2022 a good year for diplomacy

The success of the G20 Summit and Jokowi’s ability to keep Asean unified in pushing the Myanmar junta will serve as precious political capital for him to implement his foreign policy in 2023.


President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (center) walks with United States President Joe Biden (left), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (center) and other leaders through the Taman Hutan Raya Ngurah Rai Mangrove Forest on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Nov. 16. (AFP/Bay Ismoyo/Pool)

December 28, 2022

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is known for his preference for domestic policy, with little appetite for foreign diplomacy, especially if it offers no concrete or immediate results. He has tended to entrust Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi with the country’s day-to-day foreign policy operations.

But surprisingly, this year, Indonesia gained major achievements on at least two pressing international issues.

The President, who came into office in 2014 and will end his second and final five-year term in 2024, has never attended the annual United Nations General Assembly, because he did not want to travel for such a long journey just to deliver a short speech. COVID-19, however, gradually changed his mind, as he realized that the power of a personal approach to leaders of advanced nations would be instrumental in Indonesia’s ability to secure enough COVID-19 vaccines for its population.

This year, the President’s attention to foreign policy intensified because of Indonesia’s Group of 20 presidency and hosting of its Leaders’ Summit in November. This year, the President also took over the ASEAN chairmanship from Cambodia, although the term will officially start on Jan. 1, 2023.

Jokowi worked hard at the two jobs, while mustering international pressure on the Myanmar military junta to stop the atrocities it was committing against the country’s people.

Indonesia has left an exemplary legacy for the G20, which has been divided following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of this year. For Jokowi, it was almost impossible to reconcile the group, especially the West, which was even considering a boycott of the summit if Russian President Vladimir Putin turned up.

A combination of perseverance, wisdom and ingenuity allowed the President and his core team to marshal G20 leaders to unanimously issue, against all odds, the Leaders’ Declaration from their summit in Bali.

On the ASEAN front, Indonesia led the bloc to bold action against Myanmar junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power from the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta is now practically expelled from the regional grouping, as the general and his aides at all levels are barred from attending any ASEAN meetings.

The Myanmar general signed a five-point agreement with ASEAN leaders in an emergency summit in Jakarta in April of last year. But he arrogantly defied his own commitment to ending the violence against civilians and holding peace talks with all related parties, including Suu Kyi. Hlaing does not care and has carried on with the atrocities because he seems to believe big powers like China and Russia and friendly neighbors such as Thailand will not desert him.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council issued a resolution condemning Myanmar’s military and telling it to abide by the five-point agreement with ASEAN. Surprisingly, China, Russia and India, abstained in a show of support for ASEAN’s peace efforts. Indonesia’s diplomacy on Myanmar is working.

The success of the G20 Summit and Jokowi’s ability to keep ASEAN unified, at least formally, in pushing the Myanmar junta to honor its own promises will serve as precious political capital for him to implement his foreign policy next year.

This year was indeed a good one for Indonesian diplomacy, and hopefully next year will build on those successes.

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