What Does Jokowi’s “Pro-People Diplomacy” Mean for ASEAN?

Retno Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affaris, Republic of Indonesia. Source: progresivenews.com/

Retno Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affaris, Republic of Indonesia.
Source: progresivenews.com/

By Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, research assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada

Foreign Minister H.E. Retno LP Marsudi has launched her first speech on Indonesia’s Foreign Policy in Wednesday (29/10). At that speech, she embraced several new ideas on what she will do in her term as Foreign Minister and how Indonesia’s foreign policy will be directed under her leadership, including what is now popular as “Pro-People” Foreign policy.

Three important points are highlighted in her speech. Firstly, she acknowledges that strengthening Indonesia’s economy will be a priority in Jokowi’s administration. Therefore, Indonesia’s foreign policy should go side-by-side with economic development policy.

Secondly, Indonesia’s bilateral relations with strategic partners will be prioritized rather than takes part with multilateral forums. In other words, Marsudi seems to put aside Indonesia’s energetic movement in endorsing  multilateral talks and instead focusing on strengthening bilateral affairs.

Thirdly, she wants to reposits Indonesian diplomats not only as a negotiator abroad, but also as a ‘salesmen’ who takes part in promoting Indonesian products. Therefore, she insists that Indonesian diplomats should be able to do ‘blusukan’ in order to know what Indonesia has to be sold in international market.

Marsudi’s speech clearly indicates that Indonesia’s foreign policy, during Jokowi’s administration, will be served as a hub to strengthening economy in international level. Different with ‘Zero Enemy and Million Friends’ tagline brought by SBY administration, who aimes to posit Indonesia in global level, her ‘Pro-People Diplomacy’ seems to take inward-looking position in global politics.

This position can be understood by her intention to strengthen Indonesia’s bilateral relations rather than actively engage in multilateral forums, as well as making diplomacy as a means of enhancing economic development in international arena.

Nevertheless, we can also see that Marsudi’s speech has also sent a strong signal for the return of ‘national interest’ in Indonesia’s foreign policy. By crafting foreign policy with economic measure, Marsudi is not only abandoning SBY’s ‘million friends’ stance in international politics, but also she attempts to make Indonesia’s perspectives on global and regional environment firmer, that is to defend the state-defined national interest in his campaign.

Even though two previous ministers were also, to some extent, holding ‘national interest’ as a basis in foreign policy making, her stance in ‘national interest is quite stronger. During Hassan Wirayudha (2001-2009) ministerial period, Indonesia’s regional involvement is stronger. Wirayudha’s initiatives in ASEAN Political Security Community, as noted by Donald Weatherbee (2013), has made clear that Indonesia put ASEAN as a priority.

Not much different with Wirayudha, his successor Marty Natalegawa (2009-2014) also put Indonesia’s involvement in global level, particularly the South-to-South talks, as a priority in Indonesia’s foreign policy. His doctrine on dynamic equilibrium and peace doctrine was intended to support SBY’s vision on ‘Zero Enemy and ‘Million Friends’.

Compared with what Wirayudha and Natalegawa has done in previous years, Marsudi’s inward-looking approach will be less involved in positioning Indonesia in global and regional level. Her ‘pro-people’ approach will be focusing mainly on preparing Indonesia’s domestic economy to face economic integration in Southeast Asia.

Thus, what will this ‘pro-people’ stance, taken by Marsudi, implies to ASEAN, which aimed to be politically and economically consolidated after 2015?

Since the Second ASEAN Summit in Bali, 2003, Indonesia has been involved in integration processes in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has played important role in designing ASEAN Political Security Community as well as contributing in democratization in several states, thus contribute in driving political integration process in the region.

Former Foreign Minister Wirayudha spoke with at CSIS, Jakarta (24/10) that Indonesia has been actively provided intellectual leadership in ASEAN and it should be maintained in Jokowi’s administration.

With Foreign Minister Marsudi send the first signal on Indonesia’s foreign policy in the upcoming years, it will be interesting to see how Indonesia involve in regional politics. Given her pro-people approach in diplomacy, it can be predicted that there will be hope and concern from Marsudi to Indonesia’s position in ASEAN.

I will start with the hope. By taking a ‘pro-people’ approach with emphasis on economic diplomacy, Indonesia can be more prepared in facing the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community. With economic diplomacy, we can hope Jokowi’s administration can be more focused on developing Small and Medium Enterprises to deal with regional market.

ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada has mapped small and medium enterprises’ (SMEs) preparedness in ASEAN Community and it is found that many SMEs are not yet prepared to compete in regional level. Public should push Jokowi and his cabinet to be more serious in this issue.

However, we should also be concerned that ‘pro-people’ diplomacy can also make Indonesia’s leadership in several regional forums, particularly the ASEAN Political Security Community, will be weakened. So far Indonesia has driven several agenda in promoting democracy and human rights in the region.

By focusing on bilateral relations, Indonesia is less likely to continue its effort in becoming ‘the largest muslim democracy’ in the world that, to some extent, will implies on Indonesia’s passive stances in multilateral forums. Indonesia can also less involved with other multilateral groups such as G-20.

This concern shall be answered by our Foreign Minister Marsudi under her leadership. Indonesia should maintain the ‘ASEAN Centrality’ in dealing with regional issue, while strengthening bilateral relations with strategic partners.

Other than that, our foreign policy should also address many changes in global politics that will be occurred in the upcoming years, particularly with the political succession in the US which will influence Indonesia’s position among other states as well as Southeast Asian  politics.

Notwithstanding that, Marsudi’s innovative paces are still to be awaited in the future. Will she able to build a new style of leadership in the region is still the biggest challenge in the future. And most importantly, she is expected to make sure that ‘pro-people’ diplomacy can goes hand-in-hand with Indonesia’s intellectual leadership in ASEAN.