navy’s presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans through six more “points”: scattering across Oman, Qatar, Kenya, Diego Garcia, Singapore, and Brunei.

In July 2021, Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG 21 comprising aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, destroyer HMS Defender, frigates HMS Richmond and HMS Kent, auxiliaries RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring, nuclear-powered submarine HMS Artful, destroyer USS The Sullivans, frigate HNLMS Evertsen) entered the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal. Previously, the Royal Navy performed maneuvers in the East Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. In the course of the mission, HMS Defender entered Russian waters in the vicinity of Sevastopol during an allegedly “peaceful passage.” Subsequently, the group passed through the Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca, heading on to the Pacific Ocean on a training mission for patrolling between Guam and Japan; the group also participated in drills with other navies and docked in foreign ports. The mission of the British part was 28 weeks long, making it the first protracted expedition of a British aircraft carrier in the recent history of the Royal Navy.

Drawing on the experience of CSG 21, the Admiralty announced its plans to permanently deploy a CSG on Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) missions in the Indo-Pacific. With that goal in view, the Royal Navy plans under Defence Command Paper 2021 to form a littoral response group by 2023. A similar unit was already operating in the Baltic and in the North Atlantic in 2021—it included amphibious transport dock HMS Albion, auxiliary landing ship dock RFA Mounts Bay, and frigate HMS Lancaster. The group is expected to spend eight months in the Indo-Pacific operating out of the base in Oman. Its objectives include training for operations amid natural disasters and crises and joint exercises with the Navies of the regional nations. It is possible that a CSG led by Britain’s second aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales and augmented by other forces will later be deployed in Asia on a permanent basis. The Prince has already earned a reputation of an unlucky ship as she spent nearly all of 2020 being repaired after a series of accidents. Another two accidents in the Royal Navy involving short vertical landing F-35B fighters took place in 2020–2021.

Through its naval presence, London expects to enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. The emphasis is also on preventing criminal activities on the sea under “The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.” In September 2021, patrol vessels HMS Tamar and Spey traveled via the Panama Canal into the southern region of the Pacific Ocean on a five-year-long mission. Missions completed include delivering humanitarian aid to Tonga after a volcanic eruption and a tsunami as well as delivering vaccines to Pitcairn Island. There were also reports of detaining poachers in natural preserves and in protected areas. Patrol vessels, however, are not capable of carrying out battle missions since they do not carry missiles and have modest radio and electronic equipment.

Plans for boosting the Royal Navy’s capabilities in the Indo-Pacific envision deploying Inspiration-class forward-looking frigates, which are now designed for operations “east of Suez”, with the first frigate to be commissioned in 2025. Still, it is not yet clear where they will be based. Singapore was mentioned as a possible base—but, unwilling to provoke China, the nation may refuse to host British ships on a permanent basis. Brunei has the requisite capabilities, and it is already offering logistical support to the British, but the Chinese factor applies here as well. The Admiralty is debating the expediency of using the infrastructure of the U.S. forward-deployed Seventh Fleet in Japan, since it will damage the prestige of the British Navy in the region, making them less independent. Australia, the UK and the U.S. concluded a military-technical cooperation agreement (AUKUS), which opens up the possibility of using the bases on the “green continent.” However, even though Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison called upon U.S. and British submariners to act before Australia’s first own nuclear-powered vessel is commissioned (no earlier than 2035), London has not yet settled on a final decision.

