Conference on “THE ROAD TO NUSANTARA: Process, Challenges, and Opportunities”

Jointly organised by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), Indonesia, this 2-day conference explored the complex process of realising Indonesia’s ambitious New Capital project and discussed the challenges and opportunities faced by national and sub-national governments in balancing multiple objectives.


Thursday and Friday, 27 and 28 October 2022 – The hybrid conference on “The Road to Nusantara: Process, Challenges, and Opportunities”, held from 27 October to 28 October 2022, was jointly organised by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) and Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), with support from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS). A total of 167 participants attended the two-day hybrid event.

The conference broadly covered five main themes, (1) historical perspectives and politics, (2) the process of transition and challenges to Nusantara, (3) environmental and human rights concerns, (4) economic innovations and mobility challenges, and (5) green and smart technology opportunities. These themes were discussed by 24 speakers and 5 moderators.

Mr Choi Shing Kwok and Mr Denis Suarsana delivered the Welcome Remarks. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Choi Shing Kwok (Director and CEO of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) kicked off the conference by welcoming new and old friends of ISEAS joining this event. He provided some context to the conference themes, emphasising the importance of the Nusantara project as it will not only bring about political and administrative transformations but also push forth cultural changes. The move to Nusantara is a symbolic political commitment to redirect the national centre of gravity to another region, given that Jakarta has been the focal point for government and business since Indonesia’s pre-independence days. Mr Choi also highlighted the project’s complex processes during the transitional period and its potential impact on the broader Southeast Asia region.

Mr Denis Suarsana (Director of Indonesia & Timor-Leste – KAS, Jakarta), followed up with his welcome remarks. He shared Germany’s experience in moving its capital from Bonn to Berlin, which was initiated to decentralise and promote equal economic development after German reunification. Seeing similarities in Germany’s experience with Indonesia’s plan to build Nusantara, he believed that the successful implementation of Nusantara could become an ideal case study on the feasibility of setting up a green and liveable capital city. Mr Suarsana expressed hopes that the conference could share greater insights into the opportunities and challenges of this move and how it could influence Indonesia as a whole.

Dr Laksana Tri Handoko delivered his Welcome Remarks. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Laksana Tri Handoko (Chairman – Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency, BRIN) presented his welcome remarks through a pre-recorded video where he expressed gratitude for BRIN’s longstanding partnership with ISEAS as well as the opportunity to expand research relating to Nusantara. He pointed out that the new capital move will play an important role in Indonesia’s economic development, mainly in reducing the economic gap between Jakarta and the outer provinces. He hoped that through this joint research effort, more knowledge can be produced and more evidence-based analysis can aid Indonesia’s policymakers in enhancing their proposed policies for Nusantara’s development. Dr Handoko concluded by hoping that this conference and the subsequent edited book volume of conference papers could become a valuable resource for future studies relating to Nusantara.

Keynote speech 1: Nusantara Indonesia’s Smart and Sustainable Forest City

Dr Bambang Susantono delivered the Keynote Speech. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Bambang Susantono, the chairman of the Indonesian Capital City Authority (IKN), began his keynote speech with an overview of critical issues related to government planning and a timely update on Nusantara’s development. Setting up the context for the move, he explained that the decision to move Indonesia’s capital was an effort to create inclusive and equal economic growth across the country. By shifting to a new centre of gravity for economic activities, while also easing the heavy structural burdens carried by Jakarta, Nusantara would act as a catalyst for new development, for economic and social growth.

Dr Susantono envisioned the new capital as a world-class, sustainable city that could be a model for developing and improving other cities in Indonesia. He elaborated further on the technical details of Nusantara’s development, the elements considered in its urban planning, as well as the quantifiable measures for this project. Dr Susantono highlighted the vision that IKN would be a nature-based city that boasts net zero emissions and promotes “unity in diversity”. Echoing President Joko Widodo, Dr Susantono noted that building Nusantara is not just about constructing physical offices and other buildings, but it is a significant development process for a city that fits with the Indonesian concept of gotong-royong (mutual cooperation). This project is a joint effort by various stakeholders and will become a new opportunity for Indonesia to become a more prosperous, resilient, and sustainable country.

Panel 1: Historical Perspectives and Politics

Speakers of Panel 1 with Dr Athiqah Nur Alami as moderator. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Athiqah Nur Alami (Head of Research Centre for Politics, BRIN) began the first panel by stating that the idea of moving Indonesia’s capital had begun as early as 1950. Mr Wasisto Raharjo Jati, Mr Pradita Devis Dukarno, Mr Iryan Ali H (BRIN), and Dr Yanuar Nugroho (ISEAS) then introduced the historical perspectives behind this new capital ideation. Drawing close attention to the political contexts across presidential administrations including Sukarno, Suharto, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Joko Widodo, the team argued that the current plans to build a new capital were political ones that stretched from the past administrations to the current one. In fact, through continual discussions throughout these administrations, a framework was built to finalise the foundation of Nusantara. As such, the team believed that the replication of the ideal capital city concept throughout history enabled the creation of a strong narrative toward this new capital city’s relocation.

