Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

29 December 2020

Taiwan-Indonesia relations: Discussion on migrant worker fees to be continued

(nm) After a meeting last week between representatives from the Taiwan Ministry of Labor and Indonesian officials left several issues unresolved, officials are to convene again in two weeks over recruitment costs for Indonesian migrant workers. 

The main issues of last week’s meeting were Taiwan’s ban on Indonesian migrant workers due to COVID-19 concerns and a policy supposedly unilaterally introduced by Indonesia to take effect next month that transfers all preparatory costs of migrant workers, such as airfares and passport and work visa costs, to Taiwanese employers. During the first meeting, only eleven types of fees were covered.

According to Workforce Management Division Director Hsueh Chien-chung, the Indonesian side on the other hand criticized Taiwan’s requirement that applicants provide their criminal record and that Taiwan is the only country importing Indonesian labor to do so. 

As of the end of November, 265,439 Indonesians were employed in Taiwan, with 194,022 of them working as caregivers and domestic workers. [Taipei Times 1] [Taipei Times 2]

29 December 2020

Indonesia: Cabinet reshuffle

(dql) In major Cabinet reshuffle last week, President Joko Widodo replaced six ministers for health, trade, tourism, fisheries, social, and religious affairs. The reshuffle was prompted by the country’s ongoing economic depression due to the pandemic as well as by the arrest of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister and the Social Affairs Minister over corruption allegations. [Channel News Asia] [Straits Times]

Amid surging numbers of coronavirus infections, Deputy Minister for State-owned Enterprises Budi Gunadi Sadikin, who doubles as head the national economic recovery task force, has been appointed the new Health Minister. He succeeds Terawan Agus Putranto, a controversial military radiologist and former personal doctor to Widodo’s late mother, who has come under fire over his mishandling of the pandemic. [South China Morning Post]

Notable is the appointment of Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, leader of the Ansor Youth Movement of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organization, as new Minister for Religious Affairs, replacing Fachrul Razi, a retired four-star army general known for his penchant for stirring debate by provocative Islam-critical ideas, including his suggestion of a ban on the niqab and men’s cropped pans in government offices. [Antara News] [Nikkei Asian Review]

Observers view this decision of the President as a return to regular practices, in which the Religious Affairs Ministry portfolio would be handed to a senior figure of the NU, as per tradition. The President provoked anger from NU with his bold move of installing Fachrul in October 2019. Yaqut is widely believe to go back to a policy of moderation towards Islamic groups. [Jakarta Post] [Tempo]

For short bios of the new ministers, see [Jakarta Globe].

29 December 2020

Indonesia-USA relations: Washington offers billions for Indonesia establishing ties with Israel

(dql) The US has offered Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, to double its current one billion USD Indonesia portfolio if Jakarta would join President Donald Trump’s push for Muslim countries to establish relations with Israel and develop ties with Israel. [Aljazeera]

In response to this offer, the Chair of the Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation in the Indonesian House of Representatives said that Indonesia will never normalize relations with Israel as it is a “occupation state”, adding that the “‘blind’ US bias towards Israel and its disregard for Palestinian rights,” has turned the situation in the region “from bad to worse.” [Middle East Monitor]

In a related development, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno in a talk with her Turkish counterpart reaffirmed Indonesia’s commitment to stand behind Palestine, demanding that “The Palestinian issue must be resolved based on various [United Nations] Security Council resolutions and internationally agreed parameters, including the two-state solution.” 

In an earlier development, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo expressed in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September Indonesia’s unceasing support for Palestine, highlighting that Palestine is the only participant of 1955 Bandung Conference which has not reached independence. [Jakarta Globe]

22 December 2020

Indonesia: New effort to get into the electric vehicle supply chain

(nd) Last week, president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo personally invited Tesla chief executive Elon Musk to invest in Indonesia, both with regards to the production and components for electric vehicle batteries as well as for a potential launch site for Space, Musk’s aerospace manufacturing and space transport venture. According to a 2018 European Commission report, the electric vehicle industry has an estimated worth of up to US$66.7 billion annually. A spokesman also welcomed electric vehicle investors from all countries, including China.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of nickel, with the world’s biggest nickel reserves. It is a key component in the production of lithium-based batteries for electric vehicles. January 1 this year, Indonesia banned nickel ore exports and required miners to build smelter facilities in Indonesia in order to develop its downstream mining industry.

Still, high import tariffs for vehicle components, lack of engineering talent, and restrictions to foreign direct investment making logistics costs higher and electricity more expensive compared with neighboring countries were pointed out in a World Bank presentation last year as challenges for Indonesia to form part of the electric vehicle supply chain.

Additionally, Musk requests for nickel to be mined “efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way”.  Biodiverse Sulawesi, which hosts most of the smelters, is already fragile and could be put at higher risk with growing demand, adding to the traditional powering of nickel smelters by coal. [South China Morning Post]

22 December 2020

German embassy in Jakarta apologizes over embassy visit to Islamic extremist group

(nd) Following a diplomatic visit to the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) last week, the German Embassy in Indonesia issued an apology clarifying that a staff member was there on self-initiative, without any order nor knowledge of the embassy. Therefore, the visit would not reflect the German government’s policy, nor any form of support to FPI.

Last week, the police killing of six FPI members triggered an official investigation and protests by FPI supporters while FPI leader Rizieq Shihab, after his return from self-exile, has turned himself in on charges for Covid-19 health protocol breaches during his daughter’s wedding last month. [Jakarta Globe]

22 December 2020

ASEAN and the South China Sea in 2021

(nd) Against the background of ongoing tensions and significant developments in and regarding the South China Sea over 2020, a recent article in the [East Asia Forum] by Sourabh Gupta argues for an increased potential for ASEAN to play a more meaningful role in the conflict.

22 December 2020

Indonesia, South Korea to sign trade agreement

(nd) Last Friday, Jakarta and Seoul signed the Indonesia-South Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IK-CEPA) to increase bilateral economic relations and attract more South Korean investments in Indonesia. From an Indonesian perspective the agreement adds to a long list of similar international agreements this year, including the Indonesia-Australia CEPA, the ASEAN-Hong Kong, the China Free Trade Agreement (AHKFTA), and the ASEAN-Hong Kong, China Investment Agreement (AHKIA). Also signed were a deal in the Indonesia-Mozambique PTA, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Protocol to Amend ASEAN-Japan EPA. [Tempo]

22 December 2020

Indonesia: Activists warning of looming political dynasties

(nd) Following the successful mayoral elections in Java and Sumatra for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s son and son-in-law, the country’s media and civil society activists are warning of a trend towards political dynasties. Jokowi’s son was successful in Central Java city of Solo, where Jokowi himself started his political career in 2005. Media outlet Koran Tempo counted at least 53 successful candidates out of nine governors and 261 district chief and mayors, who are family members of serving or retired officials, in positions from district chiefs to the president.

Contrary to the Philippines, though, neither of these families constitutes an economic force. While nepotism certainly plays a role in Indonesia, the Philippines sees genuine political dynasties, workable through a mix of patronage, economic dependency and violence. Online news outlet Rappler last year identified 163 Philippine families whose members hold a political position, serving at the same time as other relatives from the same clan.

While President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter Sarah is his successor as mayor of Davao city, and his two sons filling the positions of vice mayor and one of the city’s three congressional seats, which is repeated in other parts of the Philippines, with a majority of senators and House members belonging to powerful clans. The only direct comparison in Indonesia is in Banten, where five of eight districts are controlled by the family of former governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah. Most other tries where less successful and where stopped by incumbents at the polls.

In 2015, the Constitutional Court stoke down parts of the Local Elections Law, which prohibited prospective candidates with blood or marital ties to regional leaders to run for local office, citing a violation of the 1945 Constitution and the 1999 Human Rights Law, as well as principles of civil liberties in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Researchers therefore suggested to impose other controlling mechanisms, like raising the minimum duration of party membership before a candidate is eligible for office or nominating candidates through internal party conventions. Still, the avoidance of political dynasties presupposes the respective behavior of politicians and political parties. [Asia Times]

15 December 2020

ASEAN, US relations: challenges and prospects

(nd) A recent report analyzes the challenges for the incoming Biden administration to enhance US ties with Southeast Asian nations. The report sees a great deal of skepticism in the region with regards to the US commitment and wariness of China’s reaction. China has immense strategic interests in the region and advanced to become its major investor through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Such investments, although seen in all their ambiguity by many local observers, are badly needed by the region’s Covid-19-shaken economies. Also, militarily China is increasingly present in the region according to the report and demonstrated its willingness to use force when it comes to its geopolitical interests. The new administration’s call for multilateral engagement is therefore understood by the authors as a call to active participation with ASEAN nations rather than an attempt to develop US leadership as too much engagement is seen as potentially triggering more aggressive counter-moves by China. Given these obstacles, a revival of US-ASEAN ties requires a clear vision and assessment of limitations, patience and political will according the report. [East Asia Forum]

15 December 2020

Indonesia: Leader of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group arrested

(nd) The leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a group linked to al-Qaeda, and responsible for the Bali bombings in 2002, and an expert bomb maker were arrested in Indonesia last week. JI was involved in deadly terrorist attacks from 1998 to 2010. It was then significantly weakened by counterterrorism police, formed with American assistance. They were able to arrest hundreds of members during that time, including strategic arrests of leaders. Lately, the organization was on the rise again, after achieving to accumulate significant income due to business interests in palm oil plantations and other commercial sectors like the mining industry. This latest capture is the final step in arresting the ones involved in the Bali bombings, which led to tough new security measures at hotels and public buildings, that continue to be in place. [South China Morning Post][Asia Times]

15 December 2020

Indonesia: Rights commission investigates killing of Islamic extremists 

(nd) After six members of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have been killed earlier last week by the police, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has announced an investigation, a move which has been welcomed by the police.  

According to the police, officers in three cars followed a convoy of vehicles carrying FPI leader Rizieq Shihab, who has ignored police summonses to face a questioning over alleged violation to the health protocol. Two cars made vehicle contact and the police shot their tires, which prompted six people to step out of the car, releasing shots and carrying machetes. The convoy comprised eight cars, four carrying Shihab and family members, the other four carried FPI Special Guard members. In a press conference, the police showed two pistols, ammunitions and at least four machetes as evidence, and referred to a conversation from a chat group to prove an order to attack the chasing officers, including by hitting vehicles. FPI, however, commented that none of their members carried a weapon, and the vehicles involved did not carry police symbols, and the officers were in plain clothes. Therefore, they referred to the actions as extrajudicial killings. [Jakarta Globe]

The incident is likely to fuel tensions between government security forces and the FPI, which claims to have 15 million followers, with Shahab having filled a leadership vacuum among Islamic hardliners and possibly mainstream conservatives. Political analysts assume Shahab receives backing from opposition politicians and members of the country’s oligarchy because of his potential influence in future elections. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo referred to Shihab’s behavior as a threat to national unity, which seems to be backed by the public. [Asia Times]

In a latest development, Indonesian police held Shihab for questioning on suspicion of breaching coronavirus restrictions by staging several mass gatherings since his return from self-exile last month. [Aljazeera]

For an assessment of Shihab’s chances to challenge the Indonesian government by harnessing public frustrations over pandemic and the country’s first recession in 22 years see [The Chronicle Herald].

8 December 2020

Indonesia: Change of leadership in Islamic organization

(nd) The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), a semi-official body for Islamic affairs, just concluded its 10th summit, where it selected its new leadership board, an indicator of the organization’s near-future direction. At their latest summit end of November, cleric Miftachul Akhyar was selected as MUI’s new general chairman, who is also the current supreme leader of NU, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization. Miftachul is described as moderate-to-conservative and announced a cooperative stance towards the Widodo administration. As a further step, several controversial clerics were removed from leadership positions, who were infamous for supporting the 2016–17 Defending Islam rallies against Ahok, Former Chinese-Christian governor of Jakarta, and rather moderate to progressive clerics were appointed instead.

MUI is a quasi-autonomous non-government organization (‘quango’), which means they receive governmental funding but are not considered a government agency. Quangos can issue religious edicts (fatwa) that guide followers on various aspects of everyday life. Besides MUI, Islamic organizations such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Muhammadiyah and Islamic Union (Persis) can issue independent fatwas. Within the last fifteen years, though, MUI’s power has increased significantly, and their fatwas with respect to doctrine (aqidah) and blasphemy taking precedence over the other organizations, with regulations putting them as a governmental partner for Islamic affairs and certain products to require a MUI-issued certificate.

Under the chairmanship of now Indonesia’s Vice President Ma’ruf Amin and his predecessor, MUI has made his understanding more conservative, highlighted by issuing controversial fatwas against several religious minority groups, and the LGBTQ community.

With respect to cooperation with the government, the new leadership of MUI is likely to make a difference and be more receptive to their policies, while even mainstream Islamic cleric tends to share a conservative stand towards religious minorities [East Asia Forum].

8 December 2020

Indonesia: A new political dynasty in the making?

(dql) As Indonesia will hold local elections in nine provinces, 224 regencies and 37 cities this Wednesday, observers speculate whether a new political dynasty is in the making as President Joko Widodo’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming, is running for mayor in Solo city, the same post with which the President started his political career in 2005, while his son-in-law Bobby Nasution is a mayoral candidate in Medan, the country’s fourth-largest city. Gabrin is believed to win in Solo, while observers expect a tough race between him and the incumbent mayor, especially as Jokowi failed to win in Medan in the last two presidential elections

The possible Jokowi dynasty draws attention to the persistence of powerful families dominating politics in the world’s third largest democracy. The president’s main backer and chair of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is the daughter of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno and became the first female head of state in 2001. Her daughter Puan Maharani, currently speaker of the lower house in parliament, has been touted as a potential contender in the presidential election 2024. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s eldest son is the chair of the Democratic Party, while his second son is a member of parliament. [Bloomberg]


8 December 2020

Indonesia: Islamic extremists killed by police

(nd) At least six supporters of extremist Indonesian cleric Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, were shot dead at a clash with police forces. Police said officers followed their car on a highway, when the suspects attacked the officers, using guns and sharp objects. The car was driving to a police station where Rizieq was summoned to be questioned for his alleged breach of Covid-19 health protocol during his daughter’s wedding and when he returned from his self-exile in Saudi Arabia last month. [See also AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]

Arriving back home, Shihab was welcomed back by a large crowd of supporters at the airport. Shihab’s Islamic Defenders Front pursues an agenda for the Islamization of the Indonesian society, referring to a “moral revolution” that Shihab deems necessary. Initially backed by the Indonesian military, some police generals and political elites, FPI started as a civil group acting as an Islamic moral police force. With their transformation to an Islamist pressure group, FPI organized high numbers of religious and political mass protests, which were deemed to incite violence in the name of Islam, for it strongly opposes the Pancasila doctrine, the foundational philosophy of Indonesia, including the idea of religious pluralism. Rizieq organized massive street protests against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the ethnic Chinese and Christian former governor of Jakarta, who was sentenced in 2017 on charges of blasphemy, after allegedly profaning the Quran. [South China Morning Post] [Channel News Asia]

8 December 2020

Indonesia: Series of investigations in top-level corruption cases continues

(nd/dql) In a second high-level corruption case within weeks, Indonesia’s social affairs minister has turned himself in to the anti-corruption authorities for taking bribes related to Covid-19 aid contracts. The anti-corruption commission (KPK) accused the minister of receiving at least 17 billion rupiahs (US$1.2 million) in illegal fees from two companies who won a government contract to supplying food packages to the poor. He is now facing a potential life sentence for stealing public money. Last week, now-resigned Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo was arrested on suspicion of taking bribes connected to the export of lobster larvae. [See also AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1] This follows recently convicted Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi and Social Affairs Minister Idrus Marham.

Against this context, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo came under criticism for having awarded state honors inter alia to six judges on the Constitutional Court which will decide on petitions against Jokowi’s so-called Omnibus Law. The bill amends nearly 80 laws for the sake of enabling Indonesia to compete for more manufacturing investment, but which, however, prompted heated street protests nationwide. To award exactly these judges before making such an important decision is seen by many as entering a conflict of interest on behalf of the President.

Only recently, in August parliament quickly approved an amendment to the Law on the Constitutional Court rising the maximum term-length for a judge from 5 to 15 years, and the retirement age from 60 to 70. [The Diplomat] While these changes seem rational and appropriate as such, they and the likewise principally acceptable awarding of honor medals to the justices are situated in a context that could have sparked some caution to avoid an impression of inappropriate favors. 

All these recent cases and incidents highlight how pervasive corruption remains in Indonesia whose 1998 started reform and democratization project developed in the shadow of corruption with one institution after the other being tainted and with president Jokowi, like so many other representatives, judges and government members before him, having promised to eradicate corruption and provide an accountable, “clean” government. Indonesia ranked 85th out of 180 nations in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International. [South China Morning Post] [Asia Times] [The Diplomat] [Jakarta Globe]

8 December 2020

Indonesia, US talks on bilateral defense cooperation

(nd) On Monday, US defence secretary, Christopher Miller, met his counterpart, Prabowo Subianto, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi and Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto. They highlighted the importance of their bilateral defense partnership for a free and open South China Sea and Indo-Pacific region.

Analysts view this most recent visit as an attempt by the Trump administration to cements its hard stance on China for the coming Biden administration, therefore Indonesia being a good partner for its territorial dispute with China and a military in need of modernization. Still, US assumptions of a willingness to confront China are mostly falsely calculated, for most ASEAN countries have actively said already they did not want to be dragged into the Chinese-US conflict. China, through its infamous and court-rejected nine-dash-line, claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, with Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan having conflicting claims and experiencing intrusions by Chinese vessels into their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

On Tuesday, Miller headed to the Philippines, with Duterte lately taking a harder stance against China with his famous invocation of  a 2016 arbitration ruling rejecting China‘s historic claims to most of the South China Sea. Still, China’s regional investments and development of vaccinations against Covid-19 will remain vital for the region and make a cooperation necessary. [South China Morning Post]


8 December 2020

Indonesia France close to a jet deal

(nd) Indonesia might soon purchase 36 Dassault Rafale multi-role jets with the French Minister of Defense commenting the contract signature was still pending, but “very well advanced.”

In 2019, France sold eight Airbus helicopters to the Indonesian Air Force. More recently, the US reportedly pressured Indonesia to shelve an arms deal with Russia about SU-35 jets. A plan to jointly build fighters with South Korea came into trouble as well. [Asia Times]

8 December 2020

Japan-Indonesia relations: Japanese bank to invest in Indonesian sovereign wealth fund

(dql) The Indonesian government announced last week that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation has pledged to invest four billion USD in the country’s soon-to-be launched sovereign wealth fund, with which Jakarta hopes to solicit 15 billion USD to finance infrastructure projects and the relocation of the country’s capital from Jakarta to Borneo Island. [Jakarta Globe

1 December 2020

Indonesia to ratify agreements with Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland

(nd) After seven years of negotiation, Indonesia is expected to ratify the comprehensive economic partnership agreement with Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland early next year. The original agreement was signed a year ago, with only Iceland and Norway ratifying it.

In an effort to curb the repercussion of Covid-19 and boost economic growth,  Indonesia has been pursuing stronger economic ties with nontraditional partners, such as Latin American and Middle Eastern countries. The current agreement with the four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) shall attract investment from other EFTA countries as well as the wider European market. Inter alia, Indonesia will liberalize 182 subsectors for investment, mostly in the sectors of manufacturing, agriculture, hunting and fishery, mining and quarrying, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply, as well as water supply and waste management, alongside service subsectors. [Jakarta Post]

1 December 2020

Indonesia, China cooperate on copper smelter

(nd) China’s Tsingshan Steel agreed to build the US$1.8 billion mining facility for Freeport Indonesia (PTFI) at its nickel processing complex in Halmahera, which will still need governmental approval. Tsingshan agreed to complete the smelter within 18 months.

Over two years, it was unclear where the smelter shall be located and came as a surprise that President Joko Widodo had already agreed to the plan. Additionally, he pushed plans to boost the electric vehicle industry, with Hyundai as an initial $1.5 billion investor and LG Chemical interested in building a lithium battery plant. Tsingshan also plans to complete a lithium battery factory at the same location by 2023, the new copper smelter will provide it with the sulphuric acid needed to produce low-grade ferronickel for the stainless steel market and also to recover cobalt from spent lithium batteries. Indonesia disposed of 80% of resources to produce lithium batteries.The government acquired 51% of shares in PTFI in 2018, which includes the Grasberg mine in Papua’s Central Highlands, the world’s largest gold reserve and second-biggest copper mine.

Experts doubt the economic viability of building a copper smelter in a place as remote as Halmahera, saying only eradicating environmental controls would cut capital costs sufficiently. This is not the first nickel-related project that is facilitated together with China, who has already incited controversy for bringing in thousands of its workers to construct processing centers first in Central Sulawesi and now Halmahera. [Asia Times]

1 December 2020

Indonesia, China to sign trade deal

(nd) Following an agreement between the Indonesian Coal Mining Association (APBI) and China Coal Transportation and Distribution, China will buy $1.467 billion worth of thermal coal from Indonesia next year. Indonesia is the world’s top exporter of thermal coal, which is used in power plants. After China’s imports dropped 24.5% in the first 10 months of 2020 to 86.88 million tonnes, compared to 115.03 million during the same period last year, Indonesia promoted coal sales around Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam. [Reuters]

1 December 2020

Indonesia: Arrest of Transgender woman spikes outrage

(nd) Transgernder woman and influencer Millen Cyrus was arrested on drug charges and held in a male detention cell. Her ID states she is male. Later, she was transferred to single cell. The move was criticized by LGBTI organizations nationwide for lacking sensitivity. Also, they cited a danger of  of sexual abuse and harassment for transgender people in the wrong cell, and also referencing reports of humiliation from authorities while in detention, like the regular shaving the hair of male detainees, in case of trans women to “revive their masculinity”. Other harsh treatment includes being stripped and being ordered to do military-style exercises such as squat jumps or push ups.

Homosexuality not being illegal in Indonesia but frowned upon, there was an increase in pressure on the LGBT community, with authorities raiding spas and apartment buildings organizing so-called “gay parties”. [South China Morning Post]


1 December 2020

Indonesia: Lenders reluctant to lower interest rates

(nd) Following central bank’s pressure to lower interest rates further, lenders denied this with reference to a reluctance of people to borrow money. The denial to cut borrowing costs is an obstacle for President Joko Widodo’s attempt to pull the economy out of recession caused by Covid-19. While the central bank cut its interest rate to a record-low of 3.75%, lenders did not follow suit due to their risk perception, with non-performing loans above 3% since May. Therefore, experts commented instead of depending on loans to rather use government subsidies to directly support the industry. [Bloomberg]

1 December 2020

Indonesia: New financial sector Bill

(nd) Instead of revising the central bank act, which was criticized for attacking its independence, the legislative panel might drop it in favor of a new financial sector bill, the RPPSK. It shall reform, develop and strengthen the financial sector; therefore it shall widen the central bank’s mandate to include economic growth and employment, as well as price stability, so it can aquire government bonds directly. The bill will be debated after the year-end recess. [Reuters]

1 December 2020

Indonesia: Fishery minister arrested over corruption allegations

(nd) Related to his controversial policy to resume exports of baby lobsters, fisheries minister Edhy Prabowo, his wife and other ministry officials were arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). In May, the minister lifted a ban imposed by his predecessor in 2016 on wild-caught lobster larvae exports, which was criticized  for tendering more to the interests of businesses and politicians than of small fishers, and undue efforts to replenish wild lobster stocks. After the lift, roughly one third of export permits were granted, among the owners, directors or executives of several of those companies were politicians from the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), of which Edhy is member, too. Currently, 140 million lobster larvae can be harvested wildly per year, of which 70% is allocated for domestic cultivation in aquaculture farms, and the rest for export.

