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MIKTA’s Next Steps
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (centre) with her MIKTA counterparts, Mr Carlos de Icaza, Mexico, Ms Retno Marsudi, Indonesia, Mr Yun Byung-se, Republic of Korea, Mr Ahmet Yildiz, Turkey in November 2016.

MIKTA’s Next Steps

 
 

MIKTA, an informal grouping consisting of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia, has been in existence since 2013, when the foreign ministers of these five countries convened for the first time in September 2013. Since then, MIKTA has held nine foreign ministerial meetings, several meetings at the director general and technical levels, and carried out exchange programs, workshops and outreach activities. Next year is Indonesia’s turn to assume MIKTA’s coordinatorship, which will be a great opportunity for Indonesia to contribute to shaping the future direction of MIKTA.

Since its establishment, MIKTA has aspired to become a bridge-builder and agenda-setter in a changing global order. Although MIKTA has been growing in several platforms, there are doubts that MIKTA could act as an effective middle power caucus. The doubts arise especially when one compares MIKTA with BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Within eight years of its foundation, BRICS has held nine summits, and each year more than ten ministerial level meetings. BRICS also successfully established a Contingent Reserve Arrangement and the New Development Bank. In contrast, the outcome of MIKTA’s meetings have been statements and joint communiqués without clear future direction.

While skepticism about MIKTA should be wisely acknowledged, to better assess MIKTA’s current development, there is a need to carefully observe the background and nature of MIKTA. MIKTA countries indeed have strong commonalities among themselves, compared to BRICS’ diverse political and economic policies. Ideologically, all MIKTA members are democracies — albeit of different “styles.” MIKTA members are also more supportive of market economies, while BRICS countries, especially Russia and South Africa, generally have high import tariffs. The question is why has MIKTA progressed more slowly than BRICS?

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While the stated purpose of MIKTA is to play a constructive role in global governance, the perception of “constructive role” varies among MIKTA members. For a long time, Mexico’s international stature was dominated by close relations with the United States but now it looks for multidirectional foreign engagements, including via MIKTA, in light of changing dynamics and the negative effect of U.S. unilateral actions, such as U.S. President Donald Trump’s disdain for NAFTA. For South Korea, MIKTA could become an avenue to maintain a relative independence amid U.S.-China-Japan-Russia rivalries in Northeast Asia. Turkey’s priority in MIKTA, especially during its present coordinatorship, is more specific. Turkey prefers to channel MIKTA’s activities to help solve Turkey’s lingering regional challenges, such as humanitarian issues, peace mediation, and terrorism, which is understandable due to the enormous challenges Turkey has faced in recent years.

Australia is mostly pro-status quo. Its aspiration in MIKTA focuses more on strengthening the current global order by revitalizing the order’s functions in specific issues, such as trade and finance. In contrast to Australia, Indonesia’s middle power ambition is directed to acquire more relative power and gradually amend the global order. For that reason, Indonesia’s point of view toward MIKTA is shaped by revisionist aspiration. Given its long-standing legacy in the Global South as well as the fact that Indonesia is the only non-OECD country in MIKTA, Indonesia has a passion for using MIKTA to change the arrangement of global governance in ways which could favor developing nations, although, in a different fashion than countries such as China and India. Indonesia tends to avoid a direct confrontational attitude.

These differences have resulted in contrasting views on how MIKTA should be used and what kind of operational mechanism should be pursued by MIKTA countries. BRICS does not face this conundrum. BRICS has one clear agenda, which is “to reform the global order.” Therefore, the BRICS states are able to put aside difference and friction among them — such as the recent standoff between Chinese and Indian troops in the Himalayas — and establish frameworks that serve their common interests, which is to offer themselves as an alternative to the U.S.-led global system.

Considering these facts, the development of MIKTA in upcoming years is constrained by two conditions: (1) difference in issue prioritization among its members and (2) members’ lagging willingness to spend diplomatic energy. As a consequence, it remains hard to see the formalization of MIKTA through higher channels, such as summit of heads of state.

This does not necessarily mean that MIKTA has no future. It still has potential to play a global role by offering innovative solutions to global problems. Informality and flexibility have become MIKTA’s strengths in the last four years, as these two principles have allowed members to freely exchange ideas and explore breakthrough ideas. However, MIKTA needs to elevate itself to the next level to signify its importance in the eye of other global actors. The form of elevation should not be realized through formalization, per se, but through a change in MIKTA’s working method.

First of all, MIKTA’s members need to commit themselves to continuity. MIKTA currently has seven areas of cooperation. To create something meaningful, MIKTA’s rotating coordinator needs to carry out at least one activity/program in each area. In addition, MIKTA needs to start creating systematic issue-based arrangements through the establishment of working groups with the ultimate goal of creating a common position and spurring joint action.

Secondly, members should not only think of what their interests or priorities are in MIKTA, but also what comparative advantages they can offer to enhancing MIKTA’s role. In that context, each MIKTA country could initiate a flagship project based on its strengths. That project needs to be continuously carried out, even when the coordinator has changed from one country to another. Australia has provided a good example by establishing an Innovation Group last year.

The third suggestion is that if it is difficult to find issues which equally concern all five countries, MIKTA’s mechanism should allow members to cooperate on a bilateral or trilateral basis. For example, Indonesia, Australia and South Korea could explore the possibility of carrying out a joint development project in Pacific island countries, as these three countries have strong interests in supporting development in the region.

Indonesia has a strong legacy for diplomatic innovation. In the last two years, for example, Indonesia has been successfully leading the transformation of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) from a largely ineffective forum to a more focused and action-oriented group by initiating diverse programs and engagements. Next year’s MIKTA coordinatorship should be another moment for Indonesia to display leadership by reorienting MIKTA’s working method. MIKTA matters not because of its status as either an informal or formal group, but its ability to facilitate collaboration among members in a complementary way. This is what could eventually enhance MIKTA’s global reach and significance.

Fikry Cassidy is Director of the Center of Policy Analysis and Development on Multilateral Issues at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This writing is personal and does not represent the views of the institution.

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