Philippines’s Changing Approach to South China Sea Dispute: Duterte’s Administration, Two Years On

Rodrigo Duterte came into office as Philippines’s 15th President on June 30, 2016. His approach to South China Sea dispute and his overall foreign policy once shocked many in the region, and more around the world. As his approach to South China Sea dispute differs from his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III (in office 2010-2016), the world is watching what will come out of this diversion.

Under Benigno Aquino III’s presidency, Philippines was very assertive in emphasizing its claim upon the competing claims by several other countries in the South China Sea. During Aquino’s administration, the Philippines brought the case against China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2013. The decision came on July 12, 2016, about two weeks after Duterte assumed office.

Many predicted that Philippines would use the ruling from The Hague against China. However, Duterte used the award from the court in a different way. Instead of using it in multilateral forums to gain legitimacy, Duterte is willing to put aside the ruling in exchange of closer relations with China.

In forging closer relations with China, Duterte visited Beijing on October 2016, only months after he started his administration. He came back to the Philippines by bringing China’s promise to give investments worth of USD 24 billion to the Philippines (USD 9 billion of soft loans and USD 15 billion of direct investment).  However, before going deeper to further discussion, it is important to understand some buzzwords surrounding the issue.


What is the South China Sea Dispute?

There are currently at least five competing claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines puts its claim on the basis of 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as it rules for Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to be demarcated as much as 200 miles from its baseline. This claim overlaps the Chinese claim, which is based on the “nine-dash line”. China claims that the “nine-dash line” has been historically recorded by China as part of its territory, shown in a map published in the 1940s. Other claimants include Vietnam, Malaysia, and tiny Brunei, with most of them referring their claim to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea while they also see that China’s claim is void before the international law. (source:


What are the rulings?

The Philippines initiated the arbitration in January 2013 by seeking rulings on several matters. In 2016, PCA rules that China’s claims of historic rights within the “nine-dash line” were without legal foundation. The panel also rules that Beijing’s activities within Philippines’s 200 nautical miles EEZ, such as illegal fishing and artificial island construction, violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines.

The arbitration, which was initiated by the Philippines in 2013, was filed under Benigno Aquino III’s administration. However, though, after Duterte assumed office, Philippines’ approach changed dramatically.


Shifting from the Traditional Ally

Not very fond of Former US President Barack Obama, Duterte dismissed a military cooperation with the United States soon after he started his administration. Duterte ended the joint military exercises between the United States and the Philippines through a statement delivered on September 2016, about two months after he was sworn to office.

Duterte’s dislike of Obama could be one of the contributing factors that fuel Philippines’s shift from its traditional ally to an unpredicted new friend at that time, each of them being the United States and China respectively. Duterte seemed to dislike Obama that much as he told Obama to “go to hell” in a statement he delivered in 2016.

The shift from the traditional ally indicates Philippines’ growing closeness with China. Duterte said that Philippines cannot afford war with China.  He also added that [the Philippines] ‘cannot win a battle against China’.  In a separate occasion, Duterte delivered a rhetorical question, which sounds more like a statement, asking ‘why will [Philippines’s] soldiers fight a war they would lose?’


Chinese Investment Promise: Two Years On

However, two years on, China’s investment that was promised earlier in 2016 has not yet come into reality.  Some like Alvin Camba (2018) would argue that the Philippines has not seen an increase in Chinese investment yet not because the investment from China has not actually increased, but instead because there is an error in the calculation, in which Hong Kong is excluded from the equation, even though ‘much of Chinese FDI coming to the Philippines is actually from Hong Kong’. He calls this error as “a fundamental accounting error” , and that the prevailing narrative in major newspaper reports that Chinese FDI in the Philippines has barely increased during the Duterte administration is a “misidentification” .

Whether the Chinese has indeed not delivered the promise or there is an error in the calculation, it is not wise to make a judgment only after two years since the promise was said. Besides the fact that some information on export-import and FDI might not be complete yet for collection and subsequent availability for public, a better outcome can be expected from an assessment after Duterte’s tenure finishes.


Hedging Amid Uncertainty

Anyhow, with growing uncertainty in the air, the current situation forces the Philippines to diversify its foreign policy strategy.

Came to office in 2017, current US President Donald Trump is forging a warm relationship with Duterte. This can be seen from the “warm rapport” between the two during his visit to the Philippines in 2017.  Trump even lauds his relationship with Duterte as a ‘great relationship’.

Bound by their dislike of former US President Barack Obama, they are having a very close relationship.  This warm relationship may be one of the reasons behind Philippines growing closeness with its traditional ally under Duterte, after Duterte himself severed the relationship with the United States under Obama administration.

Philippines is right to hedge in this uncertain situation. Hedging is defined by Hemmings (2013) as the action to “spread risk by pursuing opposite policies towards another state” and to “carry out two contradictory policy directions simultaneously: balancing and engagement”.

By balancing, Hemmings (2013) meant the maintenance of a strong military, building and strengthening alliances – as done by the Philippines through its re-engagement with US military.

On the other hand, by engaging, he meant building trade networks, increasing diplomatic links, and creating binding multilateral frameworks (Hemmings, 2013). This approach is taken by Duterte through his action to put aside The Hague ruling in exchange of closer relations with China. Additionally, the joint exploration for oil and natural gas between China and the Philippines  can be seen as another way to engage China.

This hedging strategy is also visible from Duterte’s remarks during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017. Duterte stated that eventually, he would eventually raise the arbitration ruling with Xi Jinping, but needed first to strengthen relations between the two countries, which the Philippines is hoping will yield billions of dollars in Chinese loans and infrastructure investments.

By putting its two legs on two grounds, Philippines is trying to play it safe. It is impossible to judge Duterte’s foreign approach only after two years of his leadership. He has another four years to serve, given the six years term in his presidency.

