Written evidence submitted by Dr Asmiati Malik, Dr Robert Yates and Dr Scott Edwards,
Beyond China: Developing an enduring foundation for the ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ through sustained regional partnerships
This response is a collaborative submission by Dr. Asmiati Malik (Executive Office of the President of the Republic of Indonesia & Universitas Bakrie Indonesia), Dr. Robert Yates (University of Bristol), and Dr. Scott Edwards (University of Bristol & SafeSeas). Each of us research the Indo-Pacific at our respective institutions and engage with relevant actors in the region. The response is given in a personal capacity and reflects our personal opinions as academic researchers
Asmiati Malik is Lecturer in International Political Economy at the Universitas Bakrie. Her research focuses on energy and maritime policy. She also works as advisor of International Political Economy to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Economy of the President of the Republic of Indonesia.
Rob Yates is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Bristol. His research focuses on how regional order is negotiated and managed in the Indo-Pacific with a particular focus on the role of the ASEAN.
Scott Edwards is a Post-Doctoral researcher on the Transnational Organised Crime at Sea project at the University of Bristol. His research focuses on responses to maritime insecurity in the Indo-Pacific. This builds upon his research on inter-state trust development in ASEAN’s Security Community.
There is no doubt that the UK’s strategic goals should take precedence in its Indo-Pacific tilt. In this evidence note, however, we emphasise the importance of avoiding too forcefully joining US-led overt efforts to counter China.
This suggestion is rooted in an aversion by many states to external powers’ ‘interference’ stemming from the region’s history of great power interventions during the colonial and post-colonial/Cold War eras. There is an ongoing concern held by regional powers that they find themselves in the middle of great power competition now. The UK is particularly susceptible to criticism from some quarters if it is seen as interfering because of its colonial past. By focusing primarily on overt efforts to counter China, the UK therefore risks undermining the relationships required to meet its overarching strategic goals.
Instead, the UK should take the opportunity to develop meaningful security and economic partnerships with regional partners. It should focus on how it can support governance and management on a range of issues that might be considered ‘non-traditional’ security matters. This more supportive background role would fit with UK capabilities and specialisms in niche areas of governance and regulation, demonstrate leadership, and highlight the UK’s commitment to the region. Economic relationships should also be emphasised to achieve the UK’s goals of developing deeper partnerships on a mutually beneficial basis.
1.1. A secure and peaceful Indo-Pacific is vital to the UK’s economic and security interests. Much of the UK’s trade flows through this maritime region with its important sea lanes of communication and strategic straits. The Indo-Pacific is increasingly important to global prosperity as markets develop. The UK’s trading relationships continue to grow in the region.
1.2. The enduring threats to stability are geopolitical competition, territorial disputes, and the potential outbreak of inter-state violence in flashpoints such as Taiwan, the Senkaku islands and the South China Sea. The UK has a clear interest in the maintenance of international peace, including preserving freedom of navigation.
1.3. The Quad
1.3.1. The UK should be wary, however, of significant overt involvement in mechanisms countering China. The most notable of these is the Quad. While different countries have different perspectives of the Quad, concerns remain within Southeast Asia, and even countries like South Korea. Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia are the primary sceptics.
1.3.2. These concerns stem from its reputation as an anti-China alliance seeking to securitise the region; its lack of focus on practical immediate concerns; and concerns that it side-lines ASEAN (and regional countries) in the governance of regional security. While this has been acknowledged within the Quad, with the leaders’ summit in March 2021 prioritising broader forms of cooperation including vaccine distribution, infrastructure, and climate change, it is unclear whether this offer of an alternative to China on development and governance will overcome regional ambivalence.
1.3.3. Movements towards a Quad Plus, bringing in extra powers, is likely to heighten concerns as much of the desire to extend the Quad comes from outside of the region.
1.4. The Five Power Defence Arrangements
1.4.1. The UK already has strong mechanisms in place for regional cooperation which should be developed further. The FPDA has endured for 50 years. Despite perceptions of it being anachronistic and a lack of broad awareness of its benefits, statements that ‘a core focus on conventional warfare … has enabled FPDA to retain its relevance in an increasingly complex contemporary security environment’ do accurately reflect its ongoing utility.
1.4.2. It is notable for its role in training and exercises. Through these, the FPDA has built confidence among its members, developed professional military skills, synergised capabilities, and contributed to developing military-to-military relations. It does this with a defensive posture. While considerations need to be made of Indonesian views as it was initially established to provide security from Indonesia, the UK should seek to further develop the FPDA and continue the broadening of exercises to respond to contemporary concerns. It should contribute to raising awareness about the positive impact the FPDA has.