Lobsters are among Indonesia’s top fisheries commodities, with the illegal export of larvae amounting up to 900 billion rupiah ($62 million) in lost revenue in 2019 alone. [Mongabay]

1 December 2020

Indonesia: Rallies for Papuan independence

(nd) As a renewal of calls for independence, hundreds of Papuans rallied across at least eight cities in Indonesia on Tuesday. The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) declared they have formed a provisional “government-in-waiting” and reject Indonesia’s “illegal martial rule”. The West Papuan separatists are led by exiled independence figure, Benny Wenda, who resides in the UK. The battle over independence of the region has been going on for decades.

The day marked the anniversary of West Papua’s independence from Dutch rule in 1961. Due to an U.N.-sanctioned referendum conducted in 1969, Papua came under Indonesian control. After this, insurgencies led by the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or OPM) were violently countered, resulting in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, restrictions on residents’ movement and freedom of expression, and have drawn accusations of genocide. It remains difficult for foreign journalists and human rights groups to gain access to the region.

Much of recent discord is also linked to the Special Autonomy Law passed in 2001, which will expire next year and Indonesia aims at prologing. [See also AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1

As repeatedly done before, the United Nations human rights body voiced concerns over reports of escalating tension between the stakeholders, extrajudicial killings and arrests, emphasizing the need for an inclusive dialogue to address economic, social and political issues. [Swiss Info] [ABC]

1 December 2020

Indonesia: Terrorist attack on Sulawesi Island

(nd) Following a terrorist attack over the weekend killing four Christians from the Salvation Army on Sulawesi Island, the Indonesian army has deployed special forces in order to find the suspects, linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), the East Indonesian Mujahideen (MIT). MIT is one of a number of radical groups who pledged allegiance to the IS in Indonesia, which struggled with Islamic militancy and terror attacks, and saw a rise in intolerance against Indonesia’s Christian minority. Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation. [BBC] [Voice of America]

1 December 2020

Indonesia: Book on Indonesian president

(nd) In a recent book on president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, he is portrayed as “Man of Contradictions” by the director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute. The recent protests against the Omnibus bill marked the peak of public opposition against Jokowi, who promised to prioritize public health but his administration failed to contain the virus and focused more on economic issues.

Originally a furniture maker, Jokowi placed stability at the basis of his strive for economic growth. The success of his business brought him into politics, as a mayor of Solo, central Java, were the highly popular figure was always perceived as a grassroots politician. As the first president without military background or support, he became an idol, still, his political handle seemed disorganized and without a strategy, especially given he remained dependent on elite backing. Consequently, in his second term, he increasingly formed alliances with (ex-)military figures and entered into other compromises, feeding the image of him as a man of action rather than an idealist. Following, foreign policy is less linked to diplomacy and geopolitics but considered yet another tool for Jokowi to attract investment: He did not attend a single UN General Assembly, but the G20 and APEC. [The News Lens]

1 December 2020

Indonesia: Growing repression online

(nd) A recent analysis conducted by Amnesty International (AI) argues that the current administration not only revived repressive tools from the past, but transferred them into the new realm of the internet. Much like mass protests at the end of president Suharto’s regime, the recently passed Omnibus Bill [See also AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2] created widespread protest and rejection against what was perceived as an illegal legislative process. With a major focus on attracting foreign investment, the bill is an imperative for president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s agenda to reform Indonesia’s competitiveness, fight poverty, and since this year, the economic repercussions of a pandemic, which hit Indonesia the hardest in Southeast Asia. The broad civil protest basis showcases, however, that the actions are unpopular, with a lack of transparency and public consultation, which the law stipulates.

The reaction of the Widodo administration, however, was viewed by analysts as repressive, with politicized security forces. During the protests, AI recorded 402 victims of police violence across the country, with at least 660 people detained for organizing or taking part in demonstrations. Besides preventing physical rallies, the actions were brought online, with official police instructions on how to conduct “cyber patrols” to monitor plans for rallies, and counter anti-government narratives with respect to the omnibus law.  This method also lead to arrests, with suspects being charged with incitement under the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, for using social media to incite riots over the bill.

The ITW law was introduced in 2008, before Widodo’s presidency, but the number of ITE Law–related cases that were tried more than tripled from seventy-four cases from 2009–2014, to 233 cases during 2014–2019. In Widodo’s second quarter, 241 were charged as of yet, with 82 of them accused of insulting the president. Within the same time, the nationwide expansion of the internet was rapid, giving it a political potential. First, regulations were aimed at fighting fraud and hate speech. But the mostly wide and politically interpreted laws enabled the control and suppression of online civic discourse, in combination with a very elaborate IT structure and an independent organization as an own directorate within the police, which was then directed against activists. With regards to the Omnibus Bill protests, internet watchdog SafeNet observed an increase in illegal hacking activities into social media accounts targeting anti-government activists.

The announcement of a new bill on cyber security increased fears of further restrictions on online rights and more government control of social media. Indonesian newspapers are aware of that trend,  Widodo’s sixth year in office was called “the year of digital repression”. Therefore, efforts to counter this development by civil society have yet to be more comprehensive and systematic in nature, both online and offline, bringing together all the possible stakeholder in a combined action. [Carnegie]  


24 November 2020

Indonesia: Growing influence of returned cleric

(nd) Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, who just came back from self-exile in Saudi Arabia [See also AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3], has grown his influence and holds daily, popular sermons, frequently attacking the administration of president Joko Widodo, and the recently-enacted, controversial omnibus law. His sermons grew in size and took on more frequently political issues, calling his listeners to fight to “liberate Indonesia”, which forced the administration to react. Social distancing was cited to prevent gatherings, the police chiefs of Jakarta and West Java were both fired for not enforcing the protocols. According to the health ministry, 80 attendants of the gatherings  contracted Covid-19, sparking rumors that the now resting cleric and his family might have, too.

Rizieq argues that compliance to shariah law has a basis in Indonesia’s constitution and Pancasila, the five founding principles, with the first saying “Belief in One God,” illustrating Islam’s concept of monotheism.

While he distanced himself from the establishment of a caliphate and denounced violence, he tolerated the beheading of a French teacher for showing caricatures of the prophet. While not posing a risk as potential political enemy, for he does not have a national basis and conservatism has not translated into politics, analysts argue Rizieq could create more social unrest, which would make necessary reforms harder to materialize.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan visited Rizieq when he returned. Basweda’s win in 2017 is founded upon rallies against Chinese-Indonesian Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, over alleged blasphemy, mobilized by Rizieq [See also AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Later, FPI tweeted implying support for Baswedan in Indonesia’s next presidential election in 2024. On December 2, which marks the anniversary of the rallies, there will be another mass gathering, for which police has denied permits for, citing Covid-19 and tearing down advertising posters.

Meanwhile, the commander of the Indonesian Military (TNI) stands with the administration, calling out heavily against the cleric to not threaten Indonesia’s unity: “I will not hesitate to take serious action. Don’t try to disturb our unity and integrity. Don’t feel as if you are representing all Muslims. A good Muslim is one who believes in caring and tolerance for everyone and everything. […] As a Muslim, I can’t accept it.”

TNI is respected due to his support of the struggle for independence, in contrast to notoriously corrupt police, who was responsible for internal security since 1998, which makes the TNI’s involvement a “grey area.” The TNI claims its duty is as “protector of the nation.” Rizieq has accused the TNI to favor Chinese-Indonesians over Muslim clerics. [Nikkei Asia] [Asia Times]

24 November 2020

Indonesia: Dissolving of 29 state agencies

(nd) In an effort to decrease bureaucracy, Indonesia plans to dissolve 29 state agencies next year, ten of which were established through presidential executive regulation respectively decree, the rest by law and therefore needing participation of the House of Representatives. Reasons given for the decrease were overlaps between the tasks of several ministries, as well as their proven ineffectiveness due to a lack of communication.

A leaner bureaucracy is one of the president’s key goals, who shortly after his inauguration in 2014 disbanded 10 state bodies and continued doing it over the following years. The bloated-up bureaucracy was inherited from his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who set up numerous “auxiliary agencies” with often overlapping tasks, creating unjustifiable operational costs. Critics emphasize the state still has to be able to form new agencies and should have a more long-time oriented planning for the future organization of agencies. [The Star]

24 November 2020

Asian countries divided over UN death penalty moratorium

(dql) In a poll on a resolution which calls for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment eleven countries from the Asia-Pacific region were among the 39 countries which voted against the resolution in the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. They include Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, China, India, Japan, the Maldives, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Tonga.

120 countries voted for the resolution, including over 15 Asia-Pacific countries. Among them are Sri Lanka and the Philippines. 24 countries abstained from the vote. Asia-Pacific countries among these are Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. [Human Rights Watch]

24 November 2020

Asian countries divided over UN death penalty moratorium

(dql) In a poll on a resolution which calls for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment eleven countries from the Asia-Pacific region were among the 39 countries which voted against the resolution in the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. They include Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, China, India, Japan, the Maldives, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Tonga.

120 countries voted for the resolution, including over 15 Asia-Pacific countries. Among them are Sri Lanka and the Philippines. 24 countries abstained from the vote. Asia-Pacific countries among these are Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. [Human Rights Watch]

24 November 2020

Indonesia: Move of HQ to Natuna Islands

(nd) The Indonesian navy moves its combat force headquarter to Natuna Islands, at the southern edge of the South China Sea, to be able to respond faster and protect territorial interests in the disputed waters amid rising tensions in the area where Chinese nine-dash-line-claims overlap with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Jakarta, which rejects the Chinese claims resolutely, has detected a Chinese Coast Guard ship in its EEZ in September. Additionally, the Indonesia’s EEZ overlapps with those of Vietnam in the region as well with fishing boats from both countries regularly encroaching in the respective zones. For Indonesia, the challenge is mounting on both front lines. Last month alone, 31 foreign vessels, most Vietnamese-flagged, were detected to have fished illegally in the Natuna area, according to Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia. Yet, the biggest threat are Chinese fishing activities, which cannot be counterbalanced by merely deploying more Indonesian fishing vessels due to better gear and training of the Chinese fishermen. [Radio Free Asia]


24 November 2020

Indonesia to receive $2bn in US investments for its sovereign wealth fund

(dql) Indonesia announced its planned multibillion dollar sovereign wealth fund will receive investments worth $2 billion from the US’s new development bank. Adam Boehler, the head of United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) signed a letter of interest last week during a visit of Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister of maritime affairs and investment, to Washington.

The setting up of a sovereign wealth fund was stipulated in the recently passed so-called omnibus law. The promise of $2 billion from the U.S. is a welcome boost for Indonesia, which is looking to raise $15 billion for the fund. [Nikkei Asian Review]

24 November 2020

Indonesia, US non-public White House meeting

(nd) In a meeting that was not put his public schedule, president Donald Trump met with Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment at the White House on Tuesday.

The meeting was surprising, since Trump has not appeared in public since he lost the elections to Joe Biden and it remains in jeopardy whether he will be the first US president to not attend a G20 summit this weekend.

The meeting discussed joint vaccine production and their bilateral economic and strategic partnership in defense and technology.

Earlier this month, the US extended extended Indonesia’s Generalized System of Preferences, on Wednesday, Indonesia signed a $750 million infrastructure financing by the US. Last month, Indonesia, with the highest number of Covid-19 infestions and deaths in Southeast Asia, signed deals with Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Cansino and Sinopharm, Chinese pharmaceutical companies conducting late-stage vaccine trials, to be able to start mass vaccination by the end of this year.

The Indonesian visit to the US also aims at promoting investment in its sovereign wealth fund, aimed at financing infrastructure and thereby economic growth and met with a representative of the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a former roommate of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The DFC cooperates with the private sector to support development projects in lower- and middle-income countries, which is why it has been called an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Even if DFC approves the Indonesia fund, it remains unclear whether investors would trust it given the high level of corruption and debt of Indonesia, according to analysts. [Voice of Asia] [CNN]


24 November 2020

Indonesia: Analysis on RCEP potential

(nd) A recent analysis from the Perth USAsia Centre, University of Western Australia, argues why the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement on November 17, a free trade agreement, which will encompass 29 % of the global GDP, can play a key role in the countries’ post-COVID-19 economic recovery. Through a common market, regional integration will be strengthened by developing regional value chains according to common trade rules, possibly benefiting Indonesia, which was yet unable to capture the production and investment moving out of China due to its trade war with the US. A prerequisite would be a continued effort to development the infrastructure and economic reforms. Due to the lack of efficient infrastructure, Indonesia has higher transport costs than other ASEAN states. With the economic downturn of the pandemic, it is harder for Indonesia to mobilize the billions needed to develop such crucial infrastructure, making it more dependent on initiatives by regional governments, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, requiring diplomatic tact and sensitivity.

Though part of president Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s plan to transform Indonesia into a investment destination, he failed to convince Indonesian’s of the benefits of foreign investment, preferring a more protectionist approach. To attract such capital, though, Indonesia would need to reform its bureaucracy and the legal system as well as fight corruption. It has proved to be a difficult political climate for such fundamental change, given the massive protests against the controversial jobs creation omnibus bill passed early October, which precisely aimed at creating a more favorable environment for investors. [See also AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1]

Yet, the omnimus bill did not tackle wide-spread corruption in state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which dominate the construction industry, therefore the government relies on them for much needed infrastructural development. [East Asia Forum]

24 November 2020

Indonesia: G20 presidency in 2022

(nd) Indonesia will assume the G20 presidency in 2022, instead of 2023, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced. Since Indonesia will chair ASEAN in 2023, bilateral talks with India resulted in a switch. India’s initial turn would have been 2023 but also intended to postpone.

Next year, Indonesia will join the troika, which consists of the previous, current and upcoming chair. Currently, presidency is held by Italy, who took in over from Saudi Arabia, who hosted the group’s summit last Sunday. G20 consists of 19 countries and the European Union. Current and foreseeably future topics with involve measures against poverty, women’s empowerment, climate change and the corona virus pandemic, including efforts to cooperate developing and facilitate access to a vaccination. [Jakarta Globe]

17 November 2020

Indonesia, Australia to sign loan over pandemic relief

(nd) In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia and Indonesia have signed an AU$1.5 billion (US$1 billion) loan deal. After Indonesia entered recession in the third quarter, the administration of president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo allocated Rp 695.2 trillion ($47 billion) for a stimulus program to boost the economy. The funds will be used to curb economic repercussions and support micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Australian officials referred to the deal and Indonesia’s recovery as “critical for not only Indonesia but for Australia and our region.” [Jakarta Post]

17 November 2020

ASEAN signs RCEP, biggest trade agreement globally

(nd) The 37th ASEAN Summit concluded past Sunday with some 30 declarations, statements, plan-of-actions and summaries, covering a wide range of issues including stalled connectivity initiatives, environmental concerns, regional trade and integration, multilateral security frameworks, among others.

A dominant issue at the Summit was a joint response to the COVID-19 pandemic where cooperation initiatives were announced and put into operation, including the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund, the Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, the ASEAN Standard Operating Procedures in response to Public Health Emergencies and the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases. [Vietnam Investment Review] [Malay Mail]

Opening the Summit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addressed the South China Sea issue, commenting ASEAN member states were not “drawn into the maelstroms” of the US-Chinese rivalry yet, but challenges to multilateral systems remain urgent.

At the sidelines of the Summit, the ASEAN member states along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), resulting in the world’s biggest trade agreement [See also AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4], covering around 30% of the global GDP. India pulled out last year. The agreement will rather focus on trade and the practicalities of commerce, foreseeably to the detriment of labor and environmental issues.

Following a retreat from the region and uncertainties caused by an erratic foreign policy, the US engagement was put into question for a long time, enabling China to enhance its position. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to continue Barack Obama’s stance on Asia and make it a pivotal region of the US foreign policy. [South China Morning Post 1] [Radio Free Asia]

The trade deal puts China in a comfortable position in the region, with the possibility to shape it according to its rules, solidifying China’s geopolitical agenda together with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).The Trump administration was represented by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien who stressed the importance ASEAN-US ties in times of the global pandemic. [South China Morning Post 2] [9News]

Malaysia’s prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he respects India’s decision but noted India was a strategic partner for ASEAN, and their trade volume increased, with India being the sixth largest trading partner. In order to facilitate trade, the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) was proposed, which is being reviewed currently. [Bernama]


17 November 2020

East Asia Summit: Deepening cooperation in pandemic response

(dql) Leaders of participating countries at the East Asia Summit on past Saturday stressed the need for countries across the Asia-Pacific to cooperate in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the current economic crisis.

The Summit brought together Asean’s 10 members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. [Straits Times]

17 November 2020

Indonesia: Hard-line cleric returns from self-exile

(nd) After three years of self-exile in Saudi Arabia and controversies over his visa [See also AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3] Indonesian cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab returned to Indonesia.  Traffic to the airport was halted due to the high turnout of his supporters. Rizieq pursues an agenda for the Islamization of the Indonesian society, referring to a “moral revolution” that he deems necessary.

Rizieq founded the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI) in 1998, which places a rigid interpretation of Islam, excluding ethnic and religious minorities, at the center of the Indonesian identity. Initially backed by the Indonesian military, police generals and political elites, FPI started as a civil group acting as an Islamic moral police force. With their transformation to an Islamist pressure group, FPI organized high numbers of religious and political mass protests, which were deemed to incite violence in the name of Islam, for it strongly opposes the Pancasila doctrine, the foundational philosophy of Indonesia, including the idea of religious pluralism.

Before going into self-exile, Rizieq organized massive street protests against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the ethnic Chinese and Christian former governor of Jakarta, who was sentenced in 2017 on charges of blasphemy, after allegedly profaning the Quran. The big popular support suggests, that Rizieq’s ideas have made their way into the political mainstream. His return comes in the midst of an economic downturn and political turmoil over the Omnibus Bill, which prompted a nationwide outburst and was opposed by labor and environmental activists, with Islamic organizations joining the protests. [The Diplomat]

Meanwhile, the cleric was fined Rp 50 million (US$3,536) by Jakarta Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) for a violation of health protocol regulations to curb Covid-19 during a public event he organized that attracted many people. [Jakarta Post]

17 November 2020

South-East Asian leaders to discuss travel corridor

(nd) During the ASEAN summit, Southeast Asian leaders discussed a regional “travel corridor” in order to boost the region’s Covid-sticken economies, with the first quarter of 2021 as possible start date. The Corridor would include generalized regional health protocols to facilitate the exchange of people between the countries.

This move follows several bilateral steps taken earlier to enable traveling, with Singapore establishing “green lane” arrangements, setting up a reciprocal green lane with Indonesia for essential business and official travel [see also AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2], also with Hong Kong, Brunei, Malaysia, China, and Japan. A corridor would help enhance the economic outlook for the Southeast Asian nations, which were hit heavily by the pandemic, with regional integration and mobility having been key to Southeast Asia’s rapid growth over the past three decades, although analysts warned the timeline might be too optimistic. [The Diplomat

10 November 2020

Indonesian military suspected to be responsible for pastor’s death

(nd) According to a recent investigation by an independent humanitarian team, the Indonesian military is strongly suspected to be responsible for the death of a pastor Yeremia Zanambani on September 19. The principal of the Hitadipa Bible Theology High School in Intan Jaya Regency, Papua, was shot and stabbed in the back in his house.

The result of the earlier investigation team, established by the government and headed by the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, reached a vaguer conclusion, claiming the responsibility security forces or a third party, a term that usually refers to the Free Papua Movement (OPM). 

According to a report by human rights group Amnesty International Indonesia, 2020 saw 15 deadly incidents killing 22 people in Papua, with most of the perpetrators suspected to be police or armed forces personnel. It was also claimed that these incidents were not properly or not at all investigated. Those findings and the sparking notion of covering up violence in Papua will make the situation more difficult for the Indonesian government. It will increase existing distrust in the central government, and might fuel ongoing separatist movements. [Tempo][See also AiR No 38, September/2020, 4]

10 November 2020

Indonesia: Controversial Job Bill officially enacted

(nd) On Monday, president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo officially signed the controversial Job Creation Bill into law, just a few days ahead of the automatic taking effect, 30 days after its passage on October 5.

Different versions were circulated and legal experts already identified several errors in the final paper. [See also AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1] [Jakarta Globe 1]

Shortly thereafter, the Confederation of Indonesian Workers’ Unions (KSPI) filed a judicial review with the Constitutional Court. KSPI forms the main opposition against the controversial law, which they argue stripes workers of many of their rights. Together with 32 labor unions and federations, KSPI organized protests in 24 provinces on Monday. [Jakarta Globe 2]

Yet, the president argues the controversial legislation will bring more investments and fight the recession. [See also AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]

10 November 2020

Indonesia: Proposition of bilateral trade deals

(nd) Following the renewal of duty-free tariffs under the US’ Generalized System of Preference (GSP) scheme [See also AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1], Indonesia plans to propose a bilateral trade deal with the US. Such an agreement could double their trade value to US$60 billion in five years’ time, according to deputy foreign affairs minister.

With regards to China’s rising importance in the region, analysts see the GSP status extension as an incentive for Indonesia to move closer to the US. Indonesia has made it clear it does not want to be trapped in US-China rivalries, entertaining necessary relations with both countries. Following China, the US is Indonesia’s second largest trade partner.

Apart from Indonesia, other ASEAN nations that have been granted GSP status are Myanmar, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand, with Thailand’s status revoked [See also AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1] and that of the other countries to expire on December 31. A request by Laos to be granted the status was denied following a lack of engagement by the government to improve worker’s rights. [South China Morning Post]

Apart from the US, the Indonesian government also pursues a series of trade deals with partners in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. [Jakarta Post]

10 November 2020

ASEAN and China discuss humane mutual treatment of fishermen

(jn) ASEAN members and China discussed ways to promote cooperation in humane treatment of fishermen as part of the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). The DOC of 2002 obligates the parties intensify efforts to build trust and confidence and ensure just and humane treatment of all persons who are either in danger or distress at sea. [Hanoi Times]

10 November 2020

Indonesia to experience first recession in 20 years

(nd) Indonesia experiences the first recession since the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Tourism, construction, and trade were hit the hardest with a 3.49% drop in the third quarter, the second consecutive quarter to see a contraction. Analysts see brighter figures for the upcoming quarter but warn that recovery will be slow.

