Scholars and policy makers in the North have always been preoccupied with post-cold war Soviet Union and its satellites. To them the third world does not seen to exist (Doty, 1996, pp 1), though North-South relations continues to re-enact itself in the third world especially in resource rich countries the likes of the Archipelago of Indonesia. Throughout history, Indonesia had always been at the receiving end of the “cornucopia” model. Surplus goes to the core, while poverty and environmental issues caused by such accumulation of surpluses were largely ignored in Indonesia. The zero sum perspective is more appropriate to describe the relationships (Hornborg, 2001, pp 29-31). The core and periphery relationship was not confined to the pre-colonial age and was also not confined to the global perspective. Colonial powers of the North were replaced by localized powers of the government officials of the Suharto regime and his cronies. The most obvious effect currently will be that of the hazardous haze caused by the forest burning in Sumatra which had caused the air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia to reach hazardous PSI levels and even caused the death of a woman in Malaysia.

Exploitations by the Dutch and Suharto Regime

The Dutch exploitation of Indonesia falls into three periods known as the Culture System, the Liberal Period and the Ethical Period. Throughout these periods, Indonesia's vast natural resources such as the expanses of Java was converted into plantations cultivated by Javanese peasants, collected by Chinese intermediaries and sold by European merchants. The exploitation was so extensive that Netherlands became of of the major colonial powers of the world. Before World War II, Indonesia supplied most of the world's quinine and pepper, over a third of the rubber and a quarter of coconut products and a fifth of tea, sugar, coffee and oil. Plantations were powered by forced labor of the peasantry causing enormous hardships for them (Witton, Elliot, Greenway, & Jealous, 2003, pp 23-24). Much like the Spanish Colonists’ silver mining in Potosí, the exploitation caused vast ecological damage to the Indonesian main island of Java.

Given that the sum of products exported must contain less energy than the sum of imports (Hornborg, 2001, pp 43), in order to be constantly expanding, the Netherlands increasingly exploit Indonesia’s natural resources starting from Java and moving towards the nearby islands. The more the Indonesia resources dissipated, the more resources need to be secured tomorrow. However, the resources dissipated and secured were all Indonesian whereas the resources consumed were done mostly by the Netherlands. The Netherlands epitomized the global aspects of North and South exploitation. Java was turned into a huge plantation by the Dutch through the use of forced labor. The fact that the other huge islands of Indonesia escaped exploitation was not due to the mercy of the Dutch, but that their reach and resources were finite to be able to exploit the riches of Sumatra and Kalimantan. These were however left to Suharto and his cronies who represented a localized version of North and South. The emergence of Suharto and his cronies ironically had its origins in the Ethnical policy of the Dutch. With Havelaar and other exposes of ill treatment being known to the Dutch population, a policy of humanitarian concern took place (Ricklefs, 2001). During this period, private capitalism took place and the Chinese being commercially far more advanced than the native Indonesians swiftly took control of the local economy. (Colquhoun, 1970, pp 122) had these to say of the Malays “The Malay is the laziest of Orientals, and the Filipino is not the least lazy of Malays. The Malay, in short is a creature of limitations.” The Dutch took along similar attitudes of the native Indonesians resulting in control of the economy being handed over to the Chinese and that of the administration given to the self-anointed saviors, the Dutch. Decolonization by the Dutch Colonial powers brought about the Dependency thinking with its Neo Marxism theories for the Third World. Such dependency theories strived to explain underdevelopment from a Third World perspective, unequal exchange theory and core/periphery structural economies (Keet, 2002). For the Indonesians, underdevelopment would be best explained firstly by the patronizing attitudes of the Dutch followed by the exploitation of the natives by Suharto with the help of the Chinese and later Indonesians who enriched themselves through contact with the Suharto regime. Unequal exchange theory could be a unifying explanation for the behavior of the Dutch and the Suharto regime.

