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Foreign policy in changing global politics: Indonesia’s foreign policy and the quest for major power status in the Asian Century

Mohamad Rosyidin

South East Asia Research


ª SOAS University of London 2017 Reprints and permission:

Article Foreign policy in changing global politics: Indonesia’s foreign policy and the quest for major DOI: 10.1177/0967828X17706570 Department of International Relations, Diponegoro University, Indonesia Abstract Since President Jokowi came to power in October 2014, Indonesia’s foreign policy has undergone fundamental change, most obviously in the state’s emphasis on domestic priorities rather than global engagement. Although Jokowi’s foreign policy has pursued an ‘active’ principle by partici- pating in many international forums, it seems to have overlooked the changing contexts of the geopolitical turn. Asia has been rising and is becoming the geopolitical center of gravity in the 21st century. Yet, instead of adapting to this shift, Indonesia’s foreign policy continues to neglect the ‘Asian Century’ turn that has been taking place for years. Indonesia should have increased its international profile to enhance its status as a ‘Third Asian Giant’ beside China and India, but Jokowi’s administration has not taken such an opportunity. This article argues that Indonesia is not interested in gaining international status because of the domestically focused nature of its foreign policy. Indonesia is seen as needing to consolidate its own national resilience before asserting itself in a wider international arena. For Jokowi, national interest is defined as material—primarily economic—interest. In addition, Indonesia’s traditional status as a regional, middle level interna- tional power prevents the country from seeking any greater global status. This article argues, with optimism, that Indonesia should seek to change this traditional paradigm of middle power status. It suggests that the assertion of global status matters in Indonesia’s foreign policy because the better the country’s position in the international hierarchy of states, the easier it will be for the nation to achieve its own domestic interests. Keywords Asian Century, Indonesia’s foreign policy, international status, Jokowi, major power Corresponding author: Mohamad Rosyidin, Department of International Relations, Diponegoro University, Jl. Prof. H. Soedharto, SH, Tembalang, Semarang, Central Java 50275, Indonesia. Email: " id="pdf-obj-0-23" src="pdf-obj-0-23.jpg">

Department of International Relations, Diponegoro University, Indonesia


Since President Jokowi came to power in October 2014, Indonesia’s foreign policy has undergone fundamental change, most obviously in the state’s emphasis on domestic priorities rather than global engagement. Although Jokowi’s foreign policy has pursued an ‘active’ principle by partici- pating in many international forums, it seems to have overlooked the changing contexts of the geopolitical turn. Asia has been rising and is becoming the geopolitical center of gravity in the 21st century. Yet, instead of adapting to this shift, Indonesia’s foreign policy continues to neglect the ‘Asian Century’ turn that has been taking place for years. Indonesia should have increased its international profile to enhance its status as a ‘Third Asian Giant’ beside China and India, but Jokowi’s administration has not taken such an opportunity. This article argues that Indonesia is not interested in gaining international status because of the domestically focused nature of its foreign policy. Indonesia is seen as needing to consolidate its own national resilience before asserting itself in a wider international arena. For Jokowi, national interest is defined as material—primarily economic—interest. In addition, Indonesia’s traditional status as a regional, middle level interna- tional power prevents the country from seeking any greater global status. This article argues, with optimism, that Indonesia should seek to change this traditional paradigm of middle power status. It suggests that the assertion of global status matters in Indonesia’s foreign policy because the better the country’s position in the international hierarchy of states, the easier it will be for the nation to achieve its own domestic interests.


Asian Century, Indonesia’s foreign policy, international status, Jokowi, major power

Corresponding author:

Mohamad Rosyidin, Department of International Relations, Diponegoro University, Jl. Prof. H. Soedharto, SH, Tembalang, Semarang, Central Java 50275, Indonesia.



South East Asia Research XX(X)


Generally speaking, every leadership turnover always brings with it a changing course in the state’s