Duterte is wise to hedge in such uncertain situation. With the United States seeing the Philippines as an increasingly important ally in the region and with China’s unpredictable move, re-engagement with traditional ally and effort not to upset an increasingly dominant power in the region are not a bad idea after all.



  1. (2018). Philippines can’t afford war with China: Duterte. Retrieved from

ABS-CBN News. (2018). Duterte on South China Sea dispute: Why will soldiers fight a war they would lose? Retrieved from

BBC News. (2016). Philippines’ Duterte tells Obama to ‘go to hell’. Retrieved from

Bloomberg. (2017). Trump Bonds With Duterte Over Their Dislike of Obama, Avoids Human Rights. Retrieved from

Bloomberg. (2018). China Hasn’t Delivered on Its $24 Billion Philippines Promise. Retrieved from

Camba, A. (2018). Assessing Duterte’s China investment drive. Retrieved from

Camba, A. (2018). What happened to the billions China pledged the Philippines? Not what you think. Retrieved from

Graham, E. (2016). The Hague Tribunal’s South China Sea Ruling: Empty Provocation or Slow-Burning Influence? Retrieved from

Hemmings, J. (2013). Hedging: The Real U.S. Policy Towards China? Retrieved from

Manila Bulletin. (2018). Duterte: ‘We cannot win a battle against China’. Retrieved from

Rappler. (2018). China lost to PH in court. Will it win via joint exploration? Retrieved from

Reuters. (2017). Duterte says China’s Xi threatened war if Philippines drills for oil. Retrieved from

Reuters. (2017). Trump has ‘warm rapport’ with Philippines’ Duterte: official. Retrieved from

The Guardian. (2016). Rodrigo Duterte to end joint US and Philippine military drills. Retrieved from

The Japan Times. (2018). China’s $24 billion promise to the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterter still hasn’t materialized. Retrieved from

The New York Times. (2017). Trump Lauds ‘Great Relationship’ With Duterte in Manila. Retrieved from

VOA. (2018). Distrust of China Sparks Philippines, US to Step up Joint Military Exercises. Retrieved from



This article was written by Angelo A. Wijaya, an undergraduate student at International Relations Universitas Gadjah Mada, while doing an internship at the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).


51 Years of ASEAN: A Question for Human Rights System

The crisis in Rakhine State has been there since a long time. Since 1962, during the military regime, the violence on behalf of ethnic and religious has been occurred and caused a miserable tragedy in the Rakhine State, Myanmar. Around 2.000 people have been killed and more than 140.000, approximately, became homeless. Therefore, Myanmar government has violated Human Rights toward the Rohingya. (Human Rights Watch)

Recently, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 650,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since the end of August year 2017 to escape violance and persecution in Myanmar. Previously, The Fact Finding Mission of the United Nations showed that approximately 1,3 million people have moved to the Bangladesh border. The rest of Rohingya refugees are trying to move out to another country such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. (United Nations, 2018)

Up to recent date, domestically, Myanmar government has lack of willingness to settle the conflict down. Regionally, ASEAN, with its very own AICHR (ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights), has a small power to manage the crisis. Willingness among its members is also weak toward the issue. At the highest level meeting of ASEAN, the ASEAN Summit, this issue has never been put on the table. Last week in Singapore, the ASEAN Leaders gathered and again there was no discussion on the issue. Solidarity of the ASEAN Member States is also far from harmony. It can be seen from a disunity of the ASEAN Member States on voting in the previous United Nations General Assembly Resolution L.48 on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar. Five or half of the ASEAN Member States opposed the resolution. They are Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar of course, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Two ASEAN Member States abstained, Thailand and Singapore. Only three ASEAN Member States supported the resolution, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. This again challenges both development of Human Rights legal structure in ASEAN, political willingness to implement and enforce Human Rights law and regulation domestically and regionally, and its non-interference principal which is unavoidably limiting the actions from other ASEAN Member States. So, at the governmental level in general, there is no a big expectation and opportunity from the government to government cooperation in settling the crisis.

Thus, it is time for us as civil society to show our solidarity for our ASEAN family in Rakhine State, Myanmar. CSOs in ASEAN could cooperate closely with each other to resolve the problems from the grassroots level. It is also hoped that CSOs across the region could push and force its own government domestically to concentrate on this issue under its foreign policy agenda.



This article was written by Walid Ananti Dalimunthe from ASEAN Studies Forum.


Chinese Mega Projects: 21st Century Silk Road and ASEAN Connectivity

The Silk Road is an ancient trade route connecting the West and East, a German researcher named Von Richthofen named it The Silk Road in the 18th century CE. The name of the Silk Road is taken because Chinese commodities trade in a lot of silk. Frances Wood in his book The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia says  the path of the Silk Road has many branches from the Chinese Tang Dynasty capital in the east to Rome, the capital of Italy to the west. The line was opened by a general named Zhang Qian from the Han Dynasty. Tracing the road will pass through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and up to Alexandria Egypt. Also found other branches that pass through Pakistan, Kabul, Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf [1].

There is also the Silk Road by sea. The sea line originated from Guangzhou, southern China, to the Malacca Strait, and continued all the way to Sri Lanka, India and the east coast of Africa. The Sea Silk Road occurred during the Song Dynasty of China based on cultural objects found in Somalia. China has opened the Silk Road about 2000 years ago is one of the important path for dissemination of ancient Chinese culture to the West, as well as a liaison of economic exchange and culture of China-West [2]. Later this path did not reuse because of a split in the Mongol kingdom causing major political forces along the Silk Road to be separated, Turkmen troops seized the western part of the Silk Road and the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. The Silk Road stopped serving silk delivery routes in the 1400s [3].

The triumph of the ancient Silk Road instructed Chinese President Xi Jinping to reopen the path. China’s ambition to start this mega project has been announced since 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping called it the ’21st Century New Silk Road’ or The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road. The purpose of this project is to create several economic corridors which connects more than 60 countries around the world [4]. The Silk Road project will be divided into two, land and sea. The land trade track is known as the Economic Belt Road, crossing from Europe to Central Asia and East Asia. Then the sea lane is known as the Maritime Silk Road, connecting Chinese ports with a number of ports along the route from the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden [5].

