All through, I can see that there is an evolution of Jokowi’s foreign policy, which at first was very bilateral and focused on tangible stuff, but later became more engaged on international forums
Indonesia participated in two significant forums at the regional as well as international levels – the 34th ASEAN Summit from June 20 to 23, 2019, and the 2019 G20 Summit on June 28 and 29, 2019.
President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, on Saturday, June 22, to join the 34th ASEAN Summit’s plenary session along with nine leaders from Southeast Asian countries.
In that session led by Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Indonesia’s initiative of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific was discussed and later adopted by the forum.
In line with the theme, “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” this summit carried, Indonesia also reaffirmed the importance of commitment to complete the Regional Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP).
At the retreat, the next day, leaders of the ASEAN member countries expressed their appreciation to Indonesia for bringing the concept of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, Indonesia Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi stated.
Besides the ASEAN Summit, Jokowi also attended the 12th Indonesia Malaysia Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) Summit and the 13th Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit at the same location on Sunday, June 23.
A few days after those regional and sub-regional forums, Jokowi attended the 2019 G20 Summit along with leaders of the world’s 20 leading economic countries in Osaka, Japan.
Indonesia will use digital economic innovation which he intends to convey with regard to the concept of Inclusive Digital Economy Accelerator Hub (IDEA Hub), Jokowi had stated before his departure to Japan.
Equality issues, including women empowerment, were also Indonesia’s main agenda on this summit.
Indonesia’s participation in different foreign forums was appreciated by observers, one of whom was Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad, an international relations observer from the University of Indonesia (UI).
At the beginning of his administration, Jokowi was considered as one who tends to be pragmatic, realistic, and not really interested in diplomacy.
During that time, Jokowi was trying to discover the best way to bring Indonesia into the international relations stream since he was not foreign policy-oriented which was liked to his background of a non-political elite environment, Choiruzzad stated.
Experts speculated that Indonesia would probably leave ASEAN, but it has never happened, according to this observation.
“All through, I can see that there is an evolution of Jokowi’s foreign policy, which at first was very bilateral and focused on tangible stuff, but later, it becomes more engaged in international forums,” Choiruzzad told ANTARA at UI Campus in Depok, West Java, on July 1.
International relations is not always meant to provide tangible profits, but it obviously will provide such other intangible advantages, he added.
How Jokowi puts attention on Indonesia’s role in ASEAN can be seen from ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific initiative that he carried, even though that outlook still has no significant effects for the countries.
“At least, it showed that Indonesia treats ASEAN as a very important platform. Even when there is an emergence of new geopolitical imaginations such as Indo-Pacific, Indonesia puts ASEAN in the centre of that,” Choiruzzad stated.
Potential leading figure
Choiruzzad, again, appreciated how Indonesia represented itself among the ASEAN member states as this could be good news on behalf of both sides.
With the central role Indonesia played in ASEAN, there could be a greater possibility that the countries would not be interested in being involved in a conflict between two superpowers, China and the United States of America.
Otherwise, without Indonesia’s role, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar would get closer to China, while Singapore, Philippines and Vietnam would probably be in line with the US. This could divide ASEAN into two conflict blocs, Choiruzzad predicted.
“ASEAN will not be effective if Indonesia is not active. Indonesia is the only one country that has a strong gravity force as compared to China,” Choiruzzad said.
This may be what Jokowi perceives, so there are visible efforts made by Indonesia to show a more significant role and commitment in ASEAN.
An economic researcher from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Fajar Bambang Hirawan, had a similar view on this.
Its status as the largest country in ASEAN with such great economic opportunities is the main asset to set Indonesia’s bargaining power.
“From the perspective of the economy, Indonesia has its own attractions for investors especially the large promising market and positive trend of economic fundamental condition,” Hirawan stated.
That main asset, complete with the track record as one of ASEAN founders in 1967, can bestow the power to Indonesia to strengthen its bargaining position. Thus, this country deserves to be considered as ASEAN leading figure, according to Hirawan.
Not just at the regional level such as ASEAN, but Indonesia’s economic power can help it earn global recognition, specifically in the scope of G20.
It can happen, particularly after Indonesia survived the world’s economic deceleration because of its good economic management, even as China and US suffered.
“Indonesia’s position in G20 is not merely as ‘an accessory’ who tends to provide nothing. On the contrary, this country has actually become a new economic power in the world,” Hirawan said.
In line with this, Jokowi’s presence at the “minilateral” G20 forum, along with other countries which can affect global economic governance significantly, acknowledges Indonesia as an important country on the world’s economic mapping and geopolitics, Choiruzzad stated.
Yet on the other side, Indonesia still tends to only observe instead of “drive”, he added. It can be seen from the absence of a significant initiative and the forum itself was likely used for bilateral relations.
“There are still many spaces that have not been utilized on international platforms,” Choiruzzad said.
While, the two blocs, namely G7 that consist of seven developed countries: U.S., England, Canada, France, Japan, Italia, Germany; and BRICS that is considered a revisionist power from Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, are still dominantly “driving” the G20.
However, there is good news. Indonesia in the bloc of MIKTA along with Mexico, South Korea, Turkey, and Australia is considered to have an opportunity as the “bridge” power to ensure that the possibility of conflict between G7 and BRICS can be well-managed.
Perhaps, this opportunity will bring Indonesia up as a country providing innovative solutions for global governance.