foreign policy. Since the new government relies on public support to preserve its power and legitimacy, it tends to pursue policies favored by its supporters (Mattes et al., 2015). There may be some similarities, or continuity, but the new government is nonetheless likely to take a different path from its predecessor. Indonesia’s foreign policy after the election of Joko Widodo (Jokowi) shows this tendency. Unlike his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi has seemed less ambitious in bringing Indonesia onto the world stage. This is not to say that Jokowi’s foreign policy is inward-looking, as suggested by many observers (see for example Situmorang, 2014). In fact, Indonesia continues to conduct active policies abroad, but with a lesser degree of involvement than during the previous era. For example, Indonesia served as the chair of the multilateral forum IORA (the Indian Ocean Rim Association) from 2015 to 2017, ratified the Paris Agreement in November 2016, initiated interfaith dialogue with the Arab League, held the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), mediated the Saudi-Iran conflict in 2016, sent humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and so forth. Under Yudhoyono’s presidency, Indonesia was regarded as a “regional power with global interests and concerns” (Acharya, 2014: 2). For Jokowi, Indonesia is a “regional power with selective global engagement” (Widodo and Kalla, 2014: 13). Pursuing a mantra of ‘pro-people diplomacy’, Jokowi wants to transform Indonesia’s foreign policy into something that can contribute directly to the interests of the people. This entails a foreign policy orientation that leans towards the domestic rather than the international (see for example Connelly, 2014; Para- meswaran, 2015; Qin, 2015; and Schwartz, 2015). The foreign policy approach taken by Jokowi’s administration is understandable since Indo- nesia remains a middle power country with limited resources, preventing it from becoming a global power. Sukma (2012: 90) states that Indonesia’s ability to conduct global-oriented foreign policy has been constrained by persistent domestic weaknesses. Similarly, McRae (2014) argues that a lack of both material and non-material resources weakens Indonesia’s diplomatic conduct. This is why Jokowi has oriented his foreign policy towards fixing domestic conditions before playing an active role on the international stage. As Anwar (2013: 12) puts it, “restructuring and recovering internal problems are crucial conditions before adaptive efforts in addressing any external chal- lenges can be taken into account.” To use Richard Haass’ (2013) phrase, Jokowi has adopted the view that “foreign policy begins at home”. However, this policy approach seems neglectful of the international dynamics that have been taking place in recent years. In much academic literature it is commonly argued that the inter- national environment provides a strategic basis for foreign policy making. Hermann (1990), for example, mentions an ‘external shock’ as being a determining factor in a state’s foreign policy change. The international system, that is, the external environment where interactions among international actors take place, is the setting in which policy-makers—primarily a nation’s leader—decide what policy options are most appropriate. In other words, states always adapt to the changing environment in which they are embedded (Goldman, 1988). Likewise, Hill (2003: 31)

asserts that foreign policy is formulated “


to mediate the impact of the external on the domestic

and to find ways of projecting a particular set of concerns in a very intractable world.” In short,

foreign policy cannot be separated from the external contexts. The changing contours in contemporary international relations reflect a power shift from the West to Asia. The terms ‘Asian Century’ and ‘Asia’s Rise’ have been popularly used by aca- demics, pundits, and policymakers (see for example Barber, 2011; Kahler, 2013; Keating, 2009;



MacDonald and Lemco, 2011; Shie and Meer, 2010; and Tellis, 2011). They announce the major geopolitical turn of the 21st century, as detailed in a 2011 report by the Asian Development Bank proposing that Asia has reached a stage of historical transformation (ADB, 2011). The report projected that, by 2050, Asian per capita income will have increased six-fold compared to Europe. By 2050, Asia will account for more than 50 percent of the world’s GDP. According to Mahbubani (2011), the 21st century belongs to Asia and will see the end of Western dominance. ‘Asia’s Rise’, marked by the rapid economic development of China, India, and other Asian countries, represents “a seminal turning point in history” (MacDonald and Lemco, 2011: 2). Aside from the economic boom that began in the early 2000s, Asia has become more influential on a geopolitical level since the new millennium. With the world’s fastest-rising military expenditures and most serious hot- spots such as the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea, Asia will increasingly determine the future global order (Chellaney, 2006). Thus, it is not an exaggeration to state that, with the ongoing decentering of Western domination, all countries in the Asia region, including Indonesia, should adjust their foreign policies in order to deal with the challenges ahead. Although Asia is undergoing remarkable development, Indonesia seems uninterested in fully embracing this fact. It has responded to the arrival of the Asian Century by promoting the ‘Global Maritime Nexus-China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ cooperation, which tends to focus on infrastructure development, but there has been little attention given to significant issues such as how to promote Indonesia’s status as one of the major powers in Asia. In terms of foreign policy, Indonesia has been reluctant to utilize the moment of the Asian Century as a ‘window of oppor- tunity’ to improve its status as the ‘Third Asian Giant’ (Reid, 2012) after China and India. While other developing countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Mexico, and Nigeria have responded to the decline of the West by expanding their global engagement, Indonesia has focused on domestic issues and does not seem eager to play a particularly active role in the international arena. Why does Indonesia seem reluctant to become the third Asian giant? And why should Indonesia pursue major power status? The answer to the first question is twofold. First, Jokowi’s adminis- tration believes that the pursuit of international status is not in the vital interests of the country. Due to its nature, status (the concept of which is discussed in detail in the next section) is less important than material interests, particularly economic interests. Second, there is an enduring belief that Indonesia is an ‘emerging power’, not a ‘rising power’. In contrast to China and India’s aspirations to be major powers, Indonesia prefers to maintain its traditional concept of middle power status. In other words, Indonesia has no intention of becoming a major power (Acharya, 2014). With regard to the second question, this article suggests that considering the changing dynamics of international affairs today, the Indonesian government should utilize the Asian Century moment not only to maximize benefits in terms of national material interests, but also to change its foreign policy orientation. Indonesia’s status as a middle power is not everlasting; the country should be able to become a major power that has great influence in international society. This article is organized as follows. The first section discusses status as a conceptual framework for analyzing foreign policy. Status has long been recognized as an important feature in world politics, yet it is neglected by many academics and policymakers. The second section examines the domestic character of Jokowi’s foreign policy, identifying four key features: the rise of nationalist ideology, the return to a regionalist approach on the state’s concentric circle, economic diplomacy, and the narrow conception of what constitutes the ‘national interest’. The third section discusses Indonesia as a reluctant giant; potentially a major power, but uninterested in pursuing this role. It argues that the government’s narrow conception of the national interest, as well as its traditional


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idea of middle power status, have been preventing Indonesia from aspiring to greater power. This section also proposes policy recommendations on how to facilitate the pursuit of major power status, while the final section then offers concluding remarks.

