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How big is the room for ASEAN in Indonesia’s foreign policy under Jokowi?

dlaminiThis year 2015, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will formally become an Economic Community. This will place an added burden to bigger ASEAN powers to champion stronger regional integration, but with a new and inward-looking president, Joko Widodo known as Jokowi, it is not clear if Indonesia will play this role.

 

ASEAN member states have for some time been planning the economic community in the hope of building a single market and production base, to create a highly competitive economic region with equitable economic development, and to integrate the region fully into the global economy.1 These signal a strengthening of integration and relationships among Southeast Asia countries.

This think piece reflects on the "new" Indonesia's Foreign Policy and implications for the ASEAN.

According to Jokowi, Indonesia's foreign policy will mostly be inward-looking, what he calls 'down to earth diplomacy' also known as 'pro-people diplomacy'. In his words 'Indonesia's foreign policy would be more active and productive in the years ahead, however not at the expense of Indonesia's national interest'. In short Jokowi would prioritize diplomatic relationships that provided significant benefits for Indonesia.2

This suggests that Jokowi's foreign policy would be more nationalistic compared to that of his predecessor President Yudhoyono who focused more on strengthening Indonesia's presence in the region and internationally. This became known as the 'many friends and zero enemies' principle, where ASEAN was one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy.

With the current government, it is not yet clear how big the room is for ASEAN in the new Indonesian foreign policy and what role Indonesia will be playing in the ASEAN Economic Community. So far Jokowi's conduct towards the ASEAN bloc might be viewed in a negative light following the recent activities of sinking illegal fishing boats from Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Vietnam in the Indonesian waters.

In relations to these matters, Jokowi claimed that the destruction of the fishing boats would teach foreign fishermen a lesson so that they will give up poaching in the Indonesian waters because Indonesia loses US$20 billion a year from the illegal fishing activities of foreign companies, boats and trawlers.3 To justify the move, Jokowi also claimed that it is a purely criminal issue and has nothing to do with neighbourly relations.

While this might be a credible and valid argument for Jokowi's retaliation against illegal fishing in the Indonesian waters, it might continually signal a wrong message to the other ASEAN member states about Indonesia's commitment to diplomatic channels in resolving these problems. Again with Indonesia's regenerated maritime focus in its foreign policy agenda, it would be destructive for Jokowi to be viewed as acting against the interest of the Southeast Asian bloc when dealing with its maritime issues. This might threaten the unity of the ASEAN bloc which is already affected by the South China Sea issue with China.

To counter assertions about Indonesia's role in the ASEAN bloc under Jokowi, the Foreign Ministry stated that Indonesia continues to play active roles in various regional and international forums to fight for not only Indonesia's interest, but also the Southeast Asian region's interests.4

However, it remains to be seen if ASEAN would continue to be a cornerstone of Jokowi's foreign policy and if not, what the implication would be for the future of ASEAN. The demands of governing an old state will force Jokowi to pursue foreign policy goals in the balance between fulfilling domestic needs and the imperative to maximise the use of global and regional forums to Indonesia's advantage. If this happens, then relations with ASEAN member states and other parts of world including South Africa and other Africa states would be restored and not harmed

Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Political & International Studies from Rhodes University and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD

1 www.asean.org/communities/asean-economic-community
2 Jokowi Signals Break With 'Thousand Friends' Foreign Policy http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/jokowi-signals-break-thousand-friends-foreign-policy/
3 Indonesia is wrong www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/454323/indonesia-is-wrong 
4 Indonesia's Foreign Policy Turns Domestic Under Jokowi http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/indonesias-foreign-policy-turns-domestic-jokowi/

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