RI: A regional troubleshooter struggling with its missions
Bagus BT Saragih
The Jakarta Post
'I am disappointed. This hasn't happened since ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] was established,' President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told an impromptu press conference at the State Palace on July 15, 2012.
Two days earlier, ASEAN foreign ministers had been caught in a deadlock in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They had failed to reach a joint communiquÃ© for the first time in the grouping's 45-year history, because of issues related to the cross-territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was an enemy of China during the 1980s, blocked any efforts that might displease China, the most important investor in and donor to his country.
Yudhoyono, who usually took time before making crucial decisions, was quick to order then foreign minister Marty Natalegawa to launch the so-called 'shuttle diplomacy'. The latter energetically toured ASEAN member nations, meeting and phoning his counterparts, all in a bid to save ASEAN's face.
Within 36 hours, Marty managed to collect approval on the six-point 'ASEAN's Common Position' on the South China Sea, centering on the reiteration of ASEAN's adherence to the 2002 declaration of a code of conduct and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The 'Phnom Penh incident' was a true test of ASEAN's unity and has been recorded in history as one of its lowest points ever. It was also evidence of how central China's assertiveness is in affecting the region's security and stability.
Geopolitically, indeed, ASEAN has also been central in the rapidly evolving challenges posed by the rise of China and the shift of global balance following the US' pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region.
'Unfortunately, Indonesia often acts passively and seeks to avoid controversy, within and beyond ASEAN, which means that it doesn't give ASEAN the kind of steady leadership it needs on tough issues,' wrote Brad Nelson, the president and co-founder of the Center for World Conflict and Peace, in The Diplomat.
Under Yudhoyono's presidency, Indonesia's centrality in ASEAN remained at the heart of the country's foreign policy.
The outgoing president wanted to make his people proud whenever international communities looked at Indonesia because of its leadership and central role as a conflict mediator, for example. This, however, has resulted in some critics slamming Yudhoyono for merely pursuing recognition while failing to enact a similar spirit at home, with bloody and fatal communal conflicts across the archipelago continuing to occur.
'Yudhoyono's ambition to exert Indonesia's regional and global influence were not complemented by sufficient resources or capable, comprehensive and long-term strategies,' said Rizal Sukma, a foreign affairs analyst from the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Indonesia's regional role under Yudhoyono, said Rizal, was more about defusing tension than resolving problems.
When it comes to the reform and democratization process in Myanmar, Indonesia also has a role. It was the loudest supporter of Myanmar's ASEAN chairmanship bid last year. Jakarta believed that more global exposure and responsibility would help push Myanmar toward a peaceful transition to
When it comes to the global context, ASEAN's strategic and central position was also largely due to its economic potential. The institution is the perfect regional structure to enable its 10 member states to punch above their weight in Asian and global affairs.
Jakarta has been very active in issues such as the ASEAN Framework for Equitable Economic Development and the initiation of the Post-2015 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) discussion.
Many, however, are concerned that Indonesia's active international economic policies could be trapped and driven toward luring foreign investors and other business communities, while ignoring local resources and people-based economic policies.
Amid growing concern that ASEAN could fail to implement the AEC as scheduled in 2015, many have said that Indonesia would be the most to blame, as the country has failed to utilize its powerful influence to ensure readiness among all ASEAN member states ahead of AEC
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