1.4.3. While expanding the FPDA is unlikely, it could provide some degree of interface with non-members, including Indonesia, so that it can work in partnership with regional countries. If the FPDA were to be developed along these lines, it could play a more active role in areas such as maritime security and be a useful mechanism for the UK in implementing the tilt.
1.5. Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific
1.5.1. Focusing primarily on geopolitical competition belies many of the serious threats facing this region. The Indo-Pacific is not bound together by terrestrial geographies and relationships but by oceanic ones. It presents a series of specifically maritime security challenges. It features key shipping chokepoints such as the Malacca and Bab-el-Mandeb Straits, extremist violence in the Sulu and Celebes Seas and Strait of Hormuz, as well as multiple expressions of blue crime including piracy, smuggling of various sorts, illegal fishing, and pollution. Data concerning these blue crimes are still limited.
1.5.2. The UK is focusing on these maritime challenges with a series of specific Indo-Pacific initiatives, but these are primarily Naval in nature. This is also demonstrated by the deployment of the HMS Tamar and HMS Spey. There are further opportunities here for the UK beyond this strictly Naval focus.
1.5.3. The Blue Planet Fund should be used to protect the marine environment in this region, as developmental responses are important in dealing with the root causes of maritime crime such as poverty.
1.5.4. Diplomacy and involvement with regional groupings are also essential. The Indo-Pacific features over 112 multilateral institutions that deal with the various blue crimes facing the region. Many of them develop trust and confidence through their technical cooperation, coordination, information sharing, maritime domain awareness activities, and capacity building. While maritime security challenges manifest and intersect across the Indo-Pacific as a whole, they have distinct sub-regional characteristics, whether in the Western Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, East and Southeast Asia or the Western Pacific.
1.5.5. The UK should prioritise identifying its key priorities and engage with the relevant institutions in these sub-regions, developing key strategic partnerships and capacity, to contribute more deeply to a stable maritime Indo-Pacific. Through this, the UK would establish leadership and create sustainable partnerships in a key strategic sector.
2.1. ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific
2.1.1. ASEAN remains the key regional institution. ASEAN has embraced the idea of the Indo-Pacific to some degree through its ‘Indo-Pacific Outlook’ (AIPO), but it is also posed as a threat to ASEAN’s centrality.
2.1.2. This centrality is taken very seriously in the region. A desire to guide their own destinies was one of the original reasons for ASEAN’s creation, when the Cold War threatened to turn Southeast Asia into a theatre of a larger extra-regional conflict. They focus primarily on ‘ASEAN-led mechanisms’ as being at the core of the AIPO and encourage partners to engage with this wider region through cooperation with ASEAN.
2.1.3. The UK should therefore take its status as dialogue partner seriously and continue to develop links with ASEAN so as not to create tensions by de-centring the institution in a broader construct led by those outside of the region.
2.2. In one respect, Dialogue Partner (DP) status could be seen as maintaining continuity considering the UK’s involvement as a member of the EU. The UK needs to ensure however it has the institutional capacity to continue or escalate this engagement. At the very least, the UK should focus on consistently strong ties with the Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR). This requires the FCDO increasing its footprint in Jakarta and ensuring there are sufficient resources for more expansive diplomatic efforts.
2.3. How to engage with ASEAN
2.3.1. The ‘ASEAN Way’ of diplomacy, emphasising consensus, face-saving, and informality can be difficult to navigate and potentially frustrating for outside partners. Western diplomats often refer to the initial difficulty of adapting to this context.
2.3.2. Recent episodes such as ASEAN’s lack of intervention into Myanmar or the impasse over the South China Sea make it easy to dismiss ASEAN’s importance.
2.3.3. The UK should recognise that its interactions with ASEAN are unlikely to be transformative and have realistic goals for its engagement. These may be more limited than hoped for, but the process of ASEAN’s diplomacy has been essential for gradual trust building and should not be readily dismissed despite these limitations.
2.3.4. In particular, the UK shouldn’t seek to wield influence too directly through its DP status but rather signal its commitment to support ASEAN on a range of development and governance issues.
