China can no longer be overlooked as a threat to Australia, US: security expert warns


Distant. Insignificant. Safe. But Australia’s place in the world has changed. And trouble’s reaching into our backyard.

On the global stage, Australia’s sticking its neck out.

“It is heartening to see that Australia as a leading middle power is once more playing an important role in upholding the global rules-based order in the region,” says Professor Sascha-Dominik (Dov) Bachmann, with the Morrison government displaying “awareness of Beijing as a source and originator of current threats to regional (and global) rule of law, security, and stability”.

RELATED: China’s dangerous move on ‘secret’ sea

But Canberra’s also feeling threatened.

“China’s influence eroding the sovereignty of (Australia and New Zealand) has been known for years, and the Morrison government has been at the forefront of countering Beijing’s such grey zone or hybrid activities,” he writes.

But Beijing’s ability to act beyond cyber and influence operations is growing.

“Historically, the region has not been a leading source of ‘traditional’ military threats,” argues Pacific Forum analyst Tom Corben, “but America and Australia can no longer afford to overlook the (Pacific) as a locus of Chinese security activity”.

China has already hinted at its desire to establish a permanent military presence in the region. This could give Beijing the ability to coerce island nations, including Australia, and sever critical supply lines with the United States.

“Such a development would allow China to surveil alliance peacetime activities, exert control over vital waterways, or threaten local forces in the event of major conflict in Asia,” he writes.

THE STAND

The Federal Government’s public defiance of Beijing is “a logical consequence of China’s ever-increasing bellicose posturing in the Asia-Pacific region”, says Canberra University war studies and international law expert Professor Bachmann.

“Beijing’s increased aggressive behaviour had to be countered at one point and this is what is happening now.”

Lowy Institute director of international security Sam Roggeveen says recent policy documents have made Canberra’s “core strategic interest” clear.

“The 2016 White Paper says that the rules-based order is something we should be willing to fight for,” he writes in an Interpreter commentary. “The big question that hangs over our commitment to use force in defence of the rules-based order is: how far would we go?”

Would Australia fight to keep Taiwan free and democratic?

RELATED: World unites in pushback against China

“There are countless offences against the (rules-based order) which Australia overlooks because they happen too far away,” he argues. “Would we come to Taiwan’s aid if it meant risking involvement in what could escalate to a nuclear war?”

PUSHBACK

Australian warships and aircraft have joined US, Indian and Japanese forces in recent drills. They also are likely to team up with a British aircraft carrier task force when it visits the South China Sea later this year.

Professor Bachmann told NewsCorp he sees such “pushback” already happening on a multitude of fronts.

“Of more practical concern are Beijing’s increased influence operations targeting Australia and its allies. Based on the CCP’s version of non-contact, below the threshold of warfare, Beijing’s tactic of “unrestricted warfare” takes place in the so-called grey zone,” he writes.

RELATED: Taiwan retaliates to China’s aggression

Professor Bachmann says Australia has been on the “receiving end” of various “grey zone” operations, including cyberattacks, influence operations, trade boycotts, diplomatic threats and espionage.

“It’s a whole spectrum of operations targeting our way of life and sovereignty by exploiting expertly our vulnerabilities of an open and democratic society,” he says. “Canberra has to work towards adopting a comprehensive counterapproach which raises awareness of the current grey zone conflict and increases resilience.”

Such “grey zone” actions, along with Beijing’s aggressiveness in the East and South China Seas, has prompted Canberra and Washington to begin meeting annually to discuss emerging challenges.

“These discussions have underscored several assumptions and expectations in need of revisiting, including as to where the allies should expect to better defend, deter and, if necessary, fight together in the Indo-Pacific,” Corben adds.

ISLAND CHAINS

Beijing’s stated strategic ambition to dominate the First Island Chain – a region roughly bounded by Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia – is well advanced.

It also has eyes on a Second Island Chain running through Japan, Guam and the Marianas Islands to Papua New Guinea in the south.

Then there’s its Third Island Chain which embraces the US Aleutians, Hawaii, Fiji and New Zealand.

Beijing’s already working towards that goal.

“Though perhaps driven more by ‘strategic opportunism’ than grand strategy, China’s growing regional influence could have serious implications for the alliance should Chinese-funded infrastructure projects facilitate a regular military presence,” Corben warns.

In 2018, reports emerged of a Beijing bid to access Vanuatu’s ports. A few months later, a similar move was made on Papua New Guinea’s old naval base on Manus Island.

In 2019, Beijing attempted to lease old World War II naval and air bases on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.

In 2020, the Torres Strait island of Daru was identified as the target of a state-controlled Chinese port project proposal.

“Competing with Beijing on the basis of dollar figures alone does not advantage the allies in the long term, and it would thus seem extremely difficult to deter China from seeking regional strategic access if it is determined to do so,” writes Corben. “Instead, it could prove cheaper to invest in new military capabilities to limit the utility and usability of prospective Chinese facilities.”

OF DRAGONS AND ECHIDNAS

The Lowy Institute’s Roggeveen says that Australia’s commitment to the existing rules-based order “has implications for how our defence force is structured and the weapons we buy”.

But the type of weapons a nation owns can be seen as signalling defensive – or offensive – intent.

“Australia, of course, does have substantial amphibious forces, allowing us to move hundreds of troops and their equipment over thousands of kilometres of ocean,” he writes.

“We are also planning to develop the capability to bomb adversaries at long range. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced last month that the government is investing $1 billion in a new range of missiles, including one with a range in excess of 1500 kilometres to strike land targets from the sea.”

Such long-range, land-attack missiles are problematic, Roggeveen argues. They give Canberra the capability to commit acts of aggression.

“Adopting a non-offensive force structure (what I have called an Echidna Strategy) makes sense in terms of our interest in forging a tolerable balance of power in our region, and in terms of our commitment to the rules-based order.”

That would reassure neighbours like Indonesia.

But what if Australia was under siege?

Does Australia’s Echidna’s need longer spikes?

