The Search for a New Paradigm in Indonesia’s Asean Policy; Indonesia Likely to Be More Inward-Looking

The Search for a New Paradigm in Indonesia’s Asean Policy

By Aleksius Jemadu on 07:19 pm Jun 22, 2014

Judging from their vision and mission especially with regard to the issue of foreign policy, the presidential hopefuls, Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo, seem to realize that a fundamental change has to be made in Indonesia’s policy toward the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As far as Prabowo is concerned, he goes even further as saying that Asean reflects the old mindset that needs to be changed for the sake of a more progressive foreign policy. While Joko is not as radical as that, he seeks to have a larger scope for foreign policy maneuvering by embracing the idea of engaging the Indo-Pacific region. What has driven the candidates to review the so-called cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that has been backed so staunchly by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa?

Let us first of all scrutinize objectively the reasons why the current government has given such a high priority to Asean. Since the Bangkok Declaration in 1967, Indonesia has embraced the idea that Asean has to be a common anchor of regional stability in Southeast Asia so that its members can fully concentrate on the pursuit of economic growth. At the same time such regional cooperation may serve as a common platform in dealing with the major powers which might be tempted to enlarge their sphere of influence in Southeast Asia. On top of that, with its strong sense of regional entitlement, Indonesia seems to have been complacent with the idea that it would be automatically positioned as the primus inter pares and regarded by other members as a big brother. The ratification of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia by major powers like the United States, China, Japan and India is testimony to the truth that indeed Asean has become a common instrument to ensure peace and stability in the region.

On the economic side, there is a common perception among the Asean members that it is impossible for each of them to challenge the rise of China and India on an individual basis. Therefore, there is a need to transform Southeast Asia into a single production base within the framework of the Asean Economic Community that will be implemented next year. There is a common belief that with a combined population of around 600 million people Asean will be able to compete with other economic giants as a lucrative and competitive destination of foreign investment.

As a country that was once played such a leading role in hosting the Asian-African Conference in the 1950s and co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement in the early 1960s, Indonesia has always obliged itself to revitalize such diplomatic prominence in the midst of an increasingly competitive world politics. While it is even harder now to repeat such past successes, Indonesia has found that Asean as a regional instrument can strengthen its bargaining position vis-a-vis China and India. This is precisely the reason why Indonesia has been so committed to defend Asean’s centrality whenever there is a need to find a political modality in dealing with the external powers. For instance, Indonesia feels very comfortable with its role as the lead negotiator of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which seeks to harmonize trade agreements between Asean and its partners China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. With great enthusiasm Foreign Minister Marty has also proposed the idea of an Indo-Pacific Treaty as the continuation and expansion of the application of TAC principles.

While the above foreign policy rationalities are quite convincing at the macro level, they become problematic when there is a legitimate demand of having more real indicators of evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of prioritizing Asean in our foreign policy. From their vision and mission both Prabowo and Joko have a strong element of nationalism in their foreign policy. As far as Asean is concerned, if elected, they will have to make a critical distinction between policy issues that need to be tackled at the regional level and those that ought to be dealt with on our own. After all, the first and primary constituents of our foreign policy are 240 million Indonesians, and not all of Southeast Asia.

Aleksius Jemadu is dean of the School of Government and Global Affairs at Universitas Pelita Harapan, Karawaci.


Indonesia Likely to Be More Inward-Looking

By Jakarta Globe on 11:10 pm Jun 22, 2014

Listening to the third presidential debate between Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo on foreign policy and defense, strong statements about prioritizing the national interest were offered by both candidates. Indonesia will likely see a clear departure from the policies of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whoever wins the presidency — with both Prabowo and Joko putting domestic policy first.

Prabowo, for instance, repeatedly said foreign policy should begin with a strong economy and military, insisting that Indonesia will not gain the world’s respect without it.

Joko, meanwhile, said Indonesia should not get involved in the South China Sea dispute because it has nothing to do with Indonesia.

While we realize both presidential candidates were there to woo voters by playing to nationalistic sentiment, and that statements made in debates are rarely put into practice, it seems we can expect Indonesia to be more inward-looking.

We believe that this nationalist euphoria should not drive Indonesia’s foreign policy. A sudden change in foreign policy is the last thing Indonesia needs in this era.

We should acknowledge what President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has achieved over the last 10 years. Indonesia now has a level of international clout never seen before. For example, Indonesia has been acknowledged by both China and the United States as the primus interpares among the 10 Asean members. And Indonesia has become the world’s 10th largest economy.

We believe Indonesia must maintain or build on its international stature as it has a role to play to make the world a more peaceful place.



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