Indonesia’s diplomacy: Rowing between two reefs in a fast-changing world

Moving forward, Indonesia’s leadership and diplomacy must remain focused on the welfare of the people, while being firm with our principle of active and independent foreign policy.

Rio Budi Rahmanto

Rio Budi Rahmanto

The Jakarta Post


Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno L.P. Marsudi shakes hands with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York, on Sept. 18, 2022, during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly. (AFP/Craig Ruttle )

January 10, 2023

JAKARTA – In early 2022, Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi highlighted Indonesia’s foreign policy prioritizing the recovery process, citizens’ protection abroad, promotion of peace and Indonesia’s leadership role in the Group of 20. As it turns out, 2022 was an eventful year.

COVID-19 reached its third year and the unexpected war in Ukraine led to global food and energy crises, and even financial turmoil, while geopolitical tensions deepened among the major powers.

Amid new challenges and uncertainties, there are notable achievements in Indonesia’s leadership and diplomacy.

On the economic and recovery front, Indonesia’s G20 presidency reached consensus with the G20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration, despite strong divisions within the group. The declaration laid out commitments on concrete measures and programs to address economic and social challenges.

Capitalizing on G20 momentum, G20 members and invitees brought investment and cooperation in at least 140 bilateral projects valued at around US$71.49 billion to Indonesia.

Business Forums with Latin America and the Caribbean (INA-LAC) as well as Central and Eastern Europe (INA-CEE) generated transaction and business potential worth approximately $179.1 million and $386.6 million, respectively.

Indonesia and Switzerland signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in May 2022 to enhance business certainty and strengthen legal protection. While the Indonesia-Pacific Forum for Development (IPFD) provided a roadmap for long-term development cooperation with our Pacific neighbors.

In the health sector, Indonesia secured 516.85 trillion doses of vaccine until early December 2022.

Indonesia through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility also helped to distribute 1.84 billion doses of vaccine to around 146 low and middle-income countries.

Citizens’ protection abroad becomes more challenging with prolonged pandemic and new conflicts. In March 2022, for instance, Indonesia had to evacuate 133 of its citizens from Ukraine.

Regarding the war in Ukraine, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was the first Asian leader to visit both Russia and Ukraine to advocate for a peaceful resolution of conflict, and humanitarian efforts, including overcoming supply-chain disruptions affecting food and energy crises.

Indonesia continues to support the Afghan and Palestinian peoples in their endeavors. The recent International Conference on Afghan Women’s Education (ICAWE) held in Bali in November 2022, for instance, specifically supports Afghan women’s education.

These results exemplify Indonesia’s leadership and diplomacy in navigating through new and uncertain challenges in 2022.

So, what lies ahead for Indonesia’s diplomacy in 2023?

First, ASEAN will be the centerpiece of 2023.

From 2000-2022 ASEAN had a positive growth rate and is expected to reach around 5.0-5.3 percent growth in 2022, higher than the 3.2 percent of global growth average. It is imperative to take the momentum of ASEAN as the epicenter of growth, including implementing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and ASEAN Outlook in Indo-Pacific, and to use ASEAN health crisis-related mechanisms to achieve an inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic recovery.

Political and security issues will be a sticking point; however, they must be addressed openly and constructively, including with ASEAN external partners.

In foresight, with a new member Timor-Leste and deeper integration, ASEAN needs stronger institutions, processes and mechanisms.

The post-2025 ASEAN agenda will be crucial to ensure a more secure and stable region, narrow development and infrastructure gaps, as well as strengthen resilience against future shocks and crises.

Second, Indonesia will be facing continuing challenges including economic slowdown, rising food and energy prices, as well as the climate crisis.

Global growth is estimated to reach 2.7 percent only in 2023, as against 6 percent in 2021, and the inflation rate will hit 6.5 percent in 2023, up from 4.7 percent in 2021.

Food and energy prices might decline, but sudden price shocks might cause longer inflation.

On climate change, 2023 is forecast to be among the hottest global average temperatures, with a rise between 1.08 and 1.32 degrees Celsius.

These challenges cannot be dealt with alone. Diplomacy in 2023 requires even greater coordination and collaboration at the multilateral, regional and bilateral levels.

Despite those challenges, Indonesia remains a favorable place for business and investments. In 2023, growth is projected to stand between 4.7 and 5.3 percent.

Indonesia’s diplomacy in 2023 should then focus on both inbound and outbound investments, opening market access including nontraditional markets, promoting energy transition and green industries, strengthening health and disaster-risk resilience, as well as optimizing digitalization and the digital market.

Indonesia should also secure foodstuffs, fertilizer and cleaner energy sources to ensure affordability for the people while continuing to constructively engage in global governance related to food and energy security.

Moving forward, Indonesia’s leadership and diplomacy must remain focused on the welfare of the people, while being firm with our principle of active and independent foreign policy.

Our ways must be agile and adaptive, as our forefathers described as “rowing between two reefs”, in confronting today’s fast-changing world.


The writer is head of the Center for Multilateral Strategy Policy, Indonesian Foreign Ministry.

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