OFFENSIVE PROPOSAL

The need to deny access to the Indian and Pacific Oceans may be why the US and Australia recently agreed to co-develop new long-range anti-ship and anti-shore missile systems, argues Corben.

“Aside from holding local Chinese forces at risk, expanding collaborative research and development – and deployment – would help Australia generate independent strategic effects, and assist the United States with addressing a raft of challenges associated with implementing the Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

Put simply, that means such missiles would give Australia greater capacity to cover its expansive interests and assist in allied operations.

Recent Australian defence announcements appear to indicate just such a shift in strategy is underway.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analyst Marcus Hellyer says reading the tea leaves of recent Canberra defence procurement announcements points to the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile.

“Could it provide a deterrent? Or, if it failed as a deterrent, could it provide a robust strike option?” he asks.

Professor Bachman told NewsCorp he believes securing extended-range weapons “is the right decision as it protects our front yard so to speak and threatens CCP’s increased maritime ambitions across the seas”.

CORRIDORS OF POWER

Australia’s warships, transports and submarines must pass through narrow channels – such as the Malacca Strait near Singapore, Indonesia’s Sunda Strait or Papua New Guinea’s Vitiaz Strait – to access Asia.

But it cuts both ways.

Vessels originating from Asia must also use these channels or take a more distant route through the Solomon Islands.

Influencing these approaches is, therefore, of critical strategic importance to Australia.

And Canberra’s recent defence shopping list may reflect this.

Underwater mines. Mine-hunting vessels. Long-range naval, air and ground-launched missiles. Huge surveillance drones. Submarines. Frigates.

But what if operations are being launched from bases in our own backyard?

“The Royal Australian Navy currently doesn’t have a land-strike capability, beyond the very limited effect provided by its guns and the Harpoon anti-ship missile,” Hellyer notes. “Even the Royal Australian Air Force has very few arrows in its strike quiver.”

But buying a big cruise missile like the US Tomahawk has drawbacks. Given the limited missile-carrying capacity of Australia’s handful of frontline warships, every land-attack missile carried is one less available to defend from attack.

“A large number of missiles could be based in Australia and they would be difficult to detect and destroy, but they might not have sufficient range to reach potential targets,” Hellyer writes. “A bomber can … both kick in the door with long-range weapons and follow up with direct attacks using cheaper, more plentiful short-range weapons.”

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER

“Australia’s growing concern in regard to China and its awareness of hostile activities by Beijing has seen … the adoption of a record-high defence budget and increased spending on cyber as well as investment into grey zone capabilities,” says Professor Bachmann.

But it’s not all about weaponry, he adds. “Defence spending is (being) augmented by an increased diplomatic, international law and relations-centred, strategic alliances approach.”

Pacific Forum analyst Corben says the balance of power in our region has changed dramatically. And Australia could face a regional security crisis in its neighbourhood.

“There is arguably a growing need to incorporate planning and action against this possibility, however slim, into alliance discussions,” he writes.

“The alliance urgently needs to consider whether China’s alleged designs can be deterred or, if not, forge a consensus on how best to mitigate the strategic challenges that could result.”

Meanwhile, ASPI’s Hellyer says Canberra must continue to address its ability to defend its backyard.

“Once the (Australian) task force’s small number of missiles had been delivered, it would take several weeks to rearm in southern Australia, giving the adversary time to regroup, reinforce and get ready for round two,” he warns.

“(A bomber) can adjust its load-out every day for different missions. And a bomber has a human crew of only two who are in danger, in contrast to the 500 or more in a maritime task force.”

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel





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Swiss approve Indonesia free trade deal


GENEVA: Swiss voters on Sunday (Mar 7) narrowly backed a free trade deal signed with Indonesia, opening up a vast potential market with the world’s fourth most populous country.

Controversy surrounding the importation of Indonesian palm oil and its sustainability fuelled enough concern in Switzerland to trigger a public vote on the agreement.

But the deal scraped through the public approval test with 51.7 per cent of the vote, on a 51 per cent turnout.

Supporters voiced relief at the result but said they would have to be more sensitive to environmental issues in any future votes on trade agreements.

READ: Southeast Asia’s palm oil industry touts sustainability narrative, but activists cast doubts

Under the deal, tariffs will be gradually removed from almost all of Switzerland’s biggest exports to Indonesia, while the Swiss will abolish duties on Indonesian industrial products.

Anyone importing Indonesian palm oil must prove that it meets certain environmental and social standards.

The agreement was signed in 2018 and approved by the Swiss parliament in 2019, but opponents were especially critical of Bern’s move to reduce palm oil import duties and secured a public vote on the deal.

Palm oil is a key ingredient in a wide range of products from food to cosmetics, but it has long been controversial.

Environmentalists say it drives deforestation, with huge swathes of rainforest logged in recent decades to make way for plantations.

READ: Swiss voters narrowly back ‘burqa ban’

BEARS, TIGERS AND ORANGUTANS

The deal contains exceptions for agricultural products, notably to protect Switzerland’s sunflower and rapeseed oil production.

For palm oil, customs duties will not be removed but instead reduced by between 20 and 40 per cent, on a volume limited to 12,500 tonnes per year.

Campaign posters backing the deal showed a Swiss bear hugging an Indonesian tiger to symbolise the partnership, while those against showed an orangutan and baby clinging to a tree trunk, surrounded by flames.

READ: Grow more durians Jokowi tells struggling palm oil producers, with rural votes in balance

The agreement aims to boost ties with Indonesia, which despite its population is only Switzerland’s 44th biggest economic partner and 16th biggest export market in Asia.

In 2020, Swiss exports to Indonesia amounted to just 498 million Swiss francs (US$540 million).

Switzerland is an export-led economy, drawing almost half its national income from abroad.

Indonesia is a growing economy with an increasingly affluent middle class, offering considerable potential for Swiss firms.

Switzerland’s government urged a yes vote and President Guy Parmelin had insisted that without the agreement Swiss companies would have been at a disadvantage, noting that the European Union is negotiating a deal with Jakarta.

