Indonesia’s foreign minister staunchly defended the country’s foreign policy outlook Monday in a key speech in Washington, D.C., rejecting criticism of its narrow nationalism and stressing its important contributions regionally and globally.
Since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office last November, Indonesia’s actions – including its relative neglect of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its decision to sink the fishing vessels of neighboring states to crack down on illegal fishing – had contributed to a perception among some that the country was becoming more inward-looking (See: “Is Indonesia Turning Away from ASEAN Under Jokowi?”).
But in an address to the United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO) Monday night ahead of Jokowi’s visit to Washington next month, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi dismissed these worries of a “narrow nationalism” and a “U-turn” in Indonesian foreign policy.
“On the contrary, eleven months on, Indonesia’s engagement with the international community is even stronger. Indonesia [continues] to have rock-solid commitment and take a proactive approach to bilateral, regional as well as global affairs,” Marsudi said.
Over the past year, Marsudi argued, Indonesia has strengthened bilateral ties with countries around the world, with more than 100 bilateral meetings and dozens of working bilateral visits being conducted at the president as well as the foreign minister level.
Regionally, she noted that the Jokowi administration had begun implementing plans to elevate Indonesia’s engagement in the Pacific by assuming associate membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), which will take off next month with the first ministerial meeting in Padang city in West Sumatra.
Notably, however, her entire speech did not include a single reference to ASEAN.
Beyond the Asia-Pacific, Indonesia had also hosted over 110 countries at the Asia-Africa Conference last April and has begun discussions with Gulf countries regarding strategic cooperation between Jakarta and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (See: “Did Indonesia Revive the Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership?”).
“I have every confidence that those active foreign policies are not depicting self-centered and self-serving interests,” she said.
Indonesia has also enhanced, rather than lessened its contribution to tackling shared regional and global challenges, Marsudi said. Regionally, she pointed to Indonesia’s assistance to Vanuatu following Typhoon Pam, its dispatch of medicine and other supplies to Nepal following a deadly earthquake, and its sheltering of thousands of illegal migrants in Aceh and North Sumatra.
Globally, she added, Indonesia continues to promote Islam as a peaceful and compassionate religion in the face of the radicalism of the Islamic State (IS). The Southeast Asian state also plans to expand its contribution to United Nations peacekeeping and to continue to raise awareness on the Law of the Sea amid the simmering South China Sea disputes, including by hosting regional workshops on the subject (See: “No, Indonesia’s South China Sea Approach Has Not Changed”).
“So by mentioning all these activities, I believe that everyone here will see eye to eye that those actions are evidently not reflecting a narrow nationalism,” she said.
Despite these continuities in Indonesia’s international engagement, she did repeat the familiar refrain that Indonesian foreign policy under Jokowi was more results-driven and people-oriented (See: “The Trouble with Indonesia’s Foreign Policy Priorities under Jokowi”).
“What has changed, however, is that today, Indonesia wants its foreign policy to bring as much possible tangible results that can be felt by everyday Indonesians. Indonesian foreign policy serves the immediate needs of our national interests; the needs of the Indonesian people,” she said.
Marsudi’s remarks came after her meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, where they both announced the dates of Jokowi’s visit to the United States from October 26 to 28.