Dr Mardyanto Wahyu Tryatmoko (Research Centre for Domestic Governance, BRIN) and his co-author Dr Koichi Kawamura (Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organisation (IDE-JETRO)) shared their research on the regulatory aspects of the IKN’s establishment. Their analysis looked at the arrangement of the government structure under IKN governance, tracing the previous laws on autonomy and analysing the impacts on the current governance of decentralisation. The research found that the IKN structure is formulated to be more centralised and it lacked regional autonomy (not having a regional representative). In addition, the limited involvement of local actors in the transitional process might lead to the regression of political participation, causing potential conflict and resentment in the operation of Nusantara.

Dr Ian Douglas Wilson (Murdoch University) began his presentation with an illustration of the relationship between people and political space, mainly in the context of a capital city and how this could shape democracy. He argued that the multi-faceted nature of Jakarta, with its symbolic and actual role in shaping the democratic nature of Indonesia, has made it a place for democratic innovation. The move to Nusantara could however remove the complexity of a well-established capital city that had historically functioned as a check and balance on power in Indonesia. He, therefore, warned that Nusantara could potentially create a new benchmark for ‘asymmetrical’, electorally limited governance given its lack of local representatives and direct local elections. This may lead to a ring-fenced notion of “inclusion/exclusion”, which could pose potential issues such as exacerbating inequalities in the megacity.

This first panel generally provided the historical background behind the new capital “Nusantara” and explored how the ideas about its form have evolved across different administrations. Presenters discussed the political aspects of the future capital city, such as the institutional arrangement of local governance, which demonstrate a hierarchical approach and a potential lack of public participation. Another issue that presenters debated was the implications of “Nusantara” for political praxis in Indonesia through the spatial perspective; the relations between the state and the street through the lens of urban sociology was one area of focus.

Panel 2:  Transitional Process and Challenges to Nusantara

Panel 2 – Transitional Process and Challenges to Nusantara. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Moderated by Prof Dr Firman Noor (Research Professor, Research Centre for Politics, BRIN), Ms Khanisa Krisman and her co-author Ms Lidya Christin Sinaga (BRIN) began with the main argument that “maritime characteristics” should be put in place during the formation of Nusantara, to augment the image of Nusantara as a maritime hub and to build up its global identity through the recalling and realisation of the idea of a “global Maritime Fulcrum”. For that to happen, Ms Krisman assessed that there would be a need to increase Nusantara’s maritime connectivity through the establishment of ports and increasing the security of the maritime environment. She believed that Nusantara had the potential to become part of Indonesia’s new global identity and that this could spur economic benefits that would be similar to how Jakarta has been crucial for Indonesia’s growth.  

Mr Irawan Santoso Suryo Basuki (Research Centre for Society & Culture, BRIN) shared his views on the philosophical aspect of establishing Nusantara and discussed the lessons learned from Jakarta in shaping a city identity for Nusantara as a new capital. His research focused on three elements of Jakarta’s history: identity, structure, and space. Examining the historical trajectory of previous Indonesian presidents in imagining a new capital city, Mr Basuki believed that Nusantara should adopt a more open and cosmopolitan approach in its new city imaging. By doing so, it would aid in shaping Nusantara to become a world city for all. This would contrast with the “nationalist urbanism” image in Jakarta where Indonesia’s nationalist identity was emphasised.

During the Q&A session, the speakers discussed at length the importance of developing the identity of Nusantara. Adopting either a maritime or cosmopolitan identity may require more than just balancing notions of traditional and modernity. It would include the need to consider the future direction in which Nusantara would like to progress, given that its chosen identity will also affect the future identity and status of Jakarta. Both of Panel 2’s speakers agreed that the current administration had not paid much attention to identity building and should start to consider this for Nusantara’s subsequent development.

Panel 3: Environmental and Human Rights Concerns

Panel 3 – Environmental and Human Rights Concerns. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Julia Lau (Senior Fellow & Co-Coordinator, Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS) moderated the last panel of the first day. Dr Dimas Wisnu Adrianto (University of Brawijaya) shared his ideas on the role of spatial planning in developing Nusantara. Jakarta, with its urbanisation problems and socio-spatial inequality, has become a lesson learnt for the planning and building of the new capital, Nusantara. He also emphasised the potential contribution spatial planning can make to help policymakers overcome key problems through planning, utilisation and controlling the space. Finally, Dr Adrianto believed that capitalistic urbanisation could prevent the production of socially inclusive and environmentally sound urban spaces, which are current problems that cities within Java now face. Therefore, integrated policies across sectors and actors are necessary for creating an adaptive and responsive new capital city in Nusantara.

