January 20, 2023
JAKARTA – The recent visit of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to Indonesia to meet with his counterpart President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of Indonesia was both important and strategic in three ways. They affirmed the obvious, that Indonesia and Malaysia do have a “special relationship”.
But more importantly they opened the way for other countries who are already a part of the ASEAN process, such as Turkey, all of whom can jointly pioneer new ways of finding solutions to global peace, notably the most-important current global peace issue, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has triggered Japan to double its defense spending between 2022-2027 for the first time since the end of World War II in 1945.
Should this dyad continue to become even more toxic than it already is, the whole Asia-Pacific would be on the most extreme alert. No amount of goodwill between Indonesia and Malaysia alone can show the way forward. Why? China, India, Russia, North Korea and the United States are all nuclear-weapons states with conflicting claims on what should be their roles in the world’s most-populous continent.
If anything, with each passing day, the animosity between Russia and Ukraine, not excluding Belarus, of which President Alexander Lukashenko is the leader and is on the side of President Vladimir Putin, has become extremely acute and lethal. This is precisely because Russia is a nuclear weapon state that has threatened on numerous occasions to use various munitions loaded with fissile materials.
When Malaysia and Indonesia are closer in their “special relationship”, as both nations speak almost the same language, it is a lesson for the pan-Slavic nations of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus that also understand each other linguistically up to 62 percent to stop the dehumanizing violence immediately.
The reach of Malaysia and Indonesia alone is not enough to cause the aggrieved parties to cease and desist from these mindless aggressions. Turkey, more specifically, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has to work with PM Anwar and President Jokowi to show Europe how one exits from a destructive conflict that can literally end human civilization if nuclear weapons are used.
Thus, granted that Indonesia and Malaysia do have a good relationship with Turkey, of which the latter is a sectoral partner of ASEAN, more rather than less can be done to foster world peace. It is with this hope that all should embrace the arrival of 2023 not with “fear” lest the psychosis become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, back to why the visit of Anwar to meet Jokowi is of critical importance.
First, not only is this the inaugural visit of Anwar to Indonesia as the 10th prime minister of Malaysia, it needs to be said that this is the last time all the key meetings involving ASEAN and the East Asian Summit will be held in Jakarta, before they are next organized in Nusantara, the new administrative capital of Indonesia in East Kalimantan, in 2033.
Whether there is a next decade or not depends on how Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, the Muslim country closest to the conflict, can handle this conflict deftly in the service of humanity.
Second, the “veranda diplomacy” of Anwar and Jokowi at the Bogor Presidential Palace was a prelude and sign for Malaysia to send an ambassador as soon as possible. This is a good sign. The fact that Anwar has always considered Indonesia the most “loyal friend”, as is Erdogan, speaks highly of the respect that all these leaders deserve.
As a pan Asia-Pacific power, Indonesia is trying its level best to prevent the United States and China from coming to blows, both militarily and metaphorically. As a pivotal power, Turkey is trying to restrain Russia from any further self-aggrandizing actions. The fact that Turkey is not succeeding does not mean that Malaysia and Indonesia cannot enhance the peace process.
Third, the relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia has never been about any balance of power. Russia does outsize Ukraine several times over. Yet, this is the same situation as in Indonesia and Malaysia. If Indonesia has never made Malaysia feel any threat since the end of 1965 to this very day, it boggles the mind why Russia should be so insecure.
NATO is a collective defense organization. Article 5 of NATO says when one member state is attacked every member state must respond. Yet, NATO’s reaction to the sea change in global security since the seeming end of the Cold War in 1989 that has now proven to be false remains extremely restrained. This was the case albeit Russia’s claim of NATO’s unrestrained eastward expansion.
Yet, it was only after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, that all 30 members of NATO all united in agreement they must increase their defense spending collectively.
Therefore, just because Ukraine was guided, perhaps misguided, into believing that it would be safer to become a member of NATO in the future does not warrant a frontal and almost immediate attack from Russia and Belarus, not forgetting the annexation of almost 20 percent of Ukraine in its eastern border with Russia, of which Ukrainian forces have clawed back some 8 percent. This does not preclude the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
To be sure, Indonesia and Malaysia have had maritime conflict for ages too. Neither side has chosen armed actions. If anything, the two have always seen it proper to form a regional concert of diplomacy, be it through ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defense Plus Meeting, or just as importantly, the East Asian Summit, indeed, to foster what is known as “open regionalism” in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
As for Indonesia, it was extremely wise of the government of President Jokowi to receive PM Anwar well. Sabah and Sarawak are now designated as “regions” not “states” of the Federation of Malaysia effective from January 2023.
With the onset of the new Unity Government, the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 is being redeemed and respected by the Anwar administration, which is why for the first time in the history of Malaysia, there is a deputy prime minister from Sarawak, namely Datuk Fadhilah Yusuf.
As the Lunar New Year and Ramadan are fast approaching, in the third week of January and March 2023 respectively, more acts of “forgiveness in international relations” are needed to crystalize them into an arch of open embrace. The whole Asia-Pacific should be adopting such an ethos and ethic as the highest level of statecraft.
Anwar and Jokowi may not have openly touched on the conflict in Ukraine and Russia. Termination of war is a serious subject. But that does not imply Turkey cannot invite the two to participate in an active peace-making process and vice versa. Why? The East and West are entwined when a conflict that can go nuclear is at stake.
The writer is associate fellow at Edx.org, pioneered by Harvard/MIT.