To curb repercussions of Covid-19, the central bank cut interest rates several times this year, while the government announced a stimulus of US$48 billion following a large-scale shutdown, which laid off many workers. Indonesia is still among the worst hit Asian countries, despite having the lowest testing rates. President Joko Widodo was therefore criticized for prioritizing the economy in fighting the pandemic. [South China Morning Post]

3 November 2020

Former senior Singaporean diplomat triggers controversy over ASEAN membership

(jn) Former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Bilahari Kausikan, triggered an international controversy on Octoer 23, suggesting ASEAN might have to terminate the membership of Cambodia and Laos given the enormous political and economic influence of an outside power, arguably alluding to China. He uttered the idea at a webinar of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, after referencing a proposed communiqué between ASEAN and China from 2012, which failed due to Cambodia’s resistance. Mr. Kausikan also said that both countries “must care” about who controls the Mekong River which he called an existential issue for people’s livelihoods.

The comments were rebuked by current and former Cambodian diplomats who attacked Mr. Kausikan as “arrogant and condescending”, said he destroyed ASEAN unity and questioned whether he was an “agent”. [South China Morning Post]

3 November 2020

Vietnamese vessels dare Indonesia’s sovereignty in South China Sea

(jn) According to the activist group Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, Vietnamese fishing boats have intruded into Indonesia’s territorial waters in the North Natuna Sea, making up about two thirds of the more than 30 foreign-flagged ships that carried out illegal fishing between June and October of this year. None of those ships hailed from China. A DFW representative called on the Indonesian government to take action against these intrusions – which have increased since last year – by stepping up surveillance or military patrols. He said this was necessary for the sake of deterrence, since the Vietnamese vessels were maneuvering aggressively by either fleeing or crashing with the encountering Indonesian monitoring ships.

Only in January, Indonesian military vessels expelled more than 50 Chinese ships from the area that China claims for itself, as it is encircled by China’s infamous nine-dash-line. However, inner-ASEAN disputes are not uncommon either, such as between Vietnam and Indonesia, who are still in negotiations about the exact boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). According to experts, Vietnamese forays are not so much motivated by a rejection of Indonesian sovereignty, but rather by economics. [South China Morning Post]

3 November 2020

Indonesia: Pompeo to further criticize China on maritime disputes

(nd) In his visit to Indonesia before the US presidential bid, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo furthered his administration’s take on China, mentioning Beijing’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea, and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. While attacking China and rejecting its claim over the disputed waters, Pompeo praised Indonesia for protecting its maritime sovereignty in the North Natuna Sea.

His counterpart Retno Marsudi said “international law must be respected” and that “the South China Sea should be maintained as a stable and peaceful sea,” but did not mention China directly.

After the meeting, Retno reiterated Indonesia’s invitation to US investment in the development of Riau Islands’ Natuna regency, one of outer islands in the southern part of the disputed waters.

Previous US policy argued, that maritime disputes between China and its neighbors shall be resolved through UN-backed arbitration. In a statement in July, Pompeo announced the US views all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea as illegitimate. This announcement was made in the context of the US presidential campaign, with the Trump administration portraying the Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, as weak on China. [Jakarta Post] [Channel News Asia] [Jakarta Post]

Meanwhile, the US has extended trade privileges for Indonesia under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, with annual exports worth more than $2 billion from Indonesia to the US. Under the GSP, the US unilaterally grants duty exemptions on the import of various goods from developing countries since 1974. According to Foreign minister Retno Marsudi, 13% of Indonesia’s total exports to the US in 2019 used the exemptions. Also, most exported products under the scheme are produced by Indonesian small and medium enterprises. [Jakarta Globe]

3 November 2020

Malaysia, Indonesia: Criticism over Macron’s comment of caricatures

(nd) Following French president Emmanuel Macron’s comments defending the display of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a school classroom, Malaysia’s foreign ministry summoned France’s charges d’affaires over alleged hate speech and defamation of Islam. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Islamist party PAS submitted memorandums of protest to the French Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. In a statement, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein emphasized Malaysia’s commitment to uphold freedom of speech and expression “as long as these rights are exercised with respect and responsibility in order to not infringe on or violate the rights of others”.

Following the beheading of a French teacher by a Chechen origin teenager after he showed the controversial caricatures in class, Macron defended the magazine Charlie Hebdo and referred to Islam as “a religion in crisis all over the world,” which caused a global outrage among Muslims. It also followed boycotts of French products in Muslim countries, among them the Malaysian Consultative Council for Islamic Organization. Several Muslim-majority countries have condemned Macron’s remarks, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying the French leader needs “mental treatment”.

French officials argued the killing was an attack on core French values of freedom of expression. The caricatures were also projected onto the facade of a building and displayed by protesters around the country. [Channel News Asia] [Anadolu Agency 1]

The world’s largest Muslim organization, Indonesian group Nahdlatul Ulama, with an estimated 90 million members, called for calm, despite criticizing the French president. [South China Morning Post 1]

Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad commented on Twitter, which was deleted following strong reactions by the French government after initially declining to remove it due to public interest. In a reference to the history of French colonialism, Mahatir posted: “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” It was criticized by diplomats and a Malaysian cleric soon after. [South China Morning Post 2]

Mahathir commented the deletion as follows: “If they had read the posting in its entirety, especially the subsequent sentence which read: ‘But by and large the Muslims have not applied the eye for an eye law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t. Instead, the French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings.” [New Straits Times]

While also condemning the attacks, Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo also criticized Macron’s words as insulting to Muslims. [South China Morning Post 3

3 November 2020

Indonesia: Protests against job bill continue

(nd) On Monday, protests against the recently passed job bill continued in various locations of the country, with critics referring to a deterioration of labor rights and environmental protection. Protesters demand the withdrawal of the bill and the implementation of a minimum wage by 2021, also requesting a judicial review by the Constitutional Court. [Channel News Asia]

According to a legal expert, specifically Article 6 is problematic and strengthens a potential case before the Constitutional Court. It refers to a clause in another Article which simplifies the requirements for business permits, but that Article did not contain the relevant clause, which renders the implementation in Article 6 void. Revising the Article involves a separate legislative process. The expert further argues that this is proof of a rushed, reckless legislative action. [Jakarta Post]

After its approval on October 5, the so-called Omnibus Bill has sparked nationwide protests among different groups. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo reaffirmed his will to push through with what he views as necessary economic reforms. [See also No. 41, October/2020, 2]

27 October 2020

Japan’s Suga pledges security assistance for ASEAN’s coasts

(jn) Japan’s Prime Minister Suga announced in Jakarta on Wednesday that his country will provide patrol boats to Southeast Asian governments, like Indonesia and Vietnam, presenting an effort to help these countries secure their waters around the disputed South China Sea. Mr. Suga stressed the importance of adhering to the rule of law and peaceful conflict settlement in international waterways and lamented recent breaches of maritime law in the region. He explicitly pointed out combating illegal fishing as a reason to supply ASEAN countries with patrol boats. [Radio Free Asia]

The rhetoric and the agreement’s content match the overall strategic play of Mr. Suga during his South East Asian round trip, namely boosting Japan’s economic and security ties to ASEAN members that themselves are facing Chinese encroachment in what they see either as territorial or international waters. [Asia Times]

27 October 2020

Indonesia: Four Uyghurs deported to China

(nd) On Friday, four Uyghurs convicted of terror-related offenses in Indonesia were reportedly deported to China. There was no official statement from the government on the matter. The four were sentenced to six years in prison for entering the country with fake passports and attempting to join the Islamic State-affiliated Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) militant group.

Allegedly for years, the Chinese government has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), northwestern China, in so-called vocational centers, forcing sterilization, physical mistreatment and religious restrictions. A Chinese request to exchange a fugitive Indonesian banker captured in China for the four Uyghur prisoners charged with terror-related offenses was turned down four years ago. [Radio Free Asia]

27 October 2020

Indonesia, France to agree on defense cooperation

(nd) Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and France last week discussed further defense cooperation as well as the current situation in the Indo-Pacific region. 

In January both sides agreed on a Defense Cooperation Agreement expected to be finalized by the end of this year to mark 70 years of diplomatic relations to cover various areas of cooperation including “training and education, defense industry development, science and defense technology, intelligence cooperation and counterterrorism, as well as collaborations in peacekeeping operations and humanitarian missions during disasters.” [Anadolu Agency]

27 October 2020

Indonesia: Maintain support for Palestine, despite ties to UAE

(nd) Despite strengthening of economic ties between Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in January this year, Jakarta will not follow the recent diplomatic turn of the UAE. In September, Bahrain and the UAE, also Sudan, signed agreements at the White House to establish full diplomatic relationships with Israel. The Head of the Presidential Staff Office emphasized this would not change Indonesia’s foreign policy, and the support of the independence of Palestine, which is mandated by our constitution, he said. [Anadolu Agency]

27 October 2020

Indonesia: Poll shows fear of decline in freedom of expression

(nd) Findings of a recent survey conducted by the pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia reveal fear of a decline in freedom of expression in Indonesia. 47.7% of the respondents ‘slightly agree’ that people are getting more afraid to express their opinions, with 21.9% outrightly agreed that freedom of expression is starting to erode. With respect to conducting public rallies, 20.8% agreed there was a rise in difficulties to meet, with another 53% slightly agreeing to that. This included intimidation prior to a protest as well as arrests. Solely 1.5% believe the freedom of expression is not being hampered by authorities, with the majority believing law enforcement started to act arbitrarily on oppositional voices. The respondents were 1,200 randomly asked people in face-to-face interviews. [Tempo]


20 October 2020

Indonesia: Rejected request for military base

(nd) After multiple high-level approaches earlier this year, Indonesia rejected a US request to let its P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes to land and refuel. The planes have been used to monitor the recently escalating activity of China in the disputed South China Sea. Recently, the US used military bases in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. The request surprised official since Indonesia has a long-standing policy of foreign policy neutrality and has never allowed foreign militaries to operate there. [Channel News Asia]

20 October 2020

Indonesia: Foreign Ministry no information about lifted ban against cleric

(nd) After recent rumors about leader of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), Rizieq Shihab, returning from his self-exile in Saudi Arabia,  Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, and Indonesian Ambassador for Saudi Arabia, Agus Maftuh, both said they had no information of the ban against  Rizieq being lifted. According to Rizieq’s son-in-law Hanif Alatas, a letter from Saudi Arabia’s immigration office from 2019 stated Rizieq was not allowed to leave Saudi Arabia, the reason being “security”. Indonesian Immigration Office denied that it had issued a travel ban against Rizieq to prevent him from entering Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Agus criticized the official statement by FPI about Rizieq’s return, claiming direct sources in Mecca, using a language, “i’lan min Makkah al-Mukarramah” [announcement from the Holy city of Mecca], that according to Agus could be perceived as politicizing the place of pilgrimage and offend Saudi Arabia. In the statement, FPI claimed in negotiations between Rizieq and the Saudi authorities his ban to leave Saudi Arabia was lifted.

In 2017, prior to leaving for Mecca, the cleric was charged in a pornography case and for insulting state ideology Pancasila. The charges were dropped 2019, Rizieq stays in Saudia Arabia with an expired visa. [Jakarta Post] [Tempo 1] [Tempo 2]

20 October 2020

Indonesia, Japan to strengthen bilateral ties

(nd) Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, after visiting Vietnam, arrived in Indonesia and put another emphasis on the importance of South East Asian for Japan, for achieving peace in South China Sea and advertised Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept of regional cooperation in light of current military conflicts with China. The successor to recently resigned Shinzo Abe thereby continues  his predecessor’s foreign policy.

“I emphasize the spirit of cooperation to continue to be strengthened, especially in the midst of increasingly sharp rivalries between the world’s superpower nations,” Suga said when meeting with president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The leaders agreed to strengthen bilateral ties as well as defense and military cooperation, working towards a defense equipment and technology transfer agreement. Such was signed with Vietnam on Monday, existing equipment transfer deals are with 11 other countries, including the US, UK, the Philippines and Malaysia, and in negotiation with Thailand, and were subsequently made after  easing arms exports ban in 2014. Additionally, Japan extended a 50 billion yen ($470 million) loan to support Indonesia’s economy, as well as furthering infrastructure projects like a high-speed rail systems and the development of remote islands. The countries also agreed to enable easing entry restrictions for essential business travel.

As opposed to China’s unilateral and military activity, which has caused tension in the region, Japan is showcasing a rule-based international system as an alternative for ASEAN nations. [Star Tribune]

20 October 2020

Indonesia: Netherlands to pay compensation for victims

(nd) Following a recent court ruling brought about by widows and children of 11 men killed in Sulawesi island, the Netherlands announced compensations to children of Indonesians who were executed by Dutch soldiers between 1945 and 1950 in the Indonesian War of Independence.

Claimants have to conform to certain criteria, inter alia proof of paternity and the killings within a documented execution. The compensation will amount to 5,000 euros ($5,890), it is yet unclear how many people will be eligible to be apply for it.

In Sulawesi, between 1946 and 1947 at least 860 men were executed. Currently, there are other cases brought about by relatives of victims of killings executed by Dutch colonial troops during so-called cleansing actions against Indonesian freedom fighters. In 2013, the Dutch government apologized for the killings, and while announcing compensation for the wives, had refused to compensate the children. [Al Jazeera]

20 October 2020

Indonesia: Plans to strengthen economic ties with Taiwan

(nd) In a letter to the Central News Agency, Indonesian envoy to Taiwan, emphasized his country’s goal to further trade with Taiwan, which follows a directive from Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Indonesia plans to promote the export of Indonesian goods, referring to the high number of Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan, and to form partnerships for  technology transfers According to the envoy, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy was also directed at strengthening economic and cultural ties with Southeast Asian countries, covering  ASEAN members,  Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. [Taipei Times]

20 October 2020

Indonesia: Prabowo to leave for US upon invitation

(nd) Upon an invitation by his US counterpart Mark Esper, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto will travel to the US. Prabowo was banned since 2000 from entering the US following his alleged involvement in human rights violation as a commander of the army’s special forces under Suharto, his father-in-law, including including the abductions of pro-democracy activists in 1997-98 and atrocities in East Timor, a province until 1999, which became independent in 2002. He never faced a trial.

In the following years, Prabowo attempted multiple times to return to politics and run for president. He was defeated twice by president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in 2014 and 2019, who then appointed Prabowo as minister of defense, which secured the support of Prabowo’s party, Gerindra.

Besides furthering bilateral defense cooperation in light of China’s actions in the South China Sea and a strong foothold in the region due to it’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it is speculated the visit serves to close a deal on American-made major weapon systems to modernize the Indonesian Military (TNI). There was interest expressed inter alia in American warplanes, but it will be rather tough for Prabowo to achieve a deal benefiting Indonesian defense companies, which is stipulated in the Defense Industry Law, such as transfers-of-technology or offset schemes, since this advantage is usually limited to countries within the US network of allies, of which Indonesia is not part. The need to counterbalance Chinese activity in South East Asia might tip the weight in favor of Indonesia.

The invitation highlights that the US, despite the non-investigated allegations of human rights abuses, aims at forging closer ties with Indonesia amid growing tensions with China globally and regionally. Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea but China’s nine-dash-line conflicts with the countries exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Natuna Sea. Yet, due to economic entanglement with China, a complete shift towards the US is not likely.

Amnesty International, among other human rights groups, in a statement opposed the invitation and the lift of the 20-year travel ban referring to a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year to further investigate the case. [Amnesty International] Despite a Democrat Senator’s support for this criticism, given the strategic relevance of Indonesia for the US, it is unlikely  that even a Biden-administration would  move away from Prabowo again, given the possibilities of his further existing effort to run for office in 2024. [Jakarta Post] [New York Times] [The Strategist]

20 October 2020

Indonesia: AI criticizes military over LGBTI charge

(nd) Following a recent case of imprisonment and dismissal of an officer engaging in consensual, same-sex action with a subordinate soldier, Amnesty International Indonesia (AI) criticized the Indonesian military (TNI) and urged the government to make it clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would not be tolerated, and that state institutions should be committed to protect rather than undermine human rights.

The officer was found guilty of violating Article 103 of the Military Criminal Code on disobedience to service orders. He was sentenced to one-year imprisonment and dishonorably dismissed from the military.

In March this year, another officer was convicted over the same matter. TNI defended the latest decision, emphasizing that homosexuality in the force would be firmly punished. Similar comments came from the National Police, that announced ethics punishments to personnel engaging in LGBTI-related activity. Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, yet discrimination is on the rise since a couple of years. [Jakarta Post] [Amnesty International]

20 October 2020

Indonesia: Heavy handling of ongoing protests against Omnibus Bill 

(nd) In the ongoing protests against the Omnibus job creation bill, eight people affiliated with the newly created movement Save Indonesia Coalition (KAMI) [See also AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1] were separately arrested, in Jakarta and Medan, North Sumatra, for allegedly spreading hate speech and supporting violence during the protestsamid protests against the Job Creation Law.

Amnesty International deemed the arrest a threat against freedom of expression and an intimidation tactic to discourage legitimate protest against the controversial bill. [Tempco 1] [Jakarta Post]

Similarly, volunteers of Muhammadiyah’s disaster mitigation organization (MDMC) said police used excessive force against the organization’s field volunteer medics. Allegedly, four volunteers were beaten and dragged to a police car in front of the Fresher Apartment in Central Jakarta’s Menteng on Tuesday. The volunteers wore uniforms featuring  the organization’s name ‘Muhammadiyah Volunteers’, according to MDMC chairperson Budi Setiawan. [Tempco 2]

Meanwhile, civil society coalition “Indonesian People’s Faction” (Fraksi Rakyat Indonesia/FRI) argues the invalidity of the bill. With reference to the House of Representatives (DPR) Regulation No.2/2020 on the formation of a Law stating the draft laws must be handed to the president within seven days since it was passed. The bill was passed on October 5, resulting in a deadline until October 13, while DPR deputy speaker Azis Syamsuddin argues, the deadline was October 14 at midnight. [Tempco 3]

13 October 2020

Indonesia: Vaccine cooperation no influence on South China Sea position

(nd) Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the recent cooperation with China on Covid-19 vaccines will not influence its position on the South China Sea. Despite not being a claimant state in the heavily disputed waters, Indonesia and China battle over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands in the southern part. Last month, a Chinese coastguard vessel entered Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off northern Natuna islands and left after radio communication.

Indonesia also cooperates with the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and the United Kingdom, in developing its own vaccine. Indonesia is one of few candidates participating in a late-stage human trial of China’s Sinovac Biotech Covid-19 vaccine candidate, and also works together with Chinese company Sinopharm. [Channel News Asia]

13 October 2020

Indonesia: Challenges for the newly appointed Ambassador to the US

(nd) Newly appointed Indonesian ambassador to the US, Muhammad Lutfi, has emphasized the need for both countries to reinvigorate their relationship. This move is part of president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s long-term goal to transform Indonesia into one of the world’s top five economies by 2036, by enhancing infrastructure, education and the healthcare system, and expanding trade. Lufti disposed of the necessary experience in business, he is the founder of the Mahaka Group, a multiplatform media company, and has also served in a range of governmental posts, including head of the Indonesian Investment Coordination Board.

Still, the ambassador will find some challenging aspects in his new position, fighting with a decline in public opinion on the US. While the Obama administration was perceived more positively, Trump’s anti-migration policies and anti-Islamic narratives did not resonate well. Also, former Indonesian ambassador to the U.S., Dino Patti Djalal, commented on the U.S.-Indonesia relationship saying the Trump administration has “lost its soul.”

Having strategic partnerships with both the US and China, recent health-related assistance came from China. Also, the US-Indonesian economic relationship was rather stagnant over the past 10 years, residing below $30 billion dollar. A more prominent focus on foreign capital of the president is often confronted by a more protectionist view of the voters, with the result of a too little liberalized national economy. As a reaction, Lufti uttered the intention to boost Indonesian products in the US and vice-versa, ultimately extend existing trade agreements.

In light of the upcoming elections in the US, another Trump administration is likely to cause their relationships to stagnate as before. Joe Biden uttered plans to bring supply chains from China back to the US. Since realistically some will remain abroad, Indonesia could further US investment in that sector. [The Diplomat]

13 October 2020

Indonesia, Singapore to enable essential travel between two countries

(nd) Indonesia and Singapore agreed on a “reciprocal green lane” (RGL) to enable travel between the two countries, making essential business and official trips possible. Travelers will have to abide by COVID-19 prevention and public health measures agreed by both countries, including pre-departure and post-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to be placed at the airport. [Channel News Asia 1]

In the past five years, Singapore has been the largest investor in Indonesia, the PCR is sought to enable investment, giving the close economic ties. According to the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board, Singapore was Indonesia’s top foreign investor, with a total of US$2.7 billion in realized investments in the first quarter of 2020. [Channel News Asia 2]

Singapore’s overall unemployment rate rose to 3.4 % in August, slightly higher than in September 2009 during the global financial crisis. The gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract 6.8% but still less than within the second quarter, 13.2 %, according to economic analysts, due to loosening the Covid-19 curbs.  [Channel News Asia 3] [Reuters]

Meanwhile, in dealing with recession, as a common phenomenon, foreigners are singled out for blame. Expatriate workers from mainland China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and India have long been blamed for rising unemployment and the overcrowding on public transport and housing.  Recently and especially virally, the large Indian community was blamed with respect to the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), a free trade agreement signed between the two nations in 2005. Despite several corrections from official site, social media outlets still feature widespread public misconception that the agreement has led to a large influx of Indian professionals in fields like finance and information technology, clarifying there was no provision under the CECA for Indian nationals to become permanent residents and citizens of Singapore. Despite the 1982 New Year speech of state founder Lee Kuan Yew, in which he pledged to have an all-Singaporean workforce by 1991, claiming a large migrant workforce in European countries led to their social, political and economic problems, Singapore saw a steady growth in its population of foreign workers, which is now at 36%, around 1.5 million people. [The Diplomat]

13 October 2020

Indonesia: Protests against Omnibus Bill

(nd) Following the quick passing of the so-called Omnibus Law on Job Creation – which is aimed at creating jobs, boosting economy and attracting investment, mainly through simplifying administration processes – at the beginning of this week, protest and strikes continue [see also AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1], as police detained around 1,000 protesters in Jakarta and more than 100  in other cities. Before the protests, Jakarta police issued a statement it would not issue demonstration permits, saying such gatherings would help spread Covid-19, and that they would take precautionary measures. [Jakarta Globe]

Earlier, there was a number of local riots and protests, including arrests of students. [Channel News Asia 1] [Tempco] [Bangkok Post]

While covering a protest on Jalan MH. Thamrin in Central Jakarta, journalist Peter Rotti was allegedly beaten by police officers. Another journalist, Ponco Sulaksono from, has reportedly gone missing. [Jakarta Post 1]

Academics from prominent universities called the law problematic and that it will likely be challenged legally. The largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), commented that the law would ignore the needs of ordinary people and favor capitalists and investors. Ministers meanwhile tried to calm tensions by defending the bill and claiming the criticism stems from false information.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said he would inform President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of the protesters’ demand, while at least four governors told protesters they would write to the president about repealing the law. [Channel News Asia 2]

Trade unions and other civil society organizations oppose the bill and allege it will worsen labor and environmental protections.