RETHINK ON FUTURE DEALS

Swissmem, the national association representing the engineering industry, said the deal would “considerably ease Swiss companies’ access to this promising market”.

It was the first time that Swiss voters have directly had their say on a free trade agreement.

Organic winegrower Willy Cretegny, who spearheaded the campaign for a vote, told broadcaster RTS he was not disappointed by the defeat because “the debate on the principle of free trade” was now open.

Green lawmaker Leonore Porchet said her party would campaign hard against the next deal in the pipeline, with South America’s Mercosur trade bloc.

Lawmaker Fabio Regazzi, who headed a cross-party yes campaign, said the tight result was sobering.

In future, pro-trade deal movements would have to “be more sensitive” to environmental issues and working conditions, he told ATS news agency.



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Commentary: Indonesia’s vaccination policies seem to favour the young and rich


SINGAPORE: Indonesia’s pandemic response and relief efforts continue to struggle with the tensions between economic and health priorities.

Last year, this manifested itself in the uneven and changing “lockdown” policies restricting social mobility.

At the very beginning of the pandemic’s spread in Indonesia, President Widodo warned provincial governments not to endanger the economy by imposing lockdowns.

Indonesia still is suffering from its first very long wave of COVID-19 infections.

READ: Commentary: Indonesia’s haphazard approach created an ‘endless first wave’

READ: Commentary: Indonesia’s questionable decision on vaccinating only those aged 18 to 59

FLIP FLOP OVER PRIORITISATION POLICY

In January 2021, this unresolved tension was revealed in a new polemic and policy flip-flop.  Government statements explained that the productive age group would receive COVID-19 vaccines first and people over the age of 65 later.

To underline this prioritisation policy, President Widodo, who is 59, was vaccinated on Jan 13. Vice-President Maruf Amin, who is 77, was not. 

On the same day, Professor Amin Soebandrio, a government advisor on the pandemic, argued that it was best to immunise working people “who go out of the house and all over the place, and then at night come back home to their families” where they might infect elderly family members.

The professor’s assertion ignores the lack of confirmed data that the vaccines stop transmission. Available data only confirm that they prevent serious illness in those vaccinated.

Medical experts in and outside Indonesia have criticised the Widodo administration’s vaccination prioritisation policy.

President Joko Widodo prepares to receive a shot of COVID-19 vaccine at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta

President Joko Widodo on Jan 13, 2021, received the first shot of a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine after Indonesia approved it for emergency use. (Photo: Indonesian Presidential Palace via AP)

The administration also justified this controversial prioritisation policy by noting that the National Agency of Drug and Food Control (BPOM) had not authorised vaccines for use on people over 65.

On Feb 7, BPOM approved the Sinovac Biotech vaccine for use for people aged 65 years and older. Ten days later, Vice-President Amin was vaccinated.

Two days after that, the age criterion for vaccination was dropped, and discussions over the economic benefits of vaccinating the “productive” age group first fell silent.

READ: Commentary: Indonesia’s Sinovac rollout sets high stakes for China’s vaccine diplomacy

COMMERCIAL AVAILABILITY OF VACCINES

A second prioritisation controversy has been whether people can pay for vaccination outside the government’s free vaccination programme.

On Jan 14, the Health Minister announced the government was considering allowing the private sector to purchase and distribute for free approved vaccines to their employees, alongside the government’s own free vaccinations.

Private sector lobby groups, including the powerful Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN), have been promoting this commercial alternative.

READ: Commentary: Why the Singapore-Indonesia reciprocal green lane is necessary

President Widodo has announced that the government regulations for this private sector parallel programme, termed Independent Vaccination (Vaksinasi Mandiri), would be issued in late February or March.

Mandiri is motivated by businesses wishing to speed up the vaccination of their employees to minimise the pandemic‘s continuing impact on their bottom lines. Mr Rosan P Roeslani, the Chair of KADIN, told the media that “factories currently operating at half-capacity could return to normal after workers received their shots”.

FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing a face shield and a protective face mask checks the vegetables at a Fo

FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing a face shield and a protective face mask checks the vegetables at a Food Hall Supermarket amid the outbreak of COVID-19 in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Reuters/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

As of mid-February, it is reported that the government has 28 million doses available, with more arriving in stages. The Mandiri programme would provide additional dosages, though still managed through the government.

To avoid competition for supplies, the government has stated clearly that any vaccines bought through the Mandiri programme would have to be different from the seven vaccines being purchased by the government. These seven are: Sinovac Bio Farma; AstraZeneca; Sinopharm; Moderna; Novavax Inc.; Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech; and Sinovac Biotech. 

The question remains if the Mandiri programme will be able to obtain sufficient supplies of vaccines from outside the seven being purchased by the government given current global demand.

READ: Commentary: Indonesia is reopening for business even with record high COVID-19 infections

WEALTHY CAN JUMP THE VACCINATION QUEUE

While the Mandiri scheme will not be competing with the government programme in sourcing vaccines, there are concerns that it will result in wealthy people being able to jump the vaccination queue by paying for the privilege.

The current Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin has warned that this perception must be avoided.

At the same time though, KADIN’s Rosan Roselani has been quoted as saying: “It’s like going to the Disneyland … if you want to go faster, there’s a priority pass, but you must pay more”.

Meanwhile according to Statista, 78 per cent of Indonesians fear falling ill from COVID-19.

READ: Commentary: Dear Indonesia, shaming the infected is a lousy COVID-19 plan

Despite these widespread community fears, the government has decided that it needs to threaten people with fines and other sanctions to ensure they will get vaccinated, when it becomes available. These sanctions have already attracted the criticism that they will hit the poor hardest.

By the end of February, Indonesia had recorded 1,329,074 confirmed COVID-19 cases, although this is based on a very low testing rate, and 35,981 related deaths. As of Feb 22, over 700,000 people or 0.27 per cent of the population, had been fully vaccinated.

