November 9, 2023
JAKARTA – Indonesia’s diplomacy must be based on principles rather than transactional gains and pragmatism if the country wanted to strengthen its global standing, politically-unaffiliated candidate Anies Baswedan told a foreign policy discussion hosted on Wednesday by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta.
While Anies acknowledged that the business-oriented foreign policy stance over the past decade had improved the economy, this came at the cost of a decline in its domestic institutions. He added that a general lack of global commitment had played a part in the country’s slipping rankings in key democracy, freedom and corruption indexes.
The former Jakarta governor, who is running on an opposition platform with National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar, shared his foreign policy vision at the CSIS discussion by describing a world torn by multilayered challenges, including tensions in the Indo-Pacific, the global climate crisis and a lackluster international order.
Indonesia’s diplomatic focus had been floundering against this backdrop so far, he said, as it centered too much on economic deals rather than building the country’s a long-term global standing based on values.
“The international interests we’ve been focusing on so far have been very narrow,” Anies said.
“Even when we went to Ukraine, we went there only to secure our food supply chain. The matter [in Ukraine] is much bigger than a mere food supply chain,” he added, in an apparent jab at President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
In late June 2022, Jokowi embarked on what was touted as a peace mission to meet with his counterparts in Kyiv and Moscow during the initial peak of Russia-Ukraine war, when a Russian blockade prevented the passage of grain shipments from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Despite becoming the first Asian leader received by both sides of the conflict that year, Jokowi’s tour largely focused on domestic interests, specifically to secure a grain supply for Indonesia, one of the largest buyers of Ukraine’s wheat.
Continuing, Anies said its leader’s consistent absence at global multilateral forums was additional proof that Indonesia lacked interest in geopolitical issues.
Jokowi has repeatedly eschewed attending the United Nations General Assembly.
Jokowi’s nearly decade-long administration also has long been criticized for its diplomatic tunnel vision, focusing on the economy. Indifferent to geopolitical and geo-security risks, the President has been viewed as neglectful of foreign allies he perceived were nonprofitable and often noted for choosing to attend international economic forums instead.
The same can be said for the unbalanced number of his state visits to Indonesia’s largest investor China as well as to the United States, in view of the notable decline in Jakarta-Washington relations in recent years.
Anies suggested that Indonesia needed to adopt “smart power” for a change.
He described “smart power” as a blend of hard power, such as an adaptive defense force and a strong economy, and soft power like proactive diplomacy and what he called the “Indonesian brand”, and said this blended power would support efforts to strengthen domestic institutions.
A proactive diplomacy would see Jakarta wield its strengths in multilateral forums, Anies said, such as by focusing on international peace-building efforts, and would clearly set Indonesia’s foreign policy compass.
But he cautioned against overextending, for example, “we don’t need to pretend like we can solve the issue between Israel and Palestine. That’s far too much for us”.
“What we can do is be proactive in assisting the different factions in Palestine to unite,” he said.
Taking inspiration from South Korea’s success in mainstreaming its entertainment industry, Anies’ “Indonesian brand” is a long-term program that could be applied to export Indonesia’s food and beverage, education and research industries, with the active participation of its overseas diaspora.
He also suggested setting up Indonesian cultural centers similar to the Netherlands’ Erasmus Huis to further strengthen its soft power.
Ahmad Rizky M. Umar, international relations expert at the University of Queensland, commented that Anies’ speech laid out key aspects of a potential transformation in Indonesia’s foreign policy approach, but said it lacked the necessary details on how to drive this transformation or what its end goals were.
Practical steps on dealing with current hot-button issues, such as ASEAN reform, the Global South and minilateral groupings were also missing, Umar said.
“But we can appreciate Anies’ comprehensive argument, especially with his focus on the climate. That’s something not really discussed by other candidates,” he added.
Ganjar Pranowo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was the first speaker in the CSIS discussion series featuring the campaign platforms each of the 2024 presidential candidates. He on Tuesday focused on the need to redefine Indonesia’s “free and active” foreign policy so it was more strategic and inclusive of the government’s needs.
Prabowo Subianto, the incumbent defense minister and Gerindra Party chairman, is expected to appear as the third speaker on Oct. 13 after a scheduling conflict led him to withdraw from his initial first slot.