Status in world politics: A conceptual framework

Academics of International Relations (IR) are familiar with the term ‘status’, yet it is rarely used as an analytical framework. As such, sociology may offer an important contribution to the intellectual

development of IR. In sociology, status is one of the key concepts used to explain social inter-

actions. According to Weber (in Giddens and Sutton, 2014: 228), status is “


differences between

social groups according to the social honor or prestige that they are given by others” (emphasis added). This implies that status is a personal position or rank in society based not specifically on the ownership of material resources but on prestige. Thus, status is distinguished from social class which, according to Weber (in Scott, 2006: 175), is determined on the basis of economic factors or wealth. Status generates an individual or group’s role in society. Status equates to position, while a role is a person’s rights and obligations based on that position. In other words, a role is an expected action taken in accordance with the position it bears. In IR, the distinction between status and role is fuzzy. For instance, the term ‘superpower’ in discussions about US foreign policy refers to both status and role. For example, the US is a superpower, which means it is ranked highest in the hierarchy of states. It also means that the US plays a role as superpower by upholding the global order. This implies that the role of superpower refers to the status of the US. Regardless of this overlap, the two concepts should be defined clearly, and this article distinguishes status as a state’s position in a hierarchy from the actions performed by that state, which constitute its role. In international relations, status matters because it determines states role at the global stage. The

higher status of a country, the higher level of its international engagement. This is not to say that states at the lower level of status do not or cannot engage at the global level. Yet, it is easy to understand that small and middle powers have limited resources to engage globally. In IR literatures, the concept of status has increasingly been adopted as a variable to understand states’ foreign policy. In contrast to the Weberian definition of the concept that stresses the label attached by others, status in IR refers to both material and ideational variables. Larson et al. (2014:

7) suggest that status is “


(the) collective beliefs about a given state’s ranking on valued

attributes (wealth, coercive capabilities, culture, demographic position, sociopolitical organiza- tion, and diplomatic clout).” In international politics, countries are generally grouped into three categories based on their status: major, middle, and small powers. This categorization once again cannot be determined based solely on material capabilities. Ideational elements such as culture, traditions, history, values, and domestic societal aspects play an important role in affecting how states perceive themselves to behave on the global stage. There are three different meanings of status (Larson et al., 2014: 8–9). First, there is status as a byproduct of collective recognition from the international community. For example, every country would agree that those who have huge material resources should be categorized as major powers. Second, subjectivity also plays an important role in determining status. States use language to attribute others with certain types, including status. Consequently, there may be many different labels applied to a state’s status. For example, from one perspective, Japan could be a major power since it has huge material resources, but could also be a middle or regional power due to its limited influence in many international issues (see for example Katzenstein and Rouse, 1993; Kobayashi,



2015). Third, status can be comparative in nature; determining status requires comparing one state to another. For example, the UK is a ‘major power’ when compared with Azerbaijan. Why is status important in international rela tions? Why do countries need to pursue it? The answer is very simple: those who occupy the highest position will have more privileges than those who do not. State behavior is similar to ind ividual behavior in society. Relationships between individuals is often determined by the ir respective statuses in a social system. The higher the status, the more influential will be the person. For example, a community leader has greater influence than regular c itizens. Likewise, in international politics, the higher the status of a country, the greater will be its influence. States with high statuses find it relatively easier to achieve their desired objectiv es than those with lower statu ses. In addition, status also engenders national pride for the people of a country. Higher international status can enhance the self-esteem of the nation (Larson et al., 2014: 18). Wendt argues that such self-esteem is one of four typical national interest o bjectives in addition to surviva l, autonomy, and economic well- being (Wendt, 1999: 235–236). Although there is abundant literature on the subject, there is no firm agreement on what criteria determine major power status. The dominant approach is neorealist, which assumes that major power status demands possession of large material capabilities relative to others. Waltz, in his seminal Theory of International Politics, states that, “The parts of a hierarchic system are related to one another in ways that are determined both by their functional differentiation and by the extent of their capabilities” (emphasis added) (Waltz, 1979: 97). Another approach is the liberal school of thought, which examines the state’s role in multilateral cooperation. Unlike the neo-realists who place emphasis on the state’s ‘muscle’, the liberal view uses the metaphor of the ‘brain’, whereby states are considered to be major powers if they demonstrate a high degree of international engagement, particularly if they successfully promote their national values and norms globally. Liberal internationalists believe that the major powers are hegemonic, not necessarily militarily but in the influence of their values and norms. For example, promoting democracy abroad is a typical foreign policy of major powers. The third approach is constructivist, which ta kes national self-identity as an independent variable. For constructivists, the category of major power status cannot be produced solely through recognition from other countries beca use this may be deceptive, meaning that other countries attach the label only to please others. Rather, it is produced through a nation’s history, culture, geography, and leadership (Larson and Shevchenko, 2010). For example, France is a major power not only because of its economic and military capabilities but also because of its great history and culture (see for example Cherny, 1980; Gordon, 2003). This is not to say that national self-identification determines state status; it requires recognition from others. History and culture matter because they attract recognition. This is not without exception. Sometimes history could be the cau se of conflict among states. Take for example Sino-Japan relations which came under pressure during the Sino-Japan war during the Second World War. When talking about status based on history and culture, it relates to having had a good reputation in the past. Not all countries would recognize state historical and cultural heritage—especially those who had been victim s—but it is arguably the case that history and culture provide a source of status. As mentioned previously, a high position provides many advantages. Volgy et al. (2011: 10) offer three explanations as to why becoming a major power is beneficial. First, major power status can enable a state to play a leading role in various global issues, including involvement in inter- national conflicts. By assuming a leadership role, a state is able to exert ‘soft power’ and influence


