ASEAN Para Games 2022: From Sports to Cultural Diplomacy

Written by: Ferdian Ahya Al Putra

Indonesia should be proud after successfully organizing the Asian Games and Asian Para Games in 2018. Now Indonesia is assigned to host the ASEAN Para Games 2022. ASEAN Para Games is the largest disability sports party or event in Southeast Asia (Kemenko PMK, 2022). This time, the ASEAN Para Games will be held on 30 July – 6 August 2022 in Central Java Province, including Solo City, Semarang City, Sukoharjo, and Karanganyar (Kemenpora, 2022).

Inside the ASEAN’s structure, they have ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Sport (AMMS). To support AMMS, ASEAN organized the Senior Officials Meeting on Sports (SOMS). In short, they agreed to assist AMMS in enhancing cooperation in sports or related activities towards balanced sports development in ASEAN; Promoting a healthier lifestyle among citizens of ASEAN Member States through sports, encouraging more interaction among peoples of ASEAN, thus fostering friendship among the ASEAN  Member  States,  as well as contributing to ASEAN integration and community building; Advocating and promoting the role of sports in regional development, peace and stability; and Promoting sportsmanship,  competitiveness and an ASEAN  culture of excellence in sports at the regional and international levels (ASEAN, 2011). This ASEAN Para Games could be one of the programs they organized to achieve the objectives.

Sports Diplomacy Concept

 The ASEAN Para Games can be used as momentum in introducing culture and tourism, especially in Solo or the cities around. This goal is closely related to the term sports diplomacy. In a review published by the European Union, it is understood that Sports Diplomacy is an aspect of public diplomacy, and it can be used as a soft-power tool for an increasing number of purposes (Murray & Prince, 2020). Murray also defined “Sports Diplomacy” as a new term that describes an old practice: the unique power of sport to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits (Murray, 2020).

Based on this concept, it can be understood that sport can be a tool to achieve diplomatic goals. The 2022 ASEAN Para Games is an excellent opportunity to attract tourists, especially when Solo is the location for the event. As in Yogyakarta or Bali, both have strong cultural elements which are a big attraction for foreign tourists. Meanwhile, Solo is also a city with cultural tourism. In other words, this event is the right opportunity to introduce Solo to the international scene especially tourists who have come to watch the ASEAN Para Games. The packaging of the ASEAN Para Games this time also cannot be separated from the cultural elements attached to Solo. For example, the 2022 ASEAN Para Games logo also includes cultural elements, namely the illustration of ‘gulungan’ as part of the wayang, a Javanese puppet symbol. A dagger in the logo’s center further emphasizes the event’s cultural element. In addition to the logo, the committee also presented the Rajamala Mascot, which Rojomolo read according to the Javanese accent. Rajamala is known to be unrivaled and is symbolized as the power to resist evil or a negative aura. Rajamala is also a palace heirloom in the form of a can think that symbolizes the greatness of the Surakarta Palace (Jawapos, 2022). This shows that the committee is trying to push cultural diplomacy through sports.

Logo and Mascot of 11th ASEAN Para Games (Foto: Jawapos)

Culture, Tourism, and Culinary in Solo

Talking about culture and tourism, Solo has various cultural sites worth visiting by both local and foreign tourists. In Solo, there are two symbols of royal history: Kasunanan Palace and Mangkunegaran Palace. The Giyanti Agreement signed in 1755 divided the Sultanate of Mataram into two powers, namely the Surakarta Sunanate and the Yogyakarta Sultanate (Darmawan, 2017). While the Mangkunegaran Palace is the place where the kings or dukes of Mangkunegaran reside. This palace was built by Raden Mas Said or Prince Sambernyawa, the founder of Mangkunegaran who holds the title Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Adipati Arya (KGPAA) Mangkunegara I (Ningsih, 2021). In addition, tourists can visit other cultural sites as alternatives, such as the Heritage Batik Keris, the Press Monument, the Nusantara Keris Museum, and so on.

Furthermore, Solo has Batik industrial centers, especially in two Batik villages in the Laweyan and Kauman areas. As we all know, Batik is a world heritage site in Indonesia. The recognition of batik as a world heritage has been in effect since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established Batik as Masterpieces of the Oral and the Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 2 October 2009 (KWRI UNESCO, 2017). In addition to culture, Solo has various distinctive culinary delights with a high taste. The local culinary potential includes Nasi Liwet, Soto, Gudeg, Selat, Pecel, Timlo, Bestik, Tengkleng, and so on. Saeroji and Wijaya (2017) mention that Solo has great culinary potential. They mentioned, for example, that in the Banjarsari sub-district, there are 12 culinary destinations, in Serengan 7 culinary destinations, in Jebres 7 culinary destinations, six culinary destinations in Laweyan, and three destinations in the Kliwon market area. Therefore, visiting Solo is a good opportunity to get to know or buy Batik directly from the industrial center and become a unique attraction for tourists to taste its exceptional cuisine.

Festival in Solo: Solo Batik Carnival (Foto: Instagram/ solobatikcarnival_official)

In other words, this time, the ASEAN Para Games can be an opportunity to introduce Solo’s culture and tourism. Sports expert at Universitas Sebelas Maret (UNS), Febriani Fajar Ekawati, M.Or., Ph.D., mentioned that the event has the potential to revive Solo’s economy. The two main sectors that will be affected by the implementation of the 2022 ASEAN Para Games are the industry and tourism sectors. She also mentioned that the benefits of the ASEAN Para Games for the tourism sector could occur in 2 types, tangible and intangible. The tangible benefit refers to the hotel sector that had fallen due to the pandemic, which will be booked for ASEAN Para Games athletes, coaches, and officials. The hotel is full of guests, and the shops around the hotel can also sell daily necessities and souvenirs. The guests will undoubtedly ogle the culinary sector.

Meanwhile, intangible in nature, namely the icon of Solo, will be worldwide. Several international media will report interesting things about Solo so that this city will be known to the broader world community (UNS Public Relations, 2022). This view is also supported by Solo’s mayor, Gibran Rakabuming, who stated that he wants Solo, a small city with a solid cultural background. The world can see how successful it is in organizing sporting events such as the Asean Para Games (Herdyanto, 2022). In addition, Solo is known as a ‘festival city’ where they already host various cultural festivals such as Solo Batik Carnival, Solo International Performing Arts, Festival Jenang (Traditional cuisine display), etc. This will also enhance the attractiveness of Solo itself.

Based on the concept above, the ASEAN Para Games can help the government to introduce Solo and its tourism to the international view. Relevant parties, from the government to the committee, it is essential to pay attention to the elements contained in the implementation, such as by displaying cultural elements in it or serving special cuisines from Solo for consumption for athletes, officials, journalists, and spectators. It is also important to distribute information about tourism and culinary in Solo along with access if a tourist wants to move from one place to another, for example, through information boards, social media or other digital platforms. This aims to reach the ASEAN pillar, namely the economic pillar, where one of the points to be encouraged is to optimize the tourism sector.

ASEAN Para Games, in this case, is not just a sports party. In a more social realm, this can be an opportunity to strengthen solidarity between ASEAN countries by upholding sportsmanship when competing. This is appropriate with Murray’s argument that sport can bring people and nations closer through sports competition. This is also a place to show off athletes with disabilities. This also emphasizes that sport can be inclusive, which means that everyone has the same opportunity to compete where the motto of this event is “Striving for Equality”. In this context, sport influences the relation among ASEAN members as the concept of sports diplomacy is mentioned. The most crucial point is upholding sportsmanship and fair play value at first, then it will be followed by how sport can strengthen engagement among the member countries of ASEAN.