Indonesian healthcare workers are seen during verification and health screening before receiving Si

Indonesian healthcare workers are seen during verification and health screening before receiving Sinovac’s vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a hospital in Bandung

It is too early to assess what impact the economic divides reflected in these controversies will have on the management of the vaccination roll-out itself. The additional resources from the Mandiri program could possibly speed up vaccination, assuming everything goes smoothly.

Politically, policy criticism of the vaccination programme, has so far only come from experts and civil society, and not from the political opposition in the legislature.

This weakness in political accountability from within the political system may make mismanagement easier and more likely.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

Max Lane is Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. This article was first published by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute as a commentary in Fulcrum.



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Palm oil row fuels Swiss vote on Indonesia trade deal


ZURICH: Switzerland votes Sunday (Mar 7) on a free trade deal with Indonesia but the agreement, which opens up a vast potential market, could slip up over the issue of palm oil imports.

Under the deal, tariffs would be gradually removed from almost all of Switzerland’s biggest exports to the world’s fourth most populous country, while the Swiss would abolish duties on Indonesian industrial products.

Anyone importing Indonesian palm oil must prove that it meets certain environmental and social standards.

But controversy around palm oil and its sustainability fuelled enough concern in Switzerland to trigger a public vote.

Two separate polls in February put support for the deal at 52 per cent, with 41 to 42 per cent against.

The agreement was signed in 2018 and approved by the Swiss parliament in 2019, but opponents were especially critical of Bern’s move to reduce import duties on palm oil.

The deal contains exceptions for agricultural products, notably to protect Switzerland’s sunflower and rapeseed oil production.

For palm oil, customs duties will not be removed but instead reduced by between 20 per cent to 40 per cent.

These reductions will only be granted on a volume limited to 12,500 tonnes per year – and importers will need to prove that the palm oil has been produced in a sustainable manner.

BEARS, TIGERS AND ORANGUTANS

Campaign posters backing the economic partnership agreement show a Swiss bear hugging a tiger, while those against show an orangutan and baby clinging to a tree trunk, surrounded by flames.

The agreement aims to boost ties with Indonesia, which despite its population is only Switzerland’s 44th biggest economic partner, and only its 16th biggest export market in Asia.

In 2020, Swiss exports to Indonesia amounted to just 498 million Swiss francs (US$540 million).

“This is the first time that the people will be called upon to vote on a trade agreement,” Swiss President Guy Parmelin said during a press conference on the vote.

Switzerland relies on about 30 such agreements which do not normally pose a problem, he said.

However, Parmelin called the vote an opportunity not only to respond to “legitimate concerns” but also to “de-demonise free trade”.

He said such deals were of “paramount” importance for an export-led economy like Switzerland, which lacks both significant natural resources and a large domestic market – and draws almost half its national income from abroad.

Without an agreement with Indonesia, Swiss companies would be put at a disadvantage, the president insisted, noting that the European Union is also negotiating a deal with Jakarta.

Indonesia is a growing economy with an increasingly affluent middle class, offering considerable potential for Swiss firms.

The government recommends voting for the deal, highlighting the restrictions put in place to ensure the sustainability of imported palm oil.

“IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE”

However, the agreement’s opponents are far from convinced.

Palm oil is a key ingredient in a wide range of products from food to cosmetics but it has long been controversial.

Environmentalists say it drives deforestation, with huge swathes of rainforest logged in recent decades to make way for plantations.

“Palm oil is an emblematic product of free trade,” Willy Cretegny, an organic winegrower who brought about the drive for a vote, told AFP.

He convened a committee comprised of Greens, young Socialists, and agricultural organisations and unions.

In opposing the deal, he cited deforestation, human rights and environmental violations, and also the certification criteria for palm oil itself.

“The number one problem with free trade is that it is a tool to encourage consumption, even over-consumption,” he added.

Cretegny questioned the “aberrations” of a set-up focused on exports – to the detriment of subsistence agriculture for domestic consumers.

“We put fallow land aside in Switzerland, and we deforest elsewhere. It doesn’t make sense,” he said.



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How an illegal logger’s switch to a greener job shows a way to save Indonesia’s forests


CENTRAL KALIMANTAN: He began illegally cutting trees when he was 13 or 14, after completing elementary school.

Central Kalimantan native Alianur had to help his parents out, so he accompanied his father on trips despite the risk of getting caught by the forestry police. Treks into the forest took two hours, he recalled.

The lack of education forced him to continue on this path. When he had a family of his own, logging missions meant being away from his wife and children for a month at a time.

“Sometimes I worked with friends, but sometimes I was alone, and the risk was quite high,” the 40-year-old told the programme Insight. “Inside, the forest was really calm. We could only hear the birds chirping.”

Central Kalimantan native Alianur was an illegal logger for most of his adult life.

Central Kalimantan native Alianur was an illegal logger for most of his adult life.

Alianur, who goes by one name, could cut 50 pieces of wood in a day, with each tree yielding two to three pieces about four metres in length. He said he could sell about eight cubic metres of wood a month to timber companies, earning eight million rupiah (S$740).

Three years ago, he decided to switch to making coconut sugar.

He received training by a company called Rimba Makmur Utama, which manages about 157,000 hectares of land including peat forests in Central Kalimantan. That is more than twice the size of Singapore.

And the company has adopted a climate finance model that could play an important role in saving Indonesia’s, and the world’s, forests.

‘STRONGEST DEFENCE AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE’

Forests are the “strongest defence against climate change”, said Kiki Taufik, global head of advocacy group Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s forest campaign.

But between 2001 and 2019, Indonesia lost 9.6 million hectares of forests, according to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. About 56 per cent of it happened in pulp and paper, palm oil and logging concessions, he said.

The country is now losing about 0.4 million hectares of forests a year, noted scientist Herry Purnomo of the Centre for International Forestry Research.

Rimba Makmur Utama, however, protects and restores the peat forests within its Ecosystem Restoration Concession granted by the government — in a project called Katingan Mentaya, named after two rivers that flow there.