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the global agenda. Second, major power status makes it easier to achieve other interests. Major powers can reduce expensive policies in an effort to attain their goals. This is different from small powers, which extract all the resources they have in order to get what they want. For example, for China it is relatively easy to split ASEAN in light of the South China Sea dispute while lesser powers such as Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other claimant states cannot do anything (see for example Pattiradjawane, 2012: 10). Third, attaining or maintaining major power status engenders a sense of pride in a nation’s citizens. Domestic popular support then fuels the state’s confidence in pursuing its foreign policies. In short, although there has been skepticism regarding the importance of status in world politics—primarily from the neo-realist school of thought that neglects factors other than distribution of capabilities—it is of real significance, especially if a state wants to be a global actor. As mentioned, major power status is not solely determined by a nation’s material capabilities but also by the state’s willingness to engage in international affairs and its recognition from other countries. Based on these three conditions, there are three types of major power status (Volgy et al., 2011: 205). First, countries that meet all the requirements are considered as consistent major powers. The US, India, China, and the UK are included in this category since they are all recognized as major powers and are consistently active in participating at the global level. Second, countries that do not meet the first two requirements (for example, those with weak economic and military power, or an unwillingness to engage in international affairs) are considered as incon- sistent overachieving major powers. Russia is labelled as a major power but its foreign policy has limited geopolitical orientation since it has long been focusing on East European countries. Another example is France, labelled as a major power but lacking the resources and capabilities to be so. Third, countries that satisfy the first two requirements, but are not recognized by the international community, are considered as inconsistent underachieving major powers. Japan is a good example of this type of power since it has huge material capabilities as well as active par- ticipation at the global level yet it has not been recognized as a major power by the international community. Vogel’s typology is still incomplete since in reality there are many countries that meet only the first requirement—for instance, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Mexico, and Venezuela—that do not act like major powers and are not recognized as such, despite possessing large material capabilities economically and militarily. Thus far, it can be concluded that status matters in international politics. Hence, in addition to the pursuit of power, wealth, and security, states also pursue status, prestige, and reputation (Maoz, 2011: 211). Although these latter qualities are not ‘national interests’ in the traditional sense, they do facilitate the gaining of vital interests. Consequently, it becomes important for states to explore strategies for achieving major power status. In the present day, military force no longer serves so readily as a state’s instrument of mobilization in international politics. Indeed, it has been argued that conducting diplomacy through military muscle may ultimately hinder more than help a state in its pursuit of major power status (Stolte, 2015: 23). Alternative strategies involve enhancing international roles and engaging in multilateral forums. For example, states can play roles as mediators of interstate conflicts, facilitating major powers dialogue, sending peacekeeper forces, initiating global norms, and so on. Pardesi (2015: 11) suggests that to be regarded as a major power, a state must expand its influence beyond its own region. Foreign policy activism, that is, foreign policy that stresses active participation at the global level, is an appropriate strategy through which to do this. Symbolic actions in order to demonstrate national pride and greatness, such as hosting international events, nuclear testing, and launching rockets into outer space, may also play an important role.



Four characteristics of Jokowi’s foreign policy

Indonesia’s foreign policy has dramatically changed since the 2014 election. Jokowi has reversed Indonesia’s foreign policy from an international to a domestic orientation. His policies emphasize economic restructuration to enhance sustainable growth and a defense posture that preserves state sovereignty and national interests. As suggested earlier, this is not to say that Jokowi’s foreign policy is isolationist. Indeed, Indonesia has a longstanding commitment to its foreign policy principle of being ‘free and active’. Mohammad Hatta, the first Indonesian Vice-President, asserted that being ‘active’ means Indonesia is keen to promote world peace in accordance with the UN Charter (Hatta, 1953: 444). Jokowi continues to play an active role on the international stage, but in contrast to his predecessor he places a far higher priority on domestic considerations than foreign policy. This changing course is not entirely new. During the New Order (1966–1998), Indonesia’s foreign policy shifted from Sukarno’s high profile to Suharto’s low profile diplomacy. During Suharto’s presidency, Indonesia maintained a role as a regional power, contributing to stability in South East Asia through leadership in ASEAN, but national economic development became the major concern for his government (Suryadinata, 1998: 236). Suharto believed that diplomacy without a strong national economy would fail. In a speech delivered before parliament members (DPR-GR) on August 16, 1969, he stated:

