Energy and Non-Traditional Security (NTS) in Asia

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The evolving climate change crisis on the Tibetan Plateau provides an important test case. Higher temperatures in this region are leading to the melting of the glaciers that comprise the largest freshwater reserve outside the polar ice caps. Notwithstanding the exaggerated claims exposed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, scientific investigations still confirm an overall trend of glacial retreat ranging from between 10 to 60 metres per year. Hundreds of millions of people depend upon the natural storage facilities of the glaciers for drinking water, power generation, and agriculture.

In this part of the world, climate security is largely synonymous with water security. The problem is that regional institutions for dealing with the impacts of climate change do not exist. If this emerging trans-boundary crisis that affects twelve countries in South and East Asia is not addressed, it has the potential to aggravate territorial disputes and elevate the competition for hydropower to dangerous levels. Currently, information sharing between China and India remains limited to the provision of hydrological data on the Brahmaputra during the flood season; delays in issuing flood warnings across borders are common; and the impacts of climate change are still a matter of dispute.

Even scientific research is constrained on account of national security concerns. Above all, adherence to the sovereign right to development trumps emerging global norms relating to the equitable sharing of water resources among riparian states. What we are witnessing in this part of the world is an NTS paradox: climate and water security challenges have the potential to act as a catalyst for new forms of regional cooperation, yet, in reality, the complex and highly politicised nature of these challenges are likely to amplify pre-existing tensions, and ultimately exacerbate rather than alleviate instability.

On balance, it would seem that NTS is currently more of a force multiplier, than a force for positive security. Reversing this dynamic will require far more than joint declarations of intent and ad hoc coalitions; it will require a fundamental shift toward building collective institutions for taking preventative action, mediating conflicts, and managing risks and uncertainties.

The most plausible way forward for addressing the security crisis in the Himalayas would be to extend regional cooperation on the basis of a strategic climate partnership between China and India. Their futures as global powers are as much driven by the traditional paradigm of economic growth and military modernisation as by their respective capacities to deal with systemic water, food, and energy problems.

For regional partners such as Australia, this is one area where engaging both China and India on a multilateral basis may help to shift security dynamics toward more positive cooperative outcomes. She provides a more detailed analysis here.


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East Asia Forum welcomes comments, both for adding depth to analysis and for bringing up important new issues. Original comments adding insight and contributing to analysis are especially encouraged. Contrary to the logic of interdependency, while water, food, energy, and natural disasters are all perceived as security issues, climate change is classified solely as a development issue.

I think China, by not asking or not strongly asking for equal per capita emission entitlement, indicates that it is a more responsible stakeholder than most if not all industrialised countries on climate change. There has been an unmentioned underlying and distorted logic internationally on climate change and emissions mitigation, that is, the disregard of the equal rights of everyone irrespective their income living in both developed or developing countries to the atmosphere by high emission countries.

Its winning advantage lies in its ability to temporarily curb swelling economic and social grievances while other measures are being taken to control the damage resulting from price changes. The 4-month disbursement period is drawn based on confidence that impacts of inflation would become insignificant in the fourth month. To date, it has successfully averted widespread protests, riots, and other destabilising occurrences. In this light, it is apparent that direct cash transfers are indispensable in minimising aversion to price reforms.

Admittedly, there is a wide room for improvements in terms of logistics and implementation. As far as the purpose is concerned, however, oppositions attempting to problematise these measures and label them as politically-charged initiatives would likely find their efforts futile. Fuel subsidies may further be reduced in the future and the expectation for extra cash would hold among poor households.

What is critical therefore is in ensuring that such cash transfer programs are crafted within a wider long-term poverty eradication strategy and improvements are pursued to attain maximum impact. This blog post has been written by Margareth Sembiring. The immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in witnessed a significant cooling down of the nuclear renaissance in Southeast Asia.

Countries that had announced their nuclear plans immediately suspended or delayed the construction of their first nuclear power plant, such as Thailand and Malaysia; those that decided to continue their nuclear energy plans kept them low-key. As the reverberation of the Fukushima crisis gradually abates, nuclear power plans in the region have begun to resume again. Vietnam and Indonesia are forging ahead with their nuclear plans while the Philippines is reconsidering nuclear energy as an option.