2.4. Human Rights and ASEAN
2.4.1. One governance area the UK is well-suited to support ASEAN is human rights and democracy development.
2.4.2. In the past, ASEAN states have resisted what they consider DP impositions relating to HR and democracy (e.g. 1990s-2000s with US and EU pressure in relation to Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN). A compromise arrangement emerged a decade ago with the institutionalisation of an ASEAN human rights regime through the Intergovernmental Commission on HR (2009) and ASEAN Declaration on HR (2012), suggesting ASEAN would take some leadership in promoting improvements in HRs and DPs would avoid making cooperation and dialogue contingent on ASEAN meeting ‘Western’ HRs and democracy standards.
2.4.3. Although there are valid criticisms of the limitations of ASEAN’s HR regime, there are now official forums within which HRs discussions take place and there remains active participation by civil society organisations.
2.4.4. The UK can support these processes through a continued broader engagement, whilst taking more targeted action where appropriate (e.g. targeted financial sanctions in Myanmar or applying pressure on UK companies involved in labour or environmental exploitation).
2.5. ASEAN and Maritime Security
2.5.1. The ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMF) established in 2010 centred maritime concerns in ASEAN’s diplomacy. ASEAN declared its establishment was “one of the important action lines as stipulated in the ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC) Blueprint”.
2.5.2. Two years later at the 3rd AMF, the first Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF) was also launched, designed to encourage a dialogue on maritime issues that would involve participants from the wider East Asia Summit (EAS), thus building upon the existing AMF.
2.5.3. These fora opened up the opportunity to discuss various cross-cutting and overlapping issues, ranging from piracy, armed robbery, marine environment, illegal fishing, to the smuggling of goods, people, weapons, as well as drug trafficking that were previously only worked on by 10 groups in 13 sectoral bodies across the whole region. In 2015 alone, issues of maritime security featured in nearly fifty informal and official meetings held by ASEAN including the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus Experts’ Working Group on Maritime Security, and Navy Chiefs’ Meeting.
2.5.4. An ASEAN Coastguard Forum is also being developed, though there are setbacks delaying its establishment.
2.5.5. ASEAN is therefore well-placed to contribute significantly to safe and secure oceans in the region. External interventions are not always welcomed. The Contact Group on Maritime Crime in the Sulu and Celebes Sea led by the UNODC, for example, has not met expectations as regional states do not perceive themselves as having ownership.
2.5.6. The UK should seek to use its DP status to assist in the development of ASEAN led maritime governance through capacity building and knowledge exchange to realise the UK’s maritime security goals in the region.
2.6. ASEAN’s environmental governance
2.6.1. Beyond marine pollution, Southeast Asia also faces significant terrestrial environmental issues. These include air pollution (the haze) and biodiversity loss resulting from forest fires and land use change in Indonesia, and reduced flows in the Mekong delta.
2.6.2. It is in environmental cooperation that ASEAN’s traditionally-held norm of non-interference has been most diluted. Recognising the transnational nature of the problem, cooperation regarding environmental issues and a regional governance regime is growing significantly.
2.6.3. The UK should seek to use its DP status to provide technical cooperation in this area, whether through sharing promising practices regarding land-use management and conservation, training, or capacity building for conservation and monitoring. This would not only assist in responding to the environmental issues themselves, but as a technical area of cooperation that is generally less politically sensitive it could also serve as a basis for cooperation in other sectors.
3.1. The CPTPP
3.1.1. The CPTPP is a trade megadeal signed in 2018 by states from the Western and Eastern Pacific Rim. It is an agreement which emphasises ‘high quality’ standards in services, intellectual property, state-owned enterprises, digital trade and investment, thereby moving well beyond tariff reduction.
3.1.2. It grew out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) process, which was thrown into disarray after the Trump Administration withdrew the US from negotiations. The TPP was previously promoted by the Obama administration as a means to shape trade regulations in the Indo-Pacific in a manner that benefited US interests.
3.1.3. It also had an explicit geopolitical dimension, being part of the US rebalance to the region and seeking to set the ‘rules of the game’ within which China would need to accommodate.
3.1.4. The CPTPP was kept alive after US withdrawal through Japanese support, with the remaining parties hoping that the US would re-join under a more internationalist administration. However, despite strong encouragement from foreign policy and economic think tanks, the Biden administration will find it difficult to re-join considering continuing domestic opposition from farming lobbies and trade unions. Biden’s focus will likely be on supply chain reshoring as well as stimulus for domestic infrastructure.
