Emerging Indonesia and its Global Posture
Considering the difficulty involved in radically changing the nature of its foreign policy, I would argue that although there is no need to relinquish its commitment to ASEAN and redirect its foreign policy contribution to a wider range of global issues, Indonesia has to strengthen its regional leadership in Southeast Asia. Indonesia’s rise should go beyond the normal assumption that it is primus inter pares (first among equals) in the region.
Indonesia needs to focus on developing a more substantive, rather than abstract, leadership position in the region. For this reason, significantly enhancing its bilateral relations with other Southeast Asian nations is pivotal. Business players, in particular, should be encouraged to expand their economic activities in other Southeast Asian nations. For years, Indonesia has devoted much political and diplomatic energy to resolving conflicts in Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, but it has not reaped any great economic benefit from those countries once the conflicts ended. Indonesia’s investment in Myanmar, for instance, is much smaller than investments by Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, despite Indonesia’s important diplomatic engagement in helping to open up the country. Similarly, there is no direct Jakarta–Phnom Penh flight even though Indonesia established outstanding diplomatic credentials in Cambodia during the crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.
Indonesia should also send more people, especially students, to learn about the cultures and languages of other Southeast Asian countries. These efforts could be supported by government funding, and would be crucial to strengthening long-term emotional and intellectual bonds between Indonesians and their fellow Southeast Asians. For strategic purposes, Indonesia also needs to establish more institutes dedicated to Southeast Asian studies. Institutes or centres related to international affairs could potentially encourage Indonesians to develop a more outward-looking mindset, which is critical to bridging gaps between foreign policy and domestic aspirations.
Indonesia’s new status as an emerging middle power provides it with a greater range of foreign policy alternatives. Re-evaluating Southeast Asia as a strategic and more substantive partner could be the most beneficial option.
Awidya Santikajaya is a PhD student at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, the Australian National University.
Author: Awidya Santikajaya, ANU (BRX)