About Writer

  • Ferdian Ahya Al Putra is a Programme Intern at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada. He finished his bachelor’s degree at the International Relations Department, Universitas Sebelas Maret, and his master’s degree at International Relations Department, Universitas Gadjah Mada. He is also an LPDP Scholarship Awardee from the Ministry of Finance, Republic of Indonesia. He can be contacted through email: or


  1. ASEAN. (2011). 4. Advocating and promoting the role of sports in regional development, peace and stability;;. ASEAN. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from
  2. Darmawan, J. (2017). Mengenal Budaya Nasional “Trah Raja-raja Mataram di Tanah Jawa”. Deepublish.
  3. Herdyanto, H. (2022, June 21). Wali Kota Solo Inginkan Asean Para Games 2022 Jadi Ajang Untuk Mendongkrak Budaya Solo di Pentas Dunia – Mitra News. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from
  4. Humas UNS. (2022, February 9). Pakar Olahraga UNS Sebut ASEAN Para Games 2022 Berpotensi Bangkitkan Industri dan Pariwisata Solo. Universitas Sebelas Maret. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from
  5. Jawapos. (2022, June 10). Logo dan Maskot ASEAN Para Games 2022 Diluncurkan. Radar Solo. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from
  6. Kemenko PMK. (2022, March 9). Indonesia Mantapkan Persiapan ASEAN Para Games 2022 | Kementerian Koordinator Bidang Pembangunan Manusia dan Kebudayaan. Kemenko PMK. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from
  7. Kemenpora. (2022, July 6). 11th ASEAN Para Games 2022 Mengundang Putra-Putri Bangsa untuk Berkontribusi dan Mengasah Talenta melalui Program Volunteer. Kementerian Pemuda dan Olahraga. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from
  8. KWRI UNESCO. (2017, October 2). Hari Ini 8 Tahun Lalu, UNESCO Akui Batik sebagai Warisan Dunia Asal Indonesia. KWRI UNESCO. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from
  9. Murray, S. (2020, 27 October). Sports Diplomacy: History, Theory, and Practice. Retrieved July 2022, 19, from
  10. Murray, S., & Prince, G. (2020, October 27). SPORT DIPLOMACY:. IRIS – Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from
  11. Ningsih, W. L. (2021, October 10). Beda Keraton Surakarta dan Mangkunegaran Halaman all. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from
  12. Padhi, S. D. S. A. a. F. 2. B. (2011, 1 January). Sports Diplomacy: South Africa and FIFA 2010. Insight of Africa, 3(1), 55-70.

ASEAN Commitment on COP 26: Taking a Step Forward in Climate Action

After being delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UNFCCC finally hosted its biggest climate conference, the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) from October 31 to November 13, 2021. The goal of COP 26 is to set greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets and strengthen national resilience frameworks against the climate crisis. Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions facing the consequences of climate change, and ASEAN, as one of the organizations that placed climate change as one of its main priorities, has welcomed the COP 26. For ASEAN Member States (AMS), COP26 is a stepping stone to enhance their climate promises under the Paris Agreement. The COP 26 also creates an opportunity for ASEAN to foster regional and global partnerships. Furthermore, ASEAN believes that the cooperation framework that is being offered by COP 26 could assist developing nations like AMS to overcome the “classical problem” from climate action. The existence of COP 26 is intended to encourage local capacity building, loosen investment, and facilitate the exchange of information and technology as key drivers for AMS to move toward low GHG emission and climate resiliency. 

At COP 26, ASEAN demonstrated its strong commitment to supporting the development of a global climate agenda. ASEAN declared The ASEAN Joint Statements on Climate Change to the UNFCCC COP 26 and restated its shared commitment and collective effort in pursuing energy security and energy transition in the region. The regional achievement of a 21% reduction in energy intensity in the energy sector, exceeding its aspirational aim, and a 13.9 percent contribution of renewable energy in the energy mix by 2018 is also highlighted in this joint statement. The joint statement also outlines The 2016 ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2025: Phase II (2021-2025) that provides updated regional targets for ASEAN’s energy transition to low GHG emissions (ASEAN, 2021). At the national level, as a signatory to the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, AMS has revised and submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) before COP26. The NCDs are designed based on the national circumstances of each country. Considerable improvements in GHG reduction objectives and mitigation goals, which are affirmed in numerical targets, unambiguous reference points, and political decision-making governance that is routed through a specialized working group, committee, or ministry could be seen from the NDCs that have been submitted by AMS. Through NDCs, AMS gave their overview of how far they have come in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation and ensured that climate action progress is kept on track.  (Merdekawati,, 2021).  

The NDCs and ASEAN joint statement certainly prove the region’s strong aspirations and commitment in achieving global climate goals, integrating themself into the global climate regimes, and enhancing regional initiatives under Brunei Darussalam’s leadership in 2021 that make climate change one of the main goals. However, it appears that the ASEAN decision-makers conveyed their contributions in a variety of ways at COP 26. Several ASEAN countries were conspicuously absent from a number of climate-related measures presented during COP26. Some of AMS, for example, are still hesitant to lend a hand in shifting away from an unabated coal power generation framework, particularly those who have been identified as large carbon emitters from their agricultural activities and energy usage. Several ASEAN countries, including Cambodia and the Philippines, have yet to demonstrate that they will meet their zero-emission targets (Safrina, 2021).  

Table Source:  

On the other hand, COP 26 underlines the climate change initiative based on the principle of equality and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC). This principle emphasizes that all countries share responsibility for global environmental degradation, but that responsibility is not shared equitably. This principle strikes a balance between the need for all countries to take responsibility for global environmental problems on the one hand, and the need to recognize the wide differences in terms of economic development among countries, which encourage differences in contributions and ability to cope with climate problems on the other. It seems that the CBDR-RC needs to be reconsidered since there are potential loopholes that might be used by AMS to evade responsibilities and suspend the regional efforts to mitigate climate change. ASEAN joint statement at COP26 may show AMS’ determination to go forward with regional collaboration and the COP26 may facilitate ASEAN to establish a long-term and more sustainable effort for climate cooperation in the future. However, ASEAN appears to be having various challenges in implementing its climate mitigation policies, especially in the form of the lack of unity of ASEAN countries in responding to climate change. ASEAN should be more focused on unifying climate action at the regional level and encouraging AMS to incorporate the COP 26 cooperation framework into their national policies. 


About Writer

  • Chusnul Mar’iyah was a Programme Division intern at ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada. She is currently an Undergraduate Student majoring in International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada.



  1. ASEAN. (2021). The ASEAN Joint Statements on Climate to the 26th Session of Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  2. AWGCC. (2021). Can Southeast Asia : Statement to The ÀSEAN Working Group on Climate Change (AWGCC) by Civil Society in ASEAN Member States.
  3. Merdekawati M., Suryadi B., Suwanto, Lenanto G. (2021). ASEAN Climate Action: A Review of Nationally Determined Contribution Submissions towards COP26 (Policy brief 1-6). Retrieved from
  4. Safrina, R. (2021). COP26: ASEAN’s Commitment in The Energy Sector Economy – ASEAN Centre for Energy. Retrieved 8 December 2021, from

Efforts to Improve the ASEAN Football Levels Through Asian Eleven

ASEAN Football Track Record  

Football is one of the most popular sports in the world, and ASEAN is no exception. However, ASEAN football is considerably still at the developmental stage compared to football in other regions or countries, such as Europe. Such a view exists due to the fact that the achievements of football teams from ASEAN Countries are still relatively unimpressive within the Asian and world football scenes. The success of both national teams of Myanmar U-19 and Vietnam U-19 that reached the semifinals of the AFC Asian Cup U-19 in 2014 and 2016, has been a remarkable achievement for ASEAN football in the age-group tournament. These results finally made Myanmar and Vietnam national teams eligible for competing in the FIFA World Cup U-20, which was held in 2015 and 2017, respectively. But unfortunately, they did not perform impressively during each tournament and became caretakers in the final standings of the group. While in the senior football group, no ASEAN representative has ever qualified for the World Cup. So far, the best achievements of ASEAN representatives are shown through the success of several national teams that were able to advance to the third round of the Asian World Cup qualification, including Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Thailand for the second time managed to survive in the World Cup 2018 qualifiers, and now recently followed by Vietnam in 2022 World Cup qualification. 