Indonesia's natural forest cover was about 113 million ha in 1990, and about 88 million ha in 2019.

Indonesia’s natural forest cover was about 113 million ha in 1990, and about 88 million ha in 2019.

Peatlands are made up of partially decomposed plant matter and store large amounts of carbon, which is released into the atmosphere if the land is drained or burned.

Peat fires have caused some of Southeast Asia’s worst haze episodes, including one in 2015 estimated to have caused over 100,000 premature deaths in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and US$16 billion (S$21.5 billion) in economic losses in Indonesia alone.

READ: Little smoke this haze season — but fires rage on in Indonesia

Rimba Makmur Utama also protects the habitats of species such as the Bornean orangutan and creates sustainable employment for local residents like Alianur.

“We can provide better livelihoods for them, better education, better health,” said chief executive Dharsono Hartono, who co-founded the company in 2007.

In doing so, it has avoided over 30 million tonnes in carbon emissions.

Peatlands emit large amounts of carbon when drained or burned.

Peatlands emit large amounts of carbon when drained or burned.

Its climate finance scheme sees companies such as automaker Volkswagen and energy giant Shell buying carbon credits or offsets as part of their climate commitments. Each credit is equivalent to a tonne of carbon dioxide, and the money funds Katingan Mentaya’s initiatives.

In general, forest carbon credits cost between US$5 and US$10 each.

Although 2020 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dharsono said it was a good year as clients continued to buy credits, certified by third parties.

“More and more, customers understand the value of protecting nature,” he said. “Of course, we still have a long way to go.”

Dharsono Hartono is the CEO of Rimba Makmur Utama, which manages the Katingan Mentaya project.

Mr Dharsono Hartono is chief executive of Rimba Makmur Utama.

Katingan Mentaya is part of REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), a mechanism developed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that incentivises forest conservation by creating a financial value for the carbon stored.

WHAT MORE MUST INDONESIA DO?

Ruandha Agung Sugardiman, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s director general of climate change, said Indonesia aims to further reduce its annual rate of deforestation to 250,000 hectares by 2030.

“This is an extraordinary effort, especially on the part of law enforcement. Our main emphasis is on forest and land fires,” he said.

Spatial technology has made it easier to identify areas that have been illegally logged.

“Based on satellite images, we’d send our team and conduct an investigation on the ground. We’d know the size of the areas affected by illegal logging, the amount of wood and we can immediately calculate the damage,” he said.

“Big companies won’t be able to escape because of the extremely heavy sanctions. It could be administrative sanctions or criminal sanctions.”

Peat and plantation fires have caused record levels of haze in the region in recent years.

Peat and plantation fires have caused record levels of haze in the region in recent years.

Indonesia also aims to rehabilitate 12 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 using funds from its state budget and international supporters, said Ruandha. In addition, it aims to restore two million hectares of peatland by 2030.

Environmentalists said the authorities are heading in the right direction, but challenges such as transparency in land permits, enforcement and business interests persist.

The Omnibus Law passed last year aims to create jobs, but will weaken environmental protection, said Greenpeace’s Kiki. The building of the Trans-Papua Highway in Indonesia’s easternmost region threatens the Papuan forests, Indonesia’s “last forest frontier”, he added.

READ: Indonesia’s jobs law endangers environment, say activists and investors

The lack of transparency and public access to Indonesia’s land concession maps also make it difficult to know where exactly various concessions lie — coal mining or oil palm, for instance — where they overlap and where community areas are, he cited.

WATCH: Indonesia’s vanishing forests — too little, too late for Asia’s largest rainforest? (48:50)

In the meantime, projects such as Katingan Mentaya are making a difference.

Citrus farmer Aliansyah, 55, used to clear land using the slash-and-burn technique, but stopped five years ago after he received training in alternative land-clearing methods.

“If you clear the land by burning it, the plants can only grow once. If we do it organically, the trees would grow well,” he said. “I support that approach.”

These days, Alianur gets to spend more time with his family in Sampit district and no longer has to worry about getting caught by the police.

In his former life, he was nabbed twice and said he had to pay bribes of around 500,000 rupiah each time to avoid jail.

Once an illegal logger, Alianur no longer has to fear getting caught by the forestry police.

Once an illegal logger, Alianur no longer has to fear getting caught by the forestry police.

Amid the pandemic, he can earn around four million rupiah a month — demand for coconut sugar, produced in Katingan Mentaya’s buffer zone and used in cooking and baking, has held up.

“If forests vanish, maybe people in Kalimantan will vanish too,” he said.

Watch this episode of Insight here. The programme airs on Thursdays at 9pm.



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This man can read and write 30 ancient Indonesian scripts, some as old as 500 years


JAKARTA: Diaz Nawaksara grew up during the rise of the Internet and telecommunications.

When the 30-year-old went to college, he decided to study information management, focusing on storing information through computational methods.

But as modern as his educational qualification sounds, his job nowadays involves something very ancient: preserving Indonesian scripts that are as old as 500 years.

“I started in 2012 by studying the Javanese script first,” Nawaksara recounted, referring to the native language of those from Indonesia’s and the world’s most populated island of Java.

Today, he can read and write over 30 ancient Indonesian scripts. He understands fluently about half of the languages associated with these scripts.

(ks) Sulawesi script

Diaz Nawaksara can read and write over 30 ancient Indonesian scripts. (Photo courtesy: PANDI – Pengelola Nama Domain Internet Indonesia)

It is a rare ability considering that most Indonesians can only read one or two scripts.

Most Indonesians can read Latin, the script used for the national language Bahasa Indonesia as well as English. Others also know Arabic for reading the Koran or Chinese.

READ: Meet the Indonesian artist who turns household waste into shadow puppets

Nawaksara claimed that generally, it is quite easy to learn ancient Indonesian scripts.

“The transformation of a script from time to time can still be traced, maybe the problem is more on understanding the language and its meaning. Because most of the languages in manuscripts are rarely used in daily conversation.