Indonesia and Vietnam already face the risk of serious power shortages, which threatens their economic development. The recent developments in Japan as well as in the region help Southeast Asian governments justify their decision to resume their nuclear plans. Since May , the Japanese government gradually reopened some of the nuclear reactors that were closed after the crisis. The investigation report of the Fukushima crisis noted that the disaster was man-made and should be preventable. This conclusion gives rise to the hope that possibility of nuclear accident is low as long as safety measures are strictly implemented.

Coordination and information sharing have been identified as key channels for enhancing nuclear safety in the region. Although Singapore government is not pursuing nuclear energy as an alternative fuel for now given that current nuclear energy technologies are unsuitable, the reactivation of nuclear energy plans in neighboring countries would have important implications for the island state. Radiation released from the melted reactors in Fukushima was found as far as the US west coast.

Given its proximity to the locations of the prospective nuclear power plants in Vietnam and Indonesia, Singapore will be threatened by nuclear radiation in case nuclear accident happens. It is necessary to integrate Information sharing provides a key channel for Singapore to stay informed about development of nuclear energy in its neighbours.

Moreover, the role of regional forums in coordinating nuclear safety should be utilized and strengthened. Education is important as nuclear energy is still new to the public in this region.

Since it is very likely to see the first nuclear reactors in the region in the near future, it is crucial for Singapore to get ready for the new development. The difficulty lies in juggling three main issues. First, anti-nuclear sentiments continue to gain ground in Japan as seen from the increasing numbers in mass protests, calls for local referenda to shut down nuclear power plants in their respective local vicinities, and efforts to provide ground-up alternative sources of information, given the perceived lack of transparency and mistrust towards top-down information.

However, the NRA to date has yet to be formed. Third, developments at the international level create further complications for Japan to fully adhere to these domestic demands in the short term. The price of importing energy resources, particularly liquified natural gas LNG , to substitute the short fall of energy from decommissioned nuclear power plants, increased sharply in the 2 nd half of That said, one of the economic lifelines for Japan is the development of nuclear technology elsewhere.

As such, while the anti-nuclear bloc in Japan may have the upper hand domestically, it is likely to create greater challenges for anti-nuclear groups in the wider East Asian region. In the latest issue of the NTS Alert I tried to critically examine the safety of nuclear power projects. I argued that available scientific and historical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that, for generating large amounts of electricity, nuclear energy is the safest currently available option.

Some readers might find this surprising or even shocking and that is because of the dominant belief that any amount of radiation is dangerous, unhealthy and ultimately deadly. This assumption is radiophobia — an irrational fear of radiation that was born out of the frightening times of the Cold War when for various military, budgetary and propaganda reasons populations on both sides of the Iron Curtain were made panically afraid of anything nuclear. Apart from the geopolitical logic of that time, some scientists suspect other factors behind the creation of radiophobia such as the interests of the fossil fuel industries and the desire of the international media to profit from scare stories.

Non-Traditional Security in Asia: Disaster Response and Cybersecurity pt2

What seems truly dangerous about low levels of radiation such as the ones that followed the Chernobyl disaster is the panic they create, as was demonstrated by research undertaken by the UN and WHO. Yet, despite all the above, the world continues to suffer from radiophobia as it was evident in the case of Fukushima. As my Alert tried to demonstrate, this must change or else even the safest and accident-free nuclear power plants will cause deaths through stress, fear and anxiety that they may potentially generate.

What is urgently needed today is courage on the side of politicians and people in positions of authority to communicate to their communities that nuclear power is ultimately safe, as it has been constantly demonstrated by our half a century of experience with it. An important action could be basing radiological protection on the principle of a practical threshold.

The fact that my journey was to take place just a few weeks after the Wenzhou crash made quite a number of people, both in Singapore and China, advise me against taking it. This public concern has brought my attention to the consequences that crash might have not only on the way in which people look at Chinese railways, but at the Chinese technological progress in general. For indeed, that tragic accident may have had an even more negative impact on the perception of the Chinese nuclear energy development program than the Fukushima incident.

On surface, nuclear power and trains might appear unconnected, but in reality they have much in common. Both win attention and support from senior leaders on account of their role in economic development. And both impose safety risks that are too significant to be ignored. Some observers point to the problems with rapid copying of foreign technology and the dangers of using various types of nuclear reactors. At the same time, Western journalists blame Chinese corruption and management style.

Furthermore, as tragic as it was, the train crash in China led to far fewer deaths than numerous sic train crashes that had taken place in India in July alone. As ever, the train crash tells us more about cultural biases and pessimism about technologic progress, than anything else. In , a disastrous high-speed rail accident happened in Eschede , Germany causing a great number of deaths and provoking serious doubts over the high-speed technology.