We put a high priority on economic development, precisely to enhance the resilience of our national economy, which is in a very severe condition. That is why most of us sometimes ask a question: why is Indonesia’s voice to the outside world no longer “great” as it once was, as if we’ve relinquished our ideals and role in world peace? No. Our ideals do not change and our role should be preserved. The issue is, we will be able to play a more effective role when we first have national resilience. In the meantime, we also will not stay silent, but still play a role according to our existing capabilities. (Indonesian National Library, 1969)

Jokowi’s own foreign policy exhibits four key characteristics. First, the revivalism of nation- alist ideology. Nationalism has often been cons idered as a factor contributing to interstate conflicts. As a form of ideology, nationalism tends to emphasize sovereignty and national dignity. Nationalism is not inherently aggressi ve (Mann, 2013: 172) but it tends to lead to an aggressive foreign policy sin ce it will not tolerate any inte rference from external powers. Sukarno’s nationalist-based foreign policy cont ributed to international hostilities with many countries, especially in the West. When Jokowi came to power his nationalism was most likely rooted in the ideology of the Indonesian Democratic Party Perjuangan (PDI-P). Camroux (2015) argues that Jokowi’s foreign po licy represents a return to the guided democracy of the Sukarno era. Domestic politics plays a crucial role in affec ting this policy preference. In terms of political approach, Jokowi relates his ideological reliance to the nationalist style of Sukarno. But in terms of economic and foreign policy orientation, as mentioned before, his policy is similar to Suhar- to’s approach. The most salient ex ample of Jokowi’s aggression is his policy of sinking illegal fishing boats. In 2014, Interior Minister Tjahyo Kumolo asserted that the government should take aggressive decisions on behalf of the dignity and honor of the country, defending its territorial sovereignty and protecting natural resources (CNN Indonesia, 2014a). This nationalist sentiment was also evident when Indonesian offici als later announced that the government would sink 71 foreign vessels as Indonesia commemorated 71 years of independence (Parameswaran,


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2016). In addition, Jokowi has refused to grant amnesty to accused drug smugglers from Aus- tralia, Brazil, Netherland, and various African countries, who have been sentenced to death by the Indonesian courts. While the governments of several of the accused have urged Indonesia to abolish the death penalty, Jokowi has highlighted the importance of sovereignty by stating, “Do not intervene in our decisions, because it is our rule of law, our political sovereignty” (Radio Deutschland, 2015). Indonesia also reacted immediately after Chinese fishing boats entered the waters off Natuna, an Indonesian territory. Using gunboat diplomacy, Jokowi led a cabinet meeting from the warship KRI Imam Bonjol, sending a signal to the Chinese government that it should not encroach on Indonesian sovereignty. Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung contended, “[N]atuna belongs to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia [NKRI] and that’s final. As the head of government and the head of state, the President wants to make sure that Natuna always remains part of Indonesia” (Jakarta Post, 2016). Second, there is a tendency towards narrowing the concentric circles of Indonesia’s strategic interests. Indonesia has traditionally focused on ASEAN as the cornerstone of its foreign policy decisions since the regional organization was formed in 1967 (Anwar, 1994). Yet, during Yud- hoyono’s presidency, Indonesia gave notice that the scope of its interests was not limited to the region but extended to the world as a whole. When giving a speech before 21 participants from the Outstanding Students for the World program in 2013, a programme for youths to support Indo- nesian public diplomacy conducted by the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Indo- nesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa stated, “Indonesia is a regional power with global interests; a large country in the region, but with global interests and concerns. There are no global problems that go unnoticed by Indonesia” (Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2013). How- ever, Jokowi’s conception of the concentric circles of Indonesian strategic interest harks back to more traditional thinking that has focused on ASEAN, while also extending to the wider Indo- Pacific region. As such, Jokowi is pursuing a middle way between Suharto’s focus on ASEAN and Yudhoyono’s push for Indonesia to become a global player. ASEAN alone is seen as too small an area within which to realize the vision of turning the Indonesian archipelago into a ‘maritime power’. Rizal Sukma, who was Jokowi’s foreign policy adviser, has argued that ASEAN should no longer be treated as the cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy (Sukma, 2009). In his vision and mission statement during the presidential campaign, Jokowi stated that “We will expand regional involvement to the Indo-Pacific region. The focus of the Indo-Pacific region is to ‘integrate’ two oceans – the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean – as the implementation of the strategic envi- ronmental foreign policy in the region” (Widodo and Kalla, 2014). The most significant expression of this strategy has been the doctrine of the ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’. This idea refers to Indonesia as an ‘archipelagic state’ as well as a ‘maritime country’. It also serves as a sense of common purpose to perceive Indonesia as an important power in the Indo- Pacific region (Sukma, 2014). In a speech at the 25th East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on November 13, 2014, Jokowi stated that the doctrine rests on five pillars: maritime culture, maritime resources, maritime infrastructure and connectivity, maritime diplomacy, and maritime defense and security (Jakarta Post, 2014). From 2015 to 2017, Indonesia has taken over the rotating chairmanship of the IORA from Australia which pursues six priority areas, congruent with the Global Maritime Fulcrum doctrine: maritime safety and security; trade and investment facil- itation; fisheries management; disaster risk management; academia, science, and technology; and tourism and cultural exchange (Jakarta Post, 2015). Third is the belief that national power should be based on domestic capabilities. This approach is similar to Suharto’s New Order with its focus on national economic development.



