Over Coffee #8: Indonesia and Singapore ties, and some Myanmar updates

This week’s buzz is mostly over meeting between Joko Widodo and Lee Hsien Loong, which has been expected to propel bilateral ties further. And that it did, with the retreat (which was postponed for two years due to the pandemic) producing three major agreements. Other stories include Indonesia’s rising Omicron cases, naval hardware progress, and its plans for increasing health resilience as G20 chair. Then, there are some updates on the situation in Myanmar.

So, one of the good things about being a teacher is I sometimes get gifts from students who have graduated. This time, it’s Papua Wamena beans from Arvac, which has a distinctly bold (on the verge of being overpowering sometimes) character. It’s not too sweet, has a rich body (even when filtered) and there’s definitely a long lingering aftertaste. Definitely recommended if you like your coffee with some heft.

Indonesia and Singapore become closer neighbors

Indonesia and Singapore begin the year amicably with a renewed extradition treaty and Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), along with a realignment of the Flight Identification Region (FIR) boundaries. Both the DCA and extradition treaty were initially agreed upon in 2007, but never entered into force pending ratification from Indonesian lawmakers. The current agreement is being reviewed for ratification by the Indonesian parliament. One area of concern include the extent of Indonesia’s control of the FIR area, which is limited to flights above 37,000 feet (flights below this height will be delegated to Singapore).

A travel bubble between Singapore and Indonesia was also enacted. Under the arrangement, visitors from Singapore can freely travel to selected places in Bintan and Batam, provided they are fully vaccinated, have a negative PCR test (and take another PCR test on arrival), and travel insurance. The arrangement doesn’t work both ways, though, as Indonesians in Bintan and Batam seeking to travel to Singapore will have to comply with Singapore’s regulations.

Indonesian domestic and international relations updates

Indonesia records first two Omicron deaths. Both had comorbidities, while one was unvaccinated. As cases in Jakarta continue to soar, especially in schools, officials have yet moved to reinstate social restrictions despite concerns from health officials.

Indonesia is set to receive first of three retired corvettes from the Republic of Korea Navy. While the exact details of the transfer have yet to be disclosed, it is highly likely to be the Pohang-class corvette, which will mostly be used for coastal patrols.

Jokowi plans for an international initiative to increase global health resilience, which Jokowi claims will replace the WHO. The ambitious plan would essentially work like an IMF, but for global health. As Jokowi described, the body would be responsible for “mobilise world health resources, including for financing health emergencies, purchasing vaccines, medicines and medical devices”. This might just be another case of Indonesia being overly optimistic of its one-year tenure as G20 chair.

Myanmar updates: simmering violence and a region divided

Ethnic violence continues to ramp up in Myanmar. The situation has been described as Myanmar “tumbling into the abyss”. Armed violence among ethnic groups is escalating. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) are reported to have deployed to the town of Khaing Lone, where a clash is expected to occur with the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS).

Meanwhile, the junta continues to tighten its grip on Myanmar’s citizens. A leaked letter reveals the junta’s intent to pass a new cybersecurity bill which would allow the junta to significantly curb internet freedoms. These include, most notably, criminalising the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Following the coup, the junta banned most social media—VPNs provide a means for citizens to stay connected to the outside world. Previously, it raised taxes on internet service and SIM cards.

Hun Sen, in a phone call with Jokowi, chastised Malaysia’s Prime Minister for being “arrogant”. It looks like the wedge between ASEAN members continue to widen. But is this really the case? In a recent videoconference with the junta, Hun Sen proposed the possibility of the junta being invited to ASEAN meetings if they showed progress on implementing the Five Point Consensus. This shows Cambodia playing along with the original ASEAN stance. However, as Sebastian Strangio highlights, what’s difficult would be defining “progress”.

A side of the Indo-Pacific

In Indo-Pacific security, China mobilised 39 military aircraft, comprising of J-16s and J-10s, Y-8 and Y-9s electronic warfare aircraft and an H-6 bomber into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone. The incursion occurred on the same day as two U.S. Carrier Strike Groups (USS Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln) began joint operations in the South China Sea.

That’s all for this week. Tune in again next week for more updates and coffee recommendations.

Header image: Jokowi and Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat, Bintan, 25 January 2022. Photo from the Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore.

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