From “Asian tiger” to “middle power diplomacy,” Indonesia’s presidential hopefuls have offered glimpses on how they envision the country’s upcoming role on the global political stage. However, foreign policy observers agree the nation’s future looks bleak no matter who secures the presidency, as neither candidate seems to possess enough ambition to rival that of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when it comes to international politics.
“The respective platforms of both candidates seem to be an antithesis of Indonesia’s current foreign policy,” Hikmahanto Juwana, international relations and law expert from the University of Indonesia (UI), told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday. “Either of them, if elected, will likely interfere in foreign issues that directly involve Indonesia, such as border disputes or the issues on migrant workers.
“But when it comes to international or regional issues not directly relevant to the country, such as the South China Sea disputes, they may be more passive.”
Despite the former Army general’s shrinking popularity at home, Yudhoyono managed to give Indonesia a more prominent role in the global political arena, which includes a top, leading position in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and a membership with the G-20 economic group.
Yudhoyono, he added, frequently addressed international affairs and took an active part as a peace broker in regional disputes, rather than leaving the matters solely to the Foreign Ministry.
Unfortunately, Hikmahanto can’t see a similar, proactive passion from either Joko Widodo — popularly referred to as Jokowi — or his rival, former Army Special Forces (Kopassus) chief Prabowo Subianto.
“Prabowo wants to develop Indonesia from the inside; the same with Jokowi,” Hikmahanto said. “It looks like the [future] presidential institution won’t be one that is actively involved in international affairs.”
A similar sentiment came from Bantarto Bandoro, a foreign policy expert with the Indonesian Defense University.
“I suspect that is the path we’re heading to,” Bantarto said referring to the all too real possibility of Indonesia’s limited role in future global affairs. “Unless they keep [Foreign Minister] Marty [Natalegawa] in office.”
Bandoro emphasized the importance of maintaining the minister if either ticket plans to keep up its active role on an international level.
“If they look at his track record, the achievements he’s made as foreign minister, they would know better than to use their own people and let him go,” he insisted, adding that choosing a non-career diplomat as the country’s expert on foreign affairs would be an erroneous move, citing a probable resistance from the country’s diplomatic corps.
Only one name involved in the presidential campaigns stands above the rest as a suitable candidate for the role as Indonesia’s global, diplomatic representative.
Andi Wijajanto, UI international relations lecturer and campaign secretary to the Joko ticket, would be more than fitting for the job, said Hikmahanto, citing the academic’s thorough knowledge of foreign policy and defense issues.
“He [Andi] now holds a high position there [in Joko’s campaign team], although he may focus more on defense,” Hikmahanto said. “If he becomes the foreign minister, I believe his policy would be similar to the country’s current stance.”
Fellow UI lecturer and political analyst Arbi Sanit agreed that Andi would make a good foreign or defense minister.
While the candidates seem to share a lack of dedication to matters of international diplomacy, Bantarto noted that Prabowo would more likely distance Indonesia from the influential power player that is the United States, citing his personal sour relationship with Washington, clouded by allegations of Prabowo’s involvements in past cases of human rights abuse, including the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998 and the massacre of civilians in East Timor.
“Prabowo will possibly attempt to avoid ties with the US a little… as a form of resentment,” Bantarto said. “But as a president, he won’t likely abandon the ties with the superpower; it would be too risky and the consequences too dire. Whoever serves as president must be able to maintain a balanced relationship with large countries — the United States, China, Russia.”
Neither Joko or Prabowo have talked much about their respective visions for Indonesia’s position in the international arena, but their campaigns suggest a few themes.
Rizal Sukma, the executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who has been actively involved in the outlining of Joko’s foreign policy platform, dismissed the idea that the candidate had neglected to focus on international affairs.
“There will be four focuses that are different from the current foreign policy,” Rizal told the Globe. “First, we will put more emphasis on Indonesia’s identity as an archipelagic state.
“We will prioritize solving border disputes with our neighbors. And we’ll pay more priority to maritime diplomacy, such as the protection of our exclusive economic zone.”
According to Rizal, under a Joko presidency, Indonesia will keep playing active roles in regional and international forums, but with more focus on issues directly relevant to Indonesia.
“We will step up diplomacy to provide more protection for the safety of our citizens, especially Indonesian migrant workers overseas,” Rizal said.
He added that Joko’s fourth priority would be to strengthen the infrastructure of diplomacy through budget increases and the development of special areas of expertise, such as asset recovery, international maritime law and strategic research.
Prabowo has not mentioned his foreign policy platform in an eight-page manifesto submitted to the General Elections Commission (KPU).
In his party manifesto — which is published on its web site — its foreign policy platform is described in rather colorful language.
The document says that it wants a “progressive foreign policy” that will gain Indonesia respect in Asia and globally, staying true to Prabowo’s promise that he would make Indonesia “the tiger of Asia” — through agricultural development and economic resilience.
Mirroring Bantarto’s prediction that Prabowo will possibly attempt to lean away from the United States, the manifesto emphasizes that today Washington is no longer the sole superpower.
“The world is multipolar. There are multiple powers affecting the international political stage. The European Union promises economic development. China shows economic, military and nuclear power. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has managed to restore its dignity in the sector of economy and military,” it says.
“Socialist Latin American countries like Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia have strong economic potential, and they have the courage the determine their own ways even though those are often in conflict with US foreign policy.”
It adds that the growth of new powers makes negotiation the “best means” to settle conflicts involving two or more countries, and that Indonesia must play roles in these international negotiations.
The manifesto, though, says that Indonesia’s focus on Asean and the “non-aligned movement” is based on an “outdated regionalism paradigm” and that Indonesia must quickly move on from that.
“We cannot continually rely on Asean ‘solidarity,’ which has proven useless when there is conflict between members’ interests. Indonesia’s foreign policy must be dedicated to national interests, based on our own power, by determining our own way,” the manifesto says.