December 28, 2022
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is known for his preference for domestic politics, with little appetite for foreign diplomacy, especially when it does not offer concrete or immediate results. Rather, he entrusted the day-to-day foreign policy operations of the country to Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi.
But surprisingly, this year Indonesia has achieved great achievements on at least two pressing international issues.
The president, who took office in 2014 and will end his second and final five-year term in 2024, has never attended the annual United Nations General Assembly because he did not want to travel for such a long journey just for a short speech. However, COVID-19 gradually changed his mind, as he realized that the power of a personal approach to leaders of advanced nations would be instrumental in Indonesia’s ability to secure enough COVID-19 vaccines for its population.
This year, the president has increased his attention to foreign policy due to Indonesia’s Group of 20 presidency and the hosting of its Leaders’ Summit in November. This year, the president also took over the ASEAN chairmanship from Cambodia, although the mandate officially begins on January 1, 2023.
Jokowi worked hard on both jobs while mounting international pressure on Myanmar’s military junta to stop the atrocities it committed against the country’s people.
Indonesia has left an exemplary legacy for the G20, which was divided after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of this year. For Jokowi, it was almost impossible to reconcile the group, especially the West, who even considered boycotting the summit if Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared.
A combination of perseverance, wisdom and ingenuity allowed the president and his core team to unanimously issue the G20 leaders, against all odds, the leadership declaration of their summit in Bali.
On the ASEAN front, Indonesia led the bloc in bold action against Myanmar junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing, who took power from the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta is now practically expelled from the regional grouping, as the general and his aides at all levels are barred from attending any ASEAN meetings.
The Myanmar general signed a five-point agreement with ASEAN leaders in an emergency summit in Jakarta in April of last year. But he arrogantly touted his own commitment to ending violence against civilians and holding peace talks with all related parties, including Suu Kyi. Hlaing doesn’t care and continued with the atrocities because he seems to believe big powers like China and Russia and friendly neighbors like Thailand will not desert him.
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council issued a resolution condemning Myanmar’s military and telling it to abide by the five-point agreement with ASEAN. Surprisingly, China, Russia and India refrained in a show of support for the ASEAN peace efforts. Indonesia’s diplomacy over Myanmar works.
The success of the G20 summit and Jokowi’s ability to keep ASEAN united, at least formally, and pressure the Myanmar junta to honor its own promises will serve as valuable political capital for him to implement his foreign policy next year .
This year has really been a good one for Indonesian diplomacy, and hopefully next year will build on those successes.