Japan’s Football Achievement 

The achievements of ASEAN football today can be said to be very much different from the achievements of other Asian football countries, such as Japan. It is safe to say that Japanese football can be considered as one of the most advanced or even the best ones throughout Asia in recent days. This is evidenced by Japan’s success in winning the AFC Asia Cup four times, back then in 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2011. Aside from that, Japan has never missed out on any World Cup matches since 1998. In addition to making achievements in Asian Cup and World Cup competitions, Japanese national football also managed to score achievements at the London 2012 Olympics and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, by successfully occupying fourth place. Nowadays, there are many Japanese football players who are playing in the top European leagues. For instance, in the Premier League (England) there are Takumi Minamino and Takehiro Tomiyasu who join with Liverpool and Arsenal. While in La Liga (Spain), Takefusa Kubo and Gaku Shibasaki also joined RCD Mallorca and CD Leganes, respectively. In the Bundesliga (Germany), there are Makoto Hasebe and Daichi Kamada who both play for Eintracht Frankfurt. While other two Japanese football players, namely Maya Yoshida (U.C. Sampdoria) and Eiji Kawashima (RC Strasbourg), are playing in Serie A (Italy) and Ligue 1 (France). By this, it is not surprising if Japanese national football team is now considered 50% stronger than ever, as it eventually shows that Japanese football is very advanced compared to the ASEAN’s football league. 

 Asian Eleven for the Future of ASEAN Football 

Japan’s remarkable achievements in Asia –and even in the world– have encouraged this country to become the role model in Asian football (46 Asian Football Associations) scene by enhancing Japan’s football players’ skills. Southeast Asia is a region that received more attention from Japan, especially in the field of football. This could be seen through the Football Exchange Project which was established in November 2014. The project was formed based on a memorandum of understanding between The Japan Foundation Asia Center, the Japanese Football Association (JFA), and the Japan Professional Football League (J.League), which was also supported by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within its implementation in 2019, the Football Exchange Project was later known as Asian Eleven. The Asian Eleven essentially intended to accommodate talented players under the age of 18 as well as local ASEAN coaches. The main objective of the program is to foster football talent among ASEAN countries and Japan, promote mutual understanding among people, especially among youth through football, and share experiences that Japanese football has learned and developed so far. 

In an attempt to achieve maximum results, there are two main projects carried out in the Asian Eleven collaboration, namely Project in the ASEAN Nations and Project in Japan. The Project in ASEAN Nations has two focal points that are of concern within the project’s implementation. First, the long-term deployment of personnel, namely Japanese coaches and staff who are sent to stay in one of the ASEAN countries for more than one year. The main goal is to raise the level of national football through engagement with local youth players and coaches. Second, the dispatch of short-term trainers. The coaching staff of each J.League club will be sent to an ASEAN country once to twice a year for a period of approximately one week. It aims to encourage the J.League club’s coaching staff to engage in player training and network with local football personnel. 


Photo source: 

The project in Japan has three focal points. Firstly, Invite Players, which allows players to concentrate on learning Japanese football in a period of approximately one month. The aim is to develop and increase their level and provide an opportunity to get to know Japan. Secondly, Invite Coaches, which aims to train coaching staff who are responsible for fostering player development, especially in improving national team football. Lastly, Invite Personnel related to the league, which provides a forum to share knowledge to develop and strengthen football leagues in ASEAN countries. 

Asian Eleven 2019 ended with the holding of two friendly matches as the highlight of the event. Asian Eleven 2019 ended with the holding of two friendly matches as the highlight of the event. The JapaFun Cup was the first friendly match to be held between Asian Eleven U-18 and the Tohoku U-18 Selection Team at J-Village Stadium, Fukushima on June 22, 2019. The Asian Eleven U-18 team was a combination of representatives from ASEAN countries and Timor Leste as a country observer (each country nominated 2 players). This match ended with a score of 0-0 and continued through a penalty shootout that was won by the Asian Eleven U-18 team. The second friendly match was the Japan Foundation Bangkok Cup Asian Eleven U-16 (which consists of representatives of Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and ASEAN observer country Timor-Leste) and the U-16 Thailand national football team, on November 3, 2019. This match ended with a score of 2-2, which then followed with the penalty shootouts that finally led the Asian Eleven U-16 team to victory. 

Asian Eleven 2019 has run very well and was expected to continue in 2020 and in the following years. As it is believed that the program will not only increase the level of ASEAN football but also can strengthen the relations between Japan and ASEAN countries (both regionally and bilaterally), especially through sports. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, both ASEAN countries and Japan are now prioritizing the health conditions of the players, coaches, and all parties involved. This results in the postponement of the Asian Eleven program for an indefinite time, and it is hoped that as soon as the world gets better the Asian Eleven program could be held again. 


About Writer 

  • Munawar Wahid Sugiyarto is a Media and Publication Intern at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences majors in International Relations with particular focuses on Southeast Asian and European studies, and also about sports, especially football. He can be contacted through e-mail: 

Taliban and the Opium: Reviewing ASEAN’s Securitization of the Golden Triangle

Taliban’s recent victory in Afghanistan, marked by US troops withdrawal and the fall of Kabul, may present proof of its success in managing and dominating various strategic sectors that contribute to its victory, with no exception in finances. Taliban’s finances have often been associated with its involvement in the international illicit drug trade along the Golden Crescent, which also presented a possibility to be traced to the Golden Triangle. With such an assumption, it raised an urgency to review the securitization of the Golden Triangle, a region well-known for its vast history of the opium trade.   

Based on a study by the United States Institute of Peace, the Taliban finances its operation through the trade of opium poppy that prevails in the southern region of Afghanistan, which is later being processed into heroin as the final product (Peters, 2009). Both direct and indirect means of opium trade are being employed to finance the Taliban’s operation. Aside from being directly involved with the traffickers, the Taliban also taxed opium harvesters in the area it controlled. As supporting evidence, interestingly, the study shows how the Taliban made opium as local currency in the region amidst scarcity of cash, being bartered for commodities to support their cause such as weapons, construction materials, vehicles, electronics, etc. (Peters, 2009, p. 25) 

As a consequence of the Taliban’s dependence on opium to finance its operation, it is not a surprise if opium trade prevails around Afghanistan borders, not in exception with the influence of Afghan opiates in the Golden Triangle – a region where illicit drug trade prevails, just some approximately 3500km to the east of the Golden Crescent. Despite a decline in opiates production in the area in the 1990s, a record shows that Afghan-made heroin has met the rapidly increasing Chinese demand. And the inbound opiates to China from the Golden Triangle were traced to originated from Afghanistan (UNODC, 2010, p. 46). That proves that the Golden Triangle is still acting as an active route for the opium-based illicit drug trade and is linked to the Taliban. Thus, it signifies the urgency to review the securitization of the area.  

Before this discovery, in its effort to curb drug trafficking in the Southeast Asian region, ASEAN has established various securitization efforts through cooperation with various entities ranging from state to non-state actors. In 1976 it successfully agreed on the ASEAN Declaration on Principles to Combat the Abuse of Narcotics Drugs spearheaded by the ASOD (ASEAN Senior Officials on Drugs Matter), contributing to the decline of drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle area in the 1990s. Recently, in 2018, as a continuation of the ASEAN Cooperation Plan to Tackle Illicit Drug Production and Trafficking in the Golden Triangle 2017-2019, cross-border cooperation has increased to counter the illicit drug trade in the area. Bordering ASEAN member states (Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Thailand) alongside the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) established border liaison offices allowing the exchange of intelligence that on one occasion successfully seized 4.3 million tablets of methamphetamine (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2019, p. 17). 

Despite those established efforts, however, several new initiatives have to be made to consolidate the securitization of the area, considering the recent geopolitical update. Based on an assessment of the illicit drug trade supply chain: the producer, the distributor, and the consumer, three measures can be taken. First, it may be necessary for ASEAN to initiate communication channels with the Taliban regardless of formal recognition considering their current control of the status quo in Afghanistan. By initiating communication channels, ASEAN can spearhead international efforts to hold the Taliban accountable towards global efforts in countering illicit drug trade, particularly trafficking to the Southeast Asian region, and pressuring for its commitment to reduce its financial dependency on opium cultivation.   

