Jokowi’s UNGA speech: a squandered opportunity for Indonesia’s middle power diplomacy

During Jokowi’s first term, Jusuf Kalla would be the face of Indonesia in the UN General Assembly, where world leaders would meet for a week of intense, 24-hour diplomacy. Unlike the outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi is much more reluctant to make international appearances. He would give the same reason every time: he’d rather focus on solving domestic problems first. In the rare occasion that he would show up in an international forum, he would usually use it as a platform to advance Indonesia’s economic interests.

This time, it’s different. After skipping six UN assemblies, Jokowi finally decided to show up. Unlike previous UN assemblies, the 75th General Assembly allowed the use of pre-recorded messages. Perhaps this was why Jokowi finally wanted to make an appearance at the UN. He could attend the General Assembly without having to leave Indonesia, where he could continue to work on domestic problems. In fact, while the General Assembly continues to convene, Jokowi is busy dealing with food estates in Kalimantan.

Unfortunately, his speech leaves much to be desired.

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COVID-19 and Indonesia’s reliance on the military

Previously, I mentioned two individuals at the helm of handling the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia: Doni Monardo, the head of the Covid-19 Task Force, and Achmad Yurianto, as the official spokesperson. Doni Monardo is an active-duty military officer, while Achmad Yurianto used to be a military doctor. In a sense, military experience seems to be a common thread.

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The recent Natuna standoff and Indonesian responses

The year 2020 kicked off with a major bang. The United States assassinated General Soleimani, bringing the two countries closer to the brink of war. In the Southern hemisphere, Australia’s bush fires continue to blaze and Jakarta experienced its worst flood in decades. At sea, however, is where tensions are more evident, particularly between Indonesia and China.

What happened?

Since 19 December 2019, 65 Chinese fishing vessels have trespassed into Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone off the Natuna islands. The Natunas are located just outside of China’s Nine-Dash Line (9DL for short). Though Indonesia is not an official claimant in the South China Sea dispute, the Natunas EEZ proximity with the 9DL makes it easy for Chinese fishing and Coast Guard vessels to trespass. 

This is not the first time Chinese vessels have encroached Indonesia’s EEZ. Three similar incidents occurred in 2016 in March, May, and June respectively. The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged a formal diplomatic note in response to the March incident. The June incident involved hot pursuit and warning shots by the Indonesian Navy, which prompted a stern response from China. 

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Sketching out Jokowi’s Caribbean economic strategy

This is a rejected commentary piece, which I thought would be better posted here than being forgotten on my hard drive.

Recent achievements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in the Caribbean include the recent establishment of diplomatic relations with Barbados and the first full-fledged diplomatic visit to Suriname after 26 years in 2019. Looking from the MOFA’s performance report in 2018, the Caribbean seems to have gained renewed attention having been absent from foreign policy discourse since the Yudhoyono administration. 

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The Future of War, Peace, and International Relations

I was going through my files and found this particular piece, from around 2 years ago, sitting in a metaphorical corner. The piece was requested by one of the editors of my department’s student magazines (they have this column where profs are invited to write), but as far as I know, it never made to print. So, instead of letting it sit, I might as well upload it here. I haven’t made any adjustments; everything is presented as it was the moment I sent it off to the editor. As this was intended for an undergraduate audience in a magazine, the language has been adjusted as such.

What does the future hold?

That question is the very reason why analysts and researchers remain employed and relevant. But it is not the easiest question to answer. Nobody knows what the future holds; we can only make educated guesses. So, I would recommend against thinking of my following commentary as a definitive answer. Rather, think of it as a guide to think in this increasingly perplexing world, particularly on the issue of war, peace, and international relations.

Technological acceleration will continue to be the defining feature of future international relations, along with a rise in populism as a counter-narrative to globalism. In war, technology will continue to play a dominant role as unmanned technologies become more advanced. But this doesn’t mean we will be living in a Terminator scenario. In peace, the future will only bring about newer problems that require new ways of thinking. With this in mind, what does the future hold?

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In the Indo-Pacific, Jokowi needs to be more assertive and engaged

A revised version of this commentary has been published in The Jakarta Post, 22 June 2019. For citation purposes, please refer to the published version. This is a pre-submission final draft and should not be cited.

If Indonesia wishes to make any meaningful strides in advancing its Indo-Pacific Cooperation Concept, Jokowi would need to focus on engaging ASEAN leaders instead of focusing more on domestic policy.

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No easy way in the battle against misinformation

In light of the recent 22 May riots in Jakarta, the Ministry for Communication and Information (KOMINFO) enacted a “soft ban” on social media and messaging applications. Instagram and Facebook were blocked (surprisingly, Twitter was left alone), while WhatsApp users could not share images or documents (but could still receive and send text messages). The three-day ban was a preventive response to potential misinformation surrounding the Jakarta riots. However, despite the ban, as much as 30 pieces of fake news still fell through the cracks. The ban was also easily circumvented using VPN services. The ban has been criticized left and right on grounds of infringement of civil liberties.

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