Shanmugam wasted time at ASEAN haze meeting

In his latest haze-control meeting to Thailand, Foreign Minister K Shanmugam made zero progress on none of the 3 objectives set by the PAP government in July [Source] to enforce haze-control measures. The trilateral meeting between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia was arranged to work out concrete plans to prevent the yearly recurrence of the slash-and-burn method adopted by Indonesia-based companies to clear forests for the plantation season. This year, the haze was exceptionally bad in Singapore with the air quality index reaching 400 PSI. The PAP government however did not implement any responsive actions like issuing a stop work order even to outdoor employees despite having the air quality hovering at dangerous level for more than a week. They have instead made a lot of promises to increase collaboration effort through talks with Indonesia. The ASEAN haze meeting was supposed to work out prevention measures to ensure there will be no repeat of air quality concerns due to forest burning in the future. The August 14 meeting also left out representatives from the 2 countries least affected – Thailand and Brunei.

The outcome of the ASEAN haze meeting [Source] is at best a fruitless meeting, ending up with appreciation of fire-fighting effort by Indonesia and implementation of existing framework. The haze meeting eventually ended quickly and focused on the ASEAN territorial disputes with China. Despite having achieved nothing from the ASEAN haze meeting, K Shanmugam claimed that the meeting was “good” and “yielded on a number of haze-related issues”. Below are the 3 objectives of which the PAP initially set prior to the meeting, of which are literally thrown out of the window:

1) Name-and-shame of companies
The concession maps, which when combined with satellite imagery, allow pinpointing of errant companies responsible for the forest burning. The PAP proposed the public name-and-shame method against companies which started the fire. This was however objected by Indonesia stating concerns of legal and confidential issues. A public naming of these companies can result in open economic sanctions by both the public and private sector in Singapore.

2) Ratification of 2002 Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution
The 2002 ASEAN haze pollution treaty formalize forest-clearing techniques that will outlaw forest-burning, a practise largely adopted by Indonesia-based companies. Indonesia has still refused to ratify the agreement immediately, and instead stated they “may” ratify the agreement by year end or early 2014.

3) Foreign fire-fighting help offer
Indonesia continue to refuse fire-fighting help offered by other countries. In June, Malaysia offered cloud seeding help to Indonesia, of which the latter didn’t response.

Given that no constructive measures were actually undertaken in the ASEAN meetings, the haze is expected to return in 2014 again. Companies responsible for fire-starting in 2013 have gone scot-free with not even a single company singled out for punishments.

Aside from the haze meeting issue, the Code of Conduct proposed by the PAP government to observe engagement rules with China has been totally left out of the discussion. Currently, Vietnam and Philippines are deep in territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea. Philippines has also other quarrels with Taiwan over the murdering of a Taiwanese fisherman by its naval guards, and conflicts with Hongkong over the incompetence of the Philippines Police to secure a bus hijack incident in Manila. It is unlikely other countries will go out of their way to defend Philippines, a 3rd world country infamous for corruption and inefficiency, and offend China, the Asian superpower and also the 2nd largest economy in the world.

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