Small states show the world how to survive multipolarity

Author: Jason Young, New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre Small states such as New Zealand lack the decisive military power or economic leverage needed to pursue their interests unilaterally. They must live with asymmetrical power relations. An obvious example is New Zealand’s relationship with China. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and has been […]

Small states show the world how to survive multipolarity

Author: Jason Young, New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre

Small states such as New Zealand lack the decisive military power or economic leverage needed to pursue their interests unilaterally. They must live with asymmetrical power relations. An obvious example is New Zealand’s relationship with China.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and has been an important source of migrants, international students, tourists and investment. New Zealand represents less than one per cent of China’s total imports and exports. How is it possible for such a small state to exert influence with large and powerful states?

Successive New Zealand governments have tried to leverage international law and organisations like the World Trade Organization (WTO). Such bodies provide small countries with the tools to defend their interests through agreed norms of diplomacy and treaty-making, and to ink economic agreements that are framed, supported and defended by the WTO.

The 2008 New Zealand–China Free Trade Agreement is one example of how international organisations underpin New Zealand’s relationship with China.

Without recourse to these international rules and norms, smaller countries would struggle to create a level playing field for their people and businesses and be forced to sacrifice self-determination for survival.

There is still a chance to avoid this.

A major contribution of the Western-dominated post-war era was the development of international organisations built upon the principles that nations and individuals are equal and that fair and impartial rules should govern their interactions.

The United Nations General Assembly, the WTO, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Criminal Court of Justice represent significant milestones in the development of multilateralism and global governance — even if imperfect and hampered by great-power rivalry and interests.

New Zealand has prospered under an international system where liberal countries have dominated in a fortuitous combination of multilateralism and like-minded dominant players.

But today the distribution of global power and influence is shifting. Western powers no longer have a monopoly on science, industry or ideas. The rise of non-Western and non-liberal powers — most significantly China — have burst that bubble and are pushing the world towards a potentially explosive form of multipolarity.

Changes in the relative distribution of power challenge the interests of existing powers and emboldens rising powers. Non-liberal powers, given the opportunity, may challenge the liberal foundations of the international system and revise international institutions to reflect their norms and values.

A concerted and coordinated effort is required to maintain the values of open commerce, democracy and human rights. This will be a hard fight, a fight for hearts and minds, and one that can no longer ignore the reality that only 5.7 per cent of the world’s population live in full democracies.

Existing international organisations are the best starting point to manage the rise of non-liberal countries and allow a contest of ideas with fairly applied rules. They are the best hope for finding consensus on common challenges like climate change and for promoting orderly competition.

The experience of small states navigating these institutions is instructive for traditionally dominant states and rising powers alike.

Some powerful countries are already turning strongly toward multilateralism. Japan is a case in point, signing up to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and promoting the rules-based order through its Indo-Pacific strategy. The European Union maintains a foundation of multilateralism, international law and human rights in its international policy.

Other nations have been more selective in their adherence to the norms and rules of the international system. The US–China trade war is just one of the most egregious cases in point.

Most recently, the failure of the great powers and multinational institutions alike to lead the global public health and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic should be a wake up call for all countries.

While there is good reason for existing powers that fear the erosion of their dominance to pursue their interests unilaterally, there is also good reason for rising powers that fear that the international system does not reflect their preferences to do the same.

Understanding that long-term interests are best served through international cooperation and agreed principles of engagement is the cornerstone of a civilised world. This will require compromise and a degree of acceptance of difference if not agreement.

Small states shouldn’t have to go it alone but may need to join together to lead. New Zealand and Singapore, for example, are already working together to create a plurilateral agreement to maintain open trade and commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the distribution of global power shifting, it is time for all countries to think more like small powers. Giving primacy to multilateralism can help avert the tragedies of the past, when the pursuit of narrow interests trampled small and medium powers and heavy costs were imposed upon the great powers.

Without a ‘rules-based order’, small states like New Zealand will be at an even greater disadvantage and major powers will be frustrated and blocked from achieving their interests. Multilateralism and a rules-based order are not just a moral choice, they are necessary for a functioning world.

Jason Young is Director of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre and Associate Professor of International Relations at the Victoria University of Wellington.

A longer version of this article appears in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘’, Vol. 12 No. 1.

Source : East Asia Forum More   

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Indonesia Gambles on Reopening Economy

Ongoing outbreaks pose potential for disaster

Indonesia Gambles on Reopening Economy

By: Ainur Rohmah

Facing a severe economic dilemma from rising poverty and unemployment and stalled infrastructure projects, the Indonesian government, over the objection of epidemiologists on a second wave before the first one is finished, plans to open up business and social activity starting June 1 despite the rising number of positive cases and deaths from Covid-19.

The government also faces a crisis from the return of anywhere from 1.3 million to 2.1 million people from their villages following mudik, the Eid al Fitr celebration at the end of Ramadan, on May 24, over concerns that they will be bringing the virus back with them.

