On October 10-11, Indonesia hosted a high-level meeting of the Archipelagic and Island States Forum, commonly known as the AIS Summit. After successfully hosting the G-20 and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits for two consecutive years, this recent meeting in Bali reflected Indonesia’s commitment to taking the lead in addressing issues related to archipelagic and island states. The previous AIS Summit was conducted in the same country in Manado, North Sulawesi four years ago. The following year, the scheduled meeting was postponed due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
As a global initiative, the AIS Summit is based not on its members’ size, region, or level of economic development but rather on their shared interests in addressing challenges regarding ocean resources, climate change, ocean pollution, and fisheries. Fifty-one nations were represented at last month’s meeting, 32 of which were represented at the ministerial level or above.
As the summit’s leading initiator, Indonesia has been known for contributing to initiatives related to maritime issues. Its foundational contribution was the 1957 Juanda Declaration, which set up global regulations on sea territory that were later adopted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. In 2017, Indonesia hosted the Indian Ocean Rim Association Summit, and in 2018 was a driving force behind the Manado Declaration, which gave birth to the AIS Forum.
Indonesia’s foreign policy stance, especially under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, is aligned with the summit’s objective. Jokowi stated during the forum that “as a maritime nation, Indonesia will continue to be at the forefront in supporting the AIS Forum as an inclusive cooperation for archipelagic and island states.”
This article aims to explore how significant the AIS Forum is to Indonesia and to the other members of the forum, and the forum’s possible future trajectory.
The Summit Objectives
According to the United Nations, an archipelagic state is one consisting of a group of islands that form a distinctive geographical and political entity. Notably, continental nations like China or the United States cannot claim this status for their distant mid-ocean islands. Twenty countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, claim archipelagic status. In contrast, island nations are independent sovereign states composed solely of islands. There are 46 sovereign archipelagic and island countries, including one contested region, Taiwan.
As agreed by the summit’s leaders, the AIS Summit is an instrument to magnify the voices of the archipelagic and island states on pressing issues related to the future of the ocean and the future of the people whose lives are inseparable from it. They also acknowledged that its objective is to create synergies with other initiatives and serve as an avenue for collaboration, the sharing of expertise, and the generation of innovative solutions among archipelagic and island states and their partners.
The declaration issued at the close of the summit addressed a number of critical issues. First, it identified climate change as a global threat that disproportionately affects the archipelagic and island states. Some of the dangers highlighted include rising sea levels and the increasing impact of marine pollution by debris and waste, jeopardizing the sustainability of the oceans and nations’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Kiribati, a nation that is literally sinking into the ocean, is a real example of how serious climate change is. Thus, disaster management must be enhanced in dealing with extreme weather, forecasting, and warning capacities.
Second, it addressed the significance of the blue economy, and the need to foster sustainable economic development among its members. This involves the responsible and sustainable development of fisheries and aquaculture, which are crucial to achieving food security, the development of inter-island connectivity, and the enhancement of capacity for marine research and innovation.
Third, the declaration addresses the need to combat ocean pollution, which has been a very serious problem, encompassing plastic waste, marine pollution, acidification, loss of biodiversity, etc. Lastly, the summit declared its intention to improve maritime governance.
The Summit’s Significance for Indonesia
Hosting the AIS Forum was important for Indonesia for a number of reasons. First, it underscored Indonesia’s status as one of the major powers among maritime states. As mentioned earlier, the country has made major contributions to the establishment of global sea regulations, which means that it is responsible for ensuring their proper implementation.
Second, the summit’s goal of promoting the “blue economy” is likely to be especially advantageous to Indonesia. In the last five years, the blue economy has contributed an estimated 3.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Over the next two decades, this figure is expected to rise to 12.45 percent.
Third, the summit will allow Indonesia to magnify its efforts to fight the effects of climate change, something that has the potential to severely affect the country. Rising sea levels are already swamping parts of the Indonesian archipelago, threatening even parts of its most populated island, Java. In the coming decades, some predict that cities, including the capital Jakarta, will be impacted by rising sea levels and other extreme weather events. This is on top of natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes, which have long plagued the archipelago. To protect people, the mitigation system must be enhanced by cooperating with AIS partners such as Japan, which has successfully studied and mitigated tsunamis and earthquakes in the ocean.
One important issue that the summit left unaddressed was maritime security, which has a direct benefit on member states’ development and prosperity. Archipelagic and island countries are rich in resources. However, they face numerous challenges related to insecurity, armed insurgencies, and difficulties in implementing the rule of law both on land and sea. It cannot be denied that geopolitical tensions are intensifying in some regions, including in Indonesia’s backyard, and this needs to be addressed in order to secure the nation’s security and prosperity. As the U.S. strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan noted in the nineteenth century, wealth, trade and maritime security are inextricably connected.
The Future of the AIS Forum
Maritime cooperation is not new, especially for Indonesia. With its focus on climate change and the blue economy, the AIS Forum set a future agenda of global ocean governance and established a framework for the responsible stewardship of the world’s oceans and resources. Likewise, the AIS Forum is also aiming at completing a road map and charter-based organization to advance cooperation among its members.
The AIS Forum has now established satellite offices to facilitate activities and programs in various regions. While the secretariat has been established in Jakarta since 2019, it has opened offices in Barbados for the Caribbean and Central America, Madagascar for the Indian Ocean, and Fiji for the Pacific. In terms of funding, Indonesia has committed to provide $5 million for AIS members for the next three years (2022-2025). In the coming years, this funding is likely to increase.
All in all, as the world’s largest archipelagic country, Indonesia has the capacity to lead this forum and facilitate discussions related to archipelagic and island states. Yet, Jakarta missed an opportunity to discuss maritime security challenges as potential conflicts and threats from the ocean are growing. Although credit must be given to Indonesia for great initiatives, none of these discussion points will matter much without addressing the question of maritime security.