With respect to the alleged deterioation of environmental protection, global investors seem to agree, showcased by a letter of 35 leading investors to the Indonesian government on Monday warning of the risks to the country’s tropical forests. [Reuters] [The Diplomat]

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in a public comment said the protests against the bill are based on “disinformation and hoaxes spread through social media”, rejecting claims of negative influence on labor rights, while emphasizing the necessary creation of jobs amid the Covid-19 pandemic. [Jakarta Post 2]

6 October 2020

Southeast Asian nation’s critical potential

(nd) With the economic and political repercussions of Covid-19, Southeast Asia has entered a period of potential crisis that mirrors developments around the “Arab Spring” and the economic situation that lead to the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s, mobilizing both public and political opposition to demand fundamental political reform to change institutions of governance.

In the World Bank’s latest economic outlook, ASEAN nations’ economy could contract by as much as 4.7 percent. According to an estimate of the International Labor Organization, nearly 85 percent of youth employment within the Asia-Pacific is within the informal economy, which is not reached by governmental support and not included in official numbers. The many regional protest movements illuminate the frustration of younger populations with ineffective governance and high levels of unemployment.

Already, a political legitimacy deficit can be seen, which turns into trying to mute or quash dissidents and critics through authoritarian leadership, as seen prominently in Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia, facing criticism by UN representatives and human rights advocates. Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo finds himself increasingly pleasing powerful Islamic constituencies that threatened to galvanize public discontent. Ever since February, Malaysia has been struggling with political stability, yet again following an unresolved claim of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to form a new government. In Thailand, the unprecedented student-led protests and their criticism of the monarchy institution is gaining ever more momentum. Additionally, Thai protesters expressed solidarity for Taiwan and Hong Kong, fueling a vision of “pan-Asian alliance for democracy”, named “Milk Tea Alliance,” continues to trend on social media.

A recent study by British-based risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft – the Right to Privacy Index (RPI), rated 198 countries for privacy violations, including mass surveillance operations, retention of personal data, home searches and other breaches. According to this, Asia was the world’s highest-risk region for violations with a deterioration in recent years. Among the worst-scoring Asian nations were Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, India and the Philippines. The study advocated data privacy legislation and a transparent surveillance system.

The backdrop for these developments is a raging pandemic with sometimes haphazard public health responses additionally undermining credibility and trust. [The Diplomat] [Jakarta Post]

6 October 2020

Indonesia, Vietnam to be first on Suga’s list

(nd) According to Japanese media outlets, Japan’s newly appointed Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is considering his first state trip to be to Indonesia and Vietnam. Predecessor Abe Shinzo’s first state visits after his reelection in 2021 were also Vietnam and Indonesia, emphasizing his vision of the “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Suga is committed to continuing Abe’s foreign policy to strike a careful balance between economic engagement and strategic competition with China, and a special focus on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With its position between two oceans, Southeast Asia became a key focus of Japanese diplomacy. Bilateral relations improved under Abe, intensifying trade, security cooperation and infrastructure development, with strategic partnerships in place since 2006 (Indonesia) respectively 2014 (Vietnam). Both countries’ relationship to Japan are forged by shared concerns over Chinese presence, be it either in disputed waters of East and South China Sea or through infrastructure funding under the Belt and Road Initiative. [The Diplomat]

6 October 2020

Malaysia: US bans FGV palm oil products

(nd) US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will ban imports of palm oil from FGV Holdings, one of Malaysia’s top producers of the commodity. The department was investigating for over a year and allegedly found human rights violations within the work force, such as forced labor, child labor, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, and wages withheld.

Palm oil is used in many every-day products, ranging from foods to cosmetics. Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia are the biggest producer of the commodity and together produce 85 % of the world’s supply. Its use has been controversial for years, mostly for driving rainforest destruction and destroying soil with monocultural agriculture. [Jakarta Post] [Rappler]

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has urged government agencies to pay more attention to the rights of migrant workers, saying the biggest issue to be minimum wages. FGV denied the allegations, including withholding passport, and emphasized recent efforts to comply with human rights and labor standards. FGV had 11,286 Indonesian and 4,683 Indian workers who form the majority of its plantation workforce this August. [The Sun Daily]

6 October 2020

Indonesia, China agree on direct currency settlement

(nd) In an effort to boost trade and investment transactions, Indonesia and China agreed to develop a framework of direct settlement between the rupiah and yuan. With such a framework in place, it is ensured that a selected number of local banks holds enough liquidity in the foreign currency for settling the transaction.

With more than $73 billion worth of goods exchanged annually, China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner. Usually, such transactions are settled using US dollar, for it is widely available in most banking systems, but tending to be more expensive and the traders to be subject to the currency’s volatility. Previously, Bank Indonesia put in place a local currency settlement framework with Malaysia, Thailand and Japan. [Jakarta Globe]

6 October 2020

Indonesia: President justifying his reaction to the pandemic

(nd) In a reaction towards ongoing criticism on his Covid-19 response, Indonesian president Joko „Jokowi“ Widodo defended his decision not to impose local or regional lock-downs despite a surge in numbers for not hurting people’s livelihood. Stemming from volunteer groups and on social media, criticism rose for not having spent enough to fight the pandemic and more broadly prioritizing economy over health. The president urged the population to complain or provide suggestions to the government rather than engaging in „polemics“.

In a worst-case forecast by the government, Indonesia’s economy will contract by 1.7%  in 2020, with the percentage being lower than that of experts. This will be the first recession since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. [Channel News Asia]


6 October 2020

Indonesia: Covid-19 stimulus package to be passed despite rising concerns

(nd) A new legislation to stimulate corona-hit economy by reducing regulations on businesses to attract investment and strengthen the creation of new jobs, backed by president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, shall be passed next Friday before Parliament ends its session, according to its supporters. Additionally, they say the package would simplify and accelerate investment by eliminating permit requirements.

Opponents criticize the stimulus package undermines worker protections and permits destruction of the country’s rainforests. The labor coalition emphasized the bill leads to reduced severance pay for laid off personnel, cuts in the amount of mandatory leave, longer work hours and an increased use of contract and part-time workers to substitute full-time employees, overall worsening work conditions and security. Environmentalists point to the elimination of environmental reviews for many new projects, which could lead to the destruction of primary rainforests, whose carbon reducing qualities form an integral part of fighting climate change. The lack of environmental protection could also defer investors – specifically from Europe – used to high levels of environmental standards, they add.

The bill would revise 76 laws, including the 2003 Law on Labor, 2009 Law on Tax General Procedures and Provisions, the 2008 Law on Income Tax, the 2009 Law on Value Added Tax, and Tax on Luxury Goods Sale Tax, and the 2017 Law on Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection.

After an initial slow reaction, the government lifted restrictions early to help the economy, with now having the highest death toll –  nearly 11,000 – in Southeast Asia and the danger of a collapse of the health care system with almost 300,000 confirmed cases. The bill is consistent with Jokowi’s focus, which, besides infrastructure, lies in economic development, and related goals of reducing poverty, improving nutrition, and raising education levels, which were threatened by recent economic developments. [New York Times 1] [Jakarta Globe]

In the meantime, police uttered they will not issue a rally permit for a protest planned 6-8 October. In line with enforcing the Large-Scale Social Restriction (PSBB) to contain Covid-19, mass gatherings are prohibited except if a permit is sought. [Tempo] The initially planned hearing for the end of the week was pushed forward  to Monday and the bill accepted by seven of nine political parties. [New York Times 2]

6 October 2020

Indonesia: KAMI movement not to disrupt nation’s stability

(nd) Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko has warned the Save Indonesia Action Coalition (KAMI) not to disrupt political stability, alleging its members of having “certain interests” in forming the group.

The self-attributed moral movement was founded August 18, 2020 with the intention to prevent any deviations from Pancasila, Indonesia’s founding principles, and to uphold the will of the people, what the House of Representatives allegedly has failed to do. The group’s founders include prominent government critics such as Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s first president Soekarno, former coordinating maritime affairs minister Rizal Ramli, former Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. (ret.) Gatot Nurmantyo and Islam Defenders Front (FPI) chairman Sobri Lubis.

A gathering organized by KAMI in Surabaya, East Java, was dispersed by the police following a public protest, reportedly calling the organization “dangerous”. Authorities were citing the Covid-19 situation for their action. Gatot Nurmantyo, member of the KAMI executive committee, suspected that the public protest was orchestrated “by someone”. [Jakarta Post 1] [Jakarta Post 2]

6 October 2020

Indonesia: New party declared by PAN founder

(nd/lf) Amien Rais, former patron of the National Mandate Party (PAN), an Islam-based political party holding 48 seats in the 575-member People’s Representative Council, and staunch critic of President Joko Widodo, founded a new party called Partai Ummat, or the Ummah Party, following an internal struggle within PAN. Amien vowed his new party will work to uphold Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, and all universal democratic rules, and focus on political, economic, social, legal and human rights. [Jakarta Post] [Republika in Indonesian] [Kompas in Indonesian]

Amien is a political heavyweight in Indonesia. From 1995 to 2000, he was the leader of Muhammadiyah, one of the two biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia with 50 million members. He was also a central figure in the 1998 reform movement that led to the fall of former president Soeharto, who ruled Indonesia for 30 years from 1968 to 1998.

6 October 2020

Indonesia: Activists and historians to uncover details about 1965 coup

(nd) With victims and their relatives still receiving medical rehabilitation support from the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) the topic remains a public issue. After the assassination of six military generals in an alleged coup attempt on September 30, 1965, incidents of violence against civilians occurred between 1965 and 1966. The coup was blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) which was banned in 1966. The fear of communism in Indonesia, Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said, originated from anti-PKI propaganda and the “manipulation of history” under president Soeharto, who reigned from 1967 to 1998, including a movie called Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Betrayal of the Communist) depicting vicious PKI members assassinating generals.

Historians are still working on uncovering what happened in 1965 and getting better access to materials respectively identifying lack thereof. Dutch historian Grace Leksana in her research on a neighborhood in southern Malang, East Java, identified violent actions in the village and that several residents had helped the military screen civilians allegedly affiliated with the communist party after a promise to receive prominent positions in local administrations if they assisted. Canadian historian John Roosa of British Columbia University in Canada also found that many civilians were subject to forced disappearances and killings. His book “Pretext for mass murder: The September 30th movement and Suharto’s coup d’etat in Indonesia” was banned by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) in 2009.

Coordinating Social, Political and Legal Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the government had never forced the public to believe the propaganda in the movie, never having determined which version of the 1965 tragedy the public should believe.

In 2012, an investigation by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) found that gross human rights violation had taken place, which call for prosecution of military officials; the AGO prosecutors reiterated there was insufficient evidence. [Jakarta Post]

6 October 2020

Indonesia: Supreme Court to shorten graft sentence for former MP

(nd) After a recent case review, the Supreme Court (SC) cut the sentence of former Democratic Party chair Anas Urbaningrum to eight from initial 14 years, following a sentence by Jakarta Corruption Court in 2014 and a SC decision in 2015. The successful reasoning for the review was a judicial error, namely convicting Anas under the wrong article of the 2001 Corruption Law.

Among other officials, Anas was involved in a major corruption scandal surrounding the development of the Hambalang Sports Complex in Bogor, West Java. With costs of about Rp 2.5 trillion, president Joko Widodo promised to recoup resources lost to corruption and the continuation of the construction in 2016, which it has not ever since.

Critics emphasized the leniency of the court’s decision, which they say poses a big threat to efforts to reduce corruption in Indonesia, for Anas was the 23rd graft convict to be granted leniency by the Supreme Court in the past year. [Jakarta Post 1] [Jakarta Post 2]

6 October 2020

Indonesia: Papua is part of Indonesia, MP says

(nd) With reemerging violence and the commemoration day for Papua’s separatist groups – December 1 –  approaching, Coordinating Minister of Politics, Law, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said that Papuan attempts to declare independence will be fought by the government.

“Papua’s unity, either the Papua Province or West Papua with the unitary state of the republic of Indonesia [NKRI] is final. There are no other paths, independence is non-negotiable,” Mahfud said. The MP said it was unknown, whether that spark in separatism was provoked by foreign nationals or has come from within the region. [Tempco] [See also AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5] [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

6 October 2020

Indonesia: OPM rejects plans to extend special autonomy law

(nd) In Indonesia’s easternmost province and Makassar in South Sulawesi protests against prolonging the special autonomy law, which will expire in 2021 have emerged. [See also AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4] Sebby Sambom, spokesman for the armed group Free Papua Movement (OPM), rejected the special status emphasizing that the group sought independence and separation from Indonesia.

In an effort to reform and increase transparency and accountability of spending, President Joko Widodo had asked for an evaluation of the funds provided to Papua and West Papua as part of the special autonomy status. The fund has provided a total of 94.24 trillion Indonesian rupiahs ($6.3 billion) to the Papua and West Papua governments from 2002 to 2020.

The coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said the law would remain in effect without an extension, and adding plans to revise the division of Papua into five, rather than the previous two, subregions.

Spokesman Sambom asserted Papuans should sit at the table when central government deals with conflicts and future developments, also there was a lack of protection of human rights and right of Indigenous Papuans. Cahyo Pamungkas, a researcher in the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), reinforced the necessity of a dialogue between central government and Papuans for the special autonomy status to be a successful cooperation.

The fund accounts for about 60% of  Papua’s provincial budget, a cut or even cancellation of it would affect local government, regional autonomy observer Djohermansyah Djohan highlighted, despite ambiguous improvements in the welfare, education and health of indigenous Papuans due to mismanagement of special autonomy funds. Djohan advertised improvements to the fund transfer model, and supervision and accountability. [Anadolu Agency]


29 September 2020

ASEAN states commit to more military cooperation 

(jn) The 17th ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Meeting (ACDFM-17) was held virtually on September 24th with participants pledging to boost military cooperation, to build trust and enhance solidarity among the member states’ armed forces.

At the meeting themed “Military Cooperation for a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN,” the participants agreed that the joint efforts will help the organization to keep peace and stability in the region, and that the region is facing traditional and non-traditional challenges namely cyber security, terrorism, transnational crime, climate change, and diseases. [Hanoi Times]

29 September 2020

Indonesia: President to warn of US-China tension

(nd) In a prerecorded statement for the 75th UN General Assembly, Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo voiced concerns about mounting tension between the US and China are to intensify conflict in Southeast Asia. “War will benefit no one,” Jokowi said and “there is no point of celebrating victory among ruins. There is no point of becoming the largest economic power in the midst of a sinking world.”

Parallelly, Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte emphasized the necessity of a rule-based cooperation in the South China Sea, indirectly criticizing China.

Amidst US- Chinese rivalry, Southeast Asia is in a difficult position for being economically entangled with China, the leading trade partner of both nations, and having leaned on China’s  Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for infrastructure development, but yet dependent on long-standing American security guarantees. In the disputed South China Sea, both nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) overlap with Beijing’s “nine-dash line”.

Both speeches resonate with thoughts uttered earlier this year by Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong, for both superpowers to deescalate their tensions. [See also AiR No. 36, September 2020, 2] [The Diplomat]


29 September 2020

Indonesian representative lashes out at Vanuatu at UN 

(nd) At the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Diplomat Silvany Austin Pasaribu attacked Vanuatu for continuing efforts to raise “artificial human rights concerns” in Papua and stressing, they were not their representative.

Bob Loughman, Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu, criticized the Indonesian government for alleged human rights abuses against the indigenous people of Papua and referred to previous tries of the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum to allow for the UN Human Rights Office to visit Papua.

While also stressing that Vanuatu had yet to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural rights; and was not party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Silvany highlighted the principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of other countries, which she claimed was the fundamental principle of the UN charter. She emphasized, Papua and West Papua have been irrevocable parts of Indonesia since 1945.

Papua has been struggling with Independent and separatist movements since it was added to Indonesia after the 1969 referendum. [See also AiR No 38, September/2020, 4] [Jakarta Post]


29 September 2020

Indonesia: Jokowi’s past and future vision 

(nd) Facing election in 2024, a recent analysis shed light on the past and remaining years of Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Known as the Infrastructure president, the analysis argues Jokowi struggles to find the middle ground between economic nationalism and the need for foreign investment, of the latter a post-colonial country was always wary. [Asia Nikkei Review]

His most recent and prominently featured project is the $ 32 billion project to build a new capital in Kalimantan, 1,200 km across the sea away from the current capital, claiming its necessity to ease pressure on overcrowded Jakarta, spread development beyond of Java and transform Indonesia into an advanced nation, as announced in his inauguration speech after his reelection in 2019. Already before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the project sent Indonesian economy tumbling toward its first recession since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

Within his focus on infrastructure, the president was more a developmentalist than an ideological free market economist, deeming economic growth necessary to maintain political legitimacy. While still enjoying a steady economic growth, Indonesia is pressured to create enough decent jobs for its fast expanding population or risk a demographic dividend becoming a demographic time bomb.

Within his government, the analysis argues, Jokowi avoided establishing a centralized policy unit, like organizations and ministries for coordinating implementation of changes, but would rather be in charge himself, weaking democratic consensus finding. In order to lift Indonesia’s tax revenues and overall boost the economy, Jokowi appointed good personnel with regard to improve economic efficiency and attract foreign investment. Yet, foreign investment had not become easier for still not striking a durable balance between openness and protectionism, with claiming the need to expand trade but implementing nontariff barriers, as well as prioritizing inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOE) and nationalizing some of the country’s biggest energy projects. The large number of SOE – only topped in numbers by China – was considered a tool to accelerate infrastructure development and boost economic growth without affecting the national budget but many of these companies were badly managed and fostered corruption; so bad in fact that former Inter Milan owner Erick Thohir in 2019 was hired to clean up the financial and legal mess created.

Within the Covid-19 crisis, the president’s tendency to make unilateral decisions rendered a dire health situation. In his defense, some argue Jokowi was driven by ensuring not to create an economic pain fighting the pandemic was not worse than the latter. Still, critics uttered the government’s response to COVID-19 was indecisive and lacking in transparency, risking “widespread transmission and casualties” as well as a “collapse of public confidence.”

With being tied between two rationales – the need for foreign investment and know-how but economic liberalism perceived as colonial oppression tool ever since its independency – Indonesia and Jokowi yet need a clearer vision for the coming years. [Asia Nikkei Review]

29 September 2020

Indonesia: Regional Election to continue

(lf) Even though several groups have brought forwards grave concern for the regional elections to be held across the archipelago later this year amidst a rising number of Covid-19 cases, elections are still scheduled as planned. Some experts worry about the legitimacy of candidates as voter turnout is expected to be low. [Kompas in Indonesian]

29 September 2020

Corruption cases in Indonesia

(lf) In Indonesia, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) will auction off items confiscated in a series of corruption cases. The items, which will be auctioned off online, among others, belong to the former chief of Indonesia’s constitutional court Akil Mochtar who is currently facing trial for accepting bribes. There will also be items auctioned off from the former governor of North Sumatra (Gatot Pudjo Nugroho) and former Home Affairs Minister Hari Sabarno. [Tempo]

Meanwhile, the head of the KPK has violated the code of ethics and the KPK has been asked to thread more careful. The chairman received a warning as punishment by the supervision board (Dewas). The chairman is accused of a violation of the code of ethics with the handling the corruption case of Djoko Tjandra, an Indonesian businessman who was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison over corruption charges in 2009. [Republika in Indonesian]

Earlier this year Djoko Tjandra had been arrested in Malaysia after he had been on the run for 11 years. The police searched for Djoko Tjandra for his involvement in a high scale corruption case with the Bali Bank [The Jakarta Post].

The case of Djoko Tjandra reaches deep into Indonesian society. Currently, a prosecutor is facing trial for adding Djoko Tjandra in his fugitive period. The prosecutor is charged with money laundering and accepting bribery in order to help Djoko. Within his trial, Attorney General Burhanuddin, as well as Supreme Court Chief Justice Hatta Ali was mentioned. Both were supposedly involved in a plan to get an acquittal for Djoko Tjandra. The Attorney General denies any allegations about being involved with the plan [The Jakarta Post] [Kompas]

22 September 2020

Indonesia protests Chinese coast guard ship entering its exclusive economic zone

(dql) Indonesia last week issued a formal protest to the Chinese embassy in Jakarta about a Chinese coast guard ship entering and patrolling in its exclusive economic zone off the Natuna Islands, stressing its rejection of China’s so-called Nine-Dash Line, which Beijing uses to demarcate its claims in the South China Sea. [Straits Times] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

China’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, insisted coast guard vessel conducted “normal patrol duties in waters under Chinese jurisdiction.” []

22 September 2020

Indonesia: Groups call for a postponement of regional elections

(lf) In Indonesia’s province Medan the North Sumatra National Movement to Safeguard the Ulema Fatwa has filed a lawsuit in order to postpone the upcoming regional elections on December 9 this year. The lawsuit, which is directed against the General Election Commission as well as the Elections Supervisory Agency calls for a postponement, due to a rising number of Covid-19 cases in the region of Medan. The group filed the lawsuit, as the government is unable to prove that the outbreak is under control in the current level 3 red zone regarding the spread and infection risk of Covid-19. [the Jakarta Post].

In addition, religious groups and experts, such as the Indonesians Red Cross, are also urging the General Election commission to postpone the elections calling them a safety hazard amidst the rising Covid-19 in Indonesia. The country has seen an exponential growth of cases in recent months. President Jokowi is currently considering the proposal to postpone the simultaneously happening regional elections. [Worldometers] [UK Reuters] [Kompas in Indonesian]

22 September 2020

Indonesia: Deadly incidents in Papua, research paper on independence

(lf/nd) Over the weekend, a Christian pastor and a soldier were shot dead in Papua, in two separate incidents. This comes during rising tensions between Indonesian security forces and separatist groups. The Indonesian army claims that the Papuan armed forces acted more violently in order to gain attention from the UN Generally Assembly (22-29 September) which will be attended by President Jokowi. [Republika in Indonesian]

Papua has been struggling with Independent and separatist movements since it was added to Indonesia after the 1969 referendum. This referendum has been widely criticized by human rights activist as a coerced decision. [Reuters]

With the 2001 Law on Special Autonomy for Papua expiring in November 2021, a research paper came to the conclusion that the likely spike for an independence movement will rather be unsuccessful. Despite growing tensions and escalating violence between the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) and different Papuan groups, Indonesia already expressed its interest in maintaining sovereign control, by announcing to provide special autonomy funds and extend the timeframe of the autonomy laws. While some parallels can be drawn to the successful independence of Timor-Leste, like responding with military forces towards resistance groups and simultaneously investing in the region’s economic development, the historic background is different. 