In the Dutch era, forced labor was the key to getting the natives to fulfill the ambitions of the Netherlands as a major European power through the continuous influx of resources from the Indonesia. For the Suharto era, there is a transcending of semiotics, this was a time when the whip or other symbols of oppression ceased and was replaced by the movement towards monetary inducements. “To begin with, gold signified exchange value. The signification was indexical to the extent that value was perceived as an essential quality of gold. With time, paper money came to signify gold (Hornborg, 2001, pp. 160-165). The Suharto era began after the overthrow of the Father of Indonesia, Sukarno. With that, the transfer of power from the Dutch to the Suharto regime was completed. The chapter of North and South discourse in the localized context had begun. In this respect, North became the politically well connect who plunder the hinterlands and the South were the typical Indonesians who were working willingly for the symbiotic “paper” known as money. The nationalization in 1957-1968 of the Dutch businesses in Indonesia created a new elite nominated by the Chinese who were able to advance from a “colonial caste structure” to the topmost ranks of the present economic structure of Indonesia. They acted as intermediaries of the Suharto family and ruling elite while enriching themselves in the meantime (Mickie, 1991). The power equations had not changed much, at the bottom rung of society, everything remained the same except for the substitution of the symbiotics of Dutch paper money for Indonesian rupiah. The top elite changed from the Dutch Colonial masters to that of the Suharto era ruling class together with their Chinese “bankers”. However, the North became much closer. Previously it was the Netherlands, but now it was the small island of Singapore where a lot of Indonesian elites chose to have as a second home rather than their country. This was given that the distance between Singapore and parts of Indonesia such as Batam is even closer than that between the Indonesian Capital Jakarta. Those of the North lived a life of opulence, throwing million dollar parties in Singapore while the South which was just a stone throw away was struggling and trying to feed their families on US$1 a day. North and South discourse had reached a new paradigm where the oppressor and the rich North was no longer a foreign distant country and the South was no longer a “uncivilized” state in need of enlightenment. In modern post-colonial era, the North and the South coexist in the same state or in the same region.

Despite the havoc that was waged on the natural resources of Indonesia by its Dutch Colonial masters, nothing can be compared to what the Suharto regime and its elite well connected businessmen is causing Indonesia and in fact South East Asia. As (Bateson, 1972) and (Rappaport, 1979) argued, the subjective and the objective dimensions of environmental crisis are inseparable. If ecological relations are communicative, and ecosystems thus contingent on a plurality of subjective, species-specific perspectives, dissolution and dismantling of ecosystems are two aspects of the same process (J. Von. Uexkull, 1940[1982]). Given that the peasantry was no longer associated with the land in post-colonial Indonesia, destruction of the land meant nothing to them as compared to the Dutch era where the peasants still lived off the land despite the forced labor on the plantations. Such modernity accelerated the destruction of Indonesia’s natural resources. Given that the tribesmen had no voice, however that of the North states that were affected especially Singapore, where coincidentally most of the elite Indonesians had their homes in were affected to no small degree. The haze was so bad that at times, outdoor travels and exercises were discouraged. No longer was the South helpless as in the ancient past. But the actions taken by the North was because they themselves were affected as modern technology accelerated the destruction caused by the Netherlands into a regional crisis. At the 1998 summit of Asean foreign ministers, the haze issue was debated with not much result due to the non-intervention approach of Asean. However, desperation caused Singapore and Malaysia to provide information and resources to Non-Government Organizations or NGOs to raise the awareness of the haze issue. Dr Tommy Koh had argued on the strategy of using the doctrine of state liability for boundary damage and harms. Although the sources of the haze were the logging companies and palm oil plantations in Indonesia, no action was taken in the Suharto era (Columbus, 2003, pp. 171-172). Even with the fall of Suharto and a democratically elected President, the concession owners still hold sway over their huge plantations in Indonesia and were clearing the forests with fire with impunity and total disregard for the seldom enforced environmental laws of Indonesia.

In the olden days of North and South, the South has few venues of appeal. Even in the Netherlands Ethical period which was pricking on the conscious of the Dutch public, relief was few and cosmetic. However in the modern days, the South does have an ally, which is that of the Non-Government Organizations. The governments of Suharto and the democratically elected government of Indonesia has allowed their cronies to systematically increase their access to the resources (Hornborg, 2007, pp.57). There was hardly any countercheck in the previous North and South discourse. But in the current localized version of North and South crash, the NGOs play a crucial role in blunting the access to such resources and its plundering through extensive lobbying and mass protests or actions designed to disrupt the systematic plundering of the resources. One good example is that of the victory of the Greenpeace activists over Indonesian firm Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology (SMART), one of the major producers of palm oil in Indonesia. Greenpeace activists have targeted SMART in a recent campaign for contributing to deforestation in Indonesia, highlighting how palm oil suppliers destroyed forest habitats of endangered orangutans. In a major victory for green activists, Nestle caved in to social pressure by announcing it will drop Indonesian firm Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology (SMART) as its palm oil supplier. This was just at the heels of another victory over Golden Agri Resources where Unilever had stopped their palm oil purchases. Nestle had already promised it will stop purchasing from Sinar Mas due to an earlier report from Greenpeace showing that the Indonesian company was involved in destruction of rainforests and peatlands for oil palm plantations (Loh, 2010). However, such successes are few and far in between, Palm oil companies continue burning the peat forests to clear land for their plantations despite a 2004 law which prohibits plantation companies from using fires, or any other means that cause environmental damage to clear the land for their plantations. “The endless cycle of forest fires and forest destruction in Indonesia must now be seen as a global phenomenon because our country contributes a lot to climate change,” Greenpeace Forest campaigner Hapsoro said in a statement. “Beyond the frequent lip service and rhetoric coming from officials whenever these fires flare up, the government must take bolder measures to prevent the problem from taking place,” he said (Arga, 2007). The future looks hazy for the region in the future ahead. The democratization of Indonesia does bring about more response with the President of Indonesia apologizing to Singapore and Malaysia and pledge to do everything to stop the haze. While this is an improvement over previous responses, there is still much to be done as the haze has become a yearly occurrence with the Indonesian authorities seemingly impotent in their actions previously. The current actions taken did not seem to have much of an effect, it is rather due to the grace of nature, in the form of heavy rain that brought respite for Singapore and Malaysia.

