The Philippine military has documented the presence of structures which they say are illegal on the Union Banks, Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, not far from where hundreds of Chinese ships swarmed last month. Commander of the Philippine Military, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said that the buildings were illegal and were not far from islands that the Philippines claimed to be included in its exclusive economic zone. Of course, this creates new problems in the disputed areas of the South China Sea. Meanwhile, other problems have not been completely resolved. China and several Southeast Asian countries seem to be caught in a dispute over their respective expansionary claims to the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea. China even borders the region with its "imaginary nine dotted lines".
In addition, the Chinese government also passed the Law on China's maritime management last February. It said, the law is intended to safeguard the country's national sovereignty, security and maritime rights. Its Coast Guard is said to be allowed to take all necessary means, including the use of weapons to stop or prevent threats from foreign ships. In fact, Chinese coast guard personnel will be allowed to board and inspect foreign vessels operating in waters claimed to be China's jurisdiction. This term, in fact, is still ambiguous, because it covers areas that are also claimed by other countries.
As long as this rule is still being enforced by China, the possibility of a heated conflict in the South China Sea is still very open. To achieve peace in the South China Sea region, all parties involved should make comprehensive efforts and dialogue among the disputing countries in a bid to avoid open conflicts involving military forces and to prevent them from spreading elsewhere.
Hundreds of Burmese or Myanmarese people have died as a result of military action in dealing with anti-coup protests. Reports say more than one hundred civilians, including a 7 year old child, died as a result of the crackdown by the authorities. Some of the people of Myanmar reportedly started to flee their country. The situation is getting worse.
Many parties expect ASEAN to act to find a solution for one of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo urged the Chair of ASEAN to discuss the Myanmar crisis at the ASEAN summit. On behalf of Indonesia, Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said Indonesia strongly criticized the military action in demonstrations that killed more than 100 people in one day.
The question then is, will ASEAN do something significant to Myanmar?
There are at least two things that can be seen regarding the possible actions of ASEAN. The first is in the collective perspective, and the second is the attitude of each member country. Collectively, ASEAN member countries have the principles of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of each member. Second, the attitude of each member on the Myanmar crisis caused by the military coup, can also hamper ASEAN's efforts. As known, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand attended the commemoration of Armed Forces Day which was held by the leader of the military coup, General Ming Ang Hlaing recently. This could mean that they may support the military rulers in Myanmar.
Indonesia's call for a high-level meeting with the support of Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, is hampered by presence of the three countries at the anniversary of the Myanmar Armed Forces.
Indeed, ASEAN assertiveness towards Myanmar is needed despite the normative narrative regarding the non-intervention principle. ASEAN and any country in the region or in the world, can always apply the Responsibility to Protect principle recognized by the United Nations. A firm stance by ASEAN on the basis of the UN principle can be a strategic step for Myanmar's own interests. Such action could protect Myanmar from intervention by major powers such as China, Russia and the United States. The interference of big countries against the background of competition for influence, will make a country in crisis go deeper into chaos and the possibility of civil war. Syria, is an example of such a case.
The South China Sea dispute has heated up more recently when the United States of America (USA) and China sent their combat fleets to the territory disputed by China and a number of ASEAN countries. Naval military maneuvers, especially both China and the USA fighting for influence in the region almost occur. On March 22, hundreds of ships belonging to China were seen in the disputed area of the South China Sea. The Philippine Defense Minister, Delfin Lorenzana protested against China which was considered to have invaded because it entered Philippine waters. The Philippine coast guard has detected the presence of these vessels on Whitsun Reef, about 320 kilometers from Palawan Island, since March 7. The United States immediately expressed its support for the Philippines, which has long been known as its trading partner in Asia. The American Embassy in Manila said it supported the Philippines' call to urge Chinese ships to immediately leave the Whitsun Reef area. Meanwhile, China ignored the call by insisting that its ships were in offshore territory.
In response to this, Indonesia and other countries bordering with the South China Sea should continue to campaign for joint responsibility to maintain security in the disputed area. This is in line with the position of prioritizing peace and security in the South China Sea region that has been taken so far. Because if the actions of these Chinese ships are responded to by the USA, the potential for open conflict will be more likely to occur. It is time for the related parties or countries that campaign for peace and security in the South China Sea to take a strategic role. It is hoped that in this case, China will be more able to place its position in the territorial waters of the South China Sea.