Second, considering Myanmar is the leading supplier for East and Southeast Asia and the second-largest producer of opiates after Afghanistan despite the decline in production in the 1990s (Danastri, 2018, p. 31), ASEAN response towards the delicate situation in Myanmar should also touch on the issue of securitization of the Golden Triangle to tackle the chain of distribution and re-clarify the junta commitment in countering Myanmar’s domestic production of opiates. ASEAN’s approach to Myanmar regarding the securitization effort should result in an outcome where ASOD and UNODC’s agents gain safe access to the area to enforce actions in countering illicit drug trade, in which to a greater extent reviewing Myanmar’s opium production and trace its link to Afghan produced opium.    

Finally, as most heroin demands originate from China, cooperation with Chinese authorities to counter drug trafficking should be strengthened. Even though China has invested heavily in efforts to securitize the Golden Triangle from the non-traditional security threat (Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Vienna), ASEAN should still push China to be more proactive, notably in curbing its domestic heroin demand and in law enforcement towards potential re-distribution routes to the global supply chain. Moreover, ASEAN’s cooperation with China should explore the possibility of China becoming an intermediary to pressure the Taliban, considering that China has more engagement with the group. Thus, in its future engagement with China, ASEAN should address ASEAN’s position and interest regarding the Taliban’s victory implication to the illicit drug trade in the region.   

Taking all of this into account, the Taliban’s recent victory and the uncertainties in its commitment to reduce its dependence on the illicit drug trade to finance its activities has imposed regional actors around the Golden Triangle with uncertainties in efforts to counter the illicit trade. Despite it being too premature to conclude the Taliban’s victory implication towards the region’s anti-narcotic efforts, it may be necessary for ASEAN as a key actor in the Golden Triangle to remain vigilant and responsive to any development on the issue. This is very much necessary as the Taliban’s attachment towards illicit drug trade may disrupt ASEAN’s decades-long effort in securitizing the area, not to mention if the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan strengthens the country’s position as a narco-state. Furthermore, securitization efforts should also address intra-ASEAN challenges and enhance cooperation with other parties at stake. Re-affirming Myanmar’s position would allow further action in enforcing the securitization effort in the area. At the same time, cooperation with China should result in a decline in opium-based substances demands and gateway to pressure the Taliban. 


About Writer

  • William Help is a fresh graduate from the Department of International Relations Universitas Gadjah Mada. Willam was a Research Intern for the ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada. His research interest includes political economy and Asian studies. He can be reached through his e-mail at





Making Sense of Southeast Asia: Lessons learned from #ReaLISM (Reading, Learning and Investigating Southeast Asia through Movies)

Southeast Asia is a growing, full of potential, yet contested region. The population of Southeast Asian countries combined makes the world’s third-largest market. However, the region also struggles to address its economic, social, and political problems. The complexity of the region requires us to learn and understand issues facing the region more in-depth.  

ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada just concluded a series of online movie screening events, Bincang ASEAN, titled Reading, Learning, Investigating Southeast Asia through Movies (also known as ReaLISM). Through interesting engagements with filmmakers and experts in Southeast Asian countries, not only did ReaLISM deepen the audience’s understanding of the issues in the region, but it also enabled the audience to discuss the issues more critically. Acknowledging documentaries as a representational medium, audiences do not only take for granted the (re)construction of reality in the past as represented in documentaries. They also have the capacity to imagine the present and the future concerning realities (re)constructed in documentaries.

To have a closer look at the region’s issues, ReaLISM successfully screened three documentaries in three different Southeast Asian countries. The three screened documentaries are Standing on the Edge of a Thorn: A Family in Rural Indonesia (Robert Lamelson, Indonesia, 2012); SITTWE(Jeanne Hallacy, Myanmar, 2017); and An Online Citizen (Calum Stuart, Singapore, 2019), respectively. Considered participatory documentaries, while these three movies zoomed in to the reality of the documentary’s subjects, filmmakers are also included within the narratives.

These three movies represented the complexity and diversity of issues in the region. Lamelson (2012) through his documentary, represents the life of a family in rural Indonesia grappling with poverty, mental health, and the sex trade. Through SITTW, Hallacy (2017) exposed the dynamics of ethnic conflict in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state in Myanmar, through the lens of two youths representing both opposing sides. Meanwhile, Stuart’s (2019) an Online Citizen documented a story of an independent online journalist in Singapore fighting for freedom of the press amid the rise of authoritarianism

In this circumstance, making sense of Southeast Asia means looking at the everyday reality of individuals (re)constructed in each documentary and to the ways in which their reality reflects a broader picture of Southeast Asia. What did these movies tell us? At least there are three things we learned from the three movies.


In the past and local, yet now and regional

Documented within a certain timeframe in the past, we should recognize the temporal dimension of the issues represented in the three documentaries. Considering the temporal aspect of the realities of those individuals filmed in the movies, one might ask them what is happening now (or would happen in the future).  

In this case, one of the three filmmakers, Lamelson, recently came back to Indonesia and filmed the subjects of his documentary Standing on the Edge of a Thorn to discover what happened to the family in 2012. During the documentary discussion, Lamelson conveyed that what happened to the family in 2012 is something that he wouldn’t have thought of before. The mother (Tri) chose to leave her husband (Iman) for someone else; Iman remarried a 16-year-old girl in the village, and the daughter (Lisa) got married to a guy she met on social media. While Standing on the Edge of a Thorn captured the issues of poverty, poor mental health, and the sex trade which grappled by the family, the family appeared to be happier since 2012, although other issues such as divorce and child marriage occur.  

Not only should we take into account the temporal dimension of documentaries, but we should also consider their spatial dimension. Documented specifically in a particular geographical location within three Southeast Asian counties (Indonesia, Myanmar, and Singapore), the issues represented in the movies are situated locally. However, issues such as poverty, poor mental health, sex trade, ethnic conflicts, and declining freedom of the press are certainly not exclusive problems specific to these geographical locations. Rather, these issues are regional (or even global) issues. For instance, Stuart expressed that declining freedom of the press appears to be a global issue facing journalists worldwide. Budi Irawanto, one of the discussants in ReaLISM #3, compared the issue in the context of Indonesia. He explained that the Information and Electronic Transactions Law (also known as UU ITE) had been used to criminalize journalists 

Education for social change

The second lesson learned from ReaLISM to make sense of Southeast Asia is that education plays a key role in social change in the region. In discussing her documentary SITTWE, Hallacy pointed out that lack of education (read: illiteracy) became a prominent cause of ethnic conflicts in Myanmar. Thiha, a youth activist from Myanmar, discussed the conflict trajectories and explained how disseminating (mis/dis)information had triggered the conflict. Information literacy is therefore important to prevent conflicts in the future.  

Two young teenagers from both sides in SITTWE expressed how the conflict has changed their lives. While pointing out the devastating consequences of the conflict, Hallacy engaged with teenagers from opposing sides, asking what they wanted to be and the kinds of future they wanted to have. The documentary ends with a famous quote from Malala Yousafzai: “If you want to end the war, instead of sending guns, send books; instead of sending tanks, send pens; instead of sending soldiers, send teachers”. 

The importance of education for social change is also echoed in Standing on the Edge of a Thorn. Approaching the end of the documentary, the daughter (Lisa) voiced her hope of making a better future for herself and her family after pursuing higher education. 

Where is ASEAN?

A similar theme across the three documentaries that the audiences engaged with is a reflection on ASEAN’s presence (or absence) in addressing the issues. This critical assessment matters because ASEAN is well-known as an intergovernmental organization in the region. The role of ASEAN has been particularly explored in discussing SITTWE by Irawan Jati, a scholar in ASEAN studies. He claimed that with the fundamental principle of national sovereignty in ASEAN, such a regional institutional arrangement is difficult to play a key role in conflict resolution.  

Meanwhile, the exploration of ASEAN’s role appears to be lacking (or absent) in the discussion of two other movies. This, too, shows that ASEAN does not play a significant role in addressing the issues represented in the documentaries, although ASEAN has established, adopted, and developed institutional arrangements, declarations, conventions, regional plans of action in relations to poverty, child abuse, gender inequality, and even protection of human rights.  