Allied to this is a belief that economic diplomacy should play a central role in contemporary Indonesia’s foreign policy. In 2014, Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi committed to this approach by stating, “We’ve got a vision. Clearly, economic diplomacy will be a priority” (Republika, 2014). To follow up on this commitment, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs established an ‘economic diplomacy task force’ as a strategy to ensure that business opportunities, development co-operations, and economic agreements could be implemented as soon as possible (Antara, 2014). Jokowi has identified growing the national economy as a requirement for strengthening the defense sector: “It’s been many times I have to say, if our economy grows above seven [percent a year], our defense budget could be 3 times more than that now. If not, where do we get the [defense] budget from?” (Kompas, 2014). Favoring bilateralism over multilateralism, Jokowi has sought to build strategic partnerships with a focus on trade and investment. During his visit to the Europe he obtained business commitments amounting to US$20.5 billion from the UK, US$875 million from Germany, and US$604.2 million from the Netherlands, and he hopes for a quick resolution to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU (Sambuaga, 2016: 10). Economic diplomacy is intended to bolster national development, which in turn will increase national prosperity. This is consistent with Jokowi’s ‘pro-people diplomacy’ that makes people the top priority of national interests. Fourth, Jokowi has tended to reduce the concept of national interest to the material gain. The term national interest is frequently used rhetorically in diplomatic conduct, with political elites often liberally using the term to justify their policies. Conceptually though, the national interest may be divided into two forms comprising material interests and non-material interests. Material interests consist of power, wealth, and security, in accordance with neorealist and neoliberal scholarships (Finnemore, 1996: 1), while non-material interests include status, prestige, and rep- utation. 1 Most observers and foreign policy practitioners, particularly from the neorealist and neoliberal standpoints, equate national interests with material interest categories such as power— in terms of military—and economic gains. Similarly, Jokowi’s administration emphasizes the importance of pursuing a strong economy (wealth) and increasing the military budget with a special focus on improving maritime defense capabilities (power), as well as the preservation of state sovereignty and the protection of Indonesian citizens abroad (security). As stated before, enhancing trade and investment partnerships through a bilateral approach is seen as the foreign policy key to Indonesia increasing its economic growth. Meanwhile, maritime defense is an integral part of the Global Maritime Fulcrum doctrine. In 2016, the Indonesian Navy received money amounting to Rp.1.19 trillion and signed 154 contracts to fulfill Minimum Essential Force as well as to strengthen Indonesian border security as instructed by the President (Tribun News,


Based on the four characteristics stated above, it can be concluded that Jokowi’s foreign policy seems to not be paying attention to the need for international status, even if Indonesia’s reputation

1. Status, prestige, and reputation are three different but interrelated concepts. Status and prestige have always been used interchangeably and are even intertwined. Status, as discussed earlier in this article, is the position or rank of an actor in a society or international system. Prestige is similar to honor, glory, or respect attained from others. Prestige stems from status because people tend to give respect to those who occupy a higher level. Meanwhile, reputation means judgements about characters or performance of persons and then is used to predict their future behavior. It differs from status in the sense that reputation has nothing to do with position. It also differs from prestige since it is not limited to positive image. Therefore, reputation could be good or bad.


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has been strongly recognized by the international community. Indonesia has been recognized as one of four ‘global swing states’, that is, states that matter most due to their large economies, strategic locations, and robust democracy (Kliman, 2012). Indonesia is also a respected member of the international community, not only in the Asia-Pacific region but also in the world at large

(Acharya, 2014: 119). Besides, Indonesia is “


poised to play an important role in the strategic

discourse confronting both the region and the world” (Shekhar, 2015: 1). The government tends to ignore other possibilities such as improving the state’s international status as other aspiring powers have done, such as India, Brazil, Turkey, and South Africa. The next section will explain the reason behind this and argue that efforts to heighten global status should be taken into account in Indo- nesia’s foreign policy.

Indonesia: A reluctant giant?