The Bank Indonesia (BI) Board of Governors Meeting on 17-18 March 2021 decided to keep the benchmark interest rate, or the BI 7-Day Reverse Repo Rate at 3.5 percent. On February 18, BI announced a cut in interest rates from 3.75 percent to 3.5 percent. Since the beginning of last year, BI has cut its benchmark interest rate by 150 basis points (bps). This 3.5 percent figure is the lowest interest rate of BI in the history since Indonesia’s independence.
According to Governor of the Central Bank (BI), Perry Warjiyo, this decision is in line with the need to maintain the stability of the Rupiah exchange rate from the increasing uncertainty of global financial markets, amid the predicted low inflation. In addition, BI also maintains the Deposit Facility rate at 2.75 percent and the Lending Facility rate at 4.25 percent as the economic recovery process continues.
To support the sustainability of the national economic recovery, Bank Indonesia will also further optimize accommodative macro-prudential policies, accelerate money market deepening, support international policies, and digitize the payment system. In line with this, BI is taking policy steps as a follow-up to the synergy of the Financial System Stability Committee's policies in an Integrated Policy Package for Increasing Business Financing. In addition, it continues to strengthen policy coordination with the Government to accelerate the distribution of credit / financing from banks to the business world, especially in priority sectors that support economic growth in the context of national economic recovery.
The statement from the US Central Bank (Federal Reserve) regarding no indication of raising the benchmark interest rate until 2023 is a breath of fresh air for currency movements in developing countries, including Indonesia. If Bank Indonesia follows this step, the Rupiah is expected to strengthen again this year after being under enough pressure throughout 2020. Thus, it is hoped that the process of economic recovery can be faster.
Indonesia was excluded from the All England 2021 Badminton competition because on a flight that was boarded by Indonesian athletes from Istanbul to Birmingham, a passenger tested positive for Covid-19. Certainly, this is not good news for Indonesia.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, this prohibition makes sense if it is applied equally to other participants. However, the fact is that some participants from other countries, who are on the same plane, can still participate in the match. Has the Badminton World Federation -BWF acted discriminatively against the Indonesian contingent? BWF stated that the decision for the Indonesian badminton contingent to self-isolate was not theirs. It was made directly by the National Health Service (NHS) of the British Government, which saw the Indonesian team being on one plane with a passenger who was positive for Covid-19. The NHS also gave a message to all Indonesian team players and officials to undergo quarantine for 10 days. Even though all Indonesian players have carried out a series of tests and the results are negative. The isolation rules are also applied to Indonesian players, such as Hendra / Ahsan, Jonatan Christie and Kevin / Marcus who have come out as winners in the first round of All England 2021.
The General Chairperson of the Indonesian Badminton Association, Agung Firman Sampurna is now continuing to strive so that the Indonesian Team can still join the competition. He contacted Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi to facilitate so that the Indonesian contingent can continue in the All England 2021. Then, Minister Retno gave some directions to ensure that there is no discrimination and unfair treatment of the Indonesian participation in the event. In a statement, the Indonesian Embassy in London explained that the British government still imposes a lockdown and strict health protocols in every activity. The All-England tournament was held with a special arrangement, tight and closed without spectators.
The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed changed many things, including the rules for sport tournaments. The procedures and stages of conducting matches are added with the Covid-19 test which inevitably has to be passed and made the basic stages. However, if the regulations are not enforced equally or differently between institutions in one country, this will create confusion and threaten the spirit of sportsmanship.
This discriminatory action triggered the resignation of a Turkish badminton athlete from the All England 2021 event. Neslihan Yigit, is known to have resigned or walked out from the YONEX All England Open 2021 competition on Thursday (18/3) afternoon Indonesian time. Previously, it was reported that Neslihan Yigit could still compete in the All England 2021 competition even though he was on the same plane as the Indonesian Badminton Team. It seems that Neslihan is uncomfortable with the conditions that befell Indonesian badminton team.
Indonesia is certainly waiting for the follow-up development of Minister Retno's diplomatic communication with the British Government regarding this matter. Hopefully, the best results will come out to uphold the sportsmanship and good diplomatic relations established so far.
