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Jakarta Post

Politics of catching up

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, January 13, 2020   /   09:17 am
Politics of catching up President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (JP/-)

Mere months into his second term, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has finally defined Indonesian foreign policy on his own terms: that diplomacy and international relations shall be exercised primarily in service of bolstering the Indonesian economy and economic resilience.

Last week, Jokowi instructed more than 130 Indonesian heads of overseas missions to funnel from “70 to 80 percent” of all diplomatic resources into economic diplomacy activities, largely because of the gloomy global economic outlook and the need to make Indonesia more competitive.

Experts and observers have welcomed the clarity of Jokowi’s policy directive, given his apparent lack of interest in global affairs and aversion to extensive travel early on in his first term.

The President has kept his knack for inclusive national development intact this time around and has even pushed for a legacy — moving the capital city away from Java — that looks largely irreversible. However, Jokowi still has more to prove in the geopolitical sphere — especially when compared to his immediate predecessor.

Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a name for himself as Indonesia’s foreign policy president, having put in significant effort toward increasing Indonesia’s global standing, at a time when the nation was looking to cement its status as a nascent but legitimate democracy.

Known for his grand foreign policy ideas, Yudhoyono lapped up the international attention and continues to do so, most recently in a public statement urging world leaders to act on the tensions between Iran and the United States that spiked following Washington’s assassination of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

One of Yudhoyono’s flagship initiatives was the Bali Democracy Forum, initiated in 2008 as an intergovernmental forum to share how nations practice democracy, just 10 years after the Reformasi movement put an end to the authoritarian rule of Soeharto in 1998.

But now, Jokowi looks likely to do for foreign policy what Yudhoyono was unable to do even as president, which is to make it more relevant to the realities of people on the ground. Detractors of Yudhoyono late in his second term had pointed out how his lofty ideas had been a disservice to the national development agenda.

Under Jokowi, Indonesia is finally catching up in terms of economic potential and infrastructure and his insistence on strengthening the nation’s economic foundations has proven quite popular. If Yudhoyono helped introduce foreign policy to the wider population, Jokowi is likely to be the one to tell people why they should care about it.

Even so, many questions about foreign policy’s place in Jokowi’s national vision remain. How will it affect Indonesia’s approach to multilateral diplomacy? Will we see the dawn of an “Indonesia First” approach to foreign policy?

Can Jokowi depend on Vice President Ma’ruf Amin as he did on Jusuf Kalla on matters pertaining to foreign policy? Will he finally be forced to attend the United Nations General Assembly?

These are some of the questions that will inevitably need to be answered by the President, but for now we can revel in the knowledge that our diplomats know exactly what he wants.