Welcome to The Strategist Six, a feature that provides a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.
1. How do you think Indonesia’s foreign policy priorities have changed under President Joko Widodo?
As a candidate, President Jokowi tried to define himself as being different from the outgoing administration of SBY. President SBY was very much a globalist and a multilateralist, and the discourse then was about one million friends, zero enemies. The Jokowi Administration looked, from the very beginning, at what the economic benefits for the common people are from Indonesia’s foreign policy, what economic gains it could make from its diplomatic achievements. So the priorities were trying to focus on balancing a number of key bilateral relations and focusing on trade investment and the role that key countries can bring to Indonesia’s own economic development. But in reality, Indonesia already has a serious regional and international commitment which it cannot easily walk away from. So ASEAN is very much a cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy. While focusing on various economic priorities, Indonesia’s foreign policy under President Joko Widodo doesn’t look that different from the previous administration, precisely because Indonesia is a very active member of the regional and global community.
2. How do you view China’s stance on the South China Sea?
Indonesia is very consistent in its position regarding the South China Sea. It isn’t a claimant in the Spratlys or the Paracels, but we are a maritime country and Indonesia has a border with the South China Sea over its Natuna waters. So Indonesia would view with great concern any movements in the South China Sea which could lead to open conflicts. Indonesia believes that all countries should refrain from provocative action, from any unilateral action, that all parties should adhere to international law, particularly UNCLOS 1982, and as a member of ASEAN we believe that the mechanism for that is already in place. We need to implement the Declaration of Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea, and we need to work faster for the completion of a more binding code of conduct.
3. Why’s it so difficult to get a unified ASEAN position on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea?
It’s not that difficult to get a unified ASEAN position in terms of those countries that have claims. I don’t think that the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have different attitudes in that respect. But ASEAN is very diverse in its membership. All countries in ASEAN have a relationship with China, but the intensity of that relationship differs from each country, and Cambodia has become very dependent on China. So to that extent, it has become vulnerable to pressure from China as we can see from the incident from when Cambodia was Chairman of ASEAN and there was no joint communiqué that was issued after the ASEAN ministerial meeting. So the different strategic interests of different ASEAN countries have continued to be a real issue, and I don’t think that it will go away any time soon.
4. Do you believe President Jokowi is committed to deepening and broadening relations with Australia?
Any Indonesian president will be committed to deepening and broadening relations with a close neighbour like Australia. Australia is a very important neighbour for us. We don’t choose our neighbours, so the only way that we can go forward is to develop close cooperation which could deliver both promises of harmonious, peaceful relations as well as prosperity together. So yes, I believe that President Jokowi will continue to place importance on Australia. And in fact, in his assessment, the key bilateral relationships will receive special attention because of the possible economic benefits that they bring. Australia is one of them. Indonesia–Australia bilateral relations are regarded as important, not just for diplomatic reasons, but also for what they can contribute to Indonesia’s economic development.
5. What is your view on the state of the relationship between our two countries given recent ups and downs, and what issues in the bilateral relationship will still trouble policymakers in Jakarta?
The ups and downs in relations usually do not generate from Indonesia. Our bilateral relationship is never an issue in Indonesia’s domestic politics. Quite often the changes of policy in Australia, and the way that it looks at different issues and the rhetoric sometimes can create trouble. But under the Turnbull government, the Prime Minister has visited Indonesia, and a number of key leaders from Australia have come to Indonesia and the same way from Indonesia to Australia. We work together on many issues including those related to counterterrorism, people-smuggling, climate change and regional security. But Indonesia and Australia continue to have differences and disagreements on certain issues.
Indonesian criminal law still allows the death penalty and Indonesia is very committed to this fight against drug trafficking, and, as we know, this can lead to diplomatic troubles. That’s one we will have to continue to pay attention to. The issues in Papua could also impact bilateral relations. Indonesia’s very committed to improving the welfare of people living in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, and President Jokowi himself has taken a very hands-on approach dealing with various vertical and horizontal conflicts.
6. What do you consider to be the biggest threat to global security?
State failure is one of the greatest threats to global security because when a state fails, the territory of that particular state can become fertile ground for the rise of radicalism, extremism, and that becomes a transnational issue. That is what happened in the Middle East allowing the spread of ISIS from Iraq and Syria. But we also have problems stemming from the global economic crisis, which has created hardship all over the world. We are all integrated and interconnected now, and so economic crisis can lead to social conflicts as well. And when people are competing for scarce resources, and if you don’t manage it well, it can lead to conflict. Climate change is not just an issue because of the rising waters and the sinking of small islands, but it also affects crops, it has a real impact on livelihood, and it creates dry seasons in Indonesia. So there are many, many issues that we need to pay attention to and particularly this kind of transnational problem necessitates closer cooperation between countries.