|Conflict over Natural Resources in South-East Asia and the Pacific (United Nations University, 1990)|
|2. Conflict over land-based natural resources in the ASEAN countries|
The extraction, transformation, and utilization of natural resources have resulted in great damage to the environment and spawned conflicts at various levels between labour and capital, corporations and tribal communities, and governments of the developed and the developing worlds. The role of the state as the primary agent for the supervision and disposition of natural resources is a crucial factor in the analysis of these conflicts. Related to this is the rise of militarization, especially in areas where the victims of development have begun to fight back and assert their rights.
The depletion of forest and, to a certain extent, mineral resources has already reached crisis proportions in South-East Asia. The degradation of the ecosystem only emphasizes the critical nature of the problem. The displacement of local communities, including tribal peoples from their homes and traditional sources of livelihood without adequate alternatives being offered is a violation of human rights. While corporations reap large profits from their operations, the workers and their families subsist below the poverty line and endure poor living conditions. Labour conflicts are immediately traceable to the exploited condition of the workers in the forest and mineral industries. In agriculture, which is a transformation of a land based resource, peasant land rights are constantly being violated by the expansion of agribusiness concerns as land reform programmes are half-heartedly implemented, if at all. Food crops are being replaced by export crops, and malnutrition remains a major problem.
Industrialized countries are heavily dependent on raw material producing countries for mineral and forest products, but they also control international trade and dictate the prices as well as the traffic in such goods. Capital and technology are also monopolized by the First World. These countries are generally indifferent to the development of the processing capabilities of the primary-product producing countries, and in cases in which transfer of technology is undertaken, it has been confined to the less desirable types such as heavy-polluting or energy-consuming ones.
There is obviously a need to change existing priorities for development in the ASEAN countries. A stronger position must be taken against the monopolistic control being exercised by the developed countries over local resources. Considering that ASEAN countries possess sizeable forest and mineral reserves, the possibilities for these states to come together and demand a revision of trade and investment patterns are bright and attainable. Presenting a unified position, ASEAN countries can enter into negotiations with raw material-importing countries and arrive at mutual agreements. The industrial countries must be made to realize that unless they agree to negotiate for change, their traditional sources of primary products may be lost or unilateral restructuring may have to be undertaken.
Internal conflicts are a different matter, however. The governments of the ASEAN states range from mildly to overtly authoritarian. In many cases, internal sources of tension such as labour conflicts and peasant unrest have been dealt with by state repression. In this way, governments lose their credibility with the population and popular sympathy shifts to opposition groups, including those promoting radical alternatives. Bureaucratic anomalies, financial scandals, widespread corruption, and foreign biased economic programmes all serve to erode the government's position. The state becomes identified with the interests of logging and mining companies, usurious international funding agencies, and foreign agents. It is not surprising that official policies are perceived to have benefited only these interests while causing great harm to the peasantry, workers, and tribal communities.