Since President Joko Widodo took office and announced his administration’s priorities last year, many wondered if Indonesia still took its foreign relations seriously. But as Joko is under pressure to show some tangible successes — in terms of jobs, income and prosperity — Indonesian foreign policy is becoming more pragmatic. Economic diplomacy — getting foreign businesses to invest in the country while stimulating exports — is becoming the new mantra.
Joko’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, managed to put Indonesia on the regional map as a leader and peace broker by actively engaging in many international issues, from disputes in the South China Sea to Myanmar’s democratization. His foreign policy, however, was often criticized as being more concerned with image-making than with tangible results.
During his trip to Japan and China, Joko has managed to utilize his predecessor’s achievements to woo both Chinese and Japanese investment. Using Indonesia’s strong image as Southeast Asia’s leading nation, while being fully aware of Sino-Japan rivalry, Joko subtly handled thorny security and political issues important to the regional powers.
As if to remind his hosts of Indonesia’s relevance, Joko said shortly before arriving in China that Beijing’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea had no basis in international law, but added that Jakarta wanted to remain an honest broker.
And guess what? Joko has brought home billions of dollars in committed investment. His trip to Japan and China has put Indonesia back onto the regional geopolitical map.
From now on, however, Joko must actively seek to solve regional disputes, to back up the statements he made. If he doesn’t, his words will be seen as cheap talk, and that is the last thing Indonesia — and the region — need. Jakarta Globe