While Timor-Leste was a colony of Portugal occupied by Indonesia, Papua was always included within the boundaries of the former Dutch East Indies, which renders the argument of Indonesian sovereignty more valid for the international community. Consequently, there is little to no support for the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM), currently limited to a few Pacific Island countries and Senegal, with the United Nations having refused their support.

Papua is rich in resources and mineral deposits, like gold and copper, as well as oil and gas fields, and areas of rainforest for palm oil production. Despite rather small revenue from it, the Grasberg mine is one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines. Additionally, there is a looming fear of Balkanisation and a rise of China’s influence in the region. After the 1999 referendum in East Timor, secessionist movements emerged in the provinces of Aceh, Riau, and Papua. Furthermore, China was the first country to formally establish diplomatic relations with Timor-Leste, whose influence on an independent Papua would be much higher. [Future Directions]

22 September 2020

Indonesia: Uniform change for private guard

(nd) Following a newly signed regulation based on National Police Chief Regulation No. 4/2020 on private security, civilian security guards (Satpam) are required to wear a brown uniform featuring a rank badge on the shoulder. While the police state this was to honor the profession and the similar color to the police to symbolize the closeness between both, Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) raised concerns the similarity might lead to abuse of power. Further, it was stated, if the private security groups are awarded partial police powers, the police’s scope of authority is widened. [Jakarta Post]

22 September 2020

Asian financial leaders agree to make ‘all policy efforts’ to fight pandemic

(jn) Financial leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia vowed on Friday to redouble their efforts to help the region recover economically from the coronavirus and to defend a multilateral system of trade and investment. In a joint statement they vowed to “remain vigilant to the continued downside risks [and to take] steps to reduce vulnerabilities to these risks and […] to continue to use all available policy tools to support the sustained recovery.” They also said they remain committed “to uphold an open and rule-based multilateral trade and investment system, and strengthen regional integration and cooperation.”

The statement followed the annual meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors from China, Japan, South Korea and the 10-member ASEAN. The meetings were held via teleconference on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). [Reuters]

22 September 2020

Asia: Rise in discrimination due to Covid-19 

(nd) A recent survey conducted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) highlights that the spread of Covid-19 gave rise to discrimination towards vulnerable communities in Asia. The survey asked 5,000 people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan, with half of the asked people blaming Chinese people, immigrants and foreigners for the spread of the virus. Also, “illegal foreigners” were blamed, linking it to the arrests of undocumented migrants and refugees made by Malaysian authorities. United Nations warned this policy might deter vulnerable groups from seeking treatment.

Higher education obtained by the interviewees made it only slightly less likely for them to hold the above-mentioned groups responsible in all of the surveyed countries. [Reuters]


15 September 2020

ASEAN foreign minister meeting held virtually with focus on South China Sea Dispute, pandemic and Rohingya crisis

(jn/nd) ASEAN’s foreign ministers conducted their annual summit by video on Wednesday to discuss how to overcome the immense challenges presented by the pandemic, rising tensions by the US-China rivalry in the South China Sea dispute while also touching on the continuing plight of the Rohingya refugees. The ministers were also scheduled to meet Asian and Western counterparts, like China and the US. The talks kicked off a four-day string of ASEAN meetings that were delayed by a month and were now held online to avoid COVID-19 exposure. Vietnam hosted the talks as this year’s chairman of the group. 

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc opened the conference with a speech pointing out the repercussions of the pandemic on people and businesses while also acknowledging the “growing volatilities that endanger peace and stability” in the South China Sea, all of which required regional solidarity. Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi addressed US and China representatives to not trap Indonesia in a regional struggle between the two. [Jakarta Post] Tensions between the two powers rose recently, not only with respect to trade and sanctions but because of the status of the South China Sea. Having become not only one of the world’s busiest commercial waterways, these waters are also subject to various territorial claims with Chinese military maneuvers establishing facts on the ground. [See also AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

China accused the US of becoming “the biggest driver of militarization” in the resource-rich waters. [Manila Times] This year, the US intensified “freedom of navigation” operations in South China Sea, including bringing two aircraft carriers into the region for the first time since 2014 and lifting submarine deployments and surveillance flights.

In fact, Marsudi referenced a joint statement given last month by all 10 ASEAN foreign ministers, showing they are united in their focus on peace and not taking sides as China-US relations are deteriorating. The latter fact was earlier emphasized by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He was promoting an inclusive regional structure, with important regional powers such as Japan and India on the rise, and emphasized the importance of strong ASEAN cooperation, despite inward looking tendencies of the member countries. Because of its own claims and ethnic involvement, China was not able to fulfill the security role of the US. Still, the Belt and Road Initiative, he stressed, if carried out with financial prudence, is a step towards needed multilateral cooperation and to develop connectivity and infrastructure, which was neglected before. [Foreign Affairs]

In another virtual meeting on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged ASEAN leaders to reconsider deals with Chinese companies that have been blacklisted by the US for building island outposts which he said Beijing was using to “bully” rival claimants in the disputed South China Sea. [South China Morning Post] The Philippines referred to their need of Chinese investments, despite the two nation’s dispute over one of the region’s richest fishing grounds, Scarborough Shoal. [Manila Standard]

In their communiqué, the ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security and freedom of navigation in, and overflight above, the South China Sea and underscored the need for giving effect to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). They also commended the progress in negotiations with China on an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS. First COC talks occurred in 2002 but have so long been without a result. [Hanoi Times] The text also mentions the concerns by some ministers on land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the South China Sea which, it states, have eroded trust, increased tensions, and may undermine peace and security in the region. [AP] [Al Jazeera] [ASEAN FM Communiqué] [Bangkok Post] [Nikkei Asian Review] [The Diplomat]

Another key project was establishing a COVID-19 response fund to help ASEAN member states buy medical supplies and protective suits. A regional stockpile of medical supplies has also been approved, and a study to be financed by Japan will research the possibility of establishing an ASEAN center on public health emergencies. The communiqué also calls for “enhanced collaboration and sharing of experience with ASEAN’s partners in research, development, production, and distribution of vaccines, providing access to medicines for COVID-19 and other diseases in future public health emergencies, and making them available and affordable to all as global public goods.”

Referring to diminished regional movement and trade due to the pandemic, the statement also noted that members encouraged “the maintenance of necessary interconnectedness in the region” by facilitating a resumption in the cross-border movement of people.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. During the last meeting, ASEAN reached a consensus agreement with four more states, France, Italy, Cuba and Colombia. [VN Express]

15 September 2020

Indonesia: Chinese Vessel driven off EEZ 

(nd) The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency reported to have driven off a Chinese coast guard vessel from Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the North Natuna Sea. The agency claims that the ship insisted it had the right to patrol the so-called nine-dash line. The line is meant to denote Chinese territorial claims, in particular regarding fishing grounds, in the South China Sea. It is, however, disputed by most countries in the region, including Indonesia, and a frequent source of tension between China and her Southern neighbors. 

In 2016, an international tribunal dismissed the nine-dash line as legally baseless. In 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rejected the nine-dash line and granted Indonesia sovereign rights to the natural resources in its EEZ. Based on the convention, an arbitral tribunal ruled in 2016 China had no historic rights to these waters.[Jakarta Post]


15 September 2020

Indonesia: Revision of Constitutional Court Laws

(nd) On September 1, the House of Representatives (DPR) passed a law revision on the Constitutional Court (MK). The judicial term was prolonged to 15 years with the possibility of reelection while enabling the judges to hold office until the age of 70. The previous law set the maximum age to 60, with a single judicial term of five years and the possibility of reelection for another five years. The factual prolongation of terms of the nine incumbent justices was not supported with a higher level of supervision, opening the possibility of greater susceptibility to political interference, legal experts and activists considered. They also criticize the reform does not enhance transparency in the judicial selection process, with the new law — like the old — only stipulates the electoral process has to be transparent and publicly open, without giving a mandatory procedure.

Similarly, the deliberation process for the new law was criticized as non-transparent for it mostly occurred behind closed doors with some asking why this reform was prioritized without an obvious need. Also, the bill was one of the fastest to be deliberated, taking the legislature only eight days. 

Lawmaker Herman Hery of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), chairing the House Commission III on legal affairs that finalized the bill, rebuffed the allegations, stating the speed was due to only a few substantive provisions being changed.  [Jakarta Post]

8 September 2020

Malaysia: Entry ban on citizens of India, Indonesia and the Philippines imposed

(nd) Malaysia imposed an entry ban on citizens of India, Indonesia and the Philippines from September 7 to fight the spread of Covid-19. Philippine presidential spokesperson Harry Roque called it a sovereign decision they regret. The Philippines currently has a number of over 226,000 infections, Indonesia more than 180,000. India to date has recorded 3.7 million cases, the third highest in the world after the United States and Brazil. [Global Nation]

8 September 2020

Bank law reform not to undermine independence

(nd) After the House Legislation Body (Baleg) has proposed a bill that revises the 1999 and 2004 laws on the central bank, giving the government influence on monetary policy Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati promised the proposed revisions would maintain a credible and independent Bank of Indonesia (BI). While current global challenges such as Covid-19 make it necessary for the central bank to manage the exchange rate and inflation to enable economic growth, critics warned, amendment could undermine the BI’s independence.

The central bank will continue to buy government bonds until 2022 to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, following an agreement between BI and the government under which the BI is to buy up $28 billion in government bonds while shouldering the debt burden.

Central bank independence was introduced only during the 1998 Asian financial crisis. [Jakarta Post]

8 September 2020

Indonesia: Mitigation of Covid-19, budget for digital learning

(nd) The Indonesian government will cover Covid-19 vaccination costs for 93 million citizens, prioritizing around 1.5 million medical workers upon availability of a vaccine later this year. [Jakarta Globe 1] Meanwhile, a program to better monitor the spread of Covid-19 through availability and management of data – a collaboration of the Jakarta government with the British Embassy and Indonesian volunteer group LaporCOVID19 — was launched. [Tempo 1] Jakarta’s satellite cities Bogor and Depok imposed a night-time curfew due to a recent rise in Covid-19 cases, while others still contemplating whether to go forward as well. [Jakarta Globe 2]

On Sunday, the country reported 3,444 new cases, the second highest daily rise after a record 3,622 cases only three days ago, to take its total to 194,109. Indonesia has more than 47,500 active cases of the virus while more provinces see a surge in cases following improved testing capacity. [Jakarta Globe 3]

Due to these developments, online learning has become a necessity with only schools in Covid-19 green zones resumed to the classroom. Aiming at a hybrid model, there are plans to extend remote learning beyond the pandemic, according to Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim. [Jakarta Globe 4]

In an effort to digitalize schools further in 2021, the government allocated Rp 1.49 trillion, which shall be used to strengthen digital platforms, procuring learning content and material and provide educational facilities and IT equipment. [Tempo 2]

1 September 2020

Indonesia: Hacking attacks on media outlets critical of government’s coronavirus response

(lm) A spate of computer hacking attacks on Indonesian media critical of the government’s response to the coronavirus has raised concerns over press freedom, the country’s leading journalists’ association said on Monday. At least four media organizations have been targeted in an “unprecedented” series of digital attacks recently, which could be aimed at “restricting critical reporting and suppressing media freedom” the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said in a statement. [The Straits Times]

On August 25, the website of major media outlet Tempo was replaced with a black screen with the word “hoax” in bold red font. The same day seven articles, including two critical of the Indonesian intelligence agency’s role in the pandemic response, were removed from the website of Epidemiologist and vocal critic Pandu Riono had his Twitter account hacked after criticizing a government-university research collaboration that he said fell below international standards. [Voice of America]

While it was not clear who was behind the attacks, the Communications and Information Ministry fenced off the allegations that it was behind the digital attacks, saying that a potential third party may intend to pit the government against the public. [The Jakarta Post]

1 September 2020

Indonesia: police foil terrorist plot targeting shop owners in areas with Chinese communities

(lm) A terrorist plot to attack shop owners in areas of Indonesia that are home to ethnic Chinese communities has been foiled, a senior security source said on Thursday. Between April and August, police arrested 17 suspected members of the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, further seizing firearms and bullets.

Jemaah Islamiyah is a militant extremist Islamist rebel group dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic state in Southeast Asia. The group was behind the 2002 Bali bombings and was afterwards added to the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 as a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Since the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, attacks had fallen off. Between June 1 and August 12, a total of 72 terrorism suspects from both Jemaah Islamiyah and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah – an Islamic State affiliate and rival to Jemaah Islamiah – had been arrested.

In recent years, informal extremist charities began to proliferate in Indonesia, offering support for the families of incarcerated or killed members of Islamic terrorist organizations, while government deradicalization programs often failed to succeed. Last week, a woman believed to be the wife of terror fugitive and leader of East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) Ali Kalora had been arrested and charged under the anti-terrorism law for concealing information about a terror fugitive. [AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4] [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

25 August 2020

Indonesia: Protracted anti-terror operation leads to arrest of Indonesia’s most-wanted terrorist’s wife 

(dql) A woman believed to be the wife of terror fugitive and leader of East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) Ali Kalora has been arrested in Central Sulawesi as she was on her way to deliver some money and food to MIT. The woman is charged under the anti-terrorism law for concealing information about a terror fugitive and could face a lifetime in prison if convicted.

Following a series of recent attacks police and army units have intensified man-hunt operations in the province in ‘Operation Tinombala’ to capture the remaining members of the MIT, most notably Ali Kalora following a series of recent attacks.
After at least 72 suspected militants have been arrested in a series of operations in 13 provinces between June and August, mostly alleged members of homegrown terror network Jemaah Ansharut Daulat, National Police Chief Idham Azis has extended Operation Tinombala until Sept. 30. [Jakarta Globe]

25 August 2020

Indonesia: Intelligence agency involved in Covid-19 drug trials

(ls) Indonesia’s Intelligence Unit (BIN) and the Army are involved in efforts to find a cure for Covid-19, the Indonesian army chief confirmed last week. This has provoked some backlash from doctors and medical experts who criticized that a BIN financed research consortium that was formed with the University of Airlangga failed to report its clinical trials to the World Health Organization so that they could be accessed by academics and researchers worldwide. The case illustrates potential conflicts between national interests and international cooperation in the global effort to find drugs and vaccines against Covid-19. [Straits Times]

25 August 2020

Indonesia: Bill liberalizing employment provokes workers’ protests

(ls) Hundreds of Indonesian workers protested in Jakarta last week against a bill that aims to liberalize labor law in order to stimulate the economy. The so-called omnibus bill has been drafted to make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees, to eliminate minimum wages, curtail severance benefits and allow outsourcing of certain works. [Straits Times]

25 August 2020

Indonesian Ulema Council denounces Israel-UAE deal 

(dql) The Indonesian Ulema Council gathering the world largest Muslim country’s religious leaders on Wednesday denounced the recent normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel calling it a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. The Council’s speaker asked the UAE to remember that the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had agreed to impose an embargo on Israel during its emergency meeting in Jakarta in March 2016 due to its actions against Palestine adding Indonesia owed Palestine for being one of the first to acknowledge its independence from colonial rule in 1945: “Palestine is the first country to recognize Indonesia’s independence, we will never forget their kindness.”

The UAE-Israel normalization deal was announced by US President Donald Trump last week making the UAE the first Gulf state and third Arab nation to have full diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt and Jordan. [AA]

18 August 2020

Indonesia: Regional commander of separatist army killed

(dql) A regional commander of the separatist West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) was killed on Sunday by government security forces during a raid of a separatist base in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province.

TPNPB vowed to retaliate adding that the killing of one of the group’s commanders was a “call to war against Indonesian authorities”. He claimed that the group has 33 regional commanders, each leading 2,500 personnel. [Benar News] [Star Tribune]

18 August 2020

Indonesia: Jokowi proposes budget for 2021 to parliament

(lm) After delivering his state of the nation address before the People’s Consultative Assembly, Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) proposed on Friday a $186.08 billion state budget for 2021 to parliament.

The budget proposal, which represents only a 0.3 percent increase compared with this year’s revised budget, assumes a budget deficit of 5.5 percent of gross domestic product. It further expects growth in Indonesia’s economy to rebound between 4.5 to 5.5 percent in 2021, following on an official prediction of near-flat growth this year.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, recording a 5.32 percent contraction in the second quarter compared to a year earlier – its first contraction since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998 that shook the country’s fundaments and eventually led to system transition. 

The budget proposal therefore centers around measures designed to accelerate the economy’s rebound from the pandemic and to push for structural reform in a bid to boost productivity, innovation and economic competitiveness. [The Straits Times] [Reuters] [The Jakarta Post]

In a sperate development, Widodo announced an influx of $850 million in investments after seven foreign companies, including LG and Panasonic, confirmed plans to relocate production facilities to Indonesia, which would create 30.000 new jobs, while another 17 multinationals are “close to 100 per cent commitment” which would bring another 12.000 jobs and total foreign investment of $37.8 billion. [Gulf News]

For those, who are interested to learn more about Widodo. The first English-language biography of the Indonesian President titled ‘Man of Contradiction’ by Ben Bland, Director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, will be released in September. Bland argues that Widodo – caught between democracy and authoritarianism, openness and protectionism, Islam and pluralism – embodies the fundamental contradictions of modern Indonesia.

11 August 2020

Indonesia imposes VAT on foreign internet companies

(ls) Ten foreign digital companies will be required to collect a 10 percent value added tax (VAT) from Indonesian consumers starting in September. Besides Amazon, Google, Netflix and Spotify, which had been covered by an earlier announcement already, the new list also includes Apple, Facebook and TikTok. The move is part of the government’s effort to create a level playing field for local and foreign businesses operating in Indonesia. Whether also corporate income tax can be collected domestically is still subject to a global debate on how to tax the transnational commercial activity of internet companies. [Jakarta Post] [Reuters]

28 July 2020

Indonesia: Majority of the public wants regional elections delayed

(yo) According to a poll, many Indonesians believe the government should postpone the 2020 regional elections that are scheduled for December. The survey demonstrated 63.1% of respondents do not support the elections being held then, while only 34.3% said they should. Policy makers and experts believe it will be difficult to encourage public participation in voting. The General Elections Commission says postponing elections is not part of the plan at the moment, but that they will focus on arranging health protocols and procuring protective equipment. [The Jakarta Post]

28 July 2020

India and Indonesia agree on expanded security cooperation

(ls) India and Indonesia on Monday agreed to expand their strategic security cooperation in several areas, including the sharing of technology, on the occasion of a meeting of Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Indonesian counterpart General Prabowo Subianto in New Delhi. The two countries had signed a new defence cooperation agreement in 2018 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia. The pact was aimed at reflecting the elevation of the relationship between the two countries to a comprehensive strategic partnership. [The Print]

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) launched the Indonesian Maritime Information Center (IMIC) last week as part of efforts to support law enforcement at sea through exchanges of information to better fight smuggling, illegal fishing and other crimes at sea. The center is also meant to complement international maritime agencies operating in neighboring countries, such as the Information Fusion Center (IFC) in Singapore and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in Malaysia. [Benar News]

14 July 2020

Indonesia seizes Chinese fishing ship over alleged maltreatment of Indonesian fisherman on board

On Wednesday last week, Indonesian authorities seized a Chinese fishing vessel over suspicions of mistreatment of Indonesian fishermen. On board, they found a dead sailor in a freezer. In May, reports surfaced that at least three bodies of Indonesian sailors had been thrown from Chinese boats into the Pacific Ocean in recent months, while the overall number of deceased is allegedly higher. Indonesia’s foreign ministry has demanded China to disclose the facts of the cases. [Nikkei Asian Review]


14 July 2020

Is Indonesia failing to control its coronavirus outbreak?

(yo) According to some health experts, the Indonesian government is struggling to handle the coronavirus with a lack of testing, poor communication strategies, and the “promotion of bogus cures.” Private hospitals and clinics in Indonesia are charging patients up to $1450 for a coronavirus test, more than three times the monthly minimum wage. While Indonesia is the fourth most populous country, testing rates is one of the lowest in the world. International organizations urge Indonesia to bolster public health communication and tracing. Experts are concerned that the government is not taking the matter seriously enough. The Minister of Agriculture recently caused controversy by claiming to have developed a “eucalyptus necklace” that can prevent the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has revealed a lack of crisis proficiency and awareness in the country, as restrictions have begun to be eased although cases are rising. [Sydney Morning Herald][The Guardian] [The Sydney Morning Herald]

7 July 2020

Indonesia: Government announces help to avoid “lost generation” of students

(yo) Indonesia’s Education and Culture Ministry last week announced a raft of emergency measures to relieve students from financial burden in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, the government is planning to reduce tuition fees in order to prevent more students that have been impacted by COVID-19 from dropping out of universities. However, these undertakings are criticised to reveal different attitudes towards private and public universities, as only public universities have been instructed to provide such concessions while 90% of students, who in fact are in private institutions will not benefit from policy adjustments.

Education Minister Nadiem Makarim additionally announced other support strategies as fee discounts, deferrals, hardship scholarships, and so on in order to facilitate students to continue studying. He stated his intention to ease conditions for private universities as well, allocating one trillion rupiah to provide financial assistance for private college students. However, there is yet debate on whether this would be enough to support families that have been hit by the pandemic, and mitigate long term impacts of education graduation rates and youth unemployment. [Times Higher Education]


7 July 2020

Court upholds Australian government refusal to release documents on Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of Timor-Leste

(lm) An Australian court last week upheld the government’s refusal to release diplomatic cables and cabinet documents relating to Australia’s involvement in Indonesia’s 1975 occupation of Timor-Leste. Since the hearing began in 2018, academic Kim McGrath had repeatedly sought access from the National Archives to documents that record border negotiations between Indonesia and Australia in the 1970s.

Under the Archives Act, cabinet documents are made public after 30 years – currently transitioning to 20 years – however, the law also provides legislative protection to Commonwealth government records, which is why successive governments had blocked her applications for the documents over a number of years. In its decision, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) upheld various reasons for refusal, including that disclosing the documents “could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the security or international relations of the commonwealth”. [The Guardian]


7 July 2020

Indonesia: President Widodo’s mercurial relationship with his own party hit another bump

(lm) Throughout the last week, party elites of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) have taken to social media their disappointment over President Joko Widodo’s decision to appoint a non-party figure as the new Minister of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Not a PDI-P cadre, Mr Erick Thohir, who headed President Widodo’s re-election campaign team last year, was widely credited for successfully organising the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. [Strait Times]

Rancour in PDI-P hit rock bottom when Mr Thohir later appointed former colleagues, who helped him organise the 2018 Asian Games, to senior posts in state-owned enterprises and other strategic posts. PDI-P leader Adian Napitupulu reportedly had submitted a list of about 30 candidates in October 2019 to State Secretary Pratikno, who then handed it over to Mr Thohir. According to Mr Napitupulu, however, none of his nominees was ever summoned.