“The (mastery of) vocabulary determines the fluency in reading the ancient manuscripts, regardless of the type of script,” he told CNA.

Once an English tutor and a tour guide, Nawaksara is now a freelance researcher who works to preserve ancient Indonesian scripts as well as history. 

CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH JAVANESE MANUSCRIPT

Nawaksara was born and raised in Bandung city, West Java. His parents are of Sundanese ethnicity.

His attempt to read and write Javanese script came by chance.

He was always drawn to antiques. Since junior high school, he has been collecting items dating back to the time before Indonesia’s independence in 1945 such as old radios, gramophones and sacred daggers known as keris.

Upon completing his studies, he moved to Yogyakarta in central Java to work as a tour guide and English tutor in the city often dubbed as the cultural capital of Indonesia.

One day, he went to a local flea market and discovered an ancient Javanese manuscript.

He was intrigued by it and decided to purchase it even though he could not read Javanese script. It turned out to be an ancient legislation manuscript of Yogyakarta’s sultanate during the Dutch colonial times. The manuscript was known as rijksblad.

(ks) Javanese script

Diaz Nawaksara started studying ancient Indonesian scripts in 2012 by learning Javanese script. (Photo courtesy: PANDI – Pengelola Nama Domain Internet Indonesia)

Coincidentally, his girlfriend was Javanese and could read the manuscript. She taught him how to read it. 

“Luckily, I was also passionate about languages so I could study it intensely and was focused.

“After a month, I could start writing it. And after two, three months I could read it fluently,” he said.

READ: Last monarchy in Indonesia – Rifts over a possible female sultan

It marked the start of his quest to find other manuscripts and learn different old Indonesian scripts.

“Since then, I started collecting more Javanese ancient books.

“A year later, I stumbled upon an older script named Kawi script,” he told CNA.

Kawi is considered the ancestor of Javanese script and is thought to be related to Indian scripts which evolved sometime during the 8th to 16th century.

In order to enhance his understanding, Nawaksara visited temples and museums that exhibited the script.

ANCIENT SCRIPTS GIVE ANSWERS ABOUT ANCESTORS

Nawaksara has since travelled all over Indonesia to find ancient manuscripts and study the scripts. He said this led him to a better comprehension of history.

There are over 600 ethnicities in Indonesia and knowing some ancient scripts leads to a better understanding of how the various ethnicities in the country are related and even stretching to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, he said.

He often buys ancient manuscripts to study them further. As they can command a price of as high as 500 million rupiah (US$35,984), he sometimes bargains with the sellers and asks to rewrite them at a lower price.

The researcher has never forked out more than 5 million rupiah for a manuscript.

During his search, he also found a sacred Balinese script believed to have high spiritual values.

(ks) Bali Lontar

Balinese Lontar script is considered sacred and believed to have high spiritual values. (Photo courtesy: PANDI – Pengelola Nama Domain Internet Indonesia)

He loves knowing new things and giving the answers to people’s questions which he often finds by reading the ancient scripts.

But above everything, Nawaksara believes it is important to know Indonesian ancient scripts and preserve them because it reflects a nation’s identity.

“Many people don’t know their ancestors and what their expertise was. They don’t know because they can’t read the source.

“When they can read the manuscripts, it means they know more details about their ancestors.”

Paraphrasing a quote by Indonesia’s first president and founding father Soekarno, Nawaksara said: “When being a Muslim, don’t be an Arab. When being a Hindu, don’t be an Indian. When being a Christian, don’t be a Westerner.”

“It is all about identity,” explained Nawaksara.

“Today, there are religious people who are lost because they don’t know their identity,” he said.

This is also the reason why Nawaksara now wants to digitalise the scripts he knows so they will not get lost in time.

His information management expertise obtained during college helps him with this. He is working towards computer keyboards and websites in ancient Indonesian scripts for the public in the future.

For those who want to study ancient scripts, Nawaksara recommends joining a community to make the process easier.

He also hopes that the government will be more involved in preserving ancient Indonesian scripts.

“As much as possible, as soon as possible, the government should issue a law or a presidential decree that the Indonesian state owns these scripts.”

Read this story in Bahasa Indonesia here.



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Pria ini bisa membaca dan menulis 30 aksara Indonesia kuno, sebagian di antaranya berusia 500 tahun


JAKARTA: Diaz Nawaksara, 30, tumbuh di masa perkembangan Internet dan telekomunikasi.

Saat kuliah, ia mengambil jurusan manajemen informatika dengan fokus pada penyimpanan data melalui metode komputasi.

Meskipun pendidikannya terkesan modern, pekerjaannya saat ini melibatkan suatu hal yang sangat kuno: Melestarikan aksara Indonesia yang berusia sekitar 500 tahun.

“Saya memulai tahun 2012 dengan mempelajari aksara Jawa terlebih dahulu,” kenang Diaz.

Sekarang, ia dapat membaca dan menulis lebih dari 30 aksara Indonesia kuno, serta fasih memahami sekitar setengah dari bahasa yang terkait dengan tulisan-tulisan tersebut.

(ks) aksara Sulawesi

Diaz Nawaksara dapat membaca dan menulis lebih dari 30 aksara Indonesia kuno. (Foto: PANDI – Pengelola Nama Domain Internet Indonesia)

Ini adalah kemampuan yang langka mengingat kebanyakan orang Indonesia hanya bisa membaca satu atau dua aksara.

Sebagian besar orang Indonesia bisa membaca huruf Latin, aksara yang digunakan untuk bahasa Indonesia maupun bahasa Inggris.

Selain itu, ada orang Indonesia yang juga mengetahui tulisan Arab karena membaca Al-Qur’an dan ada juga yang bisa membaca huruf Mandarin.

Diaz mengatakan secara umum mempelajari aksara Indonesia kuno cukup mudah.

