The Jakarta Post
Indonesia is gearing up to turn its foreign policy focus westward when its role as Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) chair begins later this year, expanding President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's so-called maritime-axis doctrine to the Indian Ocean, which covers 20 percent of the Earth's surface.
Weeks after his inauguration in October last year, Jokowi promoted Indonesia's role as a 'global maritime axis' before world leaders at meetings in ASEAN, APEC, the East Asia Summit and the G20. The forums mainly group together Western and Asian nations.
As chairman of IORA, Indonesia will have the opportunity to focus on a different region than Southeast Asia or East Asia, where it has channeled much of its foreign policy attention for decades.
'If we identify our foreign policy priorities for the next five years and connect them to IORA's interests, the 'maritime axis' is a perfect fit,' Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi told a workshop on Indonesia's preparation for the IORA chair at the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta on Wednesday.
IORA's six priority areas are maritime safety and security; trade and investment facilitation; fisheries management; disaster-risk management; academia, science and technology; and tourism and cultural exchanges.
Retno also gave a reminder of Jokowi's focus on 'pro-people diplomacy', which she said must be given serious attention when Indonesia took over the chair from Australia later this year.
'I have repeatedly said that our foreign policy is aimed at serving people's interests. Therefore, this workshop is a good bottom-up forum to capture people's interests and formulate [them into our mission as IORA chair],' Retno added.
Because IORA is a ministerial-level forum, Indonesia taking the chair could also serve as Retno's first real test as foreign minister.
'Sometimes, what looks strategic is not so feasible in terms of people's interests. Our challenge is how to combine both aspects in the best possible way,' she said.
With 2.6 billion people in 20 nations that border the Indian Ocean, an avenue for half of the world's sea container traffic, IORA has strategic and economic importance that is regarded as highly significant.
But the regional architecture in the region is not as developed as that in Southeast Asia and East Asia, making IORA large in terms of geographical size and population but small in terms of impact.
It is expected that Indonesia, as an experienced ASEAN player, the world's largest archipelagic state and as the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, will revitalize IORA's role during its term at the helm.
Retno acknowledged that Indonesia also aimed to rejuvenate the grouping during its two-year tenure.
'Boosting IORA's visibility, both internally and externally, will be one of our main tasks as chair. I believe very few Indonesians are aware of IORA. Activities that make IORA more visible need to be intensified during our chairmanship,' she continued.
According to her, as a middle power, Indonesia had to focus not only on what Indonesia could get from being chair, but also what it could contribute to IORA.
'Indonesia's chairmanship must enable us to identify shortcomings within IORA and address them to strengthen the forum,' Retno said.
Established in 1997 and headquartered in Mauritius, IORA, which was formerly known as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), currently has 20 members.
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