White man’s burden (is no longer)

British foreign policy doctrines envision the U.S. as its most important strategic ally, while Russia is the most urgent threat. China, India and Japan are recognized as the three important powerhouses in the Indo-Pacific. The UK’s relations with each of the three, however, are viewed differently. Tokyo is seen as London’s closest strategic ally in Asia. New Delhi is more of a partner, while the option of cultivating relations with Beijing is virtually ruled out. “The Indo-Pacific Tilt” proclaimed by the Downing Street can be said to transpire fully within the vein of the U.S. foreign policy, and it misaligns with the real interests of the region’s leading states. The proclaimed “holistic” approach would appear to entail expanding diplomatic contacts, improving trade and economic cooperation, shaping a stable multilateral dialogue on key issues in security and development. Yet, all of these things have fallen by the wayside of the agenda pursued by the British leadership. There are bilateral formats in place such as the Malaysia–United Kingdom strategic dialogue or the Joint Economic and Trade Committee with Indonesia. Their effectiveness is low, though, especially if compared with similar efforts on the parts of China or India.

So far, the UK has had little success in building productive relations with the regional states and in comprehending the interests of the Asian states. A 2022 survey showed that only 1.8% of the respondents from ASEAN nations mentioned the UK as a promising trade partner, while 3.4% noted London’s role in building a world order based on rules and in improving the international law system.

Britain’s popularity in the Indo-Pacific is not going to increase if the country continues to prioritize military issues. The English-American duo only confirms the apprehension harbored by the nations of the region about mounting tensions and the risk of an armed conflict. Britain criticizes states of Southeast Asia for their inability to resolve the crisis in Myanmar and for disputes in the South China Sea. Yet, Britain does not propose any steps to protect the interests of ASEAN states.

The Lowy Institute believes that weak support for western values and a large number of states with authoritarian governance traditions is one of the risks Southeast Asia holds for the UK. This atmosphere is a breeding ground for nationalism based on anti-Western/anti-colonial rhetoric and it creates a favorable environment for bolstering China’s influence.

The Hollow Crown

The concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” assigns an important place to India as a regional counterbalance to China. At the same time, Washington and London cannot be said to have succeeded in using New Delhi to advance their own interests. In view of territorial disputes between India and China and considering a comprehensive rivalry between the Asian giants, the UK has clearly hoped for anti-Chinese support from its former “brightest jewel in the crown.”

May 2021 saw the signing of the UK–India agreement on enhancing trade partnership that was planned to develop into a free trade agreement and to help double the trade turnover by 2030. However, prospects are not too bright since India is interested in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), while the UK is leaning toward acceding to the rival format, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Additionally, the level of military connections between the UK and India remains fairly low, mutual visits are rare, there are virtually no sales of weapons and equipment, and bilateral exercises are mostly token affairs. The main irritants in India–UK relations are the close ties between London and Islamabad, New Delhi’s protectionist attitude to national companies, different views of the Kashmir problem, British criticism of Narendra Modi’s domestic and national policies, and the bitter colonial legacy. London does not support New Delhi in its desire to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Indian leadership has a very negative assessment of the opinion popular in the West that India is an “electoral autocracy” rather than the world’s largest democracy. The goals of “global Britain” largely boil down to acquiring unilateral privileges in trade and economic cooperation and to drawing India into the West’s comprehensive confrontation with China.

Boris Johnson visited India in April 2022 with a clear objective of convincing India’s leadership to steer a different—openly pro-Western—policy. Given that Narendra Modi’s government has proclaimed the Act East plan, Johnson’s intention appears slightly illogical. Nonetheless, it was openly suggested to New Delhi that it should reduce its dependency on Russian hydrocarbons and weapons. In exchange, the British Prime Minister promised a billion pounds in investment and 11,000 high-paying jobs for Indians in the UK. It should be noted that despite powerful political support from Washington, Johnson’s visit to India was fruitless. However, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited India immediately afterwards, bringing another portion of “carrots” in the shape of a partnership agreement with the EU.

Indian researchers note that the incumbent Indian government will not tolerate being lecture. Therefore, Western leaders should not be too pushy and should not make unacceptable proposals—in particular, when it comes to isolating Russia. For instance, the Indian Oil Corporation purchased 3 million barrels of oil in Russia in March, saying that “India’s total purchase of oil from Russia in a month is probably less than what Europe does in an afternoon.” In 2016–2020, New Delhi imported USD 6.6 billion worth of Russian weapons and military equipment, and India does not intend to stop.

