Over Coffee #5 – ASEAN coast guard cooperation, Indonesia’s Indo-Pacific strategy, and Myanmar updates

A Happy New Year to all of us!

It’s a rather slow week, which might be a good sign. However, regional politics waits for no one. This week, I highlight some incremental regional developments in Southeast Asia, which hopefully might blossom later in the year. There are also some updates on a regional approach to Myanmar.

Once again, coffee beans from 20mL take the spotlight, but instead of a blend, I decided to purchase some single-origin beans from Toraja. I’ve always had a soft spot for Toraja beans because I like the flavor profile. These beans are from Pulu-Pulu village, which I’ve never tried. Since they were single-origin, I decided to brew them using a V60. The result was a bright coffee with hints of spice and a mellow aftertaste. It was different than what I was accustomed to, but perhaps my previous Toraja beans were roasted too darkly.

A hint of progress on the ASEAN Coast Guard Forum

After the third expert group meeting (EGM) produced a concept paper and a terms of reference in 2019, the pandemic hampered further deliberation of the official establishment of the ACGF. The most recent meeting between the members of the proposed ACGF was held virtually in October 2021. The meeting was hosted by the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla), and discussed information exchange, capacity-building, and technical meetings.

Indonesia proposed a follow-up meeting which is expected to take place in February 2022. While the meeting agenda remains tightly under wraps, formulating a regional response to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea might likely be the main agenda. It is unclear whether the previously-drafted concept paper will be discussed or acted upon.

Indonesia’s search for an Indo-Pacific strategy, two years on

Let’s zoom in on Indonesia’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which Evan Laksmana criticises as being “stuck in second gear”. Laksmana hones in on bureaucratic stove-piping in general, and Indonesia’s reliance on an ASEAN-centric Indo-Pacific strategy.

The former might be addressed by creating a sort of “centralised hub” for Indo-Pacific policy. The lack of a unified perception on China, which stems from differences in the way policymakers interpret China’s role, results in contradictory policies, which often only serve short-term bureaucratic interests. Further compounding this problem is an evident lack of command from Jokowi, who has insisted that domestic development will be the focus of his second term. A centralised hub, ideally under the command of the President’s office, might be considered as a temporary solution. However, a more permanent solution, according to Laksmana, would be to accelerate the establishment of a coordinating agency akin to a National Security Council.

As for the latter, Indonesia has been hard-pressed to find alternatives to ASEAN in Indo-Pacific affairs. This would not mean that Indonesia would fully decouple from ASEAN. ASEAN remains valuable to Indonesia, especially as a conduit which facilitates Indonesia’s relations with European powers. Consider the UK and Germany, who have begun their forays into the Indo-Pacific through ASEAN. However, Indonesia should also consider stepping up minilateral avenues of security cooperation with other Indo-Pacific actors, such as Japan, alongside ASEAN-centric ways.

Developments in Myanmar

Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is scheduled to visit Myanmar this Friday. His planned visit has generated backlash, as critics deem the visit would legitimise the rule of the junta. Cambodian Foreign Minister, Prak Sokhonn, warned that Myanmar already had “all the ingredients for civil war.” As such, Hun Sen’s visit was necessary to “pave the way for progress”.

Prior to his scheduled visit, Hun Sen communicated with Joko Widodo over a phone call. Not many details are available, aside from Jokowi’s reiteration of Indonesia’s stance on the five-point consensus. The call was considered a gesture of how Cambodia values Indonesian input, considering Indonesia’s previous experience in mediating past conflicts.

That’s all for this week! See you again next week for more coffee recommendations and discussions on niche topics I find interesting.

Header image: ASEAN flags, Pixabay

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