To conclude, ReaLISM (Reading, Learning, and Investigating Southeast Asia through Movies) becomes an alternative way to make sense of Southeast Asia. Documentaries on Southeast Asian countries are a representational medium that enables those who watch them to engage with everyday realities in Southeast Asia that they generally cannot experience themselves. Three lessons learned discussed previously should be understood in the context of the three documentaries. We could learn different lessons and enrich our understanding of Southeast Asia from other Southeast Asian documentaries of which we witness growing in numbers.  


About Writer

  • Muhammad Ammar Hidayahtulloh is a PhD Student at School of Political Science and International Studies, the University of Queensland. He is also an initiator of Bincang ASEAN – ReaLISM. He can be reached at 

Time to Prepare Rowing between Two Great Islands Again

Since the mid of September 2021, there has always been news and columns about AUKUS in the mass media headlines. AUKUS, the trilateral military cooperation between Australia, the UK, and the USA would drive Australia to have nuclear-powered submarines in the next few years. Despite nuclear power being used as the power source of the submarine, it’s undeniable that nuclear-powered submarines would strengthen Australia’s navy capability significantly. 

AUKUS is also believed to have violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the Pacific region. Furthermore, it will trigger China to increase its military capabilities and lead it to cold-war 2.0, or even an open conflict in the region. The partnership would also strengthen the US presence in the Asia-Pacific region since the US formed an alliance named QUAD with India, Japan, and Australia in 2017 that has the most developed military capacity in the Asia-Pacific region excluding China. Hence, China would be surrounded by the allies of the USA in the South, East, and the Southwest. On the other hand, China only has Russia as its traditional ally in terms of security in the North. For China, it has no option other than to strengthen its military capacity to balance the USA and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

If the cold war or open conflict occurs between China and the USA and its allies, the arena would be in Southeast Asia as it is located between China and Australia. ASEAN countries are inferior compared to China, the USA, or Australia with their future nuclear-powered submarines. To describe this situation, Global Times published a fairly accurate illustration of the possibility of conflict in the Southeast Asia region. The Illustration depicts US-Australia and China as two elephants who are fighting on the grass. Meanwhile, the ASEAN countries are portrayed as the broken grass that receives the consequences of the battle between two countries plus Australia. From the illustration by the Global Times, we can assume that ASEAN countries will be adversely affected by the confrontation of the USA-Australia versus China. 

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration by : Chen Xia/Global Times 

It will be quite possible for ASEAN to get trapped in the security dilemma. Moreover, the security integration of ASEAN members is still relatively low compared to the EU, and its member states are far from standing on common ground in terms of diplomatic and defense policies. It is difficult for ASEAN member states to rely on the collective defense of ASEAN to seek collective security. They can only rely on independent military capacity-building and appropriate and independent diplomatic strategies. However, the military strength of ASEAN member states still seems incomparable to the military power of the USA, China, or even Australia with its future nuclear-powered submarines. The data published by the World Population Review shows that by 2021 ASEAN only has 14 submarines in total, of which six of them are owned by Vietnam, two units belong to Malaysia, one submarine from Myanmar, and five other submarines belong to Indonesia. This is such a crushing defeat where China has 74 and the USA has 66 submarines which are clearly more than the total number of submarines that ASEAN countries currently have. AUKUS will lead Australia to have more advanced submarines, which consequently will outperform ASEAN countries if they do not increase their military capacity. As a response to the possible security threats, the most viable action to do by each ASEAN member state is to strengthen their military capacity to secure their security. ASEAN should also strengthen its security integration in responding to AUKUS and the possibility of open war in the region.

Besides the military capacity, ASEAN centrality will also be tested by AUKUS. Each ASEAN member state shows different reactions towards the AUKUS. Ismail Sabri Yakob, the Malaysian Prime Minister expresses his concern on how AUKUS may possibly provoke other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea. Similar to Malaysia, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi emphasized that none of the ASEAN countries intends to intensify arms race and power projection in the region, which of course will threaten regional security stability. However, unlike Indonesia and Malaysia, the Philippines has shown its support for the formation of AUKUS in the region. A favorable statement was also stated by Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong, that AUKUS would contribute constructively to the peace and stability of the region and complement the regional architecture. By the responses of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, we can conclude that ASEAN countries have not been able to unite their voices in responding to the AUKUS cooperation. It is a result of the demand for protection and cooperation with the USA and different perceptions of China as a threat as well as a partner. On the one hand, China is one of the most strategic trade partners for ASEAN. China’s bilateral trade to ASEAN reaches 684 billion USD in 2020. On the other hand, China is also a threat to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam. Thus, it is difficult for the ASEAN to take a common position over AUKUS.

Despite their different position in dealing with AUKUS, ASEAN member states made it clear that they refuse to take sides. As Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said, Southeast Asia wants peace and prosperity, reiterating a long-time stance that countries are against being forced to take sides in the US-China rivalry. If we go back to the past, the cold war was the reason for the ASEAN establishment in 1967. Five founding fathers countries of ASEAN gathered themselves in order to unite their “power” and avoid the cold war involvement. It was like, ASEAN rowing between two great islands in the past. The regional circumstances nowadays are different compared to how Southeast Asia was 54 years ago, which can be seen through how ASEAN countries seem more integrated now. Furthermore, ASEAN weaves the partnership with China, Australia, and the USA through the ASEAN+ mechanism. Therefore, the doors for dialogue are always open to prevent the bad scenarios related to the AUKUS. However,  along with the possibility of the cold war 2.0 between China and the USA, ASEAN must be prepared for rowing between two great islands again for the second time.

About Writer

  • Lucky Kardanardi is a Programme intern at ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada.  Lucky is also an associate writer of The Bridge Magazine. He holds the bachelor’s degree of Social Sciences majors in International Relations with particular focuses on Southeast Asian and European studies. 

Fighting Climate Change: A New Challenge for ASEAN Multilateralism

The Unique Challenges and Impacts of Climate Change on the ASEAN Member States 

Although climate change poses risks for populations globally, mitigating climate change is particularly crucial for Southeast Asian nations. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why Southeast Asia is uniquely vulnerable to the impending impacts of climate change.  Southeast Asian states have a high proportion of the population living in coastal areas vulnerable to rising sea levels. Additionally, the economy is uniquely dependent on natural resources like the agricultural and forestry sectors, which are greatly threatened by climate change (Asian Development Bank, 2009). The region also has a heightened level of biodiversity (three of the world’s designated “mega-diverse” countries are in ASEAN) (Megadiverse Countries, 2020), the preservation of which is crucial to the health of the environment in general as well as the agricultural sector. In fact, according to the Global Climate Risk Index (2018), four of the ten countries in the world most vulnerable to climate impacts are in the region (Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam). 

Such circumstances raise the potential for direct harmful impacts. The costs of damages, responsive measures to environmental changes, and threats to the agricultural sector are projected to cost up to 11% of GDP by the year 2100 by the Asian Development Bank (Asian Development Bank, 2015). This is especially problematic since many other nations of the world are not projected to lose as much GDP, which can cause a gap in development between Southeast Asia and other regions. Additionally, agricultural sector degradation will also reduce the yield of crops (particularly rice) and pose new food security challenges to the region (Asian Development Bank, 2009). The large coastal population will cause mass human migration and require extreme adaptive measures in coastal areas. Finally, climate change will likely increase the likelihood of natural catastrophes and health crises, which will cost many lives. 

The Current State of Climate Policy and Mitigation Strategies 

In general, ASEAN and the national governments of its member states can focus on two types of climate strategies: adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation aims to respond to or prevent the specific environmental impacts of climate change. Mitigation involves a big picture approach and aims to reduce the threat of these impacts by cutting emissions and halting the global process of climate change itself. Adaptation is a suitable policy strategy for national governments in ASEAN, as this strategy relies less on collective action. ASEAN has also created various working groups to facilitate collaboration and knowledge exchange regarding adaptation strategies where national governments struggle. The scope of these groups is quite comprehensive, including groups on environmentally sustainable cities (AWGESC), water resources management (AWGWRM), chemicals and waste (AWGCW), coastal and marine environment (AWGCME), environmental education (AWGEE), and natural resources and diversity (AWGNCB). There is also an ASEAN working group on climate change (AWGCC). However, this will be revisited in greater detail later. Overall, the ASEAN nations (with the help of regional collaboration) seem more suited to implement adaptation strategies than mitigation strategies. 