The dreams of peace and democracy in Myanmar have yet to come true. After the coup by the military junta on 1 February, casualties on the part of civilians continued to fall. The country has yet to find a solution to the military-takeover of power. After the burning down of a number of factories which were Chinese investment, it seemed as if the military had the opportunity to impose a state of emergency in several places. Six cities since last Sunday have declared a state of emergency. The AFP news agency verified that during the demonstrations Sunday and Monday, dozens of people including women had died as a result of military fire.
Apparently, protesters set fire to the factories for accusing China of supporting Myanmar's military. It is possible that the arson and the accusations will disturb the government in Beijing. Previously, the Chinese government stated that it did not interfere with the political and social crisis in its neighboring country. Unlike the United States and several Western countries, China considers what is happening in Myanmar as a purely domestic matter. This is despite the fact that the UN Security Council has criticized the violence perpetrated by the military.
On the other hand, the condemnation and sanctions imposed by the United States and several other countries on Myanmar military officials, still have not shaken the ASEAN and its member countries in responding to the crisis in Myanmar. ASEAN, so far remains obedient to the commitment of non-interference in the domestic affairs of its members. This may very well make the military feel comfortable. Myanmar is the last country to become a member of ASEAN because the association of Southeast Asian countries considers Myanmar to have become democratic.
This situation is expected to make the military continue to commit acts of violence against protesters who support Aung San Su Ky. Meanwhile, Aung San Su Ky was unable to act because she was in detention.
The country, which has begun to gain appreciation thanks to the realization of democracy some time ago, is now receiving attention and criticism due to violence by the military in forcing its power.
For its neighboring countries, what happened in Myanmar can certainly be a material for study and consideration on how to keep democracy growing, along with the steps to make people live in peace.
The UN Security Council condemned the violence against Myanmar protesters and called on the military to exercise restraint. Even so, in the draft statement of its position, the UN did not declare the takeover of power by the military as a coup. It is feared that this will trigger rejection from a number of countries close to Myanmar, such as China, Russia, India and Vietnam. The United Nations Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgenerin a closed meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday (5/3) said that the unity and firm stance of the UN Security Council are important to push for an end to violence and for the restoration of Myanmar's democratic institutions.
The UN Security Council in a statement cited by Reuters on Thursday (11/3) condemned violence against peaceful protesters, who also consisted of women, youth and even children. The Myanmar military was asked to exercise restraint and monitor the situation intensively. Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres hopes that the Security Council's statement can put pressure on the military to release the prisoners and respect the election results.
In its statement, the UN Security Council also expressed deep concern over restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, union members, journalists or media workers, and called for the immediate release of all people who were arbitrarily arrested.
Reportedly, more than 60 people were killed and around 1,800 have been arrested. The Myanmar military has also been urged to release political figures detained in the February 1 coup, including Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In addition, the Security Council also emphasized the importance of maintaining democratic systems and processes as well as constitutional governance, preventing violence and respecting human rights.
This UN Security Council statement is the second after the first statement expressing concern about the situation in Myanmar on February 1.
Meanwhile, China's Ambassador to the United Nations -Zhang Jun conveyed the importance for members of the Security Council to speak in one voice. According to him, now it is time for dialogue to loosen tensions and provide a path for diplomacy.
It seems that the UN Security Council's condemnation has had little impact on the Myanmar military. Many parties hope that the UN Security Council can take a more assertive and serious stance for the realization of peace in the country.
The United Nations is paying special attention to International Women's Day, 9 March. This year the UN published a report on the importance of paying attention to women who are suffering from conflict and war, as well as the impact of Covid19 Pandemic.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is particularly concerned with refugees in Yemen. According to UNOCHA, the prolonged conflict in the Middle East, especially in Syria, has displaced 4 million people mainly to Yemen. Of the millions of refugees, nearly three quarters are women and children. These women are forced to struggle to support their families in the midst of suffering in refugee camps.
Attention to women in various countries is also given by the World Health Organization, WHO. It has issued a statement which is very concerning. The UN agency says one out of three women across the globe has suffered from physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, revealed that there was a surprising data showing that violence against women increased in number during the Covid 19 pandemic.