Who Deters the Deterrents?

What is most concerning is the UK’s attitude to today’s China that is officially considered an authoritarian state with a growing power that significantly influences the geopolitical balance of power in today’s world. The “Global Britain” review ranks China as the greatest state threat and as a “systemic challenge” to security, prosperity, and the values that the West deems fundamental. London’s approach entails competition and counteraction where necessary and cooperation where possible.

British experts claim that the Western alliance should develop an effective response to Beijing’s unacceptable domestic and foreign political steps. Britain should not limit itself to flag-waving—instead, it should try to ensure its permanent military presence and continuous diplomatic and economic action. Plans envisage using the Five Eyes for this purpose as well as the FPDA defense arrangements between the five states (the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore).

It should be noted that British think tanks differ in their opinions on what London should do in Asia. For instance, Policy Exchange suggests developing connections with ASEAN as a partner in a dialogue in order to disseminate liberal values and cooperation models, as well as acceding to the CPTPP with a view to diminishing China’s influence in regional trade, and bolstering interactions within the FPDA. The Henry Jackson Society insists on a consistent deterrence of China and on curbing authoritarianism in the region.

However, the West’s anti-China rhetoric and the idea of mounting NATO presence in the Indo-Pacific meet with a critical reception from most Asian states. Only Japan may be counted as its sole unequivocal supporter. Southeast Asian states, as well as India and South Korea, prefer to bilaterally handle their own differences with China, without abandoning their cooperation with Beijing. The region quite highly values Russia’s potential as an effective intermediary in solving territorial disagreements in the Himalayas and the South China Sea and in handling peace issues on the Korean Peninsula. So far, there have been no examples of the UK exerting positive influence on regional security in East and South Asia.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, Assistant Professor at the International Relations Department of Far Eastern Federal University, RIAC Expert

Continue Reading

Southeast Asia

Miles of Hope: The Changing Face of Indonesia-South Korea Relations

Avatar photo



South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol with his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo. Image source: X @President_KR

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.

Continue Reading

Southeast Asia

Thailand’s “Asia’s Next Digital Hub” ambition: Where is Indonesia’s position in the digitalization race?

Avatar photo



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?

Continue Reading

Southeast Asia

Justice for Indonesia’s Sea Sand Export Policy: Deprivation of Environmental Rights



Image source:

July 28, 2022, was a historic day as the UN General Assembly approved a resolution stating that everyone has the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (UN, 2022). The declaration expresses consensus on the recognition of the right to a healthy environment, that the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right that must be fulfilled by countries around the world. In simple terms, this declaration recognizes the harmony of human life with nature.

The Declaration is a leap forward by providing a normative space that both guarantees and gives hope for the improvement of non-human conditions that affect human beings as a human right. The Declaration provides affirmation for governments to promote, protect, and fulfill this right to the environment. It creates space for greater justice and opportunities for environmental advocacy, as well as demands for greater accountability of relevant actors (Andersen, 2022).

However, the fight for the right to a healthy environment has been severely challenged in developing countries. This is mainly due to the focus on economic development, even if it neglects the environmental issue. Cleared forests, polluted water, air pollution, and so on are detrimental to local communities. People are losing the sources of livelihood that they once had. There is a deprivation of rights there (Purnomo, 2014). This is even more worrying after the issuance of Government Regulation (Peraturan Presiden) No. 26/2023, which opens export taps for sea sand (CNBC, 2023). The regulation has become controversial and has caused pro and con reactions. Those in favor of this rule are mainly businesspeople who will benefit and overseas partners who need ocean sand resources.  However, local communities might be directly affected by this policy. This piece doesn’t necessarily argue whether it should support or reject the recent policy. Instead, this piece wants to put more emphasis on the environmental right. Therefore, the question is “What efforts need to be made to ensure the holding of the right to a healthy environment?”