In realizing the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program the Chinese government is ready to pour funds of US $ 124 billion or about Rp. 1649 trillion to support the New Silk Road program. The funds are ready to be channeled to build infrastructure to connectivity with countries along the Silk Road [6]. There are concerns from some Western states about the summit titled Belt and Road held in Beijing on May 14, is a Chinese effort to master the economy globally [7]. However, Xi Jinping dismissed the allegations. Through Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, OBOR is a product of inclusive cooperation, not a geopolitical tool, and should not be viewed using an old-fashioned Cold War mentality [8].

ASEAN countries hold important positions in the Maritime Silk Road, especially Indonesia which was chosen as the first place to operate the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. This situation also coincides with President Joko Widodo’s policy of making Indonesia the World Maritime Shaft [9]. The vision of Indonesia into a World Maritime Ax synergizes with the idea of One Belt One Road initiated by China [10]. The OBOR program discussed some time ago in Beijing, China. On that occasion President Jokowi and 30 heads of state participated in signing this program essentially promoting an open, multilateral trading system under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) [11].

The New Silk Road Program in ASEAN is designed to be in line with the vision of ASEAN 2025 connectivity covering land and sea connections with Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia [12]. Mega Project China One Belt One Road which bridges the Western region of China with Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean and headed to Eurasia, demands a more active role of Indonesia as a leader in Southeast Asia, so that the centrality of ASEAN remains a priority in the synergy of the New China Silk Road with ASEAN Connectivity, whose development is quite slow [13].

ASEAN faces quite difficult challenges, among others, due to internal disagreements resulting from the unevenness of development policies among members as well as economic imbalances between northern and southern members. Like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam need help with infrastructure improvements to attract foreign investors, so it can catch up with other ASEAN members [14]. Therefore, Indonesia as a leader in Southeast Asia should be able to strengthen intra-ASEAN coordination in order to accelerate equitable economic growth, so as to harmonize ASEAN’s relationship with the New Silk Road.



[1] Heri Ruslan, ‘Menelusuri Jalur Sutra’, <…/mvova0-menelusuri-jalur-sutra> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[2] Hari, ‘Geopolitik : Mengenal Sejarah Jalur Sutra’,  <> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[3] ‘Silk Road’,  <…/Silk_Road.htm> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[4] Djony Edward, ‘Mengintip Peluang di Jalur Sutra Modern’, <> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[5] Denny Armandhanu, ‘Ambisi Tiongkok Menggarap Jalur Sutra’ <> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[6] Muhammad Idris, ‘Ambisi China Dominasi Ekonomi Dunia Lewat Jalur Sutra’ <> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[7] Ardan Adhi Chandra, ‘Xi Jinping Siapkan Rp 1649 T untuk Bangun Jalur Sutra <> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[8] Rini Utami, ‘Indonesia dan Jalur Sutra Abad Milenium’ <> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[9] Harian Nasional, <‘RI dan Jalur Sutra Abad Milenium’ <> diakses pada 17 Juli 2017

[10] Dimas Jarot Bayu, ‘Indonesia Dinilai Perlu Sinergikan Poros Maritim Dunia dengan Konsep “Jalur Sutra Maritim” China <…> diakses pada 18 Juli 2017

[11] Koran Sindo, ‘Jalur Rempah atau Sutra?’ <> diakses pada 18 Juli 2017

[12] Victor Maulana, ‘China Jelaskan Soal Jalur Sutera Modern pada Indonesia’ <> diakses pada 18 Juli 2017

[13] Ahmad Romadoni, ‘Jokowi : Peran ASEAN Kunci Terwujudnya Jalur Sutra Baru’ <> diakses pada 18 Juli 2017

[14] Dewan Editor, ‘ASEAN : Rapuhnya Perekonomian Kawasan Menjelang ASEAN Economic Community 2015’ <> diakses pada 18 Juli 2017

Ilustrasi : “Caravan on the Silk Road” (1375) dalam Katalanischer Weltatlas / P.M. History 2/2011 oleh Abraham Cresques.



This article was written by Tri Inov Haripa (in Indonesian), International Relations student, Islamic University of Indonesia, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

ASEAN Way: The leap of the Economic Integration Theory Phase by the ASEAN Economic Community

Within Southeast Asia, regionalism is now a familiar concept. There are various regional bodies within Asia that have been formed, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), Association for Southeast Asia (ASA), MAPHILINDO, and Asian and Pacific Council (ASPAC). However, regionalism has not always been present within the region. In 1979, Wong argued that there were a number of barriers preventing the formation of a regional unity in Southeast Asia. These factors included a strong presence of nationalism amongst states, a lack of regional trust and identity, territorial conflict, and differences in political perceptions between countries. These obstacles prevented unification until ASEAN was finally established.

In his session, Professor Tri Widodo discussed issues relating to the economy and welfare within Southeast Asia. Professor Tri Widodo gave an introduction about the history of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), the development of economic conditions in Southeast Asia, the theory of the establishment of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and  outlined some of ASEAN’s economic challenges in the future. According to Prof. Tri Widodo,  there are several macroeconomic challenges faced by Southeast Asia such as unemployment, balance of payments, fiscal expansion, and monetary policy.

It has been argued that the early establishment of ASEAN was motivated by political rather than economic factors. The formation of ASEAN was based around the reconciliation of ASEAN initiating countries. Furthermore, the motivations and objectives of ASEAN were initially focused on the integration of international politics. It has only been since 1970, that ASEAN has prioritized the evolution of its regional economic structure. This shift towards economics is demonstrated by an increased presence of economic elements within the ASEAN structure, in addition to a widespread campaign on economic integration.