30 June 2020

Malaysia wants no more Rohingya refugees – APHR calls ASEAN’s limited help shameful

(cm/ls) Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has said that Malaysia did not have the resources and capacity to allow further Rohingya refugees be admitted to the country. Malaysia implemented strict border control since April when an influx of Rohingya refugees attempted to enter. Many of the refugees have been detained. Muhyiddin urged “the UN Refugee Agency to speed up the resettlement of Rohingya in Malaysia to third countries” as there are more than 100,000 refugees currently in Malaysia. [Bangkok Post] [South China Morning Post] [Air No. 23, June/2020, 2]

Meanwhile, Indonesian fishermen have rescued nearly 100 Rohingya refugees, including 79 women and children, in Aceh province. Officials said they planned to push them back out to sea with a new boat, gas and food, but these plans have not been realized following protests from the local fishermen. [Reuters]



30 June 2020

At summit, ASEAN leaders stress importance of international law for South China Sea dispute 

(jn) Leaders of the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday emphasized the importance of maintaining and promoting “freedom of navigation and overflight” above the South China Sea. The passage in their vision statement is seen as a response to reports of China planning to establish an air defense identification zone (ADIZ), something the country has also not ruled out publicly. The prospect of an ADIZ was not only decried by ASEAN members, but also the US military in the region.

ASEAN members explicitly stressed “the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.” They also agreed to work on “an effective and substantive Code of Conduct” for the South China Sea, a framework that would go further than the 2002 Declaration of Conduct that the ASEAN once agreed on with China.

On Saturday, another ASEAN statement authored by chairing member Vietnam pointed out that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be “the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones” in the South China Sea. Such remarks can be seen as a strong repudiation to China’s controversial historical claim to most of the disputed waters, and it is no coincidence that Vietnam as one of the most vocal critics of China’s encroachment was the drafter. As a sign of increasing geopolitical tensions, Chinese vessels harassed Vietnamese fishing boats this month and in April, and in the earlier case sunk one of them [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1].

The UNCLOS defines certain water areas as exclusive economic zones (EEZ) where coastal states are given the exclusive right to explore and use marine resources. The leaders said in the statement that the “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out”. 

There was no immediate response from China, but according to AP, Southeast Asian diplomats said that the statement marked a significant strengthening of ASEAN’s assertion of the rule of law in the region. In 2016, the Permanent Court or Arbitration in The Hague had ruled that China’s vast claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis. However, Beijing did not recognize the ruling. 

For a number of different interpretations and evaluation of the ruling see [ISEAS]. Among them is a piece of Clive Schofield who refers to China’s refection of the ruling to point to the fact of “fundamentally opposed, overlapping and contested spatial visions of maritime rights in the SCS” which “sets the scene for ongoing maritime incidents and disputes” with China not giving up its claims of historic rights.  

The ASEAN leaders also dedicated themselves to tackling the economic collateral damage wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic by establishing a regional pandemic fund, building medical supply stockpiles and reasserting the need for open trade links.  

The vision statement reaffirmed the importance of implementing free trade agreements and comprehensive economic partnerships between ASEAN and key economies. It mentioned India as a major trading partner (alongside China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong), although PM Narendra Modi had said last year that India would withdraw from the negotiations to sign up for the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact [see also AiR No.45, November/2019, 1]

The 36th ASEAN Summit themed “Cohesive And Responsive ASEAN: Rising Above Challenges And Sustaining Growth” was convened as a video conference on June 26 under the chair of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post] [South China Morning Post 2] [Radio Free Asia] [Asia Nikkei Review]



30 June 2020

Philippine President Duterte calls ASEAN not to escalate South China Sea dispute

(mp) Echoing ASEAN’s general stance on the South China Sea (see above), also Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called the parties involved in the conflict to exercise self-restraint and respect the rule of law to avoid “escalating tension.” He stressed that the conflict needed to be solved peacefully and in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Duterte, the country coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogues, demanded to work with China closely and to achieve an early conclusion with the other member states to reduce the tensions in the region that have continuously risen. [Inquirer]



30 June 2020

Indonesia: Sub-optimal handling of corona crisis exposes governance weaknesses

(ls) Indonesia’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak has largely been criticized as not suitable. The crisis has exposed limitations in the state’s capacity to address the immediate risks for public health and longer-term socio-economic consequences. An ISEAS Perspective argues that the crisis is a reminder for the government to initiate a comprehensive overhaul of administrative structures and decision-making processes. In particular, data collection and information management would need to be improved. [ISEAS]

Over the weekend, President Joko Widodo addressed his Cabinet in an unusually fiery tone, saying that he was prepared to take extraordinary political and governmental steps to address the current crisis, including a Cabinet reshuffle. The president is under increasing public pressure due to the still rising number of infections in the country. [Jakarta Post]




23 June 2020

Indonesian court finds Papuan men guilty of treason

(lm) An Indonesian court found three Papuan men guilty of treason and sentenced them to up to 11 months in prison for their involvement in anti-racism rallies in West Papua last year, a verdict that human rights activists considered as an indicator of deteriorating political freedoms in the world’s third-largest democracy. [The Guardian]

The three Papuans are part of the “Balikpapan Seven” group of West Papuan activists and university students arrested by police last August for involvement in anti-racism riots that swept across Indonesia’s easternmost provinces last August. [The Straits Times[Reuters]

The demonstrations were sparked by racist attacks on several Papuan students in Java, where they were allegedly called “monkeys” and other racial taunts. Thousands of people took part in the rallies, which began mostly peaceful, but turned violent, with protesters burning the parliamentary building, public facilities, and shopping stores. [AiR No. 35, August/2019, 4]





16 June 2020

Indonesia: The pandemic has given the military a boost

(yo) As Indonesia apparently failed to respond quickly in taking preventive action against the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has been making use of the military instead to compensate for initial inaction. Instead of health experts, senior army leaders are taking charge, which demonstrates that the government did not consider the pandemic as a crisis that would demand long-term health reforms. 

Indonesia has been suffering from a shortage of trained medical staff and personal protective equipment, but structural causes have remained largely unaddressed. An example of the government’s misguided approach has, for instance, benn the Health Minister, Terawan Agus Putranto, who argued that prayers would protect Indonesians from the virus. 

Army officials are responsible for contact tracing, surveillance and border controls. Experts worry such expansive involvement of the military could facilitate military resurgence in civilian affairs and even digress towards authoritarianism. Besides Indonesia, other governments in Southeast Asia have adopted security-heavy strategies, which may be difficult to undo once the pandemic is over. [Foreign Policy]




2 June 2020

Indonesia: Indonesian policeman killed by sword-wielding militant

(yo) A militant suspected to be an extremist linked with the Islamic State (IS) killed an Indonesian policeman and severely injured another on Monday. The aggressor had apparently planned a raid at the police post in South Daha district on Kalimantan with another attacker. They exploded a car outside the police post by setting it on fire, which led the officers outside when the raid began. Authorities note the act happening on a day commemorating pluralist democracy in Southeast Asia as a continued pattern of extremist activities that have been targeted against state figures. [Channel News Asia]



26 May 2020

Indonesia: Indonesia could face baby boom amid limited access to contraception

(yo) Due to limited birth control under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic, Indonesia faces a potential baby boom. The National Population and Family Planning Board reported that 10% of Indonesia’s reproductive couples found access to contraceptives difficult, and that one month without contraceptives of these individuals could lead to 420,000 unexpected pregnancies. Unfortunately, not only people are hesitant about visiting health clinics because of fears they would be exposed to Covid-19, many clinics are currently not open; and those that continue to function receive limited patients. Although government health workers are visiting to supply contraceptives, family planning services, and personal protective equipment, the potential baby boom creates some concern in the world’s fourth most-populous country. [Straits Times]


26 May 2020

Indonesia: New Navy and Air Force Chiefs of Staff

(jk) President Joko Widodo has inaugurated Admiral Yudo Margono and Air Chief Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo as the new chiefs of staff of the Navy and Air Force last week. [Jakarta Post] Adm. Yudo most recently led Navy patrols during a standoff with Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the North Natuna Sea [Asia in Review No. 1, January/2020, 1]. 


26 May 2020

Indonesia: Army deployed to enforce Indonesia’s virus restrictions

(jk) Indonesia deployed “hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police” across several provinces this week to enforce rules on virus containment, such as wearing masks and safe distancing. The forces were deployed after reports surfaced too many people were not adhering to the rules, especially over the weekend celebrating Eid – the end of the Islamic fasting month. [Japan Times]

26 May 2020

Indonesia: Extremist charities thriving 

(jk) With the Indonesian government enforcing anti-terrorism laws and increasing arrests under terror-related charges, extremist charities seemingly proliferate in the country. Their purpose often includes support for the families of incarcerated or killed members of terrorist organisations and expose them and their network to extremist thoughts and activities. In Indonesia, the “so-called Islamic State (IS) informal charities” thrive due to demand, failure of efficient government deradicalization programs, as well as a lack of laws regulating local charities and loopholes in existing anti-terror financing laws. [East Asia Forum]

19 May 2020

Indonesia: Controversy about postponement of regional elections

(ls) In April, Indonesia’s House of Representatives decided to postpone regional elections, which will be held simultaneously in the country’s 270 regions, from September to 9 December because of the Covid-19 crisis. Critics have said that voting in December is still too early and that it meant allowing incumbent candidates to benefit from the coronavirus crisis response if it was successful. The House will reevaluate the issue in the next sitting period, which will begin on 12 June. [Jakarta Post]

19 May 2020

Indonesia: Military’s counterterrorism powers further entrenched

(ls) Last week, a draft presidential decree was sent to the Indonesian parliament that stipulates the powers of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) in counterterrorism. According to the decree, the TNI’s tasks include terrorism prevention in the form of intelligence gathering and territorial operations, along with offensive measures to respond to attacks. Human rights advocates said that giving the military wide-ranging counter-terror duties could have detrimental impacts on law enforcement and accountability. Two years ago, after the suicide bombings in Surabaya, parliament strengthened the country’s anti-terrorism law, formalizing a role for the military in duties that had been reserved for the police for two decades. [Benar News]

19 May 2020

Tensions between China and Indonesia over alleged mistreatment of sailors

(ls) Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it was seeking more information about alleged incidents of Indonesian sailors having died after mistreatments on Chinese fishing vessels. An advocacy group said last weekend it concluded that the body of an Indonesian sailor was thrown off a Chinese ship near Somalia in January. Earlier this month, the government in Jakarta demanded an explanation from China regarding the sea burials of three Indonesian sailors in the Pacific Ocean between December and March. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that Beijing was investigating the reports. [Asian Nikkei Review]

19 May 2020

Indonesia: Veteran politician about to set up a new party 

(hg) National Mandate Party (PAN) patron Amien Rais, a vocal critic of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, is preparing to form a new political party following an internal rift within PAN. 

PAN, a smaller, moderate Islamist party, that fractured in February over an ugly dispute over the new party leadership. Like PAN, the new party in the planning aims at accommodating groups critical of the government. At current, Jokowi’s multi-party coalition controls more than 75% of the House of Representatives, leaving only PAN, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Democratic party in the opposition. 

Amien Rais, once leader of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, was a key member of the religious elite that helped to topple President Suharto in 1998, the year in which he founded PAN, which sided since with hardline Islamic groups. PAN has previously supported also Gerindra Party chairman General Prabowo Subianto who then decided to join his rival Jokowi’s cabinet as defense minister after ‘his’ Gerindra joined the ruling coalition. [Jakarta Post]

12 May 2020

Indonesia urges China to investigate “burial at sea”

(jk) Indonesia’s government on the weekend spoke out against what it referred to as  inhuman treatment of its nationals by a Chinese fishing company. The company allegedly keeps Indonesian fishermen as without granting them basic rights and mistreating them gravely. At least at least three of them have been confirmed dead and were thrown overboard as caught on a video recording. [New Straits Times]


5 May 2020

Indonesia turns to domestic arms industry amid Covid-19 restraints

(hg) Amid delayed plans to acquire foreign arms because of the Covid-19 outbreak government and think tanks in Indonesia encourage local arms manufacturers to step up production capacities and develop the necessary technologies. [The Star] gives a detailed report on the related efforts to develop a more self-supporting arms industry. 


28 April 2020

INTERPOL crackdown on terrorist routes in Southeast Asia

(jk) An INTERPOL-led operation from mid-February to mid-March involving law enforcement from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines led to the arrest of over 180 individuals, allegedly involved in human trafficking and terrorism. The operation took place along known common routes used by terrorist and organized crime groups in the border area of the involved countries, for example the Sulu and Celebes Seas, which have repeatedly been the focus of terrorist for kidnappings and human trafficking. Law enforcement was able to rescue a number of human trafficking victims and seized illegal firearms and explosives. [INTERPOL]


28 April 2020

Indonesia: Move of capital on hold due to Covid 19

(jk) The Indonesian government has said it would put its plan to move the nation’s capital from the island of Java to Borneo on hold while the country is fighting the outbreak of Covid 19. The plan, not yet approved by parliament, will likely take a long time to be implemented anyway, but the government had earmarked some budget for land acquisition in East Kalimantan for the new city. Instead, the funds will now go towards the budget fighting Covid 19. [The Straits Times]


14 April 2020

Indonesia warned to be on guard for anti-Chinese violence amid pandemic

(jk) The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta-based Think Tank, warns of a possible increase in anti-Chinese violence by extremist religious groups amid the ongoing corona crisis amid intensifying anti-Chinese rhetoric on social media. 

Drawing some parallels to some white supremacists in the US the report points out that terror groups in Indonesia might exploit the crisis by increasing activity while the government’s resources are tied up fighting the pandemic, or even using deliberate spreads of the virus as a weapon to further destabilise the state. [RSiS]

However, for the moment, the pandemic has decreased terrorist activities despite “ISIS central’s” call to “take advantage of the enemy’s preoccupation with the virus and mount strikes.” [Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict]

Incidentally, the man and woman accused of stabbing the former Coordinating Minister for Security Wiranto in October last year [Asia in Review No. 42, October/2019, 3], who are affiliated with ISIS-linked Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), went to trial last week. Both face the death penalty if convicted. [Benar News]

7 April 2020

Indonesia to release about 30,000 prisoners early due to COVID-19 fears

(ls) Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights is set to release about 30,000 prisoners early as the country seeks to avoid a possible surge in coronavirus infections in its overcrowded prisons. According to the plan, adult prisoners would be eligible for parole if they had served two-thirds of their sentences, while children would be eligible if they served half of their jail term. There are more than 270,000 prisoners across Indonesia, more than twice the official capacity of its jails. [Reuters]

Ten days ago, in Thailand, a riot erupted at the central prison in Buriram after about 100 prisoners broke furniture and smashed windows and set a fire over rumours of a Covid-19 outbreak. Several prisoners escaped before the riot was brought under control. [Bangkok Post]

31 March 2020

Indonesia: Dutch court orders Netherlands to pay compensation for colonial killings

(jk) A Dutch court has ordered the Netherlands to make compensation payments to relatives of victims of atrocities committed by Dutch colonial troops during their often violent actions against Indonesian freedom fighters before Indonesian independence in 1945. The court found in the particular cases that it heard in The Hague that 11 men had been killed as a result of misbehaviour by Dutch soldiers and their realties were due compensation [The Guardian]. 

Two weeks ago, on a royal visit to Indonesia, Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologised for “excessive violence” used by the Dutch forces during Indonesia’s fight for independence. While the Netherlands has paid damages to relatives of victims before, the apology issued by a member of the Dutch royal family was a first. [Reuters]

24 March 2020

Indonesia: Jakarta declares corona emergency

(ls) The governor of Jakarta has declared a state of emergency for the next two weeks in the Indonesian capital. The measures include closing cinemas and other public entertainment venues as well as urging people to work from home. Aside from Jakarta, the East Java region has also declared an emergency. The Indonesian measures fall short of tougher lockdowns imposed by fellow Southeast Asian countries. [Channel News Asia]

17 March 2020

Indonesia drops arms deal with Russia and China under pressure from US

(hg) At the same time, the Trump administration successfully pressured Indonesia to drop arms deals with Russian about fighter jets and China about naval vessels respectively. Especially, Indonesia’s decision to not move ahead with the procurement of 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets – a major arms deal – reflects Washington’s still existing ability to leverage political and economic power in Southeast Asia. At the other hand, it might, however, also contribute to an already manifest reservation among Indonesian elites regarding the US influence in the region. [South China Morning Post]

17 March 2020

Does the First Russia-Indonesia Joint Navy Exercise take shape?

(hg) Russia and Indonesia seem to prepare their first joint navy exercise this year under the label of the “first Orruda-2020 joint naval exercises.” The development highlights Russia’s efforts in increasing its defense ties in Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular with whom it is commemorating 70 years of bilateral relations this year. [The Diplomat]

Does the First Russia-Indonesia Joint Navy Exercise take shape?

(hg) Russia and Indonesia seem to prepare their first joint navy exercise this year under the label of the “first Orruda-2020 joint naval exercises.” The development highlights Russia’s efforts in increasing its defense ties in Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular with whom it is commemorating 70 years of bilateral relations this year. [The Diplomat]

17 March 2020

Six Indonesians arrested for spreading ‘hoaxes’ online on Coronavirus

(jk) Six Indonesians have been arrested for allegedly spreading misinformation online about the coronavirus, including claims of cases where there weren’t any or false claims on deaths related to the virus. The spread of misinformation carries penalties of up to six years in prison, and according to officials, the arrests should be “a lesson” not to spread false information about the virus. [South China Morning Post]

Lastly, the constitutional reform would have allowed the country’s de facto leader, state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, to take over the office of president. At current, Article 59(f) of the constitution bars candidates whose spouse or children are foreign citizens, which applies to Suu Kyi whose two sons are British nationals.

Although a majority of MPs supported the reform, it did not reach the necessary threshold of more than three quarters as the 25% of the military appointed MPs rejected it. Insofar, the military used the constitutional veto it is effectively wielding besides its control over the state of emergency and key ministries such as defense, border and home affairs. [VoA]

17 March 2020

Indonesia: SBY’s son takes over Democratic Party leadership 

(jk) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s eldest son Agus Hartimurti Yudhoyono has taken over the leadership of the Democratic Party from his father as he was elected party chairman last weekend. Agus previously ran for the governorship of Jakarta in 2016, changing his career from the military to politics. Agus had served as the party’s deputy chairman since late 2019 and as party leader may run for President in the future. [The Jakarta Post]

10 March 2020

Indonesia: Twitter and Facebook take down army’s fake accounts

(ls) Twitter and Facebook have suspended dozens of accounts that were linked to a network of news sites backed by the Indonesian army that publish pro-government propaganda about the restive region of Papua. Facebook previously took down a network of fake accounts and pages posting content on the Papua Independence movement in October 2019. [Reuters]

Similar allegations emerged in Thailand during a parliamentary censure debate two weeks ago [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020], in which opposition members claimed that the government was using so-called information operations (IOs) to discredit its opponents, particularly in the south of the country. A number of forums will be held in major provinces across the country this week, which will focus on answers given by the government during the censure debate. [Bangkok Post]

10 March 2020

South China Sea: Continued tensions between Southeast Asian countries

(ls/ps) Indonesia has detained dozens of crew members from Vietnamese boats it claims have been fishing illegally near the Natuna Islands. The Indonesian government claims the area in the southernmost reaches of the South China Sea as its exclusive economic zone. In January, Indonesia deployed fighter jets and warships in a conflict with Beijing over Chinese vessels entering the area. [Channel News Asia]

In addition, Malaysia, Vietnam and China have for weeks been entangled in a quiet naval standoff. As reported earlier [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020], Malaysia triggered the showdown by exploring for energy resources beyond its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Vietnam then deployed militia vessels to the area, and China responded by launching the China Coast Guard’s (CCG). The developments, which pitted fellow ASEAN countries against each other, leave question marks over ASEAN’s joint approach toward China’s vast territorial claims. [Asia Times]

Meanwhile, Vietnam and the US are looking to further strengthen relations as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill arrive in Da Nang, Vietnam. It is the second visit of a US warship to Vietnam since American troops left almost 50 years ago. China has repeatedly trespassed the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Vietnam with oil survey ships and fishing boats escorted by its coast guard. Analysts say Vietnam is unable to protect its resources and is therefore seeking international support. [South China Morning Post][US Navy]

25 February 2020

Indonesia: Draft bill aims to label LGBT as deviant

(ls/tk) Several Indonesian Members of Parliament have introduced a so-called “Family Resilience” bill that would outlaw surrogacy and require LGBT people to seek treatment at rehabilitation centers. The draft bill states that wives must “take care of household-related matters” and “treat the husband and the child well.” Homosexuality, incest and sadomasochism are defined as “sexual deviations”. It remains open whether President Joko Widodo’s government will support the bill. For several years now, Indonesia is seeing a shift towards greater conservativism including growing state and public hostility against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.  [Reuters]

A related piece published in the New Mandala describes one of the underlying political strategies as ‘scientific homophobia’, in which the deliberate distortion of academic research, the misuse of outdated research, and the obstruction of the larger academic debates have been deployed to convince the public about the danger of LGBT people to society. [New Mandala]

25 February 2020

Indonesia to revoke passports of IS fighters

(tk) Indonesia has announced to revoke passports of its nationals who have joined the IS terrorist group in Syria and Iraq. Currently, 689 of Indonesians have been identified as such. With this action, Indonesia aims to prevent them from coming back into their home country. An exception will be made for children aged under 10 years old who are without parents due to the special protection of children under the Protection of Children Law 2004. Additionally, Indonesia has boosted patrols and surveillance in the border areas of the vast archipelago, especially at the border to the southern Philippines. [Xinhua] [The Diplomat]

18 February 2020

Indonesia: National Commission on Human Rights finds gross human rights violations by Indonesia’s military in Papua 

(jk) According to an investigation by the commission concluded this week, Indonesia’s military carried out “crimes against humanity” when it shot dead four students and tortured many more in the country’s Papua region during 2014 protests. The commission forwarded the findings to the Attorney-General for possible prosecution. [Straits Times]

28 January 2020

Indonesia: Papuans refuse to remove penis gourds in Jakarta court

(ls) According to a report that vividly illustrates different cultural traditions and practices existing side by side in Indonesia, two Papuan activists on trial for treason in Jakarta refused to remove traditional penis gourds. After several hours of negotiations, the men, also wearing Papuan headgear with their faces painted, agreed to put on trousers. They accused the court of racism. Papua has seen several incidents of violence in recent months, partly linked to a push for independence and racism against Papuans. [Free Malaysia Today]

21 January 2020

Thai and Indonesian armies agree to share intelligence on militants

(jk) Thailand’s army chief, who visited Indonesia last week, met his Indonesian counterpart and signed an intelligence sharing agreement on cross-border movements of fugitives and militants. The agreement was signed in Indonesia’s Aceh province where they met initially to to sign a four-year extension of a bilateral army cooperation deal. [Benar News]

Thailand’s army chief said he was visiting Aceh to understand how Indonesia reached a settlement with Muslim insurgents in Aceh province in 2005. [Khaosod English]

14 January 2020

China-Indonesia tensions around Natuna Islands eased

(ls/lf) The Chinese vessels that had entered Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone around the Natuna Islands have exited the area, easing the tensions between the two countries. Before, the Indonesian air force had deployed four F-16 fighter jets to monitor the situation. As reported last week, Beijing contends that the waters are part of its “traditional” fishing grounds and that the area is within its “nine-dash line”. Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared that the incident shall not harm the friendly relations between the two countries. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters 1]

China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner and a major investor. Both countries enjoy broad cooperation, including in infrastructure development such as the high-speed railway project linking Jakarta with Bandung. The US$6 billion project is part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond. [Straits Times]

Meanwhile, however, President Widodo asked Japan to step up investment in fisheries and energy in some of its South China Sea islands, in particular also the Natunas. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi declared that the two countries also wanted to strengthen coastguard coordination. Japan last year gave Indonesia 100 billion rupiah ($7.26 million) to build a fish market in Natuna, which will be named Tsukiji after the famous Tokyo market. [Reuters 2]

7 January 2020

New momentum in the South China Sea? Criticism mounts as Indonesia rebukes China’s claim 

(jk) Last week, Jakarta had protested to Beijing over the presence of a Chinese coast guard vessel in its territorial waters around the Natuna Islands. The “strong protest” and summoning of the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta was met with a statement from Beijing claiming that China has sovereignty of large parts of the South China Sea and “normal” fishing rights in the concerned area.