Analysis and Discussion of Indonesia’s North – South Dilemma

The discourse on the North and South aspects of the Netherlands and Indonesia and later on the internal North and South separation of Indonesia runs parallel to Harvey’s discussion of environmental justice that was focused on the internal injustices as in the modern United States (Hornborg, 2001, pp. 53-56). Imagine even the sole Super power of the world having to deal with the North and South dualism in its own backyard, what more can it been of less socially and economically advanced nations. The author was convinced that the major issues was created by capital accumulation which in turned caused the major issues such as environmental destruction, resource depletion, world poverty and armament. The modes of accumulation of resources by the North are systematically analyzed in this discourse. The first category plunder was easily seen in the Netherlands colonization of Indonesia. The Indonesia was estimated to be the fifth richest country in the world in terms of natural resources. The Dutch plundered the Indonesians for 350 years enriching themselves while ruthlessly exploiting the natives. “In 1940 there was only one doctor per 60,000 people (compared to India, where the ratio was 1:6,000) and just 2,400 Indonesian graduates from high school. At the end of World War II, 93 percent of the population was illiterate.” (World Socialist Web Site, 2009). In Post-colonial Suharto era, plunder took a different forms, a more “humane” form given that human rights does not permit the convenience of the Netherlands colonists to be bestowed to Suharto henchmen. Symbol such as paper money, the Rupiah was used in the unequal exchange for the toils and hardship of the peasantry. The exchange was so unequal that the peasantry could only afford a survival below the poverty line where the Suharto linked companies and individuals topped Asia’s richest men’s lists. The second category for the accumulation was merchant accumulation. The Dutch exchanged cheap manufactured products for the natural resources extracted through the blood and toils of the Indonesian peasants. More often than not, the manufactured goods were simple refinement of the original products. The prices were so unequal that the Indonesians had to sell more and more of their natural resources for less and less of such Dutch manufactured that one side accumulation by the Dutch was the result. In the Post-colonial era, the manufactured goods were swapped with the Rupiah which could and had been invalidated or depreciated at the whims of their new masters. The third category was financial capitalism. Notice the burden of debt on the population of Indonesia, this stands at US$150,851 million, according to the Development Economics Database as at 2008. The fourth category was the under-compensation of labor which was sheer coercion in the times of the Dutch and low wages in the present Indonesia which was intended to keep the peasantry forever in the poverty line and dependent on their current exploitative work for day to day survival. The last and not least was the underpayment of resources including raw materials and other forms of energy than labor. (Hornborg, 2001, pp. 58). The global environmental catastrophe are the direct results of the world system of capital accumulation, such as the haze in South East Asia, the sinking islands of some unknown islands in the Pacific. The North is also not spared, the dykes of the Netherlands for instance are vulnerable to the rising sea water caused by global warming. Given that The Netherlands only exists as a result of the lowlands' extensive flood and sea defenses and two thirds of the nation's population lives below sea level, this is something for the Dutch to worry about (BBC, 2009). The North and South differences of the same sinking sensation was that the Dutch has the technological and economical muscles to deal with it where the remote Pacific islands do not.


The circumstances seemed dire especially for the South, but given that all are sharing one earth, the North may not escape the catastrophes of rising sea waters, climate changes and depletion of fishes and other essential food supplies. Copenhagen failed in no small part to the disagreement between the North and the South and the historical debt due to the ecology unequal exchanged owed by the North to the South. But not all is lost. If the North is willing to give back some of the plunders to the South in terms of going green and the South kept its middle class citizenry growing and understanding the dangers facing the earth, there may be yet a chance to save environment, there may still be hope for the third rock from the Sun, known as the Earth. But time isn't really on our side, we need to take action - Immediately!


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