“Transformasi suatu naskah dari masa ke masa masih bisa dilacak. Mungkin masalahnya lebih pada pemahaman bahasa dan maknanya, karena sebagian besar bahasa dalam manuskrip jarang digunakan dalam percakapan sehari-hari.

“Penguasaan kosakata menentukan kefasihan dalam membaca naskah kuno, terlepas dari jenis naskahnya,” katanya kepada CNA.

Walau sebelumnya pernah menjadi guru bahasa Inggris dan seorang pemandu wisata, dewasa ini dia bekerja sebagai peneliti lepas yang fokus pada pelestarian naskah kuno Indonesia serta sejarah.

PENEMUAN TAK SENGAJA DI PASAR LOAK

Diaz lahir dan besar di Bandung, Jawa Barat dan orang tuanya adalah etnis Sunda.

Usahanya untuk membaca dan menulis aksara Jawa berawal secara tidak sengaja.

Sejak remaja, dia sudah tertarik pada barang antik.

Ketika di sekolah menengah pertama, dia mengumpulkan barang-barang yang berasal dari zaman sebelum kemerdekaan Indonesia seperti radio tua, gramofon, dan keris.

Setelah menyelesaikan kuliah, ia pindah ke Yogyakarta untuk bekerja sebagai pemandu wisata dan guru bahasa Inggris.

Suatu hari, dia pergi ke pasar loak dan menemukan manuskrip Jawa dijual di sana.

(ks) aksara Jawa

Diaz Nawaksara mulai mempelajari aksara kuno Indonesia pada tahun 2012 dengan mempelajari aksara Jawa. (Foto: PANDI – Pengelola Nama Domain Internet Indonesia)

Ia tergelitik untuk mengetahui lebih lanjut dan memutuskan untuk membelinya meski tidak bisa membaca aksara Jawa.

Ternyata, itu adalah manuskrip undang-undang kuno kesultanan Yogyakarta pada masa penjajahan Belanda yang dikenal dengan sebutan “rijksblad”.

Kebetulan pacarnya adalah orang Jawa dan bisa membaca manuskripnya. Ia pun mengajari Diaz cara membacanya.

BACA: Sulap sampah jadi wayang, seniman Indonesia ini bercita-cita jaga warisan budaya Nusantara

READ: Bukan hanya makanan Jawa, Padang, dan Sunda – Koki muda mau orang Indonesia mengenal beragam masakan Nusantara

“Untungnya, saya juga hobi belajar bahasa sehingga saya bisa mempelajarinya dengan intens dan fokus.

“Setelah sebulan, saya mulai bisa menulis. Dan setelah dua, tiga bulan saya bisa membacanya dengan lancar,” kata Diaz.

Hal tersebut menandai awal dari pencariannya untuk menemukan manuskrip lain dan mempelajari beragam aksara Indonesia kuno.

“Sejak itu, saya mulai mengoleksi lebih banyak lagi buku-buku Jawa kuno.

“Setahun kemudian, saya menemukan naskah yang lebih tua yang mengandung aksara Kawi.”

Kawi dianggap sebagai nenek moyang aksara Jawa dan diyakini terkait dengan aksara India yang berkembang pada sekitar abad ke-8 hingga ke-16.

Untuk menambah pemahamannya, Diaz mengunjungi berbagai candi dan museum yang memamerkan aksara tersebut.

CERMINAN JATI DIRI BANGSA

Diaz telah berkeliling tanah air untuk menemukan pelbagai manuskrip kuno dan mempelajari naskah-naskah tersebut.

Setelah menemukan manuskrip kuno, dia sering membelinya untuk dipelajari secara mendalam.

Karena para penjual bisa mematok harga sangat mahal – bahkan hingga Rp500 juta – dia terkadang menawar dan meminta kepada penjual untuk diperbolehkan menulis ulang naskah dengan harga yang lebih murah.

Ia tidak pernah membayar lebih dari Rp5 juta untuk sebuah naskah.

Dalam pencariannya, dia pernah menemukan naskah yang menggunakan aksara Bali yang diyakini sakral dan memiliki nilai spiritual yang tinggi.

READ: Toko es krim jadul legendaris di Jakarta yang bertahan selama 88 tahun

READ: Mentega, kunci kelezatan lapis legit di sebuah toko kue berusia 45 tahun di Jakarta

Ia mengatakan kebolehannya membaca aksara kuno membantunya untuk memahami sejarah dengan lebih baik.

Terdapat lebih dari 600 suku bangsa di ibu pertiwi. Seseorang yang mengetahui beberapa aksara kuno dapat memahami dengan lebih baik hubungan antara berbagai etnis Nusantara, dan bahkan di negara tetangga seperti Malaysia dan Singapura, kata Diaz.

Ia juga senang mengetahui hal-hal baru dan memberikan jawaban atas pertanyaan orang-orang yang sering ditemukannya dengan membaca naskah kuno.

Namun lebih dari semua itu, dia meyakini pentingnya untuk mengetahui aksara Indonesia kuno dan melestarikannya karena itu mencerminkan jati diri bangsa.

(ks) Diaz N

Diaz Nawaksara pernah bekerja sebagai pemandu wisata di Yogyakarta. (Foto: PANDI – Pengelola Nama Domain Internet Indonesia)

“Banyak orang tidak mengetahui nenek moyang mereka dan apa keahlian mereka. Mereka tidak tahu karena tidak bisa membaca sumbernya.

“Ketika mereka dapat membaca manuskrip, itu berarti mereka mengetahui lebih banyak detail tentang leluhur mereka,” katanya.

Terinspirasi oleh Soekarno, presiden pertama dan bapak pendiri Indonesia yang pernah mengatakan hal serupa, Diaz berkata: “Ketika menjadi Muslim, jangan menjadi orang Arab, dan ketika menjadi Hindu, jangan menjadi orang India, ketika menjadi Kristen, jangan menjadi orang Barat.”

Lanjut Diaz: “Ini semua tentang identitas. Saat ini, ada orang beragama tersesat karena mereka tidak tahu identitas mereka.”