Ms Septi Satriani (Research Centre for Politics, BRIN) and her team began with the research focus, how the development of Nusantara was set up to create new investment spaces and how this had impacted the local communities. Backed by extensive fieldwork, her team had found that regulations concerning Nusantara were neither transparent nor inclusive. Ms Satriani found that the development of Nusantara could be a potential space for the absorption of capital surplus and fulfilling the political-economic interest of investors. However, mixed responses were observed from the locals, who would be most affected by the capital relocation, where some had expressed support for the relocation while others expressed refusal to support this move, citing potentially losing their homes as their key concern.

Dr Deasy Simandjuntak (ISEAS) shared her team’s findings on civil society with a case study of villagers in East Kalimantan. She showcased how civil society had actively voiced their opinions on the IKN project, mainly through participatory engagement. She elaborated on the views of the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) where there were mixed opinions toward the new capital city project. The locals had expressed fear of being objectified by the tourism industry. The concerns were similar to  Jaringan Advokasi Tambang (JATAM) where they feared that the development of the new capital city could whitewash existing problems in the region. Dr Simandjuntak also highlighted how the demarcation of existing land ownership has been problematic, and how the locals were generally unsure about the possible outcomes of the IKN project. Through their survey, the research team found that the locals in Kalimantan were generally ambivalent toward this project, while some were excited, others were somewhat concerned about the possible implications for themselves and for the region.

The panel mainly explored the extent to which democracy is embedded in the process of the capital’s relocation, in terms of design and sustainability. They discussed issues ranging from the cost-benefit analyses for the project, the involvement of the federal and local government in managing the potential impacts of the move and that of the local communities, methodological approaches, and the sources of financial incentives given to the locals before the capital relocation. The panel agreed that even though this project had already started in East Kalimantan, it is still within the earliest developmental stages and that there would be more problems to solve in the coming years. As such, there was a need to continue research on Nusantara’s viability and to work toward improving the solutions proposed by policymakers.


Keynote Speech: Relocation of the Nation’s Capital

Dr Tatang Muttaqin delivered the Keynote Speech for Day 2 of the conference. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Tatang Muttaqin, representing Indonesia’s Ministry of National Development Planning/BAPPENAS, kicked off the second day of the conference with his keynote speech. Setting up the context of Indonesia’s economic acceleration, Dr Tatang noted that the capital relocation is an effort to realise an inclusive economy and equitable economic growth across the archipelago. One way to do so was by developing a new economic centre of gravity in the literal “middle” of Indonesia. He mentioned that BAPPENAS plays a significant role in coordinating cross-sectoral planning, drafting its legal basis and the derivative regulations, planning and budgeting Nusantara’s development, and monitoring and evaluating the Nusantara development project. Dr Tatang explained in detail the plans to establish partner areas of Nusantara, mainly located in six clusters outside the new capital, including the Industrial Estate in Kariangau, Balikpapan, and its surrounding areas. Finally, he hoped the conference could provide valuable input to accelerate the progress of and to mitigate potential risks in the capital’s relocation.

Panel 4: Economic Innovations and Mobility Challenges

Panel 4 – Economic Innovations and Mobility Challenges. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Agus R. Rahman (Research Centre for Politics, BRIN) began by highlighting the multiple functions of the new capital city, mainly in terms of it being a part of the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) and a subregional growth of Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). He highlighted the financing sources the government has planned for the new capital. He drew attention to how the annual state budget, public-private partnership, and civil society partnership could complement each other in the financing of the project. He elaborated on the vital role of the private sector and its potential investments in this project, focusing on how the construction of Nusantara can drive new investment in sectors such as information technology. Mr Rahman also highlighted that the subsequent development in Nusantara would depend on the extent of the private sector and on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) being drawn into the new capital city project.

Dr Riri Kusumarani and her co-author, Ms Anne Parlina (Research Centre for Society & Culture, BRIN) explored the possibility of using crowdfunding (urun dana) for the development of Nusantara, looking specifically through the perception of Indonesians. Dr Kusumarani found that people generally had a negative connotation of conducting crowdfunding for Nusantara, feeling that it was inappropriate, and they had no intention of participating in such initiatives. Interestingly, this contrasted with a previous survey in early 2021 where respondents showed positive and receptive attitudes toward crowdfunding for Nusantara. She also interviewed experts who observed that the notion of crowdfunding was highly influenced by the political situation; given current economic challenges, the public might now see crowdfunding as a burden/obligation, unlike their original positive view.