The economic development of ASEAN can now be observed by its positioning as one of the largest economies in the world. In 2012, ASEAN had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US $2.3 billion, establishing ASEAN as the world’s seventh largest economy behind the US, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK. The average economic growth of ASEAN between 1989 to 1989 ranged from 3.8% to 7%. To strengthen its international economic repuation, ASEAN launched the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2016. The AEC’s main objectives include the unity of markets and production bases, enhancing regional economic competitiveness, equitable regional economic growth, and comprehensive regional economic integration with the world economy.

AEC is one form of regional economic integration. However, according to Prof. Tri Widodo,  the AEC has not met the requirements of the theory put forward by Balassa (1965) relating to economic integration. Balassa argues that to facilitate complete economic integration in a region, there are five stages that should be achieved by a nations’ economy, namely, (1) free trade (2) custom union, (3) common market, (4) economic union; and (5) complete integration. These five stages must be achieved in order to establish an integrated economy.

In practice, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is a common market form, but certain trade tarrifs exist for countries outside the ASEAN. The implication is that countries outside ASEAN can take advantage of this by entering the countries that provide the lowest rates, and trade from those countries without having to be exposed to tariffs.

The common market launched in the AEC results in the freedom of production to flow freely between countries, such as capital and labor. Despite the inconsistency with this theory, ASEAN countries have their own way of integrating the economy, and refer to this as the “ASEAN Way”. Questions arise regarding AEC’s ability to operate as a sufficient common market without tariff uniformity for countries outside ASEAN. However, Prof. Tri Widodo believes that Balassa’s theory has been well-tested, and uses the European Union (EU) as an example. The EU does not go through a single step in the theory. The outcome of ASEAN’s economic policy can only be answered by time.

Overall, there has been significant progress made since the establishment of ASEAN, and the creation of the AEC. Although there are inconsistencies with Balassa’s theory, the AEC will continue to operate in the ‘ASEAN Way’. The legitimacy of the theory of Balassa’s economic integration theory and its relationship with the ‘Asean Way’, can only be proved by its future development, and thus will be answered in time.



This article was written by Ruspratama Yudhawirawan (in Indonesian), an economics student, Faculty of Business and Economics, Universitas Gadjah Mada, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Muslim Rohingya and the Unending Crisis

Since the 1970s there have been hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Myanmar, most of them using sea routes to reach neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. However, the large number of refugees also cannot be welcomed easily by the targeted countries, due to concerns over uncontrolled influx of refugees. Indonesia is one of the few countries that can communicate directly with Myanmar on the escalation of the conflict. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said “Once again I conveyed Indonesia’s concerns to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the situation in Rakhine state,” after being invited by Suu Kyi at her house for dinner while discussing openly the situation in Rakhine . [1] In addition to Indonesia, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led a demonstration on 4 December 2016 on what he described as”genocide” of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. Najib Razak also invites neighboring countries and the international world to move forward in suppressing the violence. [2]

Rohingya is a group of ethnic Muslim minorities who mostly live in western Myanmar, Rakhine region. It is estimated that this Rohingya ethnic group amounts to about 1 million people and adheres to Sunni Islam. This makes the ethnic Rohingya different from the dominant group that embraces Buddhism in Myanmar ethically, linguistically, and in religion. The origins of the Rohingyas can be traced from the fifteenth century when thousands of Muslims came to the kingdom of Arakan. After that there were many people who came again in the nineteenth and early twentieth century when Bengal and Rakhine were ruled by the colonial government as part of British India at that time. After gaining independence in 1948, the Burmese government changed its country’s name to Myanmar in 1989, and has since disputed Rohingya’s ethnic historical claims and denied its recognition as one of 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar. Rohingya was officially identified by the Burmese government as an illegal Bengali immigrant, despite the fact that many ethnic Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for centuries. [3] The Myanmar government refused to grant citizenship status to the Rohingyas, and as a result most members of the group lacked legal documentation, effectively making them stateless. Although in the 1990s there was a “white card” as a temporary identity card for the Muslim community in Myanmar (mostly Rohingyas), but by 2015 this temporary identity card was abolished by President Thein Sein at the urging of the Nationalist Buddha. The ASEAN Parliament for Human Rights wrote in April 2015 that “the long persecution of Rohingyas has caused the highest outflow of marine asylum seekers (in the region) since the US war in Vietnam”. The persecution referred to is Myanmar’s government policy, including marriage restrictions, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement have institutionalized systemic discrimination against the Rohingya ethnic group.

This discriminatory policy of the Burmese government is coupled with the condition of Rakhine state as Myanmar’s least developed state. World Bank estimates that 78% of households in Rakhine live below the poverty are also an additional reason why ethnic Rohingya want to get out of Myanmar. Widespread poverty, weak infrastructure, and a lack of job opportunities exacerbate the divisions between Buddhists and Muslims Rohingya. This tension is deepened by the religious differences that have been shown in many mass media several times. [4]

As the number of victims and refugee grew, indicating that the crisis will not be completed soon, and with a good ending. The first reason is ASEAN as a regional organization that includes Myanmar putting forward the principle of non-interference. This principle is the core foundation of the formation of cooperation among ASEAN member countries. This principle was first introduced in the Bangkok Declaration in 1967, which contained that ASEAN members did not want any parties outside the country to intervene in domestic affairs in order to create domestic and regional stability. [5] With this principle, ASEAN members that want to help resolve the Rohingya ethnic crisis are directly detained, and this situation is exacerbated by the Myanmar government which shows no desire to end the ongoing violence.

The second reason is Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand (including other ASEAN countries) as some of the main destinations of Rohingya refugees have not ratified the UN Convention and Protocol on Refugees. The Refugee Status Convention, also known as the Refugee Convention in 1951, is a multilateral treaty explaining who the refugees are and setting up the rights of an asylum seeker and the responsibility of a country that accepts the asylum seeker. [6] This is particularly crucial remembering that the domestic government of Myanmar cannot cope with the ever-increasing number of casualties, but outside parties such as ASEAN member countries are also unable to assist the refugees to the maximum level due to the Convention and Protocol on Refugees and Asylum Seekers has not been ratified.