3.2. China and the CPTPP
3.2.1. China was initially sceptical about the TPP, viewing it as part of an effort by the US and its allies of countering China’s rise.
3.2.2. Over time its approach towards the TPP and then CPTPP has softened with Xi Jinping expressing the possibility of China joining the CPTPP at the APEC Summit in November 2020. Indeed, the Chinese government has reportedly approached several CPTPP member states to garner support for China's accession to the agreement. This included a recent submission by the Chinese embassy in Canberra to an Australian parliamentary enquiry on the expansion of the CPTPP, which advocated the benefits of China's membership.
3.2.3. China’s accession is complicated by the agreement's emphasis on a level playing field between state-owned enterprises and private companies. China's position on the CPTPP is therefore still subject to internal debates regarding the nature of economic reforms and how these would help promote upgrading and the proposed dual-circulation model of increased domestic consumption and continued openness to international trade.
3.2.4. Some within China see accession to the CPTPP as supporting a process of domestic reforms towards high regulatory standards which would benefit high value-added industries where Chinese companies are now internationally competitive. Others, more tied to state-owned enterprises which rely on state finance and support, are more cautious.
3.2.5. The Chinese government has previously put its weight behind the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is less intrusive focusing more on tariff removal. Since the RCEP was signed in late 2020, accession to the CPTPP may now increasingly be the focus of China's regional trade diplomacy.
3.3. The UK and the CPTPP
3.3.1. Economically, as outlined in the DIT’s report on the UK’s strategic approach to CPTPP accession, the UK seeks to benefit from expanding exports of services to CPTPP members, as well as benefiting from Rules of Origin enabling the diversification of supply chains.
3.3.2. However, analysis by the UK Trade Policy Observatory has argued that the economic benefits of the UK joining the CPTPP will be minimal considering the UK is acceding to an existing agreement (and therefore unable to shape the terms of the agreement) and that its principal markets within the CPTPP are already covered by bilateral FTAs. It is also unlikely that the UK manufacturing industry will import components from CPTPP members to re-export goods to the region.
3.3.3. There is also an issue of differing regulatory standards between CPTPP and EU, meaning the UK will need to balance these different regulatory approaches. This suggests the primary reasons and benefits of joining would be more geopolitical in nature.
3.3.4. The geopolitical/geoeconomics benefits for the UK’s accession to the CPTPP could be that it has joined a club that may expand in the future to include the US, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and possibly China.
3.3.5. Membership of the CPTPP may also signal that the UK’s ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ is intended to be comprehensive and enduring – including military/security, economic, diplomatic and institutional dimensions.
4.1. If ASEAN should be the key institutional partner in the Indo-Pacific, Indonesia could be a key national partner within Southeast Asia. It has traditionally acted in a leadership role within ASEAN, encouraging democratic norms and leading many of the region’s governance innovations.
4.2. More generally, the UK’s approach should be underpinned by sufficient diplomatic capacity and greater political willingness that is currently perceived to be lacking. The UK is currently viewed as inconsistent in its dealings with Indonesia, with little tangible outcomes being implemented. The embassy is considered to have less diplomatic capacity compared to other European nations. Any approach requires the FCDO increasing its footprint in Jakarta and ensuring there are sufficient resources for more expansive diplomatic efforts.
4.3. One area that Western powers are compared unfavourably against China is in economic investment in the region. The UK’s economic links with Indonesia are particularly under-developed. This is despite Indonesia’s status as an increasingly promising potential market for global investment and business. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, rating agencies consistently rate Indonesia a stable economy with a promising economic outlook in the near future (Fitch - BBB ‘stable’; Japan Credit Rating Agency - BBB+ ‘stable outlook/investment grade’; Standard and Poor - BBB ‘outlook negative’). The Indonesian government is actively conducting structural reforms such as the Omnibus Law which aims to reduce overlap in Indonesia’s laws and regulations, particularly around job creation, taxation, and labour reform and regulations.
4.4. With these factors in mind, the UK government should strengthen the bilateral relationship by encouraging business-business links. Here, the British Chamber of Commerce (Britcham) is increasingly important in enhancing relations between these business communities. There are challenges here that need to be overcome. There is a perceived lack of willingness from the UK generally, and Britcham is perceived as less proactive and institutionalised than its counterparts in neighbouring countries. The UK needs to ensure a sustained focus and assist in the implementation of economic links by continuing to develop structures for business-business links to happen effectively.