In a relatively sharp response, Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry asked China to explain the “legal basis and clear borders” regarding its claims based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also mentioning the arbitration ruling in the Hague in 2016. [Jakarta Post 1] [Sydney Morning Herald

Indonesia’s official position is that it is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea having no overlapping claims with China. The Natuna Islands however, in fact outside even of the spurious “nine-dash line”, are just south of the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, and amid increasing presence and scope of China’s claims and actions, Indonesia is concerned about more Chinese vessels illegally entering and fishing in its waters.

Indonesia has stepped up sea and aerial patrols of islands, deploying navy, army and air force personnel to the area, including eight war ships. [South China Morning Post] [Channel News Asia] It has also said it has mobilised over one hundred fishermen to operate in the area, supposedly to reinforce Indonesian presence. [Jakarta Post 2]  

The move that publicly denounces China’s “historic rights” and again redirects some of the attention to the 2016 ruling, comes after the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs called China’s claims “ridiculous” earlier in December [Asia in Review, No. 52, December/2019, 4] and the country submitted its extended continental shelf claims beyond a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to the United Nations’ Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, based on a joint  submission made with Vietnam in 2009. [Asia Times] The joint submission did not indicate a division of the claims between the two countries, but it does pose a direct challenge to the Chinese claims. [Asia Sentinel]

With Vietnam as the ASEAN chair for 2020, recent moves in Malaysia, Indonesia and steadily simmering unease about Chinese involvement also in Philippine waters, some observers see a difficult year ahead for Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Whether these actions will result in anything tangible and more than “strong protests” however remains to be seen and is dependent on outside support as well as whether or not Southeast Asian countries can find a common position from which they can challenge Chinese claims. 

31 December 2019

Malaysia/Indonesia: Muslim protests against China’s treatment against Uighurs

(jk/fs) Hundreds of Muslims gathered in Kuala Lumpur to demonstrate against China’s mistreatment of its Muslim Uighur minority. Protesters mainly consisted of members of two Muslim groups, the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM) and the hardline pro-caliphate group Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia (HTM). Two representatives, one of each group, went to the People’s Republic of China’s embassy, but were declined entry.

HTM spokesman Abdul Hakim Othman demanded from the Malaysian government “to provide help to the Muslims of China as much as possible, including providing them space here if they should wish to seek protection”. Furthermore, he urged the government to suspend all political and economic ties with China and, in case of increasing hardships for fellow Muslim, even to issue a military warning of “jihad”. [MalayMail]

In Indonesia, in similar protests, over a thousand Muslims marched towards the Chinese embassy as well

While the Indonesian Security Minister told the government had summoned the Chinese Ambassador to explain the situation Xinjiang. [The Straits Times]

In mid-November this year, New York Times reported that more than 400 internal documents of the People’s Republic of China were leaked, revealing details of the brutal and organized crackdown of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, including the detention of more than one million people in internment camps. [Asia in Review No. 47, November/2019, 3]

31 December 2019

Indonesia: Revival of truth and reconciliation commission? 

(lf/jk) [Reuters] reports that Indonesia plans to revive the truth and reconciliation commission to investigate state-led human rights violations. The commission – abandoned in 2004 by a constitutional court ruling- was supposed to bring closure to the wrongdoings during the Suharto dictatorship. The most important investigation looks into the 1965 crackdown on communist and alleged communist sympathisers, in which at least estimated 500,000 people were killed in a massive anti-communist crackdown that targeted also many Chinese. [The Conversation, with more information on the war against the PKI]

24 December 2019

Indonesia files complaint to WTO in palm oil dispute with EU

(lf) Indonesia has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), claiming the EU’s new policies regarding the restriction of palm oil to be discriminatory. In March, the EU had ruled out palm oil as a sustainable fuel alternative as it causes great deforestation, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia thereupon had declared to retaliate, refusing the import of dairy and liquor products from the EU. The EU had already filed a complaint in November of this year. [Reuters]

Indonesia is the biggest palm oil producer in the world. Palm oil is the world’s most used vegetable oil and can be found in most products from food to cosmetics to fuel. Indonesia and Malaysia account for 85% of the world production. Half of the EUs imports of palm oil are made up by biofuel. This means a large cut back in imports of palm oil in the near future. [rainforest rescue] [business insider].

Palm Oil production has become an important economic pillar for Indonesia, however, with high demand from across the world, the impact it has on the environment has made palm oil a controversial product. To meet the demand, large parts of the rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia have been cut down, reducing the habitat of many endangered animals and plants. [The Independent]

10 December 2019

Indonesia: Is the first presidential contender already warming up for 2024?

(ls/nj) After the election is before the election: In Indonesia, where President Jokowi won his re-election bid earlier this year, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan attended a conservative Muslim rally – the third anniversary of a rally that eventually brought down previous governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in 2016. Anies’ presence on the stage raised widespread attention, ueling suspicions that he is lining himself up as a contender for the 2024 presidential election. Critics suggested that he is willing to change his image as a moderate to court the Islamist vote. Over recent years, a growing tide of conservatism across age groups has led to deepening divisions in the Indonesian society. [South China Morning Post]


10 December 2019

Indonesia’s democratic paradox

(ls) In a piece written for the New Mandala, Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner argue that, though the co-existence of Indonesia’s competitive elections with illiberal trends appears contradictory, the two are in fact interrelated. [New Mandala]


3 December 2019

Indonesia: Jokowi seeks to boost image by putting influential media giants in government

(jk) President Jokowi of Indonesia is being criticised for appointing a number of influential media figures – or family members of them – to cabinet and government advisory positions. Critics call this a strategy in order to influence large media organisations and the way the report on the government. Among the appointments are the new tourism and creative economy minister and his deputy, the minister for state-owned enterprises and a number of advisors. [Nikkei Asian Review]

3 December 2019

Indonesia: Chinese ‘fake cop’ scam leads to mass arrest

(nj) Indonesian police arrested 85 Chinese suspects who are accused of running a ‘fake cop’ scam with the majority of the victims living in china. The fraud lured the victims with promising investments or simply pushing them into paying large amounts of money to fake police officers or prosecutors. Suspects are believed to have moved to Indonesia or other countries in the region because they fear a harder crack down by the Chinese government.

The latest scam is estimated to have cheated its victims out of USD 2.5 million, with similar scams occurring in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.  [South China Morning Post]  [The Straits Times]

26 November 2019

Indonesia: Former Jakarta governor Ahok returns to public office

(nj) Indonesia´s President Joko Widodo has approved former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for the post of president commissioner of Indonesia´s state oil and gas company Pertamina after he served nearly two years in prison for allegedly insulting the Quran during his re-election campaign in 2017. Widodo said he valued him for his straight-forward policy during his time as Jakarta governor. Prior to that, Ahok served as Widodo´s deputy while he was Jakarta governor in 2012. [The Straits Times]


26 November 2019

Book excerpt: “Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia, and the Cold War”

(ls) In her new book, Historian Zhou Taomo looks at the complex ties between China and Indonesia in the cold war. Zhou argues that migration and activism by ethnic Chinese were major forces shaping the relations between Beijing and Jakarta. The South China Morning Post has published some excerpts. [South China Morning Post]


19 November 2019

Bougainville’s Quest for Independence 

(jk) A special report on the upcoming referendum this week in Bougainville – if it passes, Bougainville might become the next new nation in the world, breaking away from Papua New Guinea. [Australian Foreign Affairs]


19 November 2019

19 Indonesian Airports increasing security efforts after suicide bombing at police HQ

(nl/jk) The area outside the police headquarters in the Indonesian city of Medan in North Sumatra was hit by a suspected suicide bombing on Wednesday in which the perpetrator- a 24-year old student- died and some police officers were injured. The motive for the attack wasn’t immediately clear, but a link has been made to Islamic sympathizers who have been targeting the police in several of their attacks in recent years and were involved in the recent stabbing of Indonesia’s former security minister and army general. [Reuters]

In response to the suicide bombing, security measures in particular at airports are stepped-up. [The Jakarta Post]


12 November 2019

U.S.-Indonesian defense relations under Prabowo

(nj) With Prabowo Subianto as Indonesia’s new Defense Minister, doubts have arisen over U.S.-Indonesian defense relations. The former Army lieutenant General was dismissed from the military for being allegedly involved in the kidnapping and torture of pro-democracy activists and atrocities during the occupation of East-Timor. As a consequence, it remains uncertain if Prabowo is eligible to enter the U.S. or not. In 2000, Prabowo wanted to travel to the U.S. to attend his son´s graduation in Boston, but he was denied a visa. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, China has emphasized its interest in Indonesian maritime territory and abundant resources and aims to further deepen bilateral relations. [Antara News]


12 November 2019

Indonesia: Two reporters killed over palm oil land dispute

(ls) Two Indonesian journalists have been found dead with multiple stab wounds near a plantation in Sumatra. They were mediating a land dispute between a palm oil company and residents. A local police chief said that investigators had found indications that the reporters’ deaths were related to their activism. The police arrested an oil palm plantation owner believed to be the mastermind behind the murder. [Voice of America] [Jakarta Post]


12 November 2019

Indonesia: Free-KPK passes put anti-corruption body’s authority in doubt

(nj) Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and several high-ranking politicians are to be excluded from future corruption investigations. They obtained a “free pass” providing this exemption under the revised anti-corruption law. The Constitutional Court is still reviewing the new legislation. Meanwhile, Widodo appears prepared to select the five members of the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) supervisory council. The council is empowered to decide which cases the KPK will pursue and which it should drop. Many see the regulation as highly controversial since effective prosecution of corruption cases against government linked people could not be possible anymore. [The Jakarta Post]

The new law weakening the country’s anti-corruption body sparked months-long student violent protests across Indonesia. [AiR No. 40, October/2019, 1]


12 November 2019

Indonesia and Laos to cooperate more closely on anti-drugs and human trafficking

(ls) Indonesia and Laos have signed an agreement to cooperate in the fight against transnational organized crimes, including drug smuggling and human trafficking. Both countries also commenced a joint capacity building and training program on transnational crimes and extradition. [Jakarta Globe]


5 November 2019

Human rights groups criticise East Asia Summit for not including human rights issues

(jk) Rights groups criticised the state of human rights protection in Southeast Asia in particular over the weekend as they pointed out that the big summits, such as the East Asia Summit, do not include official discussions or statements on the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.

Human rights watch and other organisation expressed grave concern over the fact the Rohingya crisis, the war on drugs in the Philippines, the punishment of the LGBT community or enforced disappearances of activists were largely ignored throughout the summit. [Bangkok Post]

The Rohingya refugee crisis, although not in these terms, was mentioned at length in the final statement of the 35th ASEAN Summit however. ASEAN leaders noted their desire to

facilitate the safe, secure and dignified return displaced persons currently in Bangladesh to

Rakhine State from which they fled. [Chairman’s Statement Of The 35th ASEAN Summit] At the same time, they commended the work of AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [for background on AICHR, see this article in CPG’s COM Online Magazine 4/2019]


5 November 2019

RCEP: 15 countries (RCEP minus India) declare they have agreed and will sign in 2020

(jk) During the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok on Monday, 15 countries (The ASEAN-ten, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) agreed to all 20 chapters of the RCEP and stated that they were “willing to sign” the deal in 2020.

All participating countries agreed to make efforts to resolve the remaining issues surrounding India’s concerns, so it too, can participate. [The Korea Herald]

Despite the positive spin on this development, it will remain a disappointment that RCEP could not be completed and signed by the end of this year as it was initially (if very optimistically) stated.

This disappointing if not entirely unexpected outcome was underscored by the US decision to downgrade US representation at the East Asia Summit, also held in Bangkok this past weekend. It was the first time since the EAS was established in 2005, that a country at the summit was represented by an official below the rank of foreign minister. Instead the US sent the new National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, as the Special Envoy to the upcoming EAS and the US-ASEAN Summit. [ISEAS Commentary]

5 November 2019

Indonesia: man flogged 28 times for adultery 

(nj) An Indonesian man was flogged 28 times for having an affair with a married woman. The punishment had been carried out in Aceh province, the only region in Indonesia that imposes Islamic law. The man found guilty of adultery helped to draft the law outlawing consumption of alcohol, gay or premarital sex and adultery. [The Guardian] [BBC]

29 October 2019

Indonesia: Violent clashes as Widodo visits Papua

(ls/nj) Three people have been killed in clashes between police and rebels in Indonesia’s Papua region. The violence erupted as President Joko Widodo was visiting the restive region. However, the incident appeared unrelated to weeks of unrest that saw dozens killed when riots broke out in the region’s Wamena city last month, with some victims burned alive when buildings were set on fire. Since mid-August, Papua has been hit by waves of mass protests and violence over claims of racism and calls for self-rule. [Star Online]

29 October 2019

Indonesia: President Widodo appoints Prabowo Subianto as his Defence Minister

(ls) Indonesian President Joko Widodo unveiled his new 38-member Cabinet, which contains politicians from across the aisle as well as professionals. More than a third of the ministers are from his previous government. The new Defence Minister is Prabowo Subianto, the former army general and chairman of the opposition Gerindra party who challenged Widodo in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections. After the election, Prabowo first rejected the results and asked for a constitutional court ruling, which ruled in Widodo’s favor. [Straits Times]

Prabowo’s appointment has met with criticism from human rights groups and others who have questioned his fitness to lead a ministry that should be spearheading military reforms. As commander of the Army’s special forces, Kopassus, Prabowo was allegedly involved in the forced disappearance of prodemocracy activists between 1997 and 1998. He has also been accused of being involved in other human-rights abuses, including during the Army’s East Timor counter-insurgency operations in the 1970s. Prabowo has repeatedly denied all such allegations. [Jakarta Post]

It appears that Widodo’s strategy favors compromise over confrontation. Some observers note that, on the one hand, there is a risk is that tensions between Jokowi and Prabowo will not subside and that the choice could pave the way for the politicization of the armed forces and police. On the other hand, the choice could bring political stability after five years of heated rivalry. [BBC]

29 October 2019

The role of social media companies in shaping political discourse in Indonesia

(ls) The New Mandala has published a piece by Aldila Irsyad who argues that social media companies have more control than the government of Indonesia in limiting the freedom of expression of its citizens. Irsyad discusses the question to what extent they will control the political discourse in Indonesia. [New Mandala]

22 October 2019

Indonesia: Update on President Widodo’s plans to move the country´s capital from Jakarta to Borneo 

(nj) Plans to move Indonesia´s capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan – located on the island of Borneo will cost the country about US$ 33 billion. According to East Kalimantan governor the project depends on the financial support from China and other countries, like Japan, to provide a solid infrastructure. With a relocation from Jakarta to Kalimantan, Widodo is looking to escape the environmental challenges the capital is facing right now. Whereas Jakarta suffers from high air pollution, East Kalimantan is rich in natural resources like oil, gas, timber and oil palms. Furthermore, Jakarta is more susceptible to floods and is among the world’s fastest sinking capitals.

Beijing already invested a little over US$ 60 million for highway constructions. In return, Chinese manufacturing companies seek to compete on Indonesian markets but local suppliers fear a fast developing monopoly of Chinese. [The South China Morning Post]


22 October 2019

PNG: Bougainville independence vote to go ahead

(jk) The vote in Papua New Guinea’s autonomous region of Bougainville, which is feared to trigger separation negotiations to create a new nation, will go ahead as per the agreement between the Government of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Bougainville Government despite having been delayed twice over funding issues. The vote, now to be held later next month and in December, is not binding and the final say on independence will remain with the Government of Papua New Guinea. To overcome a funding gap, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, added around US$2 million to the US$5+ million  that PNG has contributed.

The widely expected outcome of the referendum is that the people of Bougainville will vote for some form of independence by a large margin, its anticipated success as an independent nation state however is widely disputed.  [Reuters] [Lowy Institute for background]


22 October 2019

Indonesia increases security measures for Jokowi`s second term of presidency

(jk/nj) With the presidential second term starting October 20, Indonesia remained on high alert around Joko Widodo´s inauguration. Tensions remain high following heavy protests referring to the passing of controversial bills into laws as reported previously, as well as the recent stabbing attack on chief security minister Wiranto. [The Star]  [The Straits Times]. The stabbing prompted the arrest of 36 suspects by the police, all with alleged links to the local terrorist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).  [The Jakarta Post] [Antara News]

The protests that happened across Indonesia in September saw thousands of people demanding to stop any efforts which could weaken the country’s anti-corruption body, the KPK, as well as efforts to introduce a new criminal code that includes penalizing extramarital sex and insulting the president. During the protests police used teargas and water cannons leading to hundreds of injuries and the death of three students. Activists claim that at least one student died from a gunshot fired by police. As a result, people now demand to introduce independent investigations concerning the police´s involvement by Indonesian President Widodo. [South China Morning Post]

For an assessment on Jokowi’s second-term Priorities and Challenges based on an interview with the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, see [ISEAS]


22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment 

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation evaluates the possibility of an increase in maritime terrorist violence in Asia. Based on an analysis of recent incidents, it argues that the vulnerability of high seas shipping to criminal acts of violence and the weak and inconsistent nature of maritime governance raises the possibility of a terrorist strike in the Asian littorals. [ORF]


22 October 2019

Indonesia Launches $212M International Development Aid Fund

(jk) Albeit very small in scale, particularly compared to major projects such as the BRI, the Indonesian government has launched the Indonesian Agency for International Development, to “help reduce poverty and social inequality around the world.” [Jakarta Globe]

15 October 2019

Indonesia: Chief security minister attacked by suspected terrorist sympathizer

(ls/nj) Indonesia’s Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto was attacked with a knife by a man suspected to be a sympathizer of the local terrorist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) on Thursday during a visit to a town on the island of Java. Wiranto has been designated by President Joko Widodo as the person in-charge with the handling of the unrest in the country’s West Papua region. He had been previously accused of committing atrocities during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor but was not found guilty. [Al Jazeera] [Jakarta Post]

8 October 2019

Indonesia: Sukarno heir elected as Indonesia’s first female House speaker

(td) The Indonesian parliament elected its first female house speaker, Puan Maharani Nakshatra Kusyala, granddaughter of the country’s first president and daughter of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The 46-year-old politician was coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs in President Joko Widodo’s Cabinet, before she resigned to take up her seat in parliament. Maharani is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, which is led by her mother and is the largest party in parliament. (Aljazeera)

8 October 2019

Indonesia: More than 16,000 flee unrest in Indonesia’s Papua region

(jk) Due to the ongoing unrests in Indonesia’s Papua region, the military said on Monday that more than 16,000 residents have fled from the violence in Wamena. [Al Jazeera] Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation into 33 deaths during the Wamena riots which ought to be led by the country’s National Commission on Human Rights. [Human Rights Watch]

1 October 2019

Indonesia: Indonesian police arrest hundreds linked to forest fires

(td) Indonesian police arrested 230 people on suspicion of starting some of the fires which have spread health-damaging haze across a large part of Southeast Asia. Those arrested could be prosecuted under an environmental protection law that provides for a maximum 10-year prison sentence for setting fires to clear land. [The Independent]

1 October 2019

Indonesia: New unrest in Papua as new joint defense commands take shape

(ls) New unrest has erupted in Indonesia’s Papua region. More than 30 people were killed and dozens injured in riots, with some victims burned to death in buildings set ablaze by protesters. 16 people died in Wamena city where hundreds demonstrated and burned down a government office and other buildings. Papua, on the western half of New Guinea island, has seen weeks of violent protests ueled by anger over racism and calls for self-rule. [The Star]

Residents of Wamena city have been fleeing the city amid rumors that there will be a military deployment to prevent further turbulence in the area. The Papua Police said the unrest was triggered by “baseless information” about a teacher who allegedly used a racial slur against a student. [Jakarta Post]

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government has appointed the chiefs for three new joint defense commands (Kogabwilhan). They are equipped with naval, air and army assets. Each Kogabwilhan will be responsible either for the country’s western, central or eastern parts. One of the three command centers is established in Biak, Papua. The eastern command in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, is expected to support Indonesian efforts to assert its sovereignty over an area north of the Natuna Islands following encroachments by Chinese and Vietnamese vessels. [Straits Times]

1 October 2019

Indonesia: Massive student protests against draft criminal code and new KPK legislation

(ls/td) In Jakarta and other Indonesian cities, thousands of students have taken to the streets and occupied local parliaments to protest against the draft criminal code that would include outlawing extramarital sex and a controversial new law that could weaken the nation’s anti-corruption body. It was the biggest student protest in decades. Police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators. One student died in Kendari city on Sulawesi island, where the local parliament was torched. Passage of the controversial changes has now been delayed. [New Straits Times]

Updating Indonesia’s Dutch colonial-era criminal code has been debated for decades and appeared set to pass in 2018 before momentum dried out. Among a series of contentious articles are those that would outlaw adultery, unmarried couples living together, as well as make insulting the president a criminal offence that could carry a jail sentence. [The Guardian]

In response to the protests, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Thursday he was considering revoking the new law governing the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The law creates a committee to oversee the agency and limits the agency’s freedom to wiretap suspects. The KPK has prosecuted hundreds of politicians, officials and businessmen since its formation in 2002, becoming one of the country’s most respected agencies. [Channel News Asia]

24 September 2019

Continuing violence in West Papua, dozens confirmed dead and wounded 

(jk) According to latest reports, at least 26 West Papuan demonstrators as well as an Indonesian soldier have been killed and wounded in clashes in the regional capital of Jayapura and in Wamena [Straits Times]. According to footage that surfaced on social media, the protesters, among them many students, clashed with pro-Jakarta forces who are taking an exceedingly tough and violent approach with several demonstrators suffering from bullet wounds. In Wamena, protesters set ablaze government offices. Amidst the new outbreak of violence, the administration in Jakarta has reinforced its claim that everything is under control. [ABC] [SBS]

24 September 2019

Couples in Indonesia’s Aceh whipped over public displays of affection

(jk) Charged with breaking local Islamic law by publicly displaying affection, three couples have been publicly caned in Indonesia’s Aceh province last week. The six men and women were struck between 20 and 22 times by a masked sharia officer. [South China Morning Post]

24 September 2019

Indonesia’s President Halts Bill That Would Ban Sex Outside Marriage (law)

(td) On Sep 21 Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo pushed back a legislation that would have criminalized sex between unmarried people, including gays and lesbians, days before it had been expected to pass. The provision intends a punishment of up to one year in prison.