The last reason why the crisis is still far to find its way is the closeness between the Myanmar government or the National League for Democracy Party and the nationalist Buddhists in Myanmar. The National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi is the party that won the election in 2015, and the majority of the party’s supporters come from nationalist Buddhist groups that make this condition so dilemmatic that there is hostility between the nationalist Buddhist side and the Rohingyas and other Muslims societies in Myanmar. Even UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said that the Myanmar government, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had taken a “superficial, counterproductive, even heartless” approach to the ongoing crisis. [7] He also said that reports of murder, incitement and burning of Rohingya ethnic homes every day.

The crisis that cannot be controlled by the government is already quite severe, but the government of Myanmar has not yet given access to the UN to enter the conflict area. Ravina Shamdasani as one of the spokespersons of the UN Human Rights section added “If the government (Myanmar) does not hide something, then why is there such reluctance to grant us access?  Remembering the continuing failure to grant access, we can only be afraid of the worst situation. “[8]



[1] Tama Salim, ‘Indonesia raises Rohingya concerns with Suu Kyi: Retno’, The Jakarta Post (daring), 8 Desember 2016, <>, diakses 13 Desember 2016.

[2] The Guardian, Malaysia PM urges world to act against ‘genocide’ of Myanmar’s Rohingya (daring), 4 Desember 2016, <>, diakses 13 Desember 2016.

[3] Eleanor Albert, ‘The Rohingya Migrant Crisis’, Council on Foreign Relations (daring), 9 Desember 2016, <>, diakses 13 Desember 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mieke Molthof, ‘ASEAN and the Principle of Non-Interference’, E-International Relations Students (daring), 8 Februari 2012, <>, diakses 18 Desember 2016.

[6] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (daring), <>, diakses 18 Desember 2016.

[7] Samuel Osborne, ‘UN getting daily reports of rapes, killings and other abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’, Independent (daring), 18 Desember 2016, <>, diakses 19 Desember 2016.

[8] Ibid.



This article was written by Ilham Fauzi, research fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Indonesia’s Strategic Role in South China Sea Crisis

The South China Sea (SCS) is waters area extending from the Southwest to the Northeast, bordering on the south by 3 degrees south between Sumatra Island and Kalimantan Island (Karimata Strait) and the North is bounded by the Taiwan Strait from the north end to the directions of Fukein beach, China. The area of SCS itself is estimated to reach 4 million square kilometers with four sub large islands namely Paracel, Spratly, Pratas and Macclesfield (Asnani Usman and Rizal Sukma, 1997). SCS which is estimated to have great potential in marine biota, tourism, fishery, oil, natural gas and even navigation makes many countries try hard to get legality over SCS.

The great potentials in SCS make countries around SCS to claim over the owner of SCS. In this context, there are six countries consist of four ASEAN countries and two countries outside ASEAN. The four ASEAN countries are Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei Darussalam. While the two countries outside ASEAN are China and Taiwan. The six countries declared as the legal owner of SCS with various reasons.  Malaysia claimed of the ownership of SCS because of the closeness factor (proximity) with SCS, while Philippines claimed to have the rights over SCS because of the discovery and occupation. Besides, the Philippines also based its ownership of SCS because of the territory proximity factor. Vietnam feels to own SCS based on the historical factor. While Brunei feels the ownership of SCS because it based on the continent base and Exclusive Economic Zone.

Based on the above map it can be illustrated that China through its policies has unilaterally declared a nine-dash line which in the above map is marked with a dashed red line of nine, while Vietnam’s claim is marked with a blue line, Malaysia is marked by a light blue stripe and Philippines with brown color. While Brunei and Taiwan also claim that in the nine-dash line, both countries also have rights. Globally, the real territory that China claimed is actually also an area that is also claimed by five other countries. In the context of this sovereignty disputes which is very aggressive in opposing China’s nine-dash line is the Philippines and Vietnam. The nine-dash line concept was first introduced in 1914 and exploited in 1947 by the Chinese national government.

In order to resolve the SCS issue, the relevant parties have already made an agreement on the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Cambodia. The purpose of this DOC are three namely to promote confidence-building measures, to foster cooperation in maritime affairs and to prepare a formal and binding code of conduct. Based on the three objectives of the DOC in particular the third objective is that the purpose of the DOC is to formulate a formal and binding COC. So starting from this point can be expected COC can be a document that can provide the implementation scheme, monitoring and sanctions. The process of making a COC document can be said to have many obstacles. One of the obstacles that have been faced is related to the drafting of COC which is done in the scope of ASEAN countries without involving China. Therefore it made China uncomfortable. In the context of drafting COC, it clearly possible there will be a difficult negotiation between the conflicted parties and will take a long time.(

The mechanism related to the process of COC has been delivered by China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi in 2013. In essence Wang Yi asked that the process of COC must use negotiation and respect toward each country became the main thing. Then in the same year, the process of COC was started in Suzhou, China. The stage process of COC will clearly take energy and a long time because of the complexity problem of SCS and the interest of various actors playing in SCS.   In the middle process of COC agreement, Indonesia as an unrelated country in the conflict of SCS, at least can actively help to solve the conflict of SCS. This is in line with Indonesia’s “free and active” foreign policy. The meaning of “free” means Indonesia must act independently in the international arena, while “active” means Indonesia’s need to participate in creating world peace.(

As the implementation of the foreign policy, the Indonesian government can initiate the growth of more intense cooperation between the dispute parties. Actually, the cooperation between the dispute countries has been done after the signing of DOC in 2002. For example between 2005 until 2008, there has been cooperation in the seismic research between China, Vietnam and the Philippines. However, generally the cooperations that have been done can be said that many of them are not running. Therefore, Indonesia can facilitate a meeting involving the related parties. In the context of this cooperation there should be principles that must be obeyed by all the dispute parties so that the future cooperation can work well. These principles include

  1. The oceans should be used for peaceful purposes under UNCLOS, UN Charter and international law,
  2. Cooperation should start from a non-sensitive issue such as marine environmental protection,
  3. Profits must be shared equally to the parties related to SCS,
  4. Exploitations and living exploration and non-living resources cannot be charged to one country, but become a shared responsibility.

