The Jakarta Post
Over the past few weeks, Indonesia has been extremely busy with a flurry of diplomatic activities. In addition to hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting from Oct. 7 to 8 in Bali, Indonesia also received the the leaders of key strategic partners such as China's President Xi Jinping, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, South Korea's President Park Geun-hye and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Indonesia will also host the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF) in November and the World Trade Organization's (WTO) meeting in December.
However, amid those important diplomatic events, there is one new initiative involving Indonesia that has received very little notice from the media. On the sidelines of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September, Indonesia decided to join a new grouping of states initiated by South Korea called MIKTA, a new acronym for Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia.
What is the nature of this new grouping, and what does it want to achieve? What role can it play in the international arena? What does this new initiative mean for Indonesia and how relevant is it for our national interests?
I was first informed about this initiative in early September from a friend at the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not from our own diplomats here in Jakarta. When my Korean friend told me that Indonesia would be part of the grouping, I was not so sure that Jakarta would be keen to embrace the proposal.
One reason came to mind. MIKTA, as my Korean source defines it, would be an informal grouping of five countries that identify themselves as 'middle powers' working together 'to contribute to the international community's development'.
Of course, Indonesians will obviously support any notion of 'working together', but possible hesitation may come from their country being described as a 'middle power'. Indonesians tend to perceive their country as a negara besar (big power), not negara menengah (middle power).
Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that Indonesia embraced the idea. While I could not find any statement from Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa or other ministry officials about this initiative (perhaps I have not searched hard enough), one can infer that the Indonesian government does embrace the notion that Indonesia is a 'middle power'.
Indonesia is not a major or a great power, at least not yet, but it is definitely not a small power. Therefore, what else can it be but a middle power?
What is interesting about MIKTA is that the five countries do share a number of common characteristics: democracy (though to a varying degree), fast-growing market economy, constructively in their approaches to international issues, and the propensity to play the role of 'bridge-builder' among countries with different views on the global stage. It is also important to note that all participants of MIKTA are members of the G-20. These are clearly invaluable assets that could provide a strong foundation for MIKTA to realize its potential.
The challenges, however, are abundant. First, members of the grouping need to prove that MIKTA is not just a product of chit-chat among foreign ministers on the sidelines of an international gathering in New York. Of course, as the initiator, I am convinced that South Korea would do its best to ensure that MIKTA will evolve into a meaningful platform of cooperation. Others should also share the same commitment and passion about the prospect of MIKTA evolving into a respected global player.
Second, participants in the grouping should ensure that their domestic constituencies at home widely share the vision. Without strong domestic support, this kind of initiative will quickly evaporate into thin air. The participating states should explain to their own domestic constituencies why this initiative is important.
Third, MIKTA needs to identify and agree on areas where it can cooperate and coordinate its collective undertakings. Participating states need also to connect the dots among themselves. This will require member states to enhance their bilateral ties with one another. Without strong cooperation connecting all members, this kind of grouping often lacks the capacity to act as a collective entity.
For Indonesia, MIKTA should serve not only as a conduit for the attainment of our national interests, but also as a mechanism through which we could strengthen our global connectivity and enhance our contribution to global governance. If we can manage our 'middle power' diplomacy well, then, and only then, can we start preparing Indonesia to become a major player in international affairs.
The writer is executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.