Over Coffee #3 – U.S-Indonesia relations, the death of a giant, and some other Indo-Pacific stuff

This week is abuzz with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s maiden visit to Southeast Asia. His first stop is Indonesia. The visit coincides with a visit from the Russian Security Council Secretary. We also lost a towering and inspirational figure in International Relations this week. Plus, a lot of other stuff happening in the Indo-Pacific. This week’s recap comes a bit early as I wanted it to be more timely.

As usual, coffee comes first. My recommendation this week is Mochademia, a house blend of Toraja and West Java beans from 20mL, a local roaster based in Denpasar with a certified Q-grader with 13 years of experience under their belt. When paired with milk, it results in a smooth, velvety, and sweet coffee which reminds me a Snickers bar sans the copious amounts of refined sugar. As usual, I am not affiliated with any third-party products mentioned here.

Blinken’s visit: a shopping list of nice things

US State Secretary Anthony Blinken and Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Photo credit: Kementerian Luar Negeri Indonesia.

State Secretary Anthony Blinken’s Indonesia visit marks the first high-level visit by a member of the Biden administration, after Kamala Harris and Lloyd Austin ‘snubbed’ Indonesia in July and August this year. Despite being the largest country in Southeast Asia and a central element in the Indo-Pacific, Indonesia remains among the least-understood countries in Washington. Ben Bland argues it is a “perfect time” for the United States to entice Indonesia. While Indonesia will definitely reject a proper alliance, if Jokowi’s pragmatic character is any indication of his foreign policy preferences, economic deals will certainly help butter things up. The future of the relationship, however, as Bland correctly points out, depends on prolonged commitment, and Blinken’s visit will just be one of the many charm offensives the U.S. will have in store.

It comes as no surprise then if Secretary Blinken’s tour of Southeast Asia, with Indonesia as the first stop, was highly anticipated. Many have speculated on the details of the visit, with cybersecurity and economic ties being floated as areas of potential cooperation. Secretary Blinken’s itinerary would include meeting his counterpart about an “Indo-Pacific economic framework” while also signing other agreements in education, peace corps, and maritime cooperation in Indonesia.

The most anticipated part of the visit, however, was his policy speech delivered on 14 December 2021 at the University of Indonesia. In the speech, which suffered from slight delays and a short technical failure resulting in a feed loss for around seven minutes, Blinken conveyed the “five pillars” of the American Indo-Pacific strategy, which include:

  1. Advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, based on a rules-based order, which will “protect the right of all countries to choose their own path, free from coercion, free from intimidation”.
  2. Building stronger ties with regional partners, including ASEAN, as a means to “assemble the broadest, most effective coalitions to tackle any challenge, to seize any opportunity, to work toward any goal.”
  3. Promoting broad-based prosperity by bolstering “fair and resilient trade” and infrastructure development.
  4. Building a resilient Indo-Pacific through more robust cooperation in public health, and pandemic prevention, and climate change prevention.
  5. Bolstering Indo-Pacific security based on “integrated deterrence”.

The pillars advanced were not really fresh, as they echo the previous administration’s A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision document. In many instances, the sales pitch can be boiled down to: “The same as the other guy (China), but better!”. Details on how these aspirations might be achieved were scarce, and mostly stopped at promises of closer cooperation, which are not expected to manifest until maybe a couple of years from now. Tama Salim puts it bluntly: “Just try not to insult our intelligence by visiting, only to shove platitudes down our throat. It is no wonder Beijing’s approach seems more effective.”

I also found the notion of selling ASEAN centrality to be ironic, especially considering the fact that as of late, ASEAN seems to be the least on the mind of the US. AUKUS and the Quad, of course, come to mind.

After the policy speech, it was off to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi concluded in an affirmation of the “strategic partnership” of the two countries and an extension on a memorandum of understanding for maritime cooperation until 2026, which covers maritime security, marine resources, conservation, fisheries management, and navigational safety. A 2+2 Senior Official dialogue mechanism was also agreed upon. Another meeting ensued with Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, which discussed investment in infrastructure, health, and renewable energy.

The Russian Security Council Secretary, Nikolay Patrushev, is also visiting Indonesia. The visit drew less fanfare compared to Blinken’s visit. There are not many details surrounding the meeting, other than the signing of a memorandum of understanding for further cooperation in international information security with the Coordinating Ministry of Political, Security, and Legal Affairs, Mahmud MD.

Unfortunately, Blinken’s Southeast Asia tour was cut short after a member of his media entourage tested positive for COVID-19 in Malaysia. In Malaysia, he discussed additional and potential measures to put pressure the Myanmar junta, noting that Washington was already probing evidence of genocide.

Death of a giant: RIP Robert Jervis

Robert Jervis. Photo credit: Columbia SIPA.

Sad news from the International Relations academic community: Robert Jervis passed away. Professor Paul Poast’s thread does a stellar job in distilling some of Robert Jervis’ ideas on understanding political psychology which have had a profound impact on International Relations.

I also picked up a copy of How Statesmen Think, a collection of essays by Robert Jervis which provides an updated and succinct summaries of his ideas on perception and signalling. It’s a great companion for his previous works, Perception and Misperception and The Logic of Images in International Relations. While I do not have a personal connection to Robert Jervis, his Perception and Misperception was instrumental in shaping my rudimentary understanding of International Relations.

May you rest in peace.

In other news…

That’s all for this week! Tune in next week for more coffee recommendations and coverage of niche topics.

Header image: Kementerian Luar Negeri Indonesia.

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