The non-material nature of status and its lack of obvious immediate correlation with domestic

economic growth mean that it has not been treated as a priority in Jokowi’s ‘pro-people diplomacy’ politics. Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, the Jakarta Post’s editor-in-chief, has stated that, as a practical person, Jokowi does not see why Indonesia should spend its energy on foreign affairs if the domestic situation is a mess (Liputan 6, 2015). Similarly, M Qodari has said, “our political posture abroad is a reflection of how strong we are at home” (CNN Indonesia, 2014b). It is domestic conditions that determine state behavior abroad. In addition, the pursuit of global major power status is not attractive to a longstanding foreign policy paradigm that sees Indonesia self-identify as a global ‘middle power’ and ‘regional power’.

Cooper (1997: 8) argues that middle power diplomacy is directed towards “


easing global

tensions in general, averting the possibility of another world war in particular.” Indonesia’s ‘free and active’ foreign policy tradition means that the country typically adopts the position of mod- erator, bridge, or ‘linchpin’ between conflicting states. 2 As Novotny (2010: 300–301) puts it, “the dynamics of contemporary Indonesian foreign policy can be understood and their future better predicted exactly in the context of the ‘row between two reefs’ thesis.” A middle power is a country that is not so strong as to overly influence the international system, but also not so weak as to only be a spectator. Middle power foreign policy frequently attempts to place ‘in between’ or bridging conflicts between states and actively promote peace by mediating international conflicts. This approach has been maintained by the Indonesian government since independence, and it has become a fundamental principle, as stated explicitly in the constitution of 1945. 3 Changing the paradigm could be considered a ‘taboo’ because of its rejection of the ‘free and active’ principle. Consequently, Indonesia as a country has not aspired to any higher global status. Public intellectuals have debated whether Indonesia is an ‘emerging power’ or ‘rising power’. According to Acharya (2014: 3–4), while ‘rising power’ refers to countries that have clear potential to become major powers, ‘emerging power’ refers to countries that are not heading for major power status. Significant differences between emerging and rising powers are reflected in the

  • 2. ‘Free and active’ is a basic principle of Indonesian foreign policy. Coined by Mohammad Hatta, the first vice president of the country, it contains the ‘independent’ principle by which Indonesia plays no favorites between two opposed blocs, while ‘active’ means the effort to work energetically for the preservation of peace. See Hatta (1953: 444).

  • 3. In the 4th Paragraph of Preamble of Indonesia’s Constitution it is stated “ lishment of a world order based on freedom, abiding peace and social justice.”


to contribute to the estab-



character of their foreign policies. Neither emerging nor rising powers have sufficient domestic capabilities to play a major role in the international sphere in the present time, but while emerging powers are likely to maintain the status quo, rising powers seek to change the balance of power. Cooper and Alexandroff (2010: 6) assert that the foreign policy of rising powers is oriented to improving their status. Likewise, Nau (2012: 3–4) states that rising powers “express and debate views about their role in the world, and these worldviews interpret what they want to do with their power.” By these definitions, it is clear that a key determinant of whether a country may become a major power is the ambition or the willingness of the state in question to pursue that status. As such, it would seem that Indonesia may currently be best described as an ‘emerging’ rather than ‘rising power’. Others, though, have argued that Indonesia is already a rising power given the fact that it is one of Asia’s most exciting success stories (Islam and Diaz, 2013) and due to its growing impact in Asian-Pacific geopolitics (Shekhar, 2015). Thompson (2015: 22) argues that Indonesia “has been a rising power in Asia since independence, and has become increasingly prominent on the world stage.” In addition, Indonesia is also categorized as a ‘rising middle power’ or ‘emerging middle power’ (Rosyidin, 2014). This term connotes Indonesia’s tendency to use multilateral forums in order to find solutions to various global problems. Jordaan (2013: 175) suggested that emerging middle powers attempt to raise their international profile and gain international approval for foreign policy initiatives. Thus, the willingness of a country to take an active role on the global stage plays a crucial part in determining the prospect to become a major power. In spite of its potential and international reputation, Indonesia has recently been reluctant to act like a rising power. Nehru (2016) argues that the country is unwilling and unable to project its power both regionally and globally. He suggests that Indonesia has been well-served by the current regional and global order so it does not see the need to change the status quo. Indonesia does not want to make any trouble with other countries because this could jeopardize its existing strategic partnerships. However, this reticence should not be a barrier to Indonesia pursuing greater international status. Indeed, with its rich history and cultural heritage, geographical position, and wealth of resources, Indonesia arguably has the potential to be a major power. However, before pursuing this position there are a number of elements that would need to be addressed. First, Indonesia must change the way it perceives its own status. If Indonesia believes that being a middle power is enough, then it should look at its own history from centuries ago. China and India alike exploit their long, rich histories as sources of inspiration to improve their statuses as major powers. Indonesia should be able to do likewise. The government must also change its worldview on Indonesia’s position in the international political arena. Before other strategic measures are taken, the government first has to alter its self-perception as being a middle power. Volgy et al. (2011: 206) state that, “Self-attribution, and the perceived need by policymakers for more major power status, or the bolstering of previously held status appears to be one of the crucial ingredients driving status competition between states.” If the government is unsure about this suggestion, then it should conduct public opinion polls to measure the level of public support for a new paradigm of Indonesian foreign policy. Second, following changes in Indonesia’s foreign policy paradigm it will be necessary to develop a grand strategy that includes long-term goals—say up to the year 2050—which will serve as a road map to where Indonesia’s foreign policy is directed. Lie Nathanael Santoso, a researcher from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta has suggested that, “Indonesia lacks – a grand strategy. It has not been clearly defined what its geopolitical interests are and has not convincingly articulated what it wants to achieve with its foreign relations over the long term” (Santoso, 2011). Martell argues that, “A state without a clear and coherent strategy will, as a matter of definition, suffer the penalties that follow from having a confused and chaotic