Some cooperation aspects that might be done are as follows:

  1. Joint development for oil and gas
  2. Joint management and conservation of fisheries
  3. Cooperation in navigational safety and search and rescue at sea
  4. Cooperation in combating transnational maritime crime
  5. Cooperation in marine scientific research and
  6. Marine environmental protection (Wu Shicun, 2013).

The cooperation in those areas can be done either bilateral or multilateral. For that, Indonesia is expected to encourage the realization of such cooperation to reduce tensions in SCS that currently there is a tendency to increase significantly.



This article was written by Fatkurrohman, researcher at the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

“Security Community” and the Way to ASEAN Community

Southeast Asia is in the spotlight when by the end of 2015 the region officially enforces the ASEAN economic community which is one of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community. But for the international community, Southeast Asia is a region which its knowledge is rarely studied, so that a question arises about what is meant by Southeast Asia? Is Southeast Asia merely an area consisting of countries that are rich in culture, rice-eaters, electronic appliances lovers, and prioritizing family values?

The countries in the region belong to a group called The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional group that promotes economic, political and security cooperation among its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. ASEAN countries have population of more than 662 million people and combined GDP of US $ 2.6 trillion based on the number in 2014. Prof. Mochtar Mas’oed during Teaching and Researching Southeast Asia (TRSA) held on 17-19 October 2016 explained the basic concept of ASEAN community. He used Karl Deustch concept that defines Security Community as a group of tightly integrated people, therefore later appear a guarantee that the members of the community will not solve a problem with fight, but will find another solution. In addition, he also explained that the hallmark of the creation of the security community appears when the group has developed a ‘sense of community’, embodied in formal and informal institutions and practices that are strong and widespread, so it can be guaranteed that any change among members can take place peacefully.

Prof. Mochtar Mas’oed also explaining that the Security Community is in line with how ASEAN has a line of problem solving which called “the ASEAN way”. The line is stressed in the sovereign of each country and the principal of non-intervention among countries members. Additionally, ASEAN is strengthen the cooperation among its countries members by arranging the ASEAN Community which consist of 3 main pillars (economic, political security, and socio-cultural). However, ASEAN efforts to continue the integrated process is encountering some obstacles such as the difference of economic and technological capability, the belief/religion difference, as well as regional-based conflicts among ASEAN member countries, for example South China Sea conflict that involve seven countries.

He also explained how to create “region-ness” in Southeast Asia in order the plan of ASEAN Community can work well. There are two approaches that can be used: first is the logical approach of “Problem-solving”. The approach clarifies the problem finding which can push Southeast Asian countries to create “Problem-solving” mechanism together that can fulfill their mutual interests. With many experiences & habits of solving problems together and with the enactment of an institutional framework to solve the problem, we can expect the development of “region-ness” in Southeast Asia. While the second approach, Logic “Community” argues that to create a “political community” there must be a serious effort among leaders and the general public to create “a sense of regional identity.” The discourse of “region” & “region-building” of Southeast Asia must be encouraged, especially among the educated leaders and societies.

There are two messages delivered by Prof. Mochtar to every supporter of “community-building” in Southeast Asia, and also to everyone that agree to the application of the two approaches. Firstly, as an educated society should try to create the “Southeast Asian Identity” by promoting the discourse on the significance meaning of “region building” and its institutionalization. Secondly, there must be an attempt to find the most basic issue for the welfare of the nations in the region (Indonesia). The more accustomed these nations to solve the problems of their lives together, the stronger the impetus for regional cooperation.



This article was written by Ilham Fauzi, research fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Looking for Meeting Points for Religious Freedom and Public Policy: A Lesson from Southeast Asia

One of the consequences of diversity in Southeast Asia is the emergence of many dynamic and never-ending questions to discuss. One question that keeps us thinking is, how does this region survive with hundreds of local beliefs and at the same time apply public policies regarding religious rules? Dr. Dicky Sofjan discussed the answers to this question in the SEA Talks # 8 discussion, on the afternoon of Thursday, June 16, 2016. In his presentation, Dr. Dicky explained that the logic of religion in society is often different from public policy. This can not be separated from the influence of the democratic system adopted by almost all countries in Southeast Asia. According to him, the application of democracy raises the existence of unintended consequences, as well as the phenomenon of abuse of laws, decentralization that causes inequality, and also multi-interpretation of the beliefs of one group. On the other hand, the state also has great authority through the prevailing system. Like Malaysia, which applies Islam as a national religion and is listed in the constitution. This rule then legitimizes the expulsion of Ahmadiyah worshipers in one of the mosques in Malaysia as well as rules that lead to minority discrimination.

Southeast Asia itself is considered as a ‘salad bowl’ for its diversity. Just imagine, the people in this region are almost all different, ranging from language, culture, including understanding about something, to the smallest things to appetite. This challenge is faced by each country in determining its public policy. Religious issues suffer almost the same fate in every country in Southeast Asia. In Singapore, the state divides its people in different groups between Chinese, Malay and India. In Malaysia, Islam is used as the national religion that underlies all policies. We see that in Cambodia, the people are still traumatized by the Khmer Rouge atrocities that carried out Muslim ethnic cleansing in the 70s. Or in the Philippines, abortion is still a debate at the government level because there is opposition to the Catholic church. It is no different than in Myanmar, which has a very strong Buddhist dominance, so that radicalism emerges against the Muslim minority. In Brunei, Chinese citizenship is still a debate until now. Then we reflect on Indonesia, that the interfaith debate or even within religion itself continues to occur and has the potential to cause conflict.