On Eco-Cosmology as World View

Skolimowski in his eco-cosmology shows an interesting way of thinking that when nature becomes a place for all human activities, be it the search for freedom and honor, it is necessary to raise responsibility for humans in instituting justice and sustainability for the universe itself as a place for humans to live (Skolimowski, 1990).

This means there needs to be a conscious reciprocal relationship with nature, thereby raising ecological awareness. This perspective is a renewal of anthropocentrism ideas which previously only focused on humans as the center of the universe. If previously anthropocentric thought stated that nature was a fork and plate (instrumental), then Skolimowski stated that nature is a space for our activities (sanctuary).

Eco-Cosmology Meets Democratic Public Participation

I see the implementation of this view as being in line with democracy, which is a collective decision process, as the best way to encourage human responsibility for the environment. This is especially true for one aspect of democracy, namely public participation. Apart from that, theoretical and practical studies related to public participation are already well established so implementation only needs to adapt to the contours of local culture.

This is because public participation has an urgency to ensure that every policy produced is for the common good, not just for certain parties (Rahma, 2019). By holding public participation, it will provide various benefits such as improving the quality of policies, long-term cost efficiency, building consensus, coordinating implementation, and building trust (Creighton, 2005).

For the benefits of public participation to be achieved, several principles need to be included as guarantees in every policy-making, namely 1) everyone has the right to be involved, 2) public contributions can influence policies, 3) sustainability and communication of interests of all parties, 4) public feedback on participation mechanisms, 5) objective information, 6) intensive discussion space.

Arnstein’s Ladder. Source: Pusat Studi Lingkungan Hidup UGM

The study of public participation is deepened by Arnstein’s eight rungs, which are narrowed down to three rungs: non-participation, tokenism, and citizen power (PSLH, 2022). Simply put, public participation demands two rights: the right to access information and the right to access justice.

Then how is the public participation process in Indonesia’s sea sand export policy?

Unfortunately, this export policy is considered to lack public participation. The existing policy-making process is considered non-transparent (DPR, 2023). The lack of participatory invitation from the government and the lack of access to academic studies as the basis for this policy is a particular concern. The lack of communication of this policy is feared to ignore the ecological impacts that may occur (Kompas, 2023a). Meanwhile, this policy also does not mention the existence of fishermen. In fact, fishermen are the profession closest to the sea, so any changes in the sea will potentially have an impact on these fishermen (Kompas, 2023b). To further worsen the situation, this lack of public participation seems to be an ingrained problem in Indonesia (Rahma, 2018; Afinnas et al, 2022; Putri et al, 2022).

Sea sand export policy does not fulfill the existing principles of public participation

The government’s arbitrary actions in making its policies can also be said to be in the non-participation group or specifically, on the first rung of the ladder, namely manipulation because it occurs despite the government’s claim that this policy has gone through years of in-depth study, yet it is not based on mature and open academic data and analysis (Kompas, 2023c).

Under these conditions, the public can still participate in social movements. The essence of a social movement is that individuals and groups who are not in the power structure join together for some common cause because the only way they can have influence is through their numbers (Innes & Booher, 2000). The community together with NGOs, needs to create a coalition and unite to push for a review of this policy together with the government so that local elements such as the interests of fishermen are discussed with high attention by the government.

The community, on the other hand, should not be silent about this potential betrayal of human rights, but encourage the government to respond to these aspirations through social movements.

As such, this piece advocates for the government to conduct a review of the sea sand export policy. This review needs to involve broad public participation, including fishermen, academics, and environmental organizations. The review also needs to consider the possible ecological and social impacts, and ensure that the policy does not conflict with the right to a healthy environment.

I believe that by conducting a review of the sea sand export policy, the government can ensure that this policy is made transparently, accountable, and in favor of the public interest.

Continue Reading