Mitigation strategies are a more complicated issue since reducing GHG emissions is a global imperative requiring international collaboration. The main policy is that Southeast Asian nations have committed to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement and have consequently submitted NDCs (nationally determined contributions). These NDCs commit the nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by transitions to clean energy. Regarding meeting these NDCs, Southeast Asian nations are relatively unique in fighting a mitigation battle on two different fronts. In 2000, 75% of GHG emissions from the region resulted from deforestation and land use (Asian Development Bank, 2009). Currently, around 55% of the region’s emissions are the result of land use and deforestation (Sok et al., 2020), while the other major source of emissions is the more commonly conceived source of emissions: the energy and transportation sectors (agriculture and other sectors trail further behind). This is projected to change further: Southeast Asia’s coal demand is expected to rise as electricity demand increases due to population growth and transit demands over the next century (International Energy Agency, 2019). Therefore, ASEAN member states’ mitigation strategies need to focus on the transformation of the energy sector and reducing deforestation impacts. 

Southeast Asia’s unique challenges to meeting NDC targets shows most prominently when looking at the NDC targets updated in 2020. So far, NDC targets in the region are modest when considering the goals of the Paris Agreement. Currently, Singapore is the only nation to set a target where GHG emissions will peak, and the target for this achievement is after 2030 (Overland et al., 2020Seah & Martinus, 2021). This makes Singapore the only member state with a long-term low emissions plan so far (Seah & Martinus, 2021). Additionally, the targets set by the current NDCs appear as if they may not even be met due to offset by the region’s growing energy demand (Overland et al., 2020). Overall, ASEAN seems to be less prepared for climate change mitigation, which is concerning due to the heightened risk of impacts in the region. 

Suggestions for Multilateral Cooperation in Mitigation Strategies 

Whether ASEAN nations are doing enough on the mitigation front beings forth a paradox: ASEAN itself is not a major source of emissions globally, and the region’s highest emitting country, Indonesia, is only the 10th most emitting country (UCSUSA, 2020). Still, Southeast Asia has more to lose than other nations if mitigation efforts fall short globally. So it needs to prioritize making a large commitment to global mitigation efforts. So far, the primary policy to achieve this (the NDCs) doesn’t appear to be very promising. 

What can be done about this? One possible solution would be to reassess ASEAN’s efforts to collaborate on reducing emissions. As mentioned before, the primary ASEAN body that does this is the ASEAN Working Group on Climate Change (AWGCC) (Seah & Martinus, 2021). However, like the other working groups, the AWGCC serves as a collaborative platform that prioritizes its Action Plan (Seah & Martinus, 2021). This Action Plan’s section on mitigation primarily focuses on knowledge exchange, promoting collaboration (vaguely), and exploring the possibility of a cap-and-trade system. It doesn’t mention direct ways to increase the NDC targets (ASEAN Cooperation on Environment, 2021). This leaves ample opportunities for improvement, and ASEAN may benefit from a much more proactive coordinating body to face climate change since states need encouragement to raise these targets. 

A more proactive coordinating body could do multiple things, such as increasing green financing in the member states to fund energy transition, therefore opening the opportunity to strengthen the NDC targets. The current action plan relies on external climate funds for financing, but coordinating an ASEAN-specific fund or bank may encourage more investments from the private sector of ASEAN nations that feel they have more a stake in regional mitigation efforts and encourage public and private collaborative investment.  Additionally, a unified ASEAN body on climate could potentially strengthen ASEAN’s dialogue capabilities and represent its grave interest in mitigation policy on the world stage. At the end of the day, ASEAN’s paradoxically small GHG emissions compared to its enormous interest in mitigation requires it to be a loud voice and exemplar in mitigation efforts worldwide. The place to start with this is with more multilateral cooperation and visibility. 




About Writer 

  • Kieta Mueller is an undergraduate Political Science and Economics student from the University of Hong Kong and the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently also an intern at ASEAN Studies Centre UGM. She can be contacted at 

Robbery and Piracy in SEA (South-East Asia): Protecting the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC)

The maritime element widely connected our world. Two-third of the Earth’s surface is covered by sea and ocean. Sea is not only providing huge natural resources which can be explored and exploited but also has a big geopolitical potential to support the distribution and trade between countries and continents. In the current globalized economy, where sea transportation has been so far modernized, the international trading system still uses 90% of the exchanges by using sea transportation (Sciascia: 2016). 

Herve Coutau-Begarie (2007) mentioned that the maritime domain has to be considered toward the frame called the “Maritime Triad”. The term was introduced to better understand the classification of the maritime domain, which is classified into three kinds of maritime space. (1) Maritime domain as a space of communication, there could be seen the international trade exchange that still uses the sea transportation, and according to TeleGeography, there is a fact that by more than 99% of international communications by the internet are carried and connected over fiber optic cables under the sea; (2) Maritime domain as a space of resources, the oceans have enormous reserves of energy and natural resources. Not only gas and oil, but the oceans are also a potential energy and renewable resource with a large number of minerals, fisheries, and many unexplored resources; (3) Maritime domain as a space for projection of power, the history shows that the sea has been the field of many wars in the past between countries, this proves how important the sea is for a country as one aspect that can be determined as a power.  

The maritime domain can be defined as the surface of Earth covered by sea and littoral areas, and geographically speaking, a “space”. In this specific “multidimensional space” that has been considered a frontier for centuries, human interactions occur, which makes the protection and securitization of the maritime domain a necessity (Parrain: 2012). By it means, the maritime domain is subjected to several violence and threats in its development which could be determined, including but not limited to piracy and armed robbery in the sea. According to the Wikidiff, piracy is the hyponym of the (nautical) robbery at sea, an act of a violation against international law and taking a ship away from the control of those legally entitled to it. But the different meanings of piracy and robbery could be determined based on UNCLOS III Article 101, in which piracy is defined as any illegal acts of violence which occur on high seas and beyond the jurisdiction of any state. Meanwhile, according to Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Article 1, armed robbery against ships is defined as any illegal acts of violence in a place within the contracting party’s jurisdiction over such offenses. By the risks and threats against the maritime domain, maritime security evolved where the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) is the most important or vital object to be protected.  

Protecting the SEA’s Sea 

According to Barry Buzan (1991), security in the maritime domain is a major stake for humanity. Moreover, in a world where the concept of security has deeply evolved since the end of the cold war. The threats and risks could also be determined on two conceptions: (1) Traditional threats, traditional maritime security threats in South-East Asia, are preeminent regarding the long history of territorial disputes in the area. Issues related to sovereignty, sovereign rights, and border governance are widely spread. They might threaten the stable situation in the region if not addressed in a good manner by the involved parties, in this case, the concerned states (Sciascia: 2016). Besides, other states excluded in the South-East Asia Region may interfere with the situation and escalated the conflict, such as China with their interest in the South China Sea, where most of the area is located in the South-East Asia Region. (2) Non-traditional threats, different from traditional threats, non-traditional threats cover many aspects of threats and risks. This threat covers more issues to be concerned not limited to a conflict between states, but also non-state actors involved in terrorism, piracy, robbery, illegal fishing, slavery, environmental issues, etc. This article will mainly discuss the conception of non-traditional threats in piracy and armed robbery in South-East Asia, especially amid the world-spread Covid-19 pandemic. 

Maritime Security Challenges in Southeast Asia: Analysis of International and Regional Legal Frameworks | Semantic Scholar


South-East Asia is strategically located at the crossing of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and between two continents Australia and Asia. South-East Asia, as we know, have two countries, Indonesia and The Philippines that are archipelagic, Myanmar that adjacent directly to the Indian Ocean, Singapore, and Malaysia is located at the crossroads between the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea, then Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam are adjacent to the South China Sea. The region is home of importance oceans, seas, and straits that formed one of the busiest international Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs). Those facts above make the international trade between countries by the sea transportation revolving frequently in this region. 