Through the initiation of the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS), the American Institute for Indonesian Studies (AIFIS), and the Indonesian Consortium for Religion Studies (ICRS) the discussion raised the theme “Religion, Public Policy, and Social Transformation in Southeast Asia”. Besides Dr. Dicky, there was also Mahaarum Kusuma Pertiwi, MA, M.Phil, who was the discussant, as well as several academics, and students who were interested in this study. For both, the study of religion is important, because 8 out of 10 people in the world embrace religion and / or belief. Dr. Dicky and his team at the Indonesian Consortium for Religion Studies (ICRS) collaborated with researchers from nine countries to conduct research for three years and will produce books from the results of this study. This study seeks to see the relation between public policy and religious freedom in Southeast Asia by using the comparison method. The results expected from this research in the coming year will build a new theory (theory building) regarding the study of religion and public policy. In addition to comparative studies as Dr. Dicky et al. Mahaarum also added not to override the importance of contextual studies especially in the context of implementing public policy.

Southeast Asia becomes MEA or KEA

Training was conducted by PSSAT, with a focus on the progress of Southeast Asia, and relevant future movements. Professor Muhtar Mas’ud spoke about rediscovering the meaning of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). According to Prof. Muhtar Mas’ud (MEA), that masyarakat is different from the komunitas. in English masyarakat is society; and komunitas is community. In the field of sociology, it is related to the meaning of the relationship of the two words. In society, relationships are built on the basis of needs and can change. While in the community, the relationship is more emotional. Relationships built on the basis of closeness such as familial relationships, relationships because of one clan, etc. In this connection, membership can not be changed and in and out. Mas’ud later said that Indonesia then considers the Economic ASEAN Community to be an ASEAN Economic Community (MEA) not as a Community of ASEAN Economic Community (KEA). If by community, this means that one member will not harm other members. This means there will be no suspicion. But in fact, the affairs of trust among countries in Southeast Asia is still very low between one and the other.

When considering the notion of community, there are three conditions which must be met. Firstly, there must be shared values and expectations. Communities will have a set of values, and these values must be shared between one state and another. These values can be very similar, or they may be completely different. For example, in Myanmar, hitting a child is common. However, in Indonesia, the same action is considered to be violence against children.  Values are something that every member in the community must understand. Secondly, is the skills and communication process (Capabilities and communication process). Essentially, a community is communal. To achieve a ‘communal society’, communication is essential. Communication between countries should take place, so that a communal society can be established. Thirdly, there must be cultural attachment, or a mutual predictability of behavior. To achieve this, suspicion should be eliminated. A communal community will not be formed if there is suspicion present amongst members. Currently, Indonesia is suspicious of the State of Singapore and Malaysia over the control of the economy in the region. If this continues, it is unlikely a strong community will be formed.

The concept of community also relies upon direct interaction. This can assist in building the aforementioned emotional relationships. This can take the form of physical connectivity, institution connectivity, and resource mobilization. The relationship itself can also be seen from various perspectives. The Asian socio-economic community has the advantage of being personal. It may also be based on the perspective of national interest. People feel the need to connect with other people from the Southeast Asian region because, for example, the Indonesian government has agreed on a merger in the community. So therefore, the Indonesian government will be open to connecting with other ASEAN members. This relationship will consider how the community can affect Indonesia as a state. There is also a relationship created by the existence of religious ties. However, the emphasis here is the perspective of humanity. This relationship is cosmopolitanism, plus communitarianism, which means attachment to the ‘cosmo’ and also the ‘local community’. This bond is seen as a moral democracy of regionalization that can connect countries in Southeast Asia.

Life, livelihood, and style, are three factors which may assist in discovering the identity of a region. Life and livelihood will be closely related to people’s lives in the region. For example, the culture of eating rice can be a strong point of identity, as rice is a staple food for many countries within the region. Furthermore, Ramanya dance may also be seen as a point of shared identification, as every country has art which is connected with dance. Furthermore, style pertains to what trends arise in the region. In most ASEAN countries today, both adults and youth are addicted to gadgets and the internet. According to Professor Muhtaar Mas’ud, this can be a lifestyle that may be a point of identity for the region.

The birth of the ASEAN Economic Community was based upon an emotional connection of nations. Members of the State have a strong emotional connection, which is exemplified through the life and lifestyles that develop. If Indonesia wants to contribute and build upon the ASEAN Economic Community, it must build a strong, trusting relationship with other states. This can certainly be built on human morals, in order to create a community which utilizes local values as a point of identification



This article was written by Ade Nuriadin, researcher at the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

“Win-Win Solution” in Overcoming Haze

In the first and second week of September, the Standard Index of Air Pollution in Pekanbaru Riau stayed in the status of “very unhealthy” and “dangerous”. The Governor in act of Riau must announce the condition of Air Pollution Emergency. The post-decision of the status does not provide a significant meaning for the prevention of this smoke disaster. Until now, the thick haze still fluctuates in covering Pekanbaru and other cities in Sumatera Island and Kalimantan. Conversely, pressure on the Governor in act is stronger to evacuate 6.7 million citizens of Riau, even bringing back the desire for independence for a group of people who lost trust to the Central Government. Along with this haze calamity as well, the increasing demand for HTI and oil palm plantations getting higher, to be responsible, revoked its license and withdraw from Riau. Finally, only heavy rains which can calm down the anger of the people who become more flare up because of the haze.

How actually we should see this problem, is there any ways or solutions which give goodness for all, the wrong still responsible and the suffering one can get a good compensations. Before, let’s see clearly what has actually become the root of the problems, the problem itself, the effect, and the efforts which can be done to prevent the disaster to celebrate its 19th birthday next year.  However, it is clear that the impact of losses is extremely remarkable, hundreds of thousands of people exposed to ARIs, hundreds of flights canceled, schools were closed for weeks, allegedly economic losses incurred to 20 trillion Rupiah by 2014 and 22 Trillion Rupiah by 2015, pathetic.