4.5. There are four priority areas for Indonesia where economic links with the UK are particularly welcomed. These are the blue economy; green growth; education; and new Capital development.
4.5.1. Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country in the world. It has 17,499 islands and a 72.55 million km2 Exclusive Economic Zone. Indonesia’s blue economy therefore has enormous potential. Despite hopes of the fishery sector’s role in the Indonesian economy, however, its contribution to GDP remains low at 3.7% as it has not reached its maximum potential. The Ministry of Fisheries estimates this potential to be USD950 billion. The UK could support the Indonesian government through knowledge sharing in sea conservation, fishery technology and aquaculture. President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is eager to develop seaport infrastructure to maximise the export of marine products. This includes building new ports and creating smart sea-logistic management. Much of this is concentrated in East Indonesia, where industrial zones and special economic zones seek to make doing business easier. This is one area where the UK could bridge potential cooperation with business-to-business schemes.
4.5.2. The green economy and green growth is a key policy for the Indonesian government, particularly regarding sustainable energy to achieve net-zero emissions and waste management. Indonesia’s growing population, particularly its middle class (currently numbered at 52 million), creates increasing energy demands. Through the State Electricity Company and General Plan of National Electricity, the Indonesian government has an ambitious plan to produce 43 GW of energy by 2030. Currently, it can only provide 28.5 GW. The UK is well-placed to assist in Indonesia’s shift away from fossil fuels to more environmentally friendly sources, due to its own experiences following the Net-Zero law. This could take the form of knowledge sharing, production sharing contracts or technological transfer.
4.5.3. Each year, 35,000 Indonesian students study abroad, but only 4187 studied in the UK in 2020. The UK should make it easier for Indonesian students to study at UK universities, especially considering the downturn of EU students following Brexit. Under Jokowi’s administration, foreign universities can also open branches in Indonesia. Monash University was the first to capitalise on the rising demand from Indonesia’s growing middle class. With more UK universities opening international branches (e.g. Nottingham in Malaysia and Birmingham in Dubai), Indonesia could be considered a potential destination. Research exchange and collaboration should also be encouraged.
4.5.4. Jokowi’s administration has decided to move the capital to North Panajem Paser and Kutai Kertanegara in North Kalimantan to create a new economic centre for Kalimantan and reduce overcrowding in Jakarta. This new development will create 1.3 million jobs and stimulate RP5.817 trillion in investment. 19% of the scheme will be funded by the national budget, with the remainder coming from private finance. The new capital will require significant infrastructure such as hospitals, offices and universities. It will be founded on renewable energy and integrated public transport. The UK’s expertise in education, renewable energy, modern farming, public transport and city management positions it as a desirable partner.
4.6. Indonesia and Maritime Security
4.6.1. In the security sphere, the UK and Indonesia have several common interests. This is especially the case regarding maritime security, which is a key priority for Indonesia in its Defence White Paper.
4.6.2. While Jokowi’s Global Maritime Fulcrum has stalled, Indonesia has been developing a coordinated response to maritime security issues through the consolidation of the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (BAKAMLA) and the opening of its own Maritime Information Centre (IMIC).
4.6.3. The UK has engaged in an innovative transformation of its own maritime governance, through the opening of the Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC) in 2020. This new ‘centre of excellence’ subsumes the National Maritime Information Centre and the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre to facilitate a whole-of-government approach to maritime security.
4.6.4. Indonesian maritime security practitioners have a strong desire to engage in knowledge exchange to strengthen these efforts. The UK could use lessons learnt in its own governance transformation, whether through training, workshops, or information sharing.
5.1. The UK should avoid focusing primarily on US-led interventions aimed at countering China
5.2. It should continue to develop and invest in current mechanisms such as the FPDA, and seek to interface with neighbouring countries as partners
5.3. It should develop partnerships with other mechanisms of strategic interest, including those tackling broad maritime security issues
5.4. It should utilise its role in ASEAN to provide assistance to pre-existing mechanisms, focusing on areas that provide common good such as human rights, maritime security, and environmental issues
5.5. The FCDO needs to develop diplomatic capacity in Jakarta, so that it can work effectively with the CPR and Indonesia
5.6. The partnership with Indonesia should be strengthened by focusing on issues of maritime insecurity and developing stronger economic links in education, green growth, the blue economy and the new Capital development. It should demonstrate willingness by focusing on synchronising investment value on the blue and green industries, as well as human resource development. Structures need to be developed for this to occur, such as the strengthening of Britcham.
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