The Jakarta Post
After years of skipping the United Nations General Assembly, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is set to finally attend the largest annual multilateral summit next month to deliver a speech – albeit not in person – at the general debate session for the first time during his tenure.
“President Jokowi will participate in the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, especially in the general debate session,” said Grata Endah Werdaningtyas, the Foreign Ministry’s director for international security and disarmament, on Thursday.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the General Assembly is to be held under a hybrid arrangement, with only two delegates from each country’s permanent representation office in New York to be allowed to physically attend, while others, including leaders, will attend virtually.
“All speeches from world leaders and ministers, including the Indonesian President, will be delivered in the form of a pre-recorded message [...] to be broadcast virtually by the UN,” Grata told reporters during a virtual briefing.
The general debate is part of a series of annual high-level meetings at the UNGA that are scheduled to take place from Sept. 21 to Oct. 2.
In addition to the presidential address, senior Indonesian officials will attend a number of high-level meetings, including the UN’s 75th anniversary celebration, which will virtually bring together top diplomats from around the world.
In the five years of his first term, Jokowi relied on his then-vice president, Jusuf Kalla, to represent him at faraway international fora, owing to his global acclaim and the wide-ranging respect he commands.
Some officials have noted the President's disdain for extensive travel, while others argue his presence overseas is not necessary to pursue the nation's interests. In any case, Jokowi has been selective in the international events he attends, with a clear preference for economic forums like the G20 and the Belt and Road Initiative.
The last Indonesian president to give a speech in front of world leaders at the UNGA was Jokowi's predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, during his final year in office in 2014.
Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ (LIPI) Center for Political Studies, said Indonesia had been criticized for Jokowi’s lack of presence at multilateral forums like the UN, and that this year, there was no excuse for skipping the event.
“We aren’t asking the President to attend [the event] every year, but there are occasions when he should represent the nation. It is unfortunate that there is criticism of Indonesia’s lack of global leadership,” she said.
Amid a weakening of the global multilateral system, Dewi said it was necessary for Indonesia, as a middle power country and nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, to attend events at the UN and raise issues that required attention.
Indonesia assumed the rotating presidency of the UNSC this month, the second time in a two-year term that ends later this year. It was also president of the council in May last year.
During Thursday’s press briefing, Grata said the President planned to touch on the important role the UN would play in addressing various global challenges, such as overcoming the pandemic and its impacts on the global economy.
Indonesia has called on other countries to bolster multilateralism – particularly among middle powers – and expressed its commitment to maintaining the UN’s status as the world’s major platform for international cooperation.
Various countries have welcomed the call and affirmed that it was time for middle powers to step up to defend the multilateral system of international governance.
Indonesia has forged several middle power alliances such as MIKTA between Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia.
At the UN, Indonesia exercised its duties as president of the Security Council this month by raising various issues it finds to be of particular concern, such as peacekeeping, UN reforms and the Palestine question. These topics were raised despite opposition from veto-wielding members of the council.
One recent sticking point in the Security Council was the US’ demand for the council to reimpose sanctions on Iran, despite Washington having pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. After consulting with other members, Indonesia, as council president, determined there was not a sufficient consensus to proceed with sanctions.
“After receiving the letter from the US secretary of state, the president of the Security Council also received separate letters from 13 other UN Security Council members – including Indonesia's own letter in a national capacity – which in essence was not in line with US views,” Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said in a recent briefing.
She stressed that Indonesia had carried out its duties as council president in accordance with the provisions and procedures in force at the Security Council.
“Indonesia conducted inclusive bilateral consultations with all members of the Security Council to ask for the views of each member on steps the president of the UN Security Council could take,” she said.