Hal ini juga menjadi alasannya ingin mengupayakan digitalisasi aksara kuno agar tidak lekang ditelan zaman.

Pengetahuan manajemen informasi yang diperolehnya selama kuliah membantunya dalam hal ini. Cita-citanya adalah agar aksara-aksara Indonesia kuno tersedia dalam penggunaan papan ketik komputer dan situs web untuk khalayak umum.

Bagi mereka yang ingin mempelajari aksara kuno, dia menyarankan bergabung dengan komunitas untuk mempermudah prosesnya.

Diaz juga berharap agar pemerintah lebih terlibat dalam pelestarian aksara Indonesia kuno.

“Sebisa mungkin, secepatnya, pemerintah harus mengeluarkan undang-undang atau keputusan presiden bahwa aksara-aksara tersebut milik Indonesia.”

Bacalah cerita ini dalam Bahasa Inggris.

Baca juga artikel Bahasa Indonesia yang satu ini.

Ikuti akun CNA di Facebook dan Twitter untuk membaca artikel-artikel terkini. 





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Indonesia president’s aide named head of opposition party, but turmoil ensues


JAKARTA: A top aide of Indonesian President Joko Widodo was named chairman of an opposition party on Friday (Mar 5), in a move that could broaden the president’s coalition and tighten his grip on parliament, though the legitimacy of the move was challenged by other party members.

Moeldoko, the president’s chief of staff, was named as chairman of the Democratic Party in an extraordinary congress in North Sumatra province, according to live reports by broadcasters.

The coalition of Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, already controls 74 per cent of the 575 parliamentary seats in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, and the support of the Democratic Party would give him nine percentage points more.

But Moeldoko’s appointment was challenged by Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who at a news conference late on Friday said he remained the party’s chairman.

Agus, the son of Jokowi’s predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is one of a crop of new leaders who could run for the presidency in 2024, according to surveys by private pollsters.

“The extraordinary, illegal and unconstitutional congress was held by a number of members, former members, who conspired with external actors,” he said.

Agus urged Jokowi not to certify Moeldoko’s appointment and said he would file a complaint to law enforcement agencies.

The government is expected to confirm which party leader will be recognised by the state.

However, some analysts said Jokowi stands to gain from having his senior staff leading the party.

“With Moeldoko at the Democratic Party, the government will be stronger and this is not just a matter of 2024, but today … With this, the government will be very free to design policies related to politics and power,” said Hendri Satrio, a political analyst at Paramadina University, though he added that he could not be sure which person’s claim to leadership was legitimate.

The Democratic Party was among the minority parties that sought to block Jokowi’s flagship Job Creation Law last year.



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Indonesia president’s aide named head of opposition party, but turmoil ensues


JAKARTA: A top aide of Indonesian President Joko Widodo was named chairman of an opposition party on Friday (Mar 5), in a move that could broaden the president’s coalition and tighten his grip on parliament, though the legitimacy of the move was challenged by other party members.

Moeldoko, the president’s chief of staff, was named as chairman of the Democratic Party in an extraordinary congress in North Sumatra province, according to live reports by broadcasters.

The coalition of Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, already controls 74 per cent of the 575 parliamentary seats in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, and the support of the Democratic Party would give him nine percentage points more.

But Moeldoko’s appointment was challenged by Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who at a news conference late on Friday said he remained the party’s chairman.

Agus, the son of Jokowi’s predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is one of a crop of new leaders who could run for the presidency in 2024, according to surveys by private pollsters.

“The extraordinary, illegal and unconstitutional congress was held by a number of members, former members, who conspired with external actors,” he said.

Agus urged Jokowi not to certify Moeldoko’s appointment and said he would file a complaint to law enforcement agencies.

The government is expected to confirm which party leader will be recognised by the state.

However, some analysts said Jokowi stands to gain from having his senior staff leading the party.

“With Moeldoko at the Democratic Party, the government will be stronger and this is not just a matter of 2024, but today … With this, the government will be very free to design policies related to politics and power,” said Hendri Satrio, a political analyst at Paramadina University, though he added that he could not be sure which person’s claim to leadership was legitimate.

The Democratic Party was among the minority parties that sought to block Jokowi’s flagship Job Creation Law last year.



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Indonesians should ‘love local goods, hate foreign products’: President Jokowi


JAKARTA: President Joko Widodo said on Thursday (Mar 4) that Indonesian consumers should be encouraged to “love” domestic brands and “hate” foreign products, as he urged officials to stay the course in pushing for 5 per cent economic growth this year. 

Speaking during a Ministry of Trade national meeting, Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, urged industries to use local components rather than import them. People should be proud of local products, he said. 

He added that branding is important and local brands or products of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) must be displayed at malls and given the best spots. Foreign brands can be displayed at the side, said the president. 

“Because our population, the population of Indonesia, is more than 270 million people. We should be the most loyal consumers of our own products,” he said. 

“Calls to love our own products … must continue to be echoed … Also, echo hate to foreign products.”

He added: “Love our goods, hate products from abroad. So that our people will really become loyal consumers of Indonesian products.” 

READ: Jokowi unveils US$185 billion budget for 2021; Indonesia’s GDP targeted to grow between 4.5% and 5.5%

The ministry’s employees should be creative and innovative in pushing for economic growth, he also said.

“The growth target of 5 per cent as stipulated in the state budget must really be achieved. Once again, 2021 is a year of recovery that must be based on a spirit of optimism. 

“For that, I specifically ask the ranks of the Ministry of Trade not to work only normatively. There must be creative breakthroughs. There must be innovative breakthroughs,” said Mr Widodo. 

He also said that the digital trade sector must be developed.

“Indonesia must not fall victim to unfair digital trade. Other countries have experienced this a lot and we must not fall victim to unfair digital trade,” said the president.  

Indonesia saw an economic contraction of 2.07 per cent last year, its first annual contraction since the Asian financial crisis in 1998. 

However, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani noted that the contraction was relatively moderate compared to other countries.



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