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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Man of Contradictions: understanding the enigma named Jokowi

Ben Bland’s recent book, Man of Contradictions, is touted as the “first English political biography” of Jokowi. There are two biographies of Jokowi in Indonesian, written by Alberthiene Endah. Other “semi-biographies”, such as “Jokoway” by Joko Sulistyo, are questionable at best, as they are written by active government staff. So, I was anticipating Bland’s biography to provide a more impartial picture of Jokowi’s governance.

Front cover of Man of Contradictions. Source: Penguin AU.

In this respect, it delivered. Drawing from his numerous interviews with Jokowi, Ben Bland manages to deliver a relatively impartial assessment of Jokowi’s governance over the years. His central thesis: to understand the enigma that is Jokowi, one must understand his contradictory nature.

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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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A volley of misguided higher-ed policies and now, we’re supposed to import university presidents?

In 2016, Minister for Higher Education, Research, and Technology (just “DIKTI” for short), Mohammad Nasir, proposed importing university presidents to chair in national universities. The proposal was buffeted with negative criticism and eventually died down. Three years on, it has resurfaced.

Why did this proposal resurface? According to the Jakarta Post, Nasir, speaking on behalf of the government, basically wants to “get local universities listed among the top 200 universities in the world.”

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Student-professor relations

Starting from a Twitter thread by @roythaniago (see below) which basically compiled a bunch of complaints students had to their professors, I also want to chime in with my own two cents.

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