Since the 1990s, South-East Asia has been considered the target area where piracy and armed robbery conduct against international law. Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia have initiated the joint patrol program in Malacca Straits, namely Malacca Straits Patrol, to tackle piracy in South-East Asia. Nevertheless, according to, new types of crimes may have occurred. High-value tankers can be targets if cybercriminals receive information from company servers or ship officials are complicit and give up information to pirates about the ship’s position or the cargo on board. On a side note, insurance fraud is common, with vessels submitting fake reports of attacks to get insurance pay-outs. 

According to the European Institute of Asian Studies, a number of the piracy and robbery activity in Southeast Asia has traditionally been concentrated around the vitally important Strait of Malacca shipping artery. The impact of the 2004 tsunami (which destroyed many pirate hideouts and small vessels in the area), along with effective counter-piracy measures undertaken in the Strait since 2005, has shifted the focus of these activities towards the coasts of Singapore and Malaysia, and in particular to other sections of the traditionally risky Indonesian waters.  

Until now, piracy and robbery activities in the Southeast Asia Region have not been properly resolved by countries involved in the protection of the sea lanes of communication. In 2020, following the Covid-19 pandemic that affects the development of further economic in South-East Asia into desperation, the number of piracy and armed robbery at sea cases in the Singapore Strait hit its highest mark in half a decade, with its 34 incidents forming the bulk of cases in Asia’s waters in the year. Based on the article in the Critical Maritime Routes Programme, as a matter of facts, highlighted by ReCAAP ISC Executive Director Masafumi Kuroki at the 12th Nautical Forum on 15 January 2021, there was a significant increase in ‘actual incidents’ of piracy last year (+17% compared to 2019) in South-East Asia. The most worrisome aspect of this development is that incidents have increased in various locations, such as Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Viet Nam, the South China Sea, and the Singapore Strait. The broad range of these locations is emblematic of the regional scope of the problem.   

In a pandemic situation that spreads worldwide, communication and distribution of humanitarian and logistical assistance from one country to another for handling the virus outbreaks also enliven international sea trade routes. Moreover, following the economic crises caused by the pandemic raises social symptoms, increasing the criminality rate. The SLOCs are inseparable from this situation, the crime rate caused by the high unemployment rate, forcing coastal communities to turn to crime as a means to fund themselves and their families. Some of the funds to conduct patrols in marine areas prone to piracy and robbery are being cut to overcome the pandemic. This is a dilemma that must be wisely decided and determined by the government. 

The situation on protecting and securing the SLOCs in South-East Asia concerned the states in the region and states that conduct the international trade exchanges by sea transportation through South-East Asia. For instance, the European Union eek more active involvement in activities ensuring smooth trade and securitization of the SLOCs. According to the Critical Maritime Routes Programme, the current EU-ASEAN Plan of Action reaffirms the importance of strengthened cooperation on maritime security issues, such as in combatting sea piracy, armed robbery against ships, as well as encouraging cooperation to address the maritime-related problems comprehensively. In 2003, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which was proposed and sponsored by the United States to help the securitization of the SLOCs in South-East Asia, was rejected by Indonesia. The initiative was argued that it might interfere with the state’s sovereignty and potentially threaten Indonesian security (Sciascia: 2016). 

So, what is the best way to overcome this issue and wisely protect the SLOCs, while the pandemic situation must end? Combating piracy is consequently a difficult herculean task. Beyond the joint patrol system to the prone sea areas of piracy and robbery, it requires the implication of wise and strong policy by the government. The cooperation and coordination include but are not limited to the states in the region, the external actors (states outside the region), even if it is possible to involve the international organization to promote communication and information exchanges to guarantee security and freedom of shipping overseas. The international coordination mechanism should be conducted properly and avoid the intervention to areas that could increase the tension and escalate the conflict between actors. The cooperation between the actors and stakeholders does not mean and need the same role and responsibilities in the securitization of the maritime domain, or specifically the SLOCs. Every actor and stakeholder have their respective portions and roles in achieving the goal of the securitizations. 



  • Sciascia, Alban, “Securing Ports and Se Lanes of Communication: A Herculian Task”, Penerbit Aswaja Pressindo, Yogyakarta, 2016 
  • Coutau-Begarrie, Herve, “The Globalized Ocean: Geopolitic of Seas in the 21st Century), Economica, 2007. 
  • Parrain, Camille, “High Sea: A Space at the Frontier of Geographic Research), EchoGeo, 2012, no. 19 
  • Buzan, Barry, “People State and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post Cold War Era”, ECPR, 2007(first edition 1991) 
  • Hribernik, Miha, “Countering Maritime Piracy and  Robbery in Southeast Asia: The Role of the ReCAAP Agreement” European Institute of Asian Studies, Briefing Paper 2013/2 
  • “Piracy and armed robbery at sea in Southeast Asia: the long-lasting legacy of COVID-19”, 2 February 2021,  

About Writer

  • Syukron Subkhi is a Media Publication Officer at ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada. He holds the bachelor’s degree of Social Sciences majors in International Relations with particular focuses on International Organizations, Socio-CulturalSecurity and Development Studies. 

The Youth Resistance Towards Myanmar’s Military Coup: Efforts of Young Generation Protest Through Art

What is Happening in Myanmar? 

On the 1st of February, Myanmar’s military forces enacted a state of emergency and began a coup d’état. This circumstance occurred because they claimed that the November 2020 general election results were null and void, stating it was “election fraud”. However, according to the board of elections, there is no supporting evidence to back up these allegations. The military also declares its intention to hold a new election once the year-long state of emergency is lifted. This coup took place a day before Myanmar’s Government was scheduled to swear the oath of members elected in last year’s election, preventing this from happening. Following the detainment of President Win Myint and the State’s Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, along with several executive members of the current National League for Democracy (NLD). 

 Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been afflicted by political turmoil since gaining independence in 1948. During the country’s current state, a human rights organization in Myanmar is urging the United Nations to place an embargo on the Southeast Asian country to prevent its military from using weapons towards civilians. The Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) issued a statement saying, “The international community must strongly sanction military officials and military-owned organizations and enforce a global arms embargo.” However, the international institutions considered the coup a part of Myanmar’s internal conflict and constitutional crisis, which resulted in the ending of civil government and the imposition of the military regime. Nevertheless, the coup has sparked many demonstrations and civil protest attempts in various parts of Myanmar. Efforts of resistance have also been initiated, particularly by the young generations of Burma, to express their outrage addressed to the authoritarian military regime. 

The Youth Strikes Back 

The Myanmar military’s atrocities began with the shooting of a young woman during a public protest rally. After being shot in the head, Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing became the first protester to die in Myanmar’s anti-coup demonstrations. She is the first martyr in Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement, spreading throughout the nation until now. According to rights organizations, her wound was consistent with one caused by direct ammunition. As the picture of the protester being cradled after being shot went viral, her death has caused even more outrage against the authorities. Her image has been painted and hung on massive posters from overpasses in Yangon, becoming one of the signature motifs of an already visually rich and creative protest movement. 

Following the incident, young artists across Burma are using their talents to spread the word of the resistance Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) while facing internet outages, strong military presence, and nighttime raids and arrests. “Art is not only a tool against the government but also a record to reflect on the current situation,” said the Yangon-based artist to Artnet News, Khin Zaw Latt. For instance, members of the Myanmar Cartoonists Association marched through the streets of Yangon, carrying cutouts of animated characters and making political cartoons condemning the military’s actions. 

Meanwhile, the Association of Myanmar Contemporary Art held an art-making protest in Yangon in favor of CDM, as well as a group photography project portraying people making the three-finger tribute in opposition to the coup. The hand gesture has become a symbol of resistance, both among crowds of protesters and in artworks influenced by the movement in regards to Suzanne Collins’ dystopian young adult series “The Hunger Games,” which is about a revolt against an oppressive government. Moreover, artist Khin Zaw Latt arranged a collaborative artwork with 120 creators who submitted their interpretation of the salute. The collaborative mural is dotted with ECG heartbeat lines to complete the sense of humanity and the longing for the freedom of life. 

