In collaboration with the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia’s annual Conference on Indonesian Foreign Policy (CIFP), the ASEAN Studies Centre hosted a Parallel Session titled “ASEAN Centrality, and the Indo Pacific: Can They Change the Geostrategic Chessboard?”. The Conference is the largest foreign policy conference in Indonesia and the world and was hosted on the 30 November 2019 at The Kasablanka Hall, Jakarta.
The chosen theme for this year’s conference was “Cooling Off the Hot Peace: Strategic Opportunities and Economic Remedies for a Distressful World”. The theme delved into the increasing re-emergence of “hot peace” in world affairs arisen from geo-strategic rivalries, mistrust, disruption, and brinkmanship, and promoted participants to look for a more stable, durable, and cooperative world order. Speakers at the main event included the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, Retno L.P. Marsudi, the former Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Dr. Marty Natalegawa, the former President of East Timor and Nobel Peace Laureate, José Manuel Ramos-Horta among many others.
In the Parallel session, the session begun with Dr Dafri Agussalim’s, the Director of ASEAN Studies Centre, opening remarks about the Indo-Pacific concept and the Outlook. Dr Agussalim highlights that Indonesian foreign policy seeks to be inclusive, transparent, and comprehensive in character, based on the mutual commitment to foster peace and prosperity in the region. He describes the agreement of the ASEAN Outlook in the Indo-Pacific Region as Indonesia’s greatest diplomatic success among the member states. This is alongside his promotion that ASEAN must play a more significant role in the region, or the prosperity and opportunities will only be experienced by a few countries outside of the ASEAN region. Dr Agussalim concluded his remarks by accentuating the absolute necessity for Indonesia to maintain synergy in working with ASEAN and other stakeholder domestically to coordinate Indonesia’s foreign policy with that of ASEAN.
The sessions main discussion was moderated by Dr Poppy Sulistyaning Winanti, Vice Dean of Collaboration, Alumnni and Research Affairs of Faculty of Social and Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada; and panellists included Ambassador Jose Travares from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr Kavi Chongkittavon from the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Professor Richard Heydarian from National Chengchi University and Ambassador Kok Li Peng, the Permanent representative for Singapore to ASEAN. The Panel begun with a discussion of whether ASEAN should stay away from the dangerous rivalries, or if there is anything ASEAN can do to “cool down” the situation. Ambassador Travares presented that ASEAN is not shying away from conflict, although he argued that too much was being asked of ASEAN, as ASEAN is not a supernational body with a parliament, commission, court of justice and money like the European Union. Ambassador Kok Li Peng highlighted that ASEAN is still a small organisation where the member countries are still learning how to manage their sovereignty. She promoted that due to this ASEAN was created for leaders to manage international tensions and to work towards development and building in a non-exclusive manner. Dr Chongkittavon outlined that the weakness of ASEAN is truly its strength, as ASEAN does not have enemies, it can create a mechanism for rivalries to come together and become a “bridge builder” between conflicting sides. He also describes ASEAN as a “Disneyland for World Politics” as the many systems of government work productively together. Professor Heydarian quoted that even though “you might not be interested in the Pacific, the Pacific is interested in you”. He took a different approach and advocated that in special circumstances, ASEAN must take a ‘side’ to maintain strength. In relation to strength, Professor Heydarian stated that individual countries within ASEAN can be very influential with other middle-power nations, such as Japan and Korea, and to remove themselves from the US-China conflict.
The second question mainly focused on how the new Indo-Pacific Outlook can be used in policy making, and how inclusive the Outlook will be in relation to the Indo-Pacific. Ambassador Travares promoted that the Outlook showed the world that ASEAN has its own mind and independence and has moved beyond choosing between the options available from other powers. Furthermore, he linked the commonality between ASEAN members and outside stakeholders is productivity and questioned why the focus remained on conflicts and rivalries. Ambassador Kok Li Peng endorsed the need for a debate in how ASEAN will move forward in the future, after the Outlook. She said that ASEAN needs to continue working towards centrality as it will never be automatic. Dr Chongkittavon further replied that ASEAN no longer needs to choose and gave credit to the Indonesian-Thailand synergy that made the document possible. He believes that ASEAN has earnt its centrality and can continue to set guidelines and maintain future projects. Professor Heydarian supported that strategic-intersectionality can be used to endorse centralism. Furthermore, minilateralism needs to be employed to work together on issues of shared concern, rather than focusing on the conflict ASEAN is a stakeholder in. He concluded the need for ASEAN to work with other regarding, but not against, China to achieve centrality, rather than only asserting it.
The final question asked panellists to summarise the future of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Ambassador Travares optimistically stated that ASEAN is transforming todays challenges into opportunities for cooperation in the future, while Ambassador Kok Li Peng alluded to the ASEAN led creation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the largest free trade area ever created, to show the capabilities ASEAN holds. Meanwhile, Professor Heydarian supported that ASEAN and its member states do have agency and are successfully growing to become middle powers. He also stated that regarding ASEAN in the Indo Pacific “we are hung together, or we are hung apart”. Dr Chongkittavon simply summarised ASEAN as an “imperfect perfection” as an organisation and to give our trust to ASEAN
More information about upcoming events at the ASEAN Studies Centre UGM can be found at our website (https://asc.fisipol.ugm.ac.id/) and for the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia at their website (http://www.fpcindonesia.org/).