Indonesia’s foreign policy aspirations in 2022

The recent press conference conducted by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, provides some bearings on the direction of Indonesia’s foreign policy in 2022. In this post, I summarize the press release (check against delivery here, English subtitles provided) and offer some thoughts on Indonesia’s plans for 2022.

Summary of the press release

There were five main points of the press release, all of which covered the priority areas of diplomacy conducted regularly by the ministry: health diplomacy, economic diplomacy, citizen protection, border diplomacy, and peace and humanitarian diplomacy.

The theme of the press release was: “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”. The Minister highlighted the challenges posed by the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, especially for developing countries. In addition, great power rivalry, along with domestic conflicts, is also expected to pose challenges to ASEAN unity and centrality.

Health diplomacy

The Minister noted the goals of Indonesia’s health diplomacy were threefold.

First, to fulfil national vaccine demands, which is to fully vaccinate 70% (from the current 40%) of Indonesian citizens in mid-2022. Indonesia has put its faith in COVAX, which has distributed {number of vaccines} donated to Indonesia.

Second, advocating for vaccine equality and equity. As the co-chair of the COVAX-AMC, Indonesia seeks to improver infrastructure and logistics to aid the distribution of vaccines in developing countries.

Third, improving global health regimes to be better prepared for future pandemics. Indonesia seeks to bolster its partnership with the CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), increasing national and regional resilience, and pledging support for a UN-backed pandemic treaty.

Recovering better

Economic diplomacy will be focused on economic recovery without sacrificing health.

The MOFA will continue to continue economic negotiations with the UAE, Canada, Mercosur, and other countries. Some achievements were the finalisation of a bilateral investment treaty with Switzerland, the entry into force of the [CEPA-EFTA](]) (which was initially signed in 2018), and numerous business meetings and investment forums (3rd INALAC, INACEE 2021, 2nd Pacific Exposition, and EXPO 2020 in Dubai). Other CEPAs with the UAE, Turkey, and Chile are expected to be accelerated. These efforts are also expected to bolster Indonesia’s recently-conceived Sovereign Wealth Fund.

To protect Indonesia’s export-based economy, the MOFA has used diplomacy to advocate for “fair treatment” for Indonesian products such as palm oil. In addition, Indonesia continues to push for a fair and transparent multilateral trading system.

Protecting citizens abroad

The MOFA pledges to increase the range of mechanisms available abroad to protect its citizens. The Minister highlighted the success of the MOFA in facilitating the evacuation of Indonesian citizens from Wuhan and Kabul. Moving forward, the MOFA will focus on upgrading infrastructure and legal frameworks for their citizens abroad.

Indonesia seeks to improve its existing mechanisms using digital transformation to aid data integration, which will be useful for compiling voter and travel data. The Minister hinted at plans to construct an Indonesian Seafarers Corner in Busan, improving legal standards and protection for Indonesian migrant workers, and to finalise discussions on joint IMO and ILO guidelines on handling cases of seafarer abandonment.

Border talks

In 2021, 17 border-related negotiations were carried out. The Minister emphasised the acceleration of maritime boundary delimitations talks in 2022. Some talks which are planned include the delimitation of territorial waters between Malaysia and Indonesia in the southernmost part of the Malacca Strait and the Sulawesi Sea, and other technical team meetings with Palau, Philippines, and Vietnam.

In conducting these talks, the minister affirmed Indonesia’s commitment to UNCLOS as the basis for negotiations and noted that maritime claims should be based on the principles of UNCLOS and international law.

Keeping the peace

The Minister acknowledged the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan and urges the Taliban to make good on their promises to the Afghan people. At the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation conference, Indonesia proposed a roadmap for the fulfillment of Taliban’s commitments. Indonesia also sent two planes sent to Afghanistan as part of its humanitarian assistance package to Afghanistan. For 2022, Indonesia will focus on providing for Afghan women education in the form of scholarships.

The Minister then highlighted Indonesia’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. Women involvement in peacekeeping also increased, from 5.9% to 6.7% in 2021. Indonesia also has been active in governing norms of peacekeeping operations, particularly in ensuring safety of UN peacekeepers. In 2022, Indonesia is committed to sending 5 military contingents (950 personnel total) and 1 police task force (198 personnel total).

In addition, Indonesia continues to improve in implementing the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. The MOFA, in coordination with the Southeast Asia Network of Women Peace Negotiators and Mediators, hosted a Regional Forum of Women Peace Negotiators and Mediators.

On human rights, Indonesia has sponsored numerous resolutions on protecting the rights of the Rohingya and Palestinian people. Indonesia also held numerous human rights-related events, such as the 14th Bali Democracy Forum, and ASEAN Human Rights Dialogue (which had been absent for 6 years). Moving forward, Indonesia seeks to hold a regional conversation on human rights and regional seminar on anti-torture.

Speaking on the issue of Myanmar, the Minister acknowledges the fallout of the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, and highlighted the active role of Indonesia in advocating for the Five Point Consensus. The Minister emphasised that the safety and well-being of Myanmar people are priorities for Indonesia.