Ms Meirina Ayumi Malamassam (Australian National University-BRIN) examined the prospects of population and human capital redistribution in Nusantara, analysing the push and pull factors of people’s future in-migration to the new city. Drawing from London as a case study, she hypothesised that the relocation of civil service jobs might stimulate job creation in the private sector. However, Ms Malamassam believed that the top-down approach of the new capital’s governance might face resistance from the people due to the complex factors influencing in-migration. She explained the possibility of a “fly-in-fly-out” mobility, where Indonesian civil servants could commute weekly to their work cities instead of living permanently in the new capital city. As much as the clustering of highly educated people seemed promising for human capital transfer to other regions outside Java, her research suggests that population growth in the new capital may not be significant due to people’s reluctance to migrate there.

Mr Otto Trengginas Setiawan and his team (Research Centre for Politics, BRIN) focused their research on the movement of civil servants to the new capital. Results from a survey conducted by Indonesia Development Monitoring (IDM) showed that most civil servants rejected the idea of migration. The move of civil servants into Nusantara could also affect the livelihood and ceremonial cultures of the indigenous people living in the area, especially when there was no recognition of the locals’ customary rights (adat). This could pose a threat to the nation’s idea of unity as well as exacerbate problems among different social classes. His research highlighted how the proposed housing development in Nusantara could further drive social inequality. In conclusion, the team suggested that the potential movement of ASN and TNI/POLRI officials into Nusantara could lead to social and economic conflicts with the local communities. These potential problems may not be handled properly by the federal government.

During the Q&A, the panel explored these aspects: (1) the extent of domestic and external funding for Nusantara, (2) the notion of crowdfunding and how it shapes people’s perception of the state’s involvement in these state-owned projects, (3) regional development progress and potential demographic changes influenced by the influx of foreign migrant workers, and (4) integration of local leaders in IKN governmental structure to prevent conflicts. The fluidity of these impacts was emphasised, given that Nusantara was still in the preliminary stages of its planning and development. Much of the impacts discussed would need to be reviewed as the country is currently focusing on establishing the infrastructure needed for the new capital.

Panel 5: Green and Smart Technology Opportunities

Panel 5 – Green and Smart Technology Opportunities. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Dini Suryani and her team (Research Centre for Politics, BRIN) began by stating their research focus, that developing Nusantara with a “forest city” concept would achieve better forest governance within Indonesia. Using theory, she explored the possibility of implementing forest governance in Nusantara and elaborated on potential challenges. Existing forest degradation, chaotic land concession, and human-wildlife conflicts were some of the problems that could affect the success of such plans. She concluded that forest land management and natural resource governance in Indonesia in general required immediate improvement. More needed to be done to protect the rich biodiversity of the region. She hoped, however, that if there could be a successful implementation of the “forest city” concept in Nusantara, it could serve as a model for other regions.

Dr Rusli Cahyadi (Research Centre for Population, BRIN) shared his team’s research where they studied how the government’s local livelihood management could affect the livelihoods in Nusantara. Using the idea of social engineering, Dr Cahyadi warned that the current Nusantara plan catered to the needs of a particular group of people (the potential newcomers, including civil servants) without considering the impact of this on the locals’ existing way of life. He argued that the current spatial planning for Nusantara was incompatible with the livelihoods and behavioural patterns of the residents specifically in Pamaluan and Bumi Harapan. He concluded that how the government imagined and planned urban development was incompatible with the “people’s idea” of Nusantara. Suitable policies would need to be implemented to ensure the sustainability of local livelihoods and to increase their capacity to adapt to newcomers moving to Nusantara.

Dr Lilis Mulyani and her team (Research Centre for Society & Culture, BRIN)began their presentation by questioning the city’s fundamental concept and illustrating the potential budget needed to build such a city. Drawing references from other countries’ relocations of capital cities, she highlighted the potentiality of using “smart city” concepts in the development of Nusantara. Dr Mulyani drew upon three key goals that would aid Nusantara in becoming a smart city. First, to ensure that the infrastructure, utilisation of natural resources, and provision of public services are enhanced to allow the operation of a smart city. Second, to foster human development by improving locals’ skills and welfare, to enable inclusive development. Last, to develop an e-governance concept where information and services can be efficiently provided, through integrating technology into the new capital city’s daily operations.  

A key point highlighted by this panel was the need to establish an inclusive and sustainable Nusantara. The various speakers discussed at length topics including forest, land, and biodiversity data; the inclusion of the informal economy into Nusantara; and whether sustainable agriculture and smart city technology could be incorporated into the new capital city. All the speakers concluded that more needs to be done to achieve the ideals of Nusantara, especially if it is to be a smart and green city.

The conference ended with a closed-door session of the convenors and the panel participants, for a discussion on the forthcoming edited volume comprising chapters based on the papers presented at this conference.