In connection with this sad reality, both UNOCHA and WHO are calling for steps to defend women's rights and strive to create an equal future for them. In addition to calling for prevention of the suffering of women, especially in refugee camps, as well as violence in everyday life, the UN asks governments of various countries to make efforts from an early age. A concrete step that can be taken is to instill awareness of women's equality since in school. Through educational programs, male students are given an understanding and awareness of the importance of equality for women.
The notes issued by the United Nations agency in the context of World Women's Day certainly need the attention of governments around the world. Whether it's in developed, developing and economically underdeveloped countries, as well as countries hit by prolonged conflicts.
An indication of increasing violence against women during the Covid19 Pandemic, reminding all parties not to only concentrate on health care and prevention against it. It is very important to make efforts to overcome the impacts that arise from an economic perspective. Because as stated by WHO, bad economic conditions can encourage more violence against women.
The rice consumption of the Indonesian people per capita annually is still quite high compared to several ASEAN member countries. According to data from the World Food and Agriculture Organization Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2018, Indonesia's annual rice consumption per capita reached 135 kilograms, higher than the Philippines (115 kg), Thailand (99 kg), and Malaysia (81 kg). Therefore, rice has always been a top priority in Indonesian government policies, especially related to trade and agriculture. In 2020, rice consumption was still recorded at above 90 kilograms per person annually. The high need for this staple food requires the Indonesian government to pay special attention to its availability.
To guarantee the stock in 2021, the government will import 1 million tons of rice, through the state-owned General Logistics Company -Bulog. Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Airlangga Hartarto at the Ministry of Trade's Working Meeting last Thursday (4/3) said that maintaining the availability of rice in the country is an important thing to do so that prices can remain under control.
The government will implement two policies for the provision of domestic rice, following the rice social assistance program during the pandemic and enactment of the Regulation on Restricting Community Activities. First, the government will import 500,000 tons of rice for the Rice Reserve and another 500,000 tons according to Bulog's needs. Second, implementing the absorption of unhulled rice by Bulog with a target equal to 900,000 tons of rice during the main harvest in March-May 2021, and 500,000 tons in June-September 2021.
To reduce rice consumption, especially imported rice, the Ministry of Agriculture is targeting the national level of rice consumption to fall by 7 percent to 85 kilograms per capita in a year by 2024. With a population of 270 million people the decrease in rice consumption is equivalent to 1.77 million tons. To reduce rice consumption, food diversification is the right choice. Because it can anticipate crises, provide alternative food, drive the economy and create healthy human resources. Currently, every province in Indonesia is focused on producing local carbohydrate sources other than rice. There are at least six food commodities which production is encouraged, such as cassava, corn, sago, banana, potato and sorghum.
The wave of protests against the military coup in Myanmar shows no signs of abating. The ongoing rallies in the country are the largest since the Saffron Revolution against a military regime in 2007 led by a line of Buddhist monks dressed in orange. Mass protests, marked by a movement of civil disobedience, have recently been met with a show of force by the military.
According to the BBC until Wednesday (3/3/2021), at least 50 people were reportedly killed since the upheaval against the coup on February 1.
The neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia (ASEAN) have also started calling for the military to hold back repressive actions against demonstrators. In overcoming the crisis in Myanmar, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers are working to promote dialogue between detained Leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and the military junta. This is a formidable challenge, because the ASEAN is bound by a consensus-based decision-making mechanism not to interfere with the domestic affairs of each member country.
Even so, the initiative must be taken because confrontation and bloodshed will have a serious impact on ASEAN's stability and reputation. In the virtual meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on March 2, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi expressed deep concerns about developments in Myanmar. According to Minister Retno, if not resolved immediately, it will threaten regional peace and security. It was emphasized that all ASEAN countries have an obligation to maintain a conducive situation in the region.
The current condition of Myanmar could be a stumbling block for ASEAN in creating peace in the region. Yet, on the other hand, it could also be an opportunity to show that ASEAN is a solid group of Southeast Asian countries and can solve its own problems.
Safety and security for the people of Myanmar is of the utmost importance at this moment, besides peace of course. Likewise, other ASEAN member countries want a safe and peaceful situation in the region. Hopefully, ASEAN can take the best steps so that the Myanmar problem can be resolved immediately without causing many victims.