The measure, aimed at overhauling Indonesia’s penal code, had appeared likely to win approval on Sep 24 from the country’s outgoing Parliament.

But after an outpouring of opposition to many of its provisions from rights activists, women’s groups, legal experts and others, President Widodo announced that he had asked lawmakers to drop the legislation and leave the matter for the next Parliament, which will be seated in October.

Many of the wide-ranging bill’s provisions — it had 628 articles — mirrored elements of Shariah, the Islamic legal code. It would have restricted access to contraception for minors, outlawed cohabitation without marriage, restricted freedom of speech, reduced the rights of religious minorities and imposed harsh punishment for insulting the dignity of the president. (New York Times) (Straits Times)

24 September 2019

Indonesia raises minimum age for brides to end child marriage

(td) Indonesia’s parliament has revised the country’s marriage law to lift the minimum age at which women can marry by three years to 19, a move welcomed by campaigners as a step toward curbing child marriage in the world’s biggest Muslim majority-country. (Reuters)

All factions in parliament agreed the revision at a plenary session on Sep 16, according to a statement on its website. Indonesia is among the 10 countries in the world with the highest number of child brides. One in four girls is married before they turn 18.

Indonesia previously allowed girls of 16 to get married or younger – with no minimum age – if their parents requested it. Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled in December that it was discriminatory to have a lower marriage age for women than for men, who could legally marry at 19.

Child marriage in Indonesia has been blamed for causing maternal and infant deaths, as well as encouraging child labor, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister said in a statement. (Channel News Asia) (Straits Times)

17 September 2019

Indonesia: Arrests in Papua as Widodo meets with representatives

(td/ls) Indonesian Police in Papua have arrested 85 suspects since ethnic unrest erupted in the country’s easternmost region in mid-August. At least four people have been killed in the political violence following protests over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination, spread over two weeks in a string of Papuan towns. Some protesters have demanded a referendum on independence, something the government has ruled out. In Jakarta, President Joko Widodo met with Papuan leaders and students at the presidential palace a bid to soothe tensions. An internet blackout had been lifted for most parts of Papua after three weeks, though it remained in place for major cities like Jayapura, Manokwari and Sorong. [Channel News Asia]

In an RSIS commentary on the recent violent riots in Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces, the author describes who Papua’s problems are more complex than just isolation and economic poverty. It is argued that, although Jokowi’s focus on welfare and development-oriented policy in Papua is important, money is not enough. The author points out that the government does not recognize the political and historical grievances of the conflicts, leaving the Papuans in constant unrest over the years, undermining the efforts to make Papuans feel like the government is serious about their welfare. [RSIS]

17 September 2019

Indonesia: Former president Habibie dies at 83

(ls) Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who as president of Indonesia ushered in an era of democracy that ended the rule of Haji Mohamed Suharto, whose 32-year dictatorship was one of the most brutal and corrupt of the 20th century, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Jakarta at the age of 83. He received a state funeral with military honors on Thursday. The New York Times has published an obituary. [New York Times]

Habibie, who was Indonesia’s president for only 17 months in 1998-99, allowed democratic reforms and an independence referendum for East Timor following the ouster of Suharto. An engineer educated in Indonesia and Germany, Habibie spent nearly two decades working for German aircraft maker Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm, rising to the position of vice-president and director of applied technology. In 1974, he became the science and technology minister under Suharto. [South China Morning Post]

10 September 2019

Indonesia restores internet access in parts of restive Papua region 

(td) Indonesia has partially lifted an internet blackout imposed following civil unrest in the country’s easternmost region of Papua, but is yet to restore access in areas where the most violent protests erupted. These include  places where protesters torched buildings, such as the capital of Papua province Jayapura and the capital of West Papua province of Manokwari. 

The government had throttled internet speeds in the region for a few days before cutting off access entirely in the two provinces in the region from Aug 21. [Channel News Asia] [The Straits Times]

The region of Papua has suffered the most serious civil unrest in years since mid-August over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination. Some protesters have also demanded an independence referendum, something Jakarta has ruled out. About 6,000 police and military personnel have been flown in to Papua, reinforcing a heavy military presence in a region that has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict. [AiR 36, September/2019, 1]

03 September 2019

Disinformation, violence, and anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia’s 2019 elections

(ls) An interesting piece from ISEAS takes a look at the violence that broke out in Indonesia on 21-23 May 2019, which, according to the author, marks the world’s first instance of online disinformation leading to election-related riots. The author describes how a disinformation cascade followed the opposition’s claim that the election had been stolen by incumbent president Jokowi. Framed by this narrative, social media platforms saw a large spike in the volume of anti-Chinese disinformation. [ISEAS]

03 September 2019

Indonesia: Jakarta sends more security forces as violence continues in Papua

(ls/td) Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces continue to grapple with incidents of violent unrest. In Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura, protesters torched a local parliament office, a building housing the offices of a state-controlled telecoms firm and cars parked on the street. More than 1,000 people took part in the protest. On Monday, one student was killed. Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda called for the United Nations to act on the crisis. [The Guardian] [Straits Times 1]

At least two civilians and one soldier have been killed in the remote district of Deiyai. However, information coming from the region is difficult to gather as an internet blackout remains in place. The government claims this is to stop the spread of misinformation and “hoaxes”. [ABC News]

The Indonesian government has sent 2,500 police officers and soldiers to confront the violence and restore order in Jayapura. 1,500 security forces had already been deployed in West Papua, which is the neighbouring province to Papua, the week before. [Straits Times 2]

For about two weeks, thousands of people have taken to the streets across Indonesia’s easternmost territory for protests believed to have been initially sparked by racist comments made towards Papuan students in Surabaya over allegations of a damaged flagpole. [AiR No. 35, August/2019, 4]

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

16 July 2019

Indonesia: President Widodo promises economic reforms and “millennials” as ministers

(ls/kj) After having won the presidential election earlier this year, Indonesian President Joko Widodo vowed to implement a wave of reforms to attract foreign investment. He announced to quickly lower corporate taxes, ease stringent labor laws and lift curbs on foreign ownership in more industries. Indonesia’s economy grew about 5% in recent years, short of the 7% the president targeted ahead of his first term. Widodo apparently tries to reassure investors as the election aftermath saw the deadliest political violence in Jakarta in two decades after runner-up Prabowo Subianto’s supporters took to the streets to protest. [Bloomberg]

Last week, Widodo and Prabowo Subianto also publicly put their differences aside and sought reconciliation. They met on a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train, which was newly inaugurated in Jakarta. [BBC]

Widodo also announced his intentions to involve young people in key governmental positions. The plan is a specimen of the international trend of millennials increasingly being appointed to governmental roles. Malaysia, for example, has appointed 25-year-old Syed Saddiq for its Youth and Sports Minister. [Channel News Asia] [The Jakarta Post]

9 July 2019

Indonesia’ environment: Country rejects to be turned in a dumping ground/Jakarta residents sue government over air pollution

(cl/jk) Indonesian officials announced to crack down on trash imported from the world’s richest countries after an increase of toxic waste ‘exported’ to the country. Port authorities have boosted checks after a random inspection in May led to the discovery of more than 80 containers containing illegal waste from the US, Australia and Europe, with the US being the worst offender. [Bloomberg] Now, tougher counter measures are planned. China’s restrictions and bans on imports on environmental grounds led the Indonesian authorities tighten their monitoring process. [World News]

Indonesia’s more stringent environmental policies follow a trend among neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. Last month, Malaysia announced to send back more than 3,000 tonnes of scrap plastics back to countries including Australia, Japan, and China followed in June by the Philippines returning dozens of illegal containers of waste back to Canada. [Independent] [Guardian]

Environmental standards in Jakarta remain, however, in the spotlight. Now, residents filed a lawsuit against the government over the toxic levels of air pollution. [CNN News] Jakarta has been shrouded in hazardous smog for much of the past month with air quality readings recording high concentrations of harmful microscopic particles. As a response, the head of Jakarta’s environment agency denied that Jakarta had the world’s worst air pollution citing lower government figures that used a different methodology of measurement. [Guardian]

Several times last month, Jakarta was ranked as the most polluted city in the world, sparking a storm of social media criticism. [Aljazeera] Air Visual, an independent online air quality index monitor, pegged the air in Jakarta at the “very unhealthy” level of 231 on some days in June, higher than notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi and Beijing. Environment groups blame the air pollution on vehicle fumes, smoke and emissions from coal-fired power plants that ring greater Jakarta. [The Daily Star]

9 July 2019

Indonesia’s Supreme Court upholds jail sentence for woman who reported sexual harassment

(cl) Indonesia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal and jailed a woman who tried to report her employer for alleged sexual harassment, finding her guilty of violating the strict anti-pornography laws and overturning her acquittal by a lower court. [The Washington Post] The woman had complained of getting lewd phone calls from the principal of a high school where she worked, resulting in the principal losing his job. Subsequently, in 2015, the principal reported her to the police, leading to her conviction. The ruling is criticized for opening wide a door for perpetrators of sexual violence to criminalise their victims. [BBC News] [Jakarta Post]

The woman’s legal team can hope now only for an amnesty from the president after having exhausted all other legal avenues. Although President Joko Widodo previously suggested the woman could seek clemency from him if she did not find justice through the judicial channels, a spokesman for the President’s office now declined to comment on the ruling. [New Straits Times]

2 July 2019

Terrorism: Attack at Philippine military base; arrests in Indonesia

(cl/ls) According to the Philippines Army, the bomb that killed eight people at a military base in southern Philippines on Friday was likely a suicide bombing. [Arab News] The prime suspect is Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that President Duterte had vowed to crush after decades of banditry, kidnapping and countless attacks on civilian and military targets. Radical factions of Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, who through its news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters had infiltrated the base. [Rappler]

If these suspicions are confirmed, this would be the Philippines’ third suicide bombing in a year, which all occurred in Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold and includes a twin bombing of a church in January. In response, the director has stepped up security and policing efforts in Metro Manila, placing the entire region under a “full alert status” despite detecting no threats within the national capital. [Philippine Star]

In Indonesia, a man believed to be the top leader of the Southeast Asia terror group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) was arrested in a West Java province after a 16-year long hunt. [Straits Times] The JI network is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The network was behind Indonesia’s most deadly attack in Bali in 2002 and the 2009 attacks on the JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta. [The Diplomat]

Although the group was initially believed to have been decimated in Indonesia following a series of operations by security agencies, counter-terrorism experts had warned that young militants were being recruited and hat the JI network in the country may have expanded to become a 200-strong force.

Moreover, Indonesian police have arrested a member of the Muslim Cyber Army, a self-proclaimed cyber-jihadist network, for spreading fake news and hate speech via social media. [South China Morning Post]

2 July 2019

Indonesia: Constitutional Court upholds President Widodo’s victory over Prabowo in April election

(cl/ls) Prabowo Subianto lost his bid to overturn the result of the presidential election after the nation’s Constitutional Court on Thursday unanimously rejected allegations of “systematic electoral fraud”. [New York Times] In the nine-hour session, the nine-judge panel described many of the allegations – including vote buying and that biased civil servants favoured “Jokowi” – as baseless. The court further questioned the credibility of witnesses and quality of evidence, stating that Prabowo’s legal team’s submissions comprised mostly photographs and scans of vote tally forms from unclear sources. [Bloomberg]

In a speech following the ruling, the president called for all Indonesians to unite, regardless of their different political preferences, to advance the country. While Prabowo stated that he accepts the outcome, he has expressed his intention to search for more options by consulting his legal team on “whether there are still other legal and constitutional steps [he] might be able to take”. [The Guardian]

With the court’s final and binding decision, the president and his vice-president are set to take office in October. Prabowo has said that he is open to striking a deal with the president to ensure that his party becomes part of the government, and has also flagged that he might be running for presidency again in 2024. [South China Morning Post]

A day before the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court had alreacy rejected a lawsuit by Prabowo’s campaign team against the Elections Supervisory Agency’s (Bawaslu) ruling on alleged election campaign violations. [Jakarta Post]


11 June 2019

Alleged hitman names former Indonesian army general as mastermind of assassination plot

(cl) A hitman allegedly hired to assassinate four high-profile state officials during riots in Jakarta last month has named former army general as the mastermind of the plot. One of the suspects apprehended said the murder plot was hatched during a casual discussion at a restaurant in North Jakarta. In response, the former army general has denied the accusation. He is, however, in custody for offences over illegal arms and treason in conjunction with rallies held last month to call for the Indonesian President Widodo to be disqualified from the presidential race. [Tempo]

The alleged plot, aimed at destabilising the country, was first exposed by the national police on May 27th after they arrested 6 suspects who they said were linked to the riots. The unrest followed the announcement on May 21st by the elections commission that Mr Widodo had won the April 17th election over his old rival. 8 people died and more than 700 injured. The national police said that the street violence was a deliberate and coordinated strike, planned through WhatsApp. [The Jakarta Post]

11 June 2019

Failed suicide attack in Indonesia

(cl) An Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathiser carrying explosives around his waist was the only casualty of a failed suicide bombing outside a police post in the Indonesian province of Central Java. The attacker is thought to be a lone-wolf terrorist, and there were no indications yet that he was working with a terror cell or network. [The Jakarta Post]

However, the blast occurred on Monday, just two days ahead of Hari Raya, and bears striking similarities to a series of attacks that had occurred during public holidays. On the eve of Hari Raya in 2016, a suicide bomber attacked a police station in Central Java, killing himself and injuring an officer. On the first day of Hari Raya in 2017, a policeman on sentry duty was stabbed to death by two assailants. In 2018, four men reportedly preparing for terror attacks during Ramadan and Hari Raya were shot dead in West Java by counter-terrorism troops. Since these attacks, National Police chief has called on officers on duty during the long holiday period to remain vigilant to prevent terrorist attacks. [Straits Times]

4 June 2019

Indonesia hopes to revive army special unit’s training in US

(cl) The US Defence Secretary met with Indonesian Defence Minister last week, with the latter expressing hope that the Indonesian army’s special forces unit can be trained again in the United States in the near future. [Jakarta Post] The US had previously suspended cooperation with the Indonesia military in 1998 following reports of beatings, kidnappings and other abuses committed by it. The 1997 Leahy Law prohibits U.S. military assistance to the security forces of a foreign country that commits gross violations of human rights. In 2005, the US lifted the ban on cooperation with Indonesian military units except its army’s special forces unit, which has been accused by multiple international human rights organisations of many human rights abuses, including the anti-Chinese rioting that led to the fall of former President Suharto. During the conference, US Defence Secretary stated that the US has agreed to help Indonesia counter terrorism and radicalism. [Kyodo News]

4 June 2019

Indonesia: Jakarta’s residences sue government for better air quality

(cl) Grouped under the Capital Advocacy Team and represented by the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), residents are set to file a citizen lawsuit against the government to the Central Jakarta District Court for the polluted air in Jakarta. A representative stated that they would like to push the government to take action to address air pollution by creating stricter policies that have a significant impact on reducing air pollution in the capital. [The Jakarta Post] This is especially as the government had been using the outdated 1999 regulation on air pollution, which has to be updated with new stipulations given the worsening of air pollution, according to Greenpeace Indonesia climate and energy campaigners. Citing Article 28H of the 1945 Constitution about the right to live in a healthy environment, another plaintiff commented that the proliferation of PM2.5 particles, above the World’s Health Organisation’s safe limit, could cause various illnesses such as acute respiratory infections. [The Straits Times]

28 May 2019

Indonesia: Post-election riots in Jakarta and Papua

(ls) Six people died and more than 700 were injured over several days in Jakarta after protesters clashed with security forces in riots triggered by mass protests against the re-election of incumbent President Joko Widodo, who triumphed over rival Prabowo Subianto after securing 55.5 per cent of the vote. Thousands gathered at Indonesia’s election supervisory agency on Wednesday, protesting against what they claimed was widespread fraud in the 17 April presidential poll. Nearly 60,000 security personnel were deployed on to the streets on Thursday. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post 1]

Prabowo has lodged a legal challenge against the result at the Constitutional Court, alleging widespread fraud and claiming Widodo should have been disqualified. The Election Commission has said there was no evidence of systematic cheating and independent observers have said the poll was free and fair. The Constitutional Court must make a ruling on any challenge 14 days after it considers the plaintiff has provided sufficient documentation and the Election Commission should resolve the dispute by June 15. [Al Jazeera]

More than 300 supporters of a legislative candidate in Papua who claimed he should have won the seat in the local council attacked a district office. As a result, four people were shot dead by police during the riot. [South China Morning Post 2]

The recent election appears to have polarized Indonesia even more, reviving old divisions in an atmosphere of renewed anxiety about ethnic and religious identity. Moreover, after the fall of Jakarta’s governor “Ahok” in 2017, some of the Muslim organizations that had formed a movement to remove him began targeting Jokowi. In response, Jokowi has taken tough measures against them, including giving himself new powers to ban civil society groups. Many Islamist conservatives who reject Jokowi have since lined up behind Prabowo. [The Conversation]

During the protests, anti-Chinese images and messages spread rapidly, leading the government to temporarily block or slow the sharing of photos and videos onto Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, to halt the spread of false information. Chinese Indonesians living in Jakarta said they were worried they would once again be a target of mob violence similar to the one in 1998, where mobs attacked Chinese-owned shops, homes and individuals, leaving more than 1,000 people dead. [South China Morning Post 3]

19 March 2019

Indonesia: Key political ally of president Jokowi arrested on corruption charges

(ls) The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency, detained the chief of a political party backing President Joko Widodo’s bid for a second term, just weeks before the nation goes to the polls. The suspect is the Chairman of the United Development Party, an Islamic party which is among the 10 parties backing Widodo’s bid for re-election in the April 17 election. [Bloomberg]

19 March 2019

Indonesia: Anti-terrorism operations on the rise

(ls) The wife of an arrested Indonesian militant detonated a bomb that killed herself and her children on Wednesday in North Sumatra inside a house besieged by the police including the Detachment 88 anti terror squad. Figures from the Indonesian police showed that last year Detachment 88 killed or detained 396 militants, a record number and a sharp jump from the 176 in 2017. In May last year, a family of six carried out suicide bombings at three churches in Surabaya in Indonesia’s East Java province during Sunday mass, killing 13 people. [Straits Times]

19 March 2019

Malaysian court releases Indonesian woman charged with killing Kim Jong-nam – Vietnamese suspect stays in custody

(ls) In an unexpected decision, a Malaysian court has dropped the case against one of two women charged with the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. The Indonesian national Siti Aisyah was released from custody and flew home to Indonesia after the decision. Prosecutors, who had withdrawn the charges, did not give any reason for the retreat in their case against Siti. However, the court rejected her lawyer’s request for a full acquittal, as it said that the trial had already established a prima facie case and she could be recalled if fresh evidence emerged. [The Guardian]

Malaysia’s attorney-general on Thursday rejected Vietnam’s request to free the second suspect, the Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, and a court set April 1 for her trial to resume. Vietnam’s foreign ministry said it regretted the Malaysian court’s decision not to immediately free Huong. Indonesia’s government said Siti’s release was the result of its continual high-level lobbying. [Reuters]

The women were accused of smearing the toxic nerve agent VX on his face as he waited to board a flight to Macau. He died within 20 minutes. Defense lawyers have maintained the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. Kim Jong Nam was living in exile in Macau before the killing, having fled his homeland after his half-brother Kim Jong Un became North Korea’s leader in 2011 following their father’s death.

19 March 2019

Indonesia’s ‘Red scare’ revived ahead of elections

(ls) Ahead of April’s national elections, the Indonesian police is currently engaged in raiding bookshops and confiscating books suspected of having communist content. These actions have reminded some of the 1960s, when more than half a million leftists were massacred across the Southeast Asian nation, a bloody spectacle that ushered in the long rule of dictator Suharto, whose fervent anti-communist stance remains decades on. In 2017, declassified US diplomatic documents revealed that a communist-fearing White House was well aware of the bloody purges, which one diplomat described as a “widespread slaughter”. [Straits Times]

11 March 2019

Indonesia ranked 2nd most dangerous place for women in Asia-Pacific

(cc) According to the findings of a research company based in Singapore, Indonesia is the second most dangerous country for women in Asia and the Pacific. Following the rape and murder of a 14 year-old in 2016, a bill on sexual violence is in discussion in Parliament but religious conservatives oppose strong resistance, notably on the definition of rape and the criminalization of marital rape. [Straitstimes]

11 March 2019

Indonesia: Deaths after violence in Papua

(jk) In a clash last week between Indonesian soldiers and a separatist group, three of the soldiers and between seven and ten rebels were killed. The attack on the soldiers is thought to have been conducted by the National Liberation Army of West Papua, which also claimed responsibility for an attack on construction workers at a jungle camp last year. [Channel News Asia]

11 March 2019

Indonesia: Amnesty International’s activist arrested for insulting the military

(cc/jk) Last week a board member of Amnesty International Indonesia was arrested by the Indonesian police for comparing a plan by the government to allow senior military officers to hold civilian positions in government institutions with the New Order Era under former President Suharto. He could face up to 18 months imprisonment for intentionally insult a public institution. For Amnesty International, his arrest is “not only a clear threat to the freedom of speech and expression in Indonesia, but also poses a threat for human rights activists in general”. [Straitstimes]

The plan was alleged to be a regression towards the military’s dual function doctrine which saw military influence in the government institutionalized. So far, it is supported by President Jokowi and would allow underemployed military personnel to take jobs in ministerial and civilian institutions. The legislation is still only in the early stages of discussion. [ATimes]

11 March 2019

Implications of a Ma’ruf Amin Vice-Presidency in Indonesia

(jk) Indonesian President Joko Widodo has last year decided to make 75-year-old Islamic scholar Ma’ruf Amin his running mate for next year’s presidential election. Amin is the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the top Muslim clerical body in Indonesia and was heavily involved in the scandal and subsequent prison sentence of ethnic Chinese Christian candidate “Ahok” who lost to Anies Baswedan in a bid to become governor of Jakarta in 2017. Making Amin his running mate for 2019 is largely viewed as an effort to make sure Jokowi appeals to the traditional Muslim vote for the presidential elections this year. With recent polls indicating the duo has a comfortable lead, this piece looks at the possible implications of this particular vice-presidency and in particular at possible further “islamization” of the Indonesian society. [ISEAS]