But a careful, public and transparent investigation brought the confidence back and the high-speed trains have remained a very popular and safe mode of transportation. Admittedly, this task might prove to be very difficult without changes in the political system inherently hostile to transparency and openness. In an earlier blog post , the need for intra-state cooperation was highlighted as an important factor in not only harnessing the potential of renewable energy resources in various parts of China, but also ensuring uniformed development for the benefit of all Chinese citizens.

This blog post will highlight the importance of inter-state cooperation — particularly between China and its immediate neighbour Taiwan. Studies have demonstrated the importance of inter-state energy cooperation , whether it be for traditional or renewable sources of energy. In terms of traditional sources of energy, China has depended on oil refineries in Taiwan for its oil imports. The demand for such facilities is likely to increase given the potential of Russian oil supply as an alternative to Middle Eastern oil, as the former has lower sulphur content and is geographically closer.

Conversely, however, Taiwan is increasingly dependent on China for its own energy needs. There are several factors contributing to this. Firstly, Taiwan has exhausted its small reserves of fossil fuels, to the extent that its ability to produce 20 percent of primary energy sources in has decreased to 0. Given these above-mentioned dynamics, it is clear that dependence between China and Taiwan is mutual. Fortunately, China-Taiwan relations have improved over the years, albeit with some minor hiccups.

Energy relations are significant in increasing economic ties and trade between China and Taiwan, where joint energy exploration efforts in disputed areas have also provided an impetus for enhanced bilateral ties. Moreover, recent cross-strait forums have even underscored the importance of cooperation in ensuring nuclear safety.

This highlights not only the increasing momentum in China and Taiwan to diversify their energy mixes, but also acknowledge the adverse transnational implications that these efforts might have — especially in light of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Given these growing efforts to enhance bilateral cooperation over energy resources, such instances could perhaps be a form of confidence building measure between neighbouring countries with sensitive traditional political security issues.

Ensuring energy sufficiency will continue to be an uphill task in much of East Asia.


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Nevertheless, such circumstances provide neighbouring states with the opportunity for cooperate and coordinate their energy exploration plans, on the existing limited sources of energy remaining. This has led to concerns of sustainability, namely the increasing scarcity of traditional energy resources and carbon emissions that exacerbate climate change. China has nevertheless taken various steps to address these issues in its national development plans. Its proposed 12 th Five year Plan demonstrates concrete steps for moving towards a low-carbon economy and also strategies to diversify its energy mix.

In terms of renewable energy sources, China has initiated solar energy projects in Tibet , as the region is the richest resource for solar energy in China and is second to the Sahara Desert in terms of longest sunshine time in the world. In light of these geo-political concerns, China needs to ensure that its energy exploration and management policies are carefully implemented and do not adversely affect the needs of local communities in these regions.

This is crucial for two reasons. Firstly, economic development is not simply a matter of achieving overall national growth, but more importantly, raising the standards of economic livelihoods and household incomes of the poor and increasingly marginalised communities as a result of industrialisation. Such inequalities exist between and within provinces in China. Like other shared natural resources, energy resources must be utilised as a tool for cooperation rather than conflict and competition.

Provincial and municipal governments in China would therefore play a significant role in catering to the specific development needs of the various provinces and their respective localities.

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While this is a good start, such efforts must be further refined overtime and given greater support for the sustainable and affordable provision of renewable sources of energy to communities. The earthquake and resultant tsunami have had significant health impacts on the Japanese population. Japanese public health officials have struggled with water treatment and distribution systems that have been contaminated by ocean water and oil, gas, pesticides, and decaying bodies carried inland by the waves.

There are also worries of cross-contamination of waste water and treated water, escalating fears of the spread of water-borne diseases. Treating trauma, crush wounds and respiratory illnesses in tsunami victims has been identified as a pressing health priority. This has prompted widening fears of long-term public health, food security such as radiation contamination in food from Japan and environmental ramifications not only for the Japanese, but also for neighbouring countries and across the Pacific.

US nuclear plans are in question. This places it on par with Three Mile Island, which resulted in no deaths and had no impact on the incidence of cancer in the region. It also places two rungs below Chernobyl at 7. While it remains important to recognise the health security risks and threats that have emerged as a direct consequence of the Japanese tragedy, it is equally important to exercise a measured approach in assessing and analysing them. The overestimation of threat can cause undue fear and panic. Conversely, the underestimation of problems can lead to a lack of commitment to addressing them.