South East Asia Research XX(X)

foreign policy” (Martell, 2015: 5). Jokowi’s doctrine of the Global Maritime Fulcrum can be considered as a grand strategy for Indonesia. The President’s former foreign policy advisor and

now Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Rizal Sukma, has explained that the Global Maritime

Fulcrum doctrine “

can be regarded as a vision or ideal that Indonesia wants to construct. In this

... context, the Global Maritime Fulcrum idea represents a wider aspiration to reclaim Indonesia’s national identity as an archipelagic nation, which is expected to translate into the form of Indonesia as a unified, prosperous and assertive maritime power” (Sukma, 2014). Third, Indonesia should increase its international involvement. Internationalism is a necessary condition for improving the status of a major power (Hurrell, 2006). A great economic and military power cannot truly be considered as a major global power so long as it does not play an active role in the international sphere. Take, for example, two rising powers of the developing world, Brazil and India. Both countries project themselves as future major world powers (Ciorciari, 2011). Their ambition is supported by the internationalist character of their foreign policies. Both states aspire to be permanent members of the UN Security Council, and to be actively involved in the Doha Development Round negotiations, climate change discussions, and so on. The Brazilian foreign policy expert Oliver Stuenkel believes that the majority of Brazilians consider the country to be a likely major power and strongly expect their country to reach that status in the near future. He also argues that Brazil and India are both trying to change the distribution of world power through international institutions. They are increasing their international role and responsibilities, including playing an active part in addressing various global problems (Stuenkel, 2010: 300). Such foreign policy activism is an integral part of the strategy of rising powers to achieve upward mobility in international politics. A crucial question then arises: what would be the implication of Indonesia rising as a major power? According to Kupchan (2001: 7), power transition, namely the transformation of the balance of world power due to the rise of new great powers, can trigger three situations: war, cold peace (stability based on competition and mutual deterrence), or warm peace (stability based on cooperation and mutual reassurance). The rise of China, for example, has raised controversies among international relations scholars. Those who are pessimistic argue that the rise of China will lead to conflict and large-scale war (Buzan, 2010; Mearsheimer, 2006). Alternatively, those who are optimistic argue that the rise of China will create harmony and peace (Bijian, 2005; Yaqing, 2010). The pessimistic outlook tends to arise from a Eurocentric paradigm dominated by a realist point of view. Kang (2003), for example, argues that due to Asia’s unique characteristics such as its political economy, history, culture, and demo- graphics, European-derived theories are problematic for understanding Asian international relations. If alternative paradigms from other regions, especially Asia, are embraced, then predictions are different. Asian countries such as China, India, and of course Indonesia have values, norms, and cultures that differ from those of the West. If China’s peaceful rise is based on Confucianism emphasizing harmony, and India’s peaceful rise is based on a foreign policy principle that seeks to build bridges between the West and the East, then Indonesia may also rise peacefully following ‘Pancasila Diplomacy’, which emphasizes solidarity and mutual cooperation (‘gotong royong’). 4

As a multiethnic and multireligion country, Indonesia could promote tolerance and friendship among countries. Instead of spreading threats, Indonesia’s rise can spread good for the region and

  • 4. Pancasila or ‘Five Principles’ is an Indonesian national ideology. It consists of five principles: belief in the absoluteness of God; just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives; and social justice for all of the people of Indonesia. For Sukarno, all of these principles can be absorbed into a single principle (‘eka sila’), that is, ‘gotong royong’ (‘mutual cooperation’).



for the world as a whole. This is not wishful thinking, and Indonesia has been conducting foreign policy based on this idea.


Since Indonesia has been widely recognized by many scholars and policymakers as a pivotal state in terms of economics and global orientation, the country should be able to play a greater role in the international environment. Indonesia should recognize this potential and take advantage of the arrival of the Asian Century to boost its status to that of a major global power. Many Indonesian policymakers and experts respond to this idea half-heartedly and even with pessimism because up until now Indonesia has been quite satisfied with its traditional status as a middle power, primarily taking part in regional affairs. Under the changing dynamics of 21st century global politics, this old-fashioned idea should be reformed. The key problem lies in the reluctance of the government to change the longstanding paradigm regarding the status of Indonesia in the constellation of inter- national politics. If Indonesia wants to become a global power by 2050, then this paradigm needs to be seriously considered by any government in power. The government needs to look at the extent to which Indonesian public opinion supports the potential and prospects of the country to become a major power in the future.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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