ASEAN matters

A key indicator of success for Jokowi will depend on his ability to convince average Indonesians that ASEAN matters to them, and is not just for bureaucrats and businesspeople.


A woman poses with the logo of Indonesia’s 2023 chairmanship of ASEAN at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta on Jan. 29, 2023, when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo formally assumed the rotating chair at a kickoff event. (AFP/Goh Chai Hin )

February 2, 2023

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Sunday kicked off Indonesia’s 2023 ASEAN chairmanship in Jakarta, the second-largest international forum he chaired after the Group of 20 presidency.

And for those who expect that the regional grouping can have relevance to ordinary people’s lives, they certainly hope Indonesia can repeat the success from the G20.

One of the key indicators of success as chairman for this year is how Jokowi can convince average Indonesians that ASEAN matters to them, and is not just for bureaucrats and businesspeople. And this time, the government has a good chance of success in attaining the goal.

There are at least three important agendas this year: the internal summit of the ASEAN leaders; the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); and the East Asia Summit, which will be joined by big shots like the European Union, the United States, Russia, India, Japan and China.

All foreign ministers of the 10-member ASEAN, excluding that of Myanmar, will gather in Jakarta this week. The deteriorating situation in Myanmar will definitely be the main agenda.

In May, ASEAN leaders are expected to hold the first of their biannual summits, a retreat in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara. No countries outside ASEAN will be invited. President Ramos Horta will likely join the ASEAN leaders’ summit a few months later, and it is very likely that during this next meeting, Timor-Leste will be officially accepted as the 11th member of ASEAN.

In July, Indonesia will host the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the world’s largest security-dialogue forum, during which 10 dialogue partners and some other countries including North Korea, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea will make an appearance. The forum provides an opportunity for major countries to openly discuss their disputes in the forum, especially those that are related to the Asia-Pacific region.

ASEAN’s second summit is usually held in November. But we can also expect the meeting to take place in September, two months ahead of schedule, because, among other reasons, India will hold a G20 summit in November.

Last year, the government launched a massive public relations campaign for the G20 and when the time came for world’s most-important leaders such as US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indonesia can take credit for bringing the world together amid the standoff in Ukraine.

The government now can piggyback on the G20 success by making a similar campaign that Indonesia significantly contribute to world progress and reap concrete benefits from the what ASEAN can achieve.

Moving forward, the Foreign Ministry can start working on disseminating information to the public on progress within ASEAN in close collaboration with other state agencies and media outlets. Last year it worked very well. And it will likely succeed again this year.

Despite having its headquarters in Jakarta since its inception in 1967, there has been low awareness toward ASEAN and there is only scant interest for the regional organization from the Indonesian public.

It is very likely that people only have little connection with the regional organization in the past 55 years because it does address their real needs and concerns and we can blame this on too many grandiose slogans made about the importance of ASEAN.

This time, it could be different. 

Twenty-23 is the year of diplomacy for Indonesia. We all hope that with its leadership of ASEAN, the common people in this country and in the whole region can finally feel the presence of this organization; they can feel that ASEAN really matters to them.

scroll to top