This is true to addressing both conventional health challenges as well as any nuclear radiation-related health issues arising from this situation. Ultimately, a moderate and well-informed approach to dealing with health security issues in post-disaster Japan may encourage better direction and strategy in resolving them. As the country grapples with the ensuing threat of multiple nuclear meltdowns after explosions at 3 Nuclear Power Plant NPP reactors in Fukushima, questions are being raised as to the extent of the nuclear crises at hand. As it stands, the death toll is estimated to surpass 10, while almost 2 million households are without power supply and 1.

The lack of clean water not only severely impacts public health and sanitation, but is also critical for cooling the nuclear reactors. The blackouts would also affect economic livelihoods as stalled economic activity in the industrial sector would exacerbate an already ailing Japanese economy , let alone the massive costs of damage from the earthquake and tsunami.

On hindsight, more could have been done prior to the earthquake. For instance, it was barely 5 years ago, when the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP experienced a fire and leak as a result of an earthquake measuring 6. This was partly because most NPPs in Japan have been designed to withstand earthquakes up to 6. The current situation in Japan has even caused policymakers in the US , Switzerland and India to delay future nuclear energy plans.

China and non-traditional security: Toward what end?

In Southeast Asia, where the demand for energy sources for development is increasingly insatiable , it is vital that ASEAN countries take environmental impact assessments seriously and acknowledge the importance of further enhancing their disaster capabilities to respond to potentially complex emergencies.

A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme recently noted that the road to achieving a low carbon, resource efficient green economy is possible by just investing two per cent of global GDP into ten key sectors — namely Agriculture, Buildings, Cities, Fisheries, Forests, Industry, Renewable energy, Tourism, Transport, Waste Management and Water.

This report builds on growing calls to streamline environmental concerns with economic needs, in particular means of incentivising businesses to partake in environmental initiatives. The Financial Crisis precipitated these efforts as politicians perceived greening the economy as a viable means of killing two birds with one stone — i. For instance, a recent report suggests that switching to renewable energy sources does not create more jobs but rather costs more jobs.

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Governments must therefore ensure funds are committed to continue existing green projects in the medium and long term, and ensure that green economy can gradueally wean off a dependence on subsidies. In developing countries, a possible area of concern in the near future would be the extent to which heavily populated regions, such as megacities would be able to balance changes needed for a green economy vis-a-vis existing circumstances, such as growing populations , slum areas, high vulnerability to environmental risks and lack of transparency.

In rural regions, it has yet to be seen whether such green economy initiatives would be accessed by poor and remote communities effectively, and bypassing any instances of corruption and inefficiencies. It is nevertheless encouraging to see that the momentum for a green economy is growing. In a recent lecture in Singapore , Thomas Friedman spoke about climate change and the urgent need for breakthroughs in clean energy research, and drew parallels between two major non-traditional security issues in recent years — the economic crisis of and the ongoing ecological crisis.

According to Friedman, New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, these two issues are two sides of the same coin, in which unsustainable economic growth patterns are a primary factor. In highlighting the similarities between the economic and ecological crisis, both contexts — market and Mother Nature — have experienced similar accounting practices, primarily the way in which risks have been underpriced, gains privatised and losses socialised. Underpinning these practices has been a short-term mindset, which Friedman observes to have led to a breakdown of sustainable values into situational values.

This, he notes, is dangerous because the only way to moderate the market and Mother Nature effectively is by adopting sustainable values. Friedman also noted that world was becoming increasingly Hot, Flat and Crowded — Hot due to global warming; Flat due to the increasing mobility of people thanks to globalisation; and crowded to due to population increase. There were five pressing problems that have resulted in this situation — 1 increasing demand for energy and natural resources, 2 Petro-dictatorship, which highlights the inverse relationship between the price of oil and freedom, 3 energy poverty , 4 biodiversity loss , and 5 the adverse effects of climate change.

Friedman nevertheless noted that the solution to these five problems is the need to provide abundant cheap clean non-carbon emitting energy. He emphasised that the main drivers of change in this process would not be regulators and policymakers, but rather innovators and engineers. Friedman likened these trends to having a Green Party rather than a Green Revolution.

Friedman also noted that effective change will only occur in a Green Revolution, when the term Green disappears.