ASEAN and G20

The Minister affirmed ASEAN centrality as an “anchor for stability, peace, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region”. Moving forward, Indonesia seeks to implement the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific “concretely”. In addition, Indonesia will push for increasing ASEAN’s institutional capacity as part of the ASEAN Community Post-2025 Vision.

Indonesia’s G20 presidency is going to be based on inclusiveness and transparency. The Minister expressed optimism of the G20 presidency, citing its potential as a “catalyst” for global cooperation. Indonesia’s G20 presidency will focus on global health architecture, green energy transition, and digital transformation.

Some key takeaways from the foreign minister’s press release

Fixated on economic diplomacy

Since his first term and even more so in his second term, Joko Widodo has long been fixated on attracting foreign investment and boosting Indonesia’s trade with other countries.

Jokowi’s penchant for “doing business” is pretty much the driving factor behind the MOFA’s fervent promotion of Indonesia’s economic interests abroad, and as Indonesia continues to seek ambitious projects, economic diplomacy will remain a fixture of the MOFA’s playbook.

Attracting foreign investment is one thing, however, the use of investment at home also need to be scrutinised. A large portion of foreign investment will and has been used to fund infrastructure projects, particularly toll roads and new tourism destinations. Much of these projects, however, have been criticised for neglecting sustainable development principles or have fallen under mismanagement.

On Indo-Pacific strategy

In regards to the Indo-Pacific, Indonesia remains committed to hedging.

While the Indo-Pacific was indeed mentioned several times in the speech, there was a glaring absence of Indonesia’s strategic concerns in the Indo-Pacific. This seems odd, considering the slew of new players in the Indo-Pacific and China’s increased aggressiveness.

It was only on the issue of maritime boundaries did the Foreign Minister allude to China. Retno Marsudi reiterated Indonesia’s commitment to settling maritime boundary delimitations based on UNCLOS 1982 and rejected any claims which had no basis in international law.

The repetition of ASEAN centrality also highlights Indonesia’s commitment to regional solutions to regional problems. Yet as ASEAN continues to struggle with its own internal problems and an increasingly crowded Indo-Pacific, Indonesia might need to reconsider its strategy. It might be time to rely a lot less on the rhetoric of centrality and instead start seeking more flexible partnerships to achieve its foreign policy goals. This need not go against the bebas aktif foreign policy doctrine.

Indonesia remains content with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), despite its lack precision. As newer players enter the Indo-Pacific, with their own perspectives, Indonesia should ideally step up alongside ASEAN members to ensure the principles in the AOIP are observed and upheld.

Heavy on promises, but can Indonesia deliver?

As the old adage goes, foreign policy starts from home.

While the Kemlu may be adamant on sustainability, there is a less unified front back at home. A day after Jokowi’s under-ambitious pledges at COP26, his own Minister for Environment, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, made a gaffe when she tweeted about how concerns of deforestation should not hamper Jokowi’s development projects. Prominent environmentalist organisations, such as Greenpeace Indonesia, criticised the tweet.

To Indonesia’s credit, Indonesia has indeed been a champion for vaccine equity. As one of the chairs of the COVAX-AMC, Indonesia has arguably been the voice of reason against vaccine hoarding. But, this is a bit dulled by how Indonesia is treating its scientists at home. The Eijkman Institute, which has substantially contributed to efforts to stymie the pandemic and lead local vaccine development, was recently faced with a bureaucratic restructuring which might put the majority of its scientists on the chopping block. This is despite their efforts in developing an Indonesian COVID-19 vaccine and their contributions to genome sequencing.

As far as security is concerned, the Ministry of Defense has indeed boosted its procurement drive to rejuvenate Indonesia’s ageing military equipment. This is unfortunately not coupled with domestic bureaucracies agreeing on a unified strategy.

So, what next for Indonesia’s foreign policy in 2022?

Admittedly, Indonesia’s foreign policy goals are modest. It is typical of a middle power, which often seeks to specialise in niche diplomacy. If I were to state three “key” areas, here they are.

  • Jokowi has made it clear that the G20 presidency will be a major feature for his final half of his presidential term. Hence, Indonesia will pursue more intensive economic diplomacy, which will be justified in the name of developmentalism. Expect numerous mentions of digital transformation, global health, and sustainable development.
  • In line with Jokowi’s goal of boosting the country’s economic profile, most notably through foreign investment and tourism, Indonesia’s “vaccine diplomacy” through multilateral forums will continue to be intensified.
  • Finally, on the Indo-Pacific, perhaps it is wise to not set expectations too high. While Indonesia can indeed be considered an Indo-Pacific actor, it continues to face hurdles, primarily domestically, in realizing its Indo-Pacific potential.

Header image: Retno Marsudi meets with Jorge Faurio, 2018. Photograph by Cancillería Argentina under CC-BY 2.0 license. Modified as header image consistent with design style of this blog.

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