Leadership in Times of Crisis Communication: The Youth Resistance Towards Myanmar's Military Coup Halaman all -

A collection of paintings by Khin Zaw Latt supporting Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement. Photo courtesy belongs to the artist. 

To put a stop to the demonstrations and to spread awareness, the government imposed a nationwide internet blackout and declared martial law, which made gatherings of more than five people illegal. However, the abundance of graphics and other artworks in the Southeast Asian nation demonstrates that protest is still alive and well. On the Art for Freedom (Myanmar) website page (, artists collaboratively present their creations, including hundreds of downloadable protest artworks. Many of the paintings are red, portraying the color of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party. At the same time, others depict Burmese people banging pots and pans in a loud protest against the coup, which is culturally used to keep out the demon. Both of them show a willingness to re-establish democracy. 

Through artworks, prints, and rallies, the youth of Burma also deliver their message on various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Soup Not coup, a new account on Twitter where the writer expressed their insults and witticisms are laced with sharp insights into life in Myanmar, is also part of the anti-military alliance. “These little green men (coup leaders) are so steeped in their tea that they think they are the best flavor, but a dictatorship is not what we ordered,” the group said on Twitter to Nikkei Asia. Nobel Aung was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of creativity that has flooded Myanmar’s streets as well as social media feeds. He and his younger brother started a private Facebook group called Art for Freedom (Myanmar) on the 4th of February to bring artists and protesters together. In only ten days, the organization grew to 6,000 people, and it now has a website where artwork can be downloaded for free as long as it is utilized to oppose the coup. 

These efforts initiated by the youngsters of Burma surely made a significant impact on spreading awareness of the military’s ruthless regime. Through these cultural movements, young artists and writers have expressed themselves in various art forms freely. Resulting in mass engagements and encouragements for others to do the same, fight for their freedom and strive for justice in Myanmar. 



Head, J., 2021. Myanmar coup: Woman shot during anti-coup protests dies. [online] BBC News. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Jiang, E., 2021. Woman shot protesting Myanmar military takeover dies. [online] Mail Online. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Win, T., 2021. Young, creative and angry: Myanmar’s youth pushes back. [online] Nikkei Asia. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Cuddy, A., 2021. Myanmar coup: What is happening and why?. [online] BBC News. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Turan, R. and Kartal, A., 2021. Activists call for sanctions in wake of Myanmar coup. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Cascone, S., 2021. After a Military Coup, Artists Across Myanmar Are Making Protest Art to Share Their Struggle for Democracy With the World—See Images Here. [online] Artnet News. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Tan, Y., 2021. Myanmar coup: How citizens are protesting through art. [online] BBC News. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Beech, H., 2021. Paint, Poems and Protest Anthems: Myanmar’s Coup Inspires the Art of Defiance. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Hayes, S., 2021. How Myanmar’s Creatives Are Fighting Military Rule with Art. [online] Time. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021]. 

Mitman, T. (2018). The art of defiance: Graffiti, politics and the reimagined city in Philadelphia. Intellect Books. 


About Writer

  • Berliana Azka Afina is a Research Lead on ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community at UGM ASEAN Society 

ASEAN’s Diplomacy: Walking A Tightrope

By Tunggul Wicaksono

Since the military ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the series of events in Myanmar poses several challenges to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; the ununified response from its member states and how to formulate a middle-ground policy, not to mention the vagueness principle of non-interference. In this regard, ASEAN’s diplomacy has been put to the test, while its reputation is at stake.

Up to now, more than 800 people had lost their lives following the nationwide unarmed protests against the junta. Earlier, Myanmar’s government declared martial law that described those defying military authority there as terrorists and set up a military tribunal for attacks on the security forces. Despite the military crackdown and the mobility pressure, ASEAN has not taken an immediate response to the crisis. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the violence, nonetheless.

The coup can be considered as tarnishing of ASEAN’s image among the reportage of mass violence and human rights violation. This, in turn, hinders the pursuit of a forward-looking strategy, including encouraging ASEAN member states to safeguard human rights as mentioned in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. The way of thinking that some conflicts are happened to be “internal affairs” rather than to take collective action is proof that ASEAN was not adequately prepared for such circumstances.

During that time, ASEAN had not recognized regional stability, which depends on human rights and the rule of law. When the Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting convened on 2 March 2021, the bloc failed to successfully condemn the coup, let alone address human rights violations. The chair’s statement seemed to only recall the normative principles of the ASEAN Charter without making any relevance to the ongoing crisis.

However, Indonesia’s initiative to discuss the situation in Myanmar through a Leaders’ Meeting has taken ASEAN’s diplomacy to the next level. All but three (The Philippines, Thailand, and Laos) leaders of the ten ASEAN member states attended the summit. The leaders gathered in Jakarta with Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, a commander-in-chief who led the military takeover and plunged Myanmar into unrest and turmoil.

Afterward, the meeting issued “Five-Point Consensus”; 1) there shall be immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint, 2) constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people, 3) a special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary General of ASEAN, 4) ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre and 5) the special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

On a side note, Indonesia could have taken further action by investigating crimes against humanity in Myanmar. As a state party to the UN Convention Against Torture, Indonesia has a legal obligation to prosecute or extradite a suspected perpetrator on its territory. But, given the circumstances, its political strategy might not be as effective as buying more time for the prolonged crisis.

Meanwhile, regarding the fifth point, there is a lot of criticism triggered by escalating conflicts, democracy setbacks, and severe human rights violations. None of the member states can guarantee the effectiveness of the policy recommendation. First, the concerning factors could be to what extent ASEAN should intervene, considering its members’ belief in non-interference. Sadly, this concern was expressed by a neighboring country, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who said that Myanmar’s crisis is “their internal affairs”. Thailand worries more about the coronavirus outbreak due to the coup at the borders, despite solid evidence of military atrocities.

Second, free-riding countries. Some member states may become more reluctant to rely on other countries for strategic approaches while contributing to no action. ASEAN must treat Myanmar’s crisis as a non-zero-sum game, and by this approach, of course, there is no universally accepted solution. But one thing for sure, the mediator needs to find a common interest. It could be by maintaining regional stability that is beneficial for all, leveraging ASEAN’s human rights mechanism to ensure the protections that meet international standards, or, more specifically, buying more time to hold an election based on democratic principle assisted by ASEAN’s envoys. Hence, win-win solution.

Until this time, ASEAN has yet to compromise the reconciliation mission to Myanmar, let alone to plan a strategic resolution. Most recently, a scheduled trip between Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Dato Erywan Yusof and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi to prepare envisioned dispatch of a special envoy to Myanmar has derived a fatal blunder. They had already crossed the line when the meeting with Gen. Hlaing was not accompanied by prior notification and briefed by ASEAB foreign ministers. They also failed to meet in person with the country’s detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Moreover, the ASEAN Secretariat released a report following the visitation and mentioned the assumed titles of Myanmar junta Gen. Hlaing, indicating an open recognition of the junta. At the same time, ASEAN only maintains its recognition of the Aung San Suu Kyi government. The report was later removed eventually. Shortly, the diplomatic mission somehow turned into a backfire operation.

Regarding the special envoy, ASEAN has entrusted Brunei Darussalam to pick the candidate, although the process is relatively stagnant. One way or another, Myanmar must accept the candidacy as soon as possible. The more time wasted, the higher possibility that the consensus left unimplemented.

Such developments to tackle Myanmar’s turbulence have shed light that ASEAN lacks a vivid strategy and lacks preparation. In some way, ASEAN’s diplomacy needs to be reinvented. This could be as plain as recognizing state-to-state relations. Accommodating attitude towards the other, finding the gap in between, and encouraging collective action could also be a breakthrough in outreach efforts. Given the narrative, there is still a chance to restore ASEAN’s credibility to manage the crisis properly, rather than persistently hold a never-ending talkfest.


About Writer

  • Tunggul Wicaksono is a Research Manager at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada. He can be reached through e-mail at