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  4. Moreover, similar to revolutions, certain stakeholders of the status quo will have to lose out. The Green Revolution that Friedman calls for would, therefore, perhaps be the most revolutionary in the developing world. Whether stakeholders in the developing world are ready for this remains to be seen. Recent media reports on the new wave of floods and landslides around the world have yet again highlighted the critical need for disaster preparedness and contingency plans to address the increasing intensity of weather related disasters.

    Such costs would, however, only be the tip of the iceberg as other parts of the country are preparing for impending floods. The recent floods in Sri Lanka for instance have highlighted adverse effects to food security and even possible complications in former conflict regions that have undetonated mines. While the Philippines continues to recover from the massive damage of Typhoon Ketsana in , government officials need to also deal with the effects of weather related disasters in other less developed regions of the country.

    The future is not all bleak as several studies have already noted the potential costs and risks of various weather related disasters as well as the necessary solutions available to address these climate vulnerabilities. Despite such policy recommendations, it is still difficult for countries — whether developed or developing — to effectively address these concerns.

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    Difficulties in coordination amongst various levels of governance and strained resources remain to be sore points and to some extent outweigh capacity building measures that only often bear fruit in the long term. It is therefore necessary for states to demonstrate their commitment to working with local and regional communities in formulating long term solutions beyond the realm of disasters. Increasing demands of energy have led many countries, particularly those in the rapidly developing Asia-Pacific to consider nuclear energy as the power supply of choice. This has raised a series of concerns — from issues of socio-economic feasibility and sustainability to geo-political risks of nuclear energy in the absence of effective global rules on sensitive nuclear technologies.

    Essentially, these boil down to the issue of hidden costs and risks, which have not been factored in by countries — whether with established or preliminary nuclear capabilities. These costs are as follows Firstly, despite technological advancements that have made nuclear reactors significantly safer, the costs of risk management strategies are high. Investment capital costs constitute a full 60 per cent of the total cost of nuclear-generated electricity, compared to 25 per cent for operation and maintenance; and about 15 per cent for the fuel cycle.

    Natural uranium costs make up merely 5 per cent in this overall equation. These risks must be limited in order to facilitate an investment climate conducive for nuclear industries. Secondly, there are tendencies to underestimate the various costs associated with nuclear energy. While there have been technological advancements in processing spent fuel, the storage of spent fuel has yet to be resolved.

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    Finally, large investments into nuclear technology, which result in a small output in total energy demand may not make economic sense. Nuclear energy would possibly be an attractive option for large consumers like the US and China, even if it is a small percentage of mix. However, a relatively small consumer would need to weigh the investments and economic viability carefully before jumping onto the bandwagon.

    Efficient management of nuclear energy thus would need to factor in these hidden costs. Of the 5 top hard coal energy producers in the world, 3 are major Asian countries — China, India and Indonesia. However, it seems rather ironic that despite being rich in energy sources, a significant proportion of their populations still experience energy poverty issues, particularly in areas surrounding the coal producing regions.

    The Indonesian environmental group JATAM for instance has documented this in their latest publication , where low levels of development and electrification in towns and villages of coal producing regions have affected daily routines. Coal extraction projects have caused the displacement of local communities that have been dependent on the land and surrounding natural resources, such as the Dayak community in Kalimantan. These communities are left with few options of economic livelihoods, as they are oftentimes not skilled enough to take on jobs in the coal mines, which are often given to foreigners or people from other provinces.

    For some communities, such as in India , they have resorted to stealing coal from the mines to sell or for their own domestic use. This thus situates them in a vicious cycle of poverty while faced with adverse health implications as a result of prolonged exposure to the coal mines. This is just one of the many cases that reflect the dilemmas faced by governments in balancing the needs of its people with the need to cater to the demands of foreign investors for economic growth.

    While many of us would deem a blackout as an inconvenience, to others it represents an impediment to better standards of livelihood. As a result, the need to secure its energy supply represents an important aim of Chinese foreign and security policy. China is the largest coal producer and reserve -holder, which means it can generally strike a balance between the supply and demand of coal. However, in terms of oil — the most important strategic energy resource, China became a net oil importer since The lack of oil reserves implies that China has to turn to those oil rich countries for oil supply, such as Sudan.

    Valerie Hudson argues that natural resources, or the lack of it, may play a role in foreign policy. In the case of China, its reliance on foreign energy sources has partly shaped its policy toward its suppliers. The oil pipeline from Kyaukpyu Port through Burma to southwest China cuts the costs for transmitting crude oil from the Middle East and Africa.