Both India and Indonesia see ASEAN centrality as a prominent feature in their approach to the Indo-Pacific.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on 23 October 2019 has officially announced the list of state ministers set to assist his presidency from 2019 to 2024. His new cabinet is dubbed as the ‘Kabinet Indonesia Maju’ or Indonesia Onward Cabinet, replacing his first “Working Cabinet.” He has recruited politicians from across the aisle as well as professionals including the co-founder of Gojek. While President Jokowi did retain most of his previous cabinet ministers like Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who had served in his previous cabinet as the Finance Minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs this time has an added responsibility of overseeing investments in the country, Retno Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affairs. In general, it is being predicted that there will be no significant departure in Indonesia’s foreign policy. It will continue to abide by its “bebas aktif” (free and active) principle.
According to Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Research Professor in the Centre for Political Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences: “Relations with fellow Asian countries have come to dominate Indonesia’s foreign policy. This is more likely to continue during President Joko Widodo’s second term (2019–24), particularly for economic reasons.”
The two national objectives that will be aimed to be achieved are ‒
1. Maintaining a steady and fairly high level of economic growth by enhancing Indonesia’s economic competitiveness through major infrastructure projects as well as foreign direct investment, trade, and tourism, among other factors; and
2. Ensuring ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture of the Indo-Pacific.
While delivering her foreign policy address on 29 October 2019 at the Kementerial Luar Negeri (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Foreign Minister Marsudi laid a lot of emphasis on economic diplomacy. Even the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mahendra Siregar has been given the task to improve Indonesia’s trade and investment relations with other countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia needs to take maximum advantage of regional meetings such as APEC by increasing the involvement of national stakeholders.
Furthermore, Indonesia is also looking to host an ASEAN Indo-Pacific Infrastructure and Connectivity Forum in 2020, a follow-up to the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which was adopted by the ASEAN in June 2019. Retno Marsudi in her foreign policy address outlined that “ASEAN would remain the cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy and pledged that Indonesia would host the connectivity forum next year.” In other words, for Jakarta the Indo-Pacific is not just seen through the politico-security lens, but aims to bring about concrete developments in the region. One of the areas of cooperation outlined in the ASEAN document is connectivity, which seeks to ensure that “connectivity initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region should complement and support the existing Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025.” According to a 2017 Asian Development Bank report — the region needs as much as USD 26 trillion from 2016 to 2030 to finance its infrastructure.
For its economic needs, Indonesia for many decades laid focus on the Western European countries, the United States, and a few Asian countries — notably Japan, Singapore, and South Korea — as export markets as well as sources of loans and investment. In the past two decades, however, increasing economic protectionism in its traditional Western markets, coupled with the rise of emerging economies in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia, has led to more intensive economic relations between Indonesia and other Asian countries. In 2018, 72 per cent of Indonesia’s exports by value were dealt with other Asian countries, while close to 75 per cent of its imports were from Asia. In the same year, eleven of Indonesia’s top fifteen trading partners, accounting for 81 per cent of its exports, were in Asia. Since the start of this century, Asia has therefore increasingly become the locus of both Indonesia’s economic and security priorities. Indonesia has always looked into having diverse economic partners and investors, instead of relying on one dominant economic player. Therefore, as it has been mentioned by the Foreign Minister in her foreign policy address, the aim is to increase trade with Indonesia’s non-traditional markets such as India and Africa.
The most surprising appointment has been of his election rival and chair of the Gerindra Party, retired general Prabowo Subianto, as the Defence Minister. Indonesian scholars like Evan Laksmana, senior researcher at Jakarta based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is of the opinion that Prabowo’s appointment will have “profound consequences for civil-military relations and defence policymaking.” If the new Defence Minister will have an influence in Indonesian foreign policy making or not is hard to say. Though traditionally the Defence Minister portfolio does not have much say over the military, as the real power is held by the TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia/ Indonesian Army) Commander (Pangalima). However, the defence ministry does formulate the budget for the military and thereby articulates broader strategic policy. According to scholars like Ibrahim Almutaqqi, head of the ASEAN Studies Programme at the Habibie Center, “Prabowo’s appointment is purely a domestic consideration to ensure political stability in Jakarta by bringing the opposition party under the ruling coalition.” Prabowo in his campaign speeches and even in the past has been branded as being a “hyper-national” for his critical comments on “destructive foreign forces undermining Indonesia’s economy.” He had stressed that Indonesia needs to review its trade policy and has not been receptive of Chinese investments. As the new Defence Minister one can expect Prabowo to take hardline measures to challenges to Indonesia’s sovereign rights, including in the North Natuna Sea. Therefore, even if not significantly, Indonesia’s China policy might see some transformations if Prabowo’s opinion is taken note of. He may even look at India as a “valuable balancer against China.”
Relationship with India was elevated to the level of Strategic Comprehensive Partnership in 2018 and India has become an important trading partner for Indonesia as the primary market for its coal and palm oil exports. With Luhut Pandjaitan retaining his position as the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, there will be efforts to establish direct shipping links between Indonesia’s Sabang and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as developing close cooperation between the navies and coast guards. Connectivity and infrastructure development projects form an important pillar in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which was spearheaded by Indonesia and can be regarded as Indonesia’s Indo-Pacific policy as well. Therefore, during his meeting with Foreign Minister Marsudi in September 2019, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar did harp on improving connectivity between Aceh and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, underlining India’s commitment to strengthen cooperation under the Indo-Pacific concept. Indonesia recently hosted a joint task force preliminary meeting for Aceh-Andaman and Nicobar connectivity, during which Indonesia and India agreed to strengthen trade, investment for connectivity development, as well as cooperation on sustainable development of marine resources, tourism, education and port development. Indonesia and India have agreed to follow up the preliminary meeting and plan to hold the first joint task force meeting in Aceh on 12 November 2019. Given that Marsudi is continuing her tenure as Foreign Minister, these initiatives and plans will be met.
Though India’s Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) — Modi’s policy framework fits well with Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision, but there will not be much focus on the promotion of the GMF vision in this tenure of President Jokowi. President Jokowi did not mention about GMF during his election campaign speeches, neither in his inauguration speech after re-assuming his Presidency. Foreign Minister Marsudi also did not mention about GMF in her first briefing since being reappointed to the Cabinet. Furthermore, it is noticeable that Susi Pudjiastuti, Former Minister for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, was not reappointed even after being the most vocal champion of combatting illegal fishing.
The focus in the second tenure will be on pursuing closer relations with Asian countries, the integration of Southeast Asia within an ASEAN Community and the promotion of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. In this regard, India will be a country with which closer relations will be forged as both see ASEAN centrality as a prominent feature in their approach to the Indo-Pacific.
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Premesha Saha is a Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. Her research focuses on Southeast Asia, East Asia, Oceania and the emerging dynamics of the ...Read More +