Professor Donald Weatherbee, ISEAS Visiting Professorial Fellow, discussed Indonesia’s foreign policies under Jokowi

Professor Donald Weatherbee delivered a seminar – “Making Sense of Indonesian Foreign Policy Under Jokowi” at ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016 – Professor Donald Weatherbee, ISEAS Visiting Professorial Fellow, presented on Indonesian Foreign Policy under Jokowi. In his opening remarks, he spoke on how the Garuda was an apt metaphor on the ups and downs of Indonesian foreign policy.

Photo 1: Prof Weatherbee explaining the Garuda as an apt metaphor on the ups and downs of Indonesian foreign policy. Seated next to him is Dr Tang Siew Mun, ISEAS Senior Fellow and Chairperson of the seminar.

Photo 2: Prof Weatherbee answering queries from the participants. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Weatherbee assessed Jokowi’s road to the presidency by talking about how expectations were relatively low, and outlining the differences between Jokowi and Prabowo and former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on their foreign policy agenda and outlook. Essentially, in Prof Weatherbee’s opinion, there is more continuity than discontinuity in Indonesian foreign policy from Yudhoyono to Jokowi.

During his fieldwork in Jakarta, Prof Weatherbee was interested to know who makes foreign policy in Indonesia. In his opinion, it is not clear cut, and foreign policy does not appear to be uppermost in Jokowi’s list of priorities, apart from perhaps for foreign policy to serve domestic policy, and for Indonesia to achieve the goal of a global maritime power, axis or fulcrum.

Prof Weatherbee noted that while personalities matter in Indonesian foreign policy, it was the policy substance which was of greater concern and importance. He is of the opinion that the current conduct of foreign policy suggests that Indonesia, while adhering to the traditional principles of bebas dan aktif (independent and active), is, in reality, exhibiting passive and dependent foreign policy behaviour.

On the issue of global maritime power, Prof Weatherbee called for it to be defined in more concrete terms. For Indonesia to be perceived in that way, it has to play a leadership role in the resolution of the South China Sea disputes, and not just purely focus on its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Prof Weatherbee also suggested that because Southeast Asia has a common problem over China’s behaviour in the South China Sea, it would benefit the regional maritime states to unite in engaging China. Just as the Mekong states have been able to manage its relations with China as a unified group, why not then the maritime countries of Southeast Asia? In this regard, Prof Weatherbee believed that Indonesia was best placed to lead such a group in line with its aspiration to be a maritime power.

Prof Weatherbee noted that Jokowi’s vision and mission statement was influenced by Trisakti and the priorities included the following: a) Indonesia as an archipelagic and maritime nation, b) Indonesia’s international relations tied to the People’s interests, c) a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific, and d) the restructuring of the Foreign Ministry (KEMLU).

Prof Weatherbee also observed that economic diplomacy was a cornerstone of Indonesian foreign policy under Jokowi. It is within this foreign policy interest that Jokowi has been keen on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Prof Weatherbee argued that TPP should be viewed as an opportunity where the TPP can serve as an internal lever to address Indonesia’s infrastructural challenges. He added that Indonesia could be overtaken by its regional neighbours economically should it not sign up to the TPP.

Close to 40 participants attended this seminar (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Despite the handful of foreign policy puzzles contained in Indonesian foreign policy, Prof Weatherbee believes that, on the whole under Jokowi, Indonesia continues to be a responsible, cooperative international partner, sharing interests in the economic growth and promoting regional peace and security.