Foreign policy review of Indonesia: A critical analysis
DESPITE harsh regional socio-economic constrains (RECP, ASEAN) because of ongoing spells of corona virus along with its latest variant, alarming geopolitical situations (AUKUS & QUAD) in the Pacific-Asia and emerging geostrategic scenarios (US-China ongoing rivalry) the Republic of Indonesia succeeded to pursue an active and free foreign policy during 2020-2021.
In this regard, Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairfs, Retno Marsudi, succeeded in sailing out her country from deep waters to safe shores and consequently protected basic vested interests of Indonesia. Undoubtedly, 2021 was another perplexing period for Indonesian foreign policy.
Despite visionary leadership of President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, and his new doctrine of people’s centric foreign policy, Indonesia faced various strategically emerging challenges, comprising some new and some of the extension of pre-existing equations of survival and socio-economic prosperity.
Indonesia Indonesian foreign policy had to deal with the issues of Myanmar, AUKUS, QUAD, Afghanistan peace, OIC, and increasing disunity among the ASEAN during 2021.
Unfortunately, military coup in Myanmar remained one of the main issues for the ASEAN and, of course, for Indonesia during 2021.
It damaged political harmony and credibility of ASEAN due to which Indonesia had to play a role of facilitator to create consensus.
The Myanmar’s military junta forcefully toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on February 1, 2021 and cracked down violently against the protesters.
It was hoped that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the prominent regional organization might take rapid and befitting measures to calm down the deteriorating situation in Myanmar.
In this connection, Indonesian government strongly condemned and expressed its serious concern about the coup.
Indonesia geared up the diplomatic efforts within ASEAN, inviting the organization’s foreign ministers to talks aimed at building a concerted regional response to the country’s crisis.
On the request of Indonesia in April 2021 the ASEAN leaders held a summit and agreed on five-point consensus designed to deescalate Myanmar’s political situation.
During the said meeting, it was agreed to immediate cessation of violence, peaceful dialogue between the contending factions, the provision of humanitarian assistance and appointment of an ASEAN Special Envoy to lead bloc’s efforts.
But somehow, only a few of these were implemented which raised concerns about ASEAN’s ability to handle crisis in Myanmar and consequently performance of Indonesian foreign policy was also compromised.
Notwithstanding, Indonesian diplomatic efforts lessened collateral damage of military take-over in Myanmar but still it needs to revisit its foreign policy priorities and accordingly chalk out holistic policies aimed at calming the situation in the country.
Critical analysis of the foreign policy of Indonesia reveals that Indonesia has further strengthened its bilateral relations with USA during 2021.
Some regional experts termed it counter balancing act of Indonesia because of emerging geopolitical and geostrategic trends in Pacific-Asia.
Both sides had various high official meetings during 2021 clearly indicating Biden Administration’s rapprochement towards Indonesia amid its ongoing competition with China.
It included the US-led COVID-19 Summit and Forum on Energy and Climate in September, the sideline meeting between Biden and President Joko “Jokowi” at the COP-26 in November and lastly the visit of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Jakarta all demonstrated further strengthening of bilateral relations in terms of political consultations, economic recovery, collective response and combat against COVID-19, green cooperation and last but not the least climate change.
Now both countries have committed to expanding their cooperation on COVID-19 recovery, infrastructure investment, renewable energy and the reform of multilateral institutions.
While visiting Jakarta, US State Secretary Blinken formulated America’s bew Indo-Pacific vision and praised Indonesia for its leadership in region, particularly in maintaining rules-based international order.
It seems that diplomatic honeymoon reinvigorated the Indonesia-US partnership during 2021 but remained fragile which would require practical consolidation in the coming years.
In this connection, previously Jakarta-Washington engagement remained over-shadowed because of the US-China rivalry and socio-economic sustainability which needs to be revisited, redesigned, re-shaped re-implemented for mutually befitting propositions.
If we study the role of Indonesian President Jokowi he remained very active and productive and actively involved in two of the year’s biggest multilateral forums.
At the end of October, he attended the G-20 Summit in Italy during which he showcased Indonesia health architecture, national capacity building mechanism, sustainable financial ecosystem and advance financial inclusion for the benefits of the regional economic recovery and the global too.
He also proposed the reactivation of global connectivity efforts, mainly on COVID-19 vaccine supply and distribution and in the longer run in areas of transport logistics, economic production and services & infrastructure investment.
In addition to this, Indonesia is taking over the chairmanship in 2022 for which it chose the theme of “Recover Together, Recover Stronger,” emphasizing the values of inclusion, collaboration and resilience.
It is hoped that Indonesia has the political and diplomatic advantages of being a non-aligned, active and strategic middle power that can potentially drive more impactful and actionable G-20 resolutions.
Furthermore, Jokowi’s participation in COP26 received a great deal of global attention.
However, Indonesia’s commitments to global environmental efforts will be critical, especially in the areas of deforestation, renewable energy transition, climate finance and net-zero carbon emissions.
It is hoped that despite declining multilateralism, Indonesia’s presence would further enhance the collective mindset at the global level.
Unfortunately, the year 2021 was dominated by the great power rivalry between China and the United States.
The Indo-Pacific region, of which Indonesia is a pivotal component, sits at the centre-stage of the Beijing-Washington contest.
The friction has arguably shifted away from direct conflict in the direction of responsible completion but Indonesia’s neutral stance faced a number of challenges in the past year.
Indonesian relations with China have been shadowed by the current standoff over the oil and gas deposits near the Natuna Islands.
According to reliable diplomatic sources, China’s government has sent letters of protest to Indonesia, demanding that it halt its drilling in the area.
The Indonesian parliament responded strongly, expressing its concerns about these misadventures against Indonesian sovereignty.
These territorial frictions have posed a definite risk to economic. Formation of the Australia-UK-USA (AUKUS) security pact increased tension in the Indo-Pacific region.
One of the key components of the partnership is to provide Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry expressed its deep concern at the formation of AUKUS, and called on Australia to maintain its commitment to regional peace and stability.
It further widened level of trust even among the ASEAN countries because of varying responses on AUKUS.
To conclude, it is suggested that Indonesia’s foreign policy should not be passive, cosmetic, simply expressing hopes and concerns in response to the prevailing strategic and geopolitical challenges and be ready for the current geopolitical situation.
— The writer is Director, geopolitics & economics and regional expert of Indonesia & ASEAN.