The cause of the smoke disaster is the massive peat fires in both the land and the forest. In one of the national private TV shows the title of “forest fire” is not wrong, if the forest fire is on the peat land, in fact, this fire is 70% percent more in non-forest area. This means that the fire is more accurately said peat land fires. Why is it easy to catch fire? The answer is because it is dried. Why is it dried? Because if not dried it cannot be used for the cultivation of crops, especially oil palm and industrial crops such as acacia which currently dominates the land cover in Riau Province.

If we look closely, the incidence of land fires is closely related to the presence of oil palm plantation companies and HTI that was present in the 1980s and peaked in 1997, where there was a terrible fire and great smoke disaster. At that time, it was the first time education in Riau Province known to smoke holiday. Until now the expansion of oil palm plantations and HTI is still going on, to enter the peat of archipelago. Justification of the use of technology called eco-hydro, i.e. by controlling the water table in accordance with the needs, if the flood is released and if the dry season is held as a water reserve, proved to unable to withstand the peat land fires. Therefore, during the dry season coupled with the El-Nino phenomenon, dry peat becomes a “fuel” that is ready to burn with a little spark and do not know the area that is controlled by the company or by the community.

Peat is a unity of ecosystems that cannot be separated in its management. Company management that operates on peat soils generally has the ability to maintain a water table during the dry season. In contrast to community land, which is generally located around HTI land and oil palm plantations. For example, oil palm companies that work with communities to meet their production capacity, there are many community lands that do not have good land management. In general it can be said, especially self-help farmers, very weak in peat-land governance, lacks strong institutional and monotonous community economic activities and tends to follow others. So far, the government has not been able to violate economic laws, people are motivated to plant oil palm because the demand for oil palm FFB is still very high. Although the current price is not profitable, but it is believed that it will get better like the trends of the previous years.

Well, this is where the opportunity of the company, both HTI and oil palm can help strengthen the capacity of communities in the management of land resulting mutualism symbiosis between companies and communities, one of them through serious CSR  and responsible. However, the economic motive will prompt or slow the community to open the land. Raise the chance of the occurrence of land fires to reoccur. In addition to other issues, such as land conflicts of local communities, native communities with the migrant communities, as well as communities with the companies in reserve areas, occupations, and others. The company is no longer just waiting for the government to make the program to the community, because it will not solve the problem, and should be able to cooperate with the government together to solve the community problems, especially the prevention of land fires that are synergistic with the existing development programs. Because it must be admitted, local governments still have limitations in the affairs of human resources and funds to conduct land fire prevention programs.

Strengthening the governance of community land can be undertaken in conjunction with village government and community to participate in participatory mapping of all areas and resources, so that the community recognizes the land they owned, border, land characteristics and potential utilization. So that with the system of land governance, and also especially for the water system so that the condition of the peat is maintained in a state of wet and not prone to burn. The company can also recognize community land and if it is possible to become a unity of management with the land owned by the company, can control the surface of the water together. It is including in the manufacture of canals’ partition by people who are more massive, where the partition is located and made by the company. So the responsibility of the canal’s partition, or the water gate become the responsibility of the company and the community, it is very profitable for both parties. Usually, the company argues that it is impossible to burn land that has been planted especially they are approaching the age of harvesting. Rationally, if there is no other motives, it may be true, but when the fire starts from the surrounding land, or from the community land, it is certain that fires can also spread to the company’s land, and both sides suffer losses and may be accused to do or careless regarding the incident of land fire. Therefore, corporate cooperation with landowners around the concession is needed.

Equally important is the strengthening of the institutional community. Strategically, people who have a land area around the company can form groups, such as farmer groups, which in addition to functioning as a medium of learning, production and economy, can also be the Community of Concerned Fire (CCF), because essentially CCF is not a society that extinguishes fire during a fire incident, in fact they are not capable of doing so, except for very small fires. However, CCF are people who should be concerned with fire incident by not doing activities that cause land fires, and care to remind others not to engage in arson activities, for whatever the reasons are. People who have land around the company’s land, surely those who are very concerned with the land they have, emotionally they have a strong bond with the peat lands they control. By fostering groups, through their capacity in land use and forming group rules that bind their fellowmen to not engage in land-burning activities, will greatly assist as a social control of fire lands.

Simultaneously, diversification of the economic activities of the community can also be done. If the community still wants to open palm plantation, it cannot be avoided, because the palm is still promising, but still be noticed by not burning the land, but can be assisted by the company for the use of heavy equipment. If possible to have plants that are friendly with peat ecosystems such as coconut or pineapple, or even indeed plants that is endemic wetlands such as sago, or wood plants such as Meranti mangrove and Jelutung. The community will be able to choose freely according to the economic needs they owned or sovereign over the types of crops that will be cultivated on their owned land. Here the role of the company is to help the certainty of agricultural productions marketing produced by the community

The three approaches are arranged in a planned, systematic, and participative through the guidance of trained assistants who have the ability to become facilitators. Funds incurred by the companies in fire prevention through community counseling will be much less than the losses caused by land fires, calculated from the number of burned plants and the energy spent to deal with land-law cases, either intentionally or unintentionally. Thus, there is a win-win solution that is responsible and dignified for the company and society. This has been tested by the writer with one of the palm oil companies in Indragiri Hilir, and proved, there is a significant reduction of hotspots, which in 2013 and 2014 as one of the largest hotspot contributor in Inhil, in 2015, it is almost said zero hotspot in villages conducted by village-based fire prevention assistance activities.



This article was written by Arifudin, student of Counseling and Development Communication, Graduate School, UGM and was published in Riau Pos daily on September 29, 2015.