As of May 12, Indonesia had reported 14,749 cases, with another 484 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours from 119,728 people tested. Some 3,063 people have recovered but 1,007 have died after 16 new fatalities overnight.

The Ministry of Economy’s gradual opening begins on June 1 with a first phase in which industry and business-to-business (B2B) services open but will continue to require social distancing. The second to fourth phases will take place from June 8 to July 6 with the gradual opening of shops, markets, malls, museums and schools, as well as places of worship and restaurants. All economic activities are targeted to return to normal by the end of July or early August.

COVID-19 task force chief Doni Monardo said the government would allow those under age 45 to resume their activities as usual to prevent them from losing their livelihoods. Data from the Ministry of Manpower shows unemployment has jumped more than 2 million people in the month and a half since the pandemic officially appeared on March 2 although it had been in the country far longer. The Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati recently predicted unemployed and poverty-stricken in a very heavy pandemic would increase to 5.23 million and 3.78 million respectively.

Only 15 percent of those who contract the virus are under the age of 45, Doni said, adding that "the young group under 45 is physically healthy, has high mobility, and if exposed to a virus, are not necessarily sick because there are no symptoms. “As long as people in this age group wear masks, he said, don’t touch their faces and practice social distancing, they might not get infected and thus infect others.

Some 45 percent of deaths occur among those 65 years and over, while the other 40 percent aged 46-59 years have congenital diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. 

An epidemiologist from Padjajaran University, Panji Fortuna Hadisoemarto said Indonesia is not ready to reopen its economy because many active cases have not been detected. In addition, corona-positive people have been detected who show no symptoms.

"If it (the economy is opened), it means that activities are running normally as before the pandemic. This is not safe until the number of active cases is very small," said Panji. "It's still very risky to restore activity to normal levels," he said.

He warned that the fight against COVID-19 is far from over, as the delayed results of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and the nation’s low testing capacity have made it difficult to capture the true scale of the epidemic.

Authorities have declared 251,861 people as under surveillance (ODP) — those who have traveled to virus-hit regions or having been in contact with positive cases but do not show any symptoms — while some 32,147 people are patients under treatment (PDP) — who have symptoms and are in medical care but still need their status confirmed through a test.

The country of 270 million people has previously been criticized for having one of the lowest testing rates in the world, raising many concerns that the real number of cases across the country could be higher than official tallies.

Government data show that Indonesia had conducted polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on 119,728 people by Tuesday, a rate of about 552 people out of one million population, one of the lowest in the world.

Iqbal Elyazar, the Geospatial Epidemiology Program Manager at Eijkman-Oxford Clinical Research Unit in Jakarta, said the government had not announced the number of PDP and ODP deaths so it is difficult to identify the real situation of the virus spread country. The number of deaths so far has only been counted from positive patients.

"The more suspects died, indicating the more severe the pandemic," said Iqbal. The number of deaths due to Covid-19 is estimated to be up to three times the official number reported by the government.

Delayed Infrastructure Projects

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on infrastructure development in Indonesia, including delays in the construction of its new capital city in Kalimantan, which was to begin this year. However, President Joko Widodo recently signed a Presidential Regulation (Perpres) concerning the spatial design of the Jakarta conurbation that designates Jakarta as the center of government and diplomatic center at least until 2039.

Minister of the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) Suharso Monoarfa said the government won’t start physical construction of the new capital city even though various studies related to its construction continue to be carried out.

"In this condition we have no thought to start physical development (of the new capital city),” he said. “However, development studies continue to be carried out with consideration that physical development can be directly carried out when the economy improves," Suharso said.

Indonesia’s annual GDP growth slowed more than expected, to 2.97 percent in the first quarter of this year, the weakest in 19 years and lower than the government’s projection of 4 percent-plus growth. 

The spread of the coronavirus has also delayed investment projects, especially from China because part of the workforce comes from that country. In 2019, China became the second largest investor (16.8 percent) in Indonesia after Singapore (23.1 percent). Some projects were hampered by a lack of Chinese workers after the Indonesian government stopped flights to and from the Chinese mainland on February 5. 

The Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan said Chinese-backed projects such as steel and nickel processing were hampered. The projects are located in Morowali, Konawe, and Weba Bay with an investment of US$11 billion. 

On the island of Sumatra, work at the Batang Toru hydroelectric power station was halted because the contractor working on the project came directly from China. The construction of the US$6 billion Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railroad project has also been delayed even though the project should be completed and begin operations in December 2021.

On May 12, the House of Representatives increased the budget to Rp405.1 trillion (US$27.22 billion) including Rp75 trillion for health, Rp110 trillion for social security, Rp70 trillion in intensive tax cuts and stimulus for people's business credit, and a national economic recovery program of Rp150 trillion.

However, some activists and politicians criticized the new law because it is designed to provide immunity to government officials and absolute power for the president in using state funds. The government denies this interpretation and says any government apparatus that violates the law can be prosecuted legally. It ensures that the funds are included in the state budget so that they can be audited by the Financial Supervisory Board (BPK), and accounted to the house of representatives.

Source : Asia Sentinel More   

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