Webinar on “Indonesia Forum 2021 – Navigating Global Uncertainties and Building Resilience”

This two-day Forum explores how Indonesia, as a country, had changed over the last twenty years and highlights the prospects and challenges faced by the country as it progresses into the post-pandemic era.


Wednesday/ Thursday, 7- 8 July 2021 – ISEAS – The Indonesia Forum 2021, jointly organised by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI), was held virtually on 7 and 8 July 2021. A total of 575 participants have attended the one-and-a-half-day Forum.

The Forum broadly covered four main themes: (1) International and Strategic Positioning; (2) National Politics and the Future of Decentralisation; (3) Economics and Business; and (4) Islam and Society. Twelve speakers from Indonesia engaged the audience in exciting discussions concerning these themes.

Mr Sandiaga Uno delivered the keynote speech. Mr Choi Shing Kwok moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The Indonesia Forum was privileged to invite Mr Sandiaga Uno, Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, to give the keynote speech for this Forum. Moderated by Mr Choi Shing Kwok, Director and CEO of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, the keynote session featuring Mr Sandiaga Uno elaborated on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the people, and the government’s plan to get Indonesia onto the road to recovery. He laid out the strategies, which broadly covered four key aspects: (1) improving the public health sector in Indonesia; (2) ensuring economic recovery; (3) maintaining political stability; and (4) establishing international cooperation between Indonesia and the rest of the world.  Mr Sandiaga Uno also brought up the issues of climate change and expressed optimism over Indonesia’s ability to achieve sustainable development goals and bring in jobs through the development of a green economy. Mr Choi and Mr Sandiaga followed up with discussions concerning the effects of the Omnibus Law and Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) operation law on Indonesia, Indonesia’s ability to navigate US-China rivalry and the prospects for Indonesia’s tourism sector as well as creative industries in the post-COVID-19 world.

Panel 1: International and Strategic Positioning

Dr Dino Patti Djalal, Dr Siswo Pramono and Dr Evan Laksmana spoke on the first panel of the day. Ms Lee Sue-Ann moderated the panel. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

This session focused on the implications of the new US administration on the US-Indonesia bilateral relations as well as the prospects and challenges Indonesia would face in view of stronger cooperation with China. The moderator, Ms Lee Su-Ann (Co-coordinator of Indonesia Studies Programme), opened the panel discussion by illustrating the tricky situation each country in Southeast Asia is currently facing in relation to the US-China rivalry, drawing close attention to Indonesia’s foreign policies toward this situation. The panellists for this panel are Dr Dino Patti Djalal (Founder and Chairman, Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FCPI)), Dr Siswo Pramono (Head of Policy Analysis and Development Agency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia) and Dr Evan Laksmana (Senior Researcher, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia).

Dr Dino Patti Djalal discussed President Jokowi’s foreign policy focus in his second term and elaborated on what Indonesia would most likely do in terms of maintaining and enhancing bilateral ties with both the US and China. He also elaborated on the G20 meeting that Indonesia would be hosting next year and how President Jokowi’s administration would pay more attention to Indonesia’s international role, apart from the management of the COVID-19 crisis.  Moreover, he reiterated that Indonesia faced a tricky challenge in balancing between the two superpowers, given its strong ties with both countries.

Dr Siswo Pramono shared his insights on the Indo-pacific issues from the perspective of Indonesia. He elaborated on the volatile geopolitical landscape where multilateralism is weakened, and superpowers put strains on countries’ foreign policies. He emphasised that for Indonesia to handle this geopolitical rivalry effectively, it would need to maintain its centrality, autonomy and neutrality. This would further reinforce Indonesia’s non-alignment towards any hegemonic power and prevent any form of side-taking. Dr Siswo Pramono also mentioned that Indonesia would take on a more active role in developing the ASEAN outlook.

Dr Evan Laksmana concluded this session with his analysis of ASEAN’s centrality within Indonesia’s foreign policies. Indonesia has demonstrated two fundamental attitudes toward ASEAN – faith as well as overreliance in ASEAN’s ability to resolve issues in the region. This has made Indonesia more process-orientated in managing foreign affairs instead of delivering possible outcomes.  As such, he proposed that Indonesia’s foreign policy approaches should be more strategic in the long run so that critical resources can be allocated to key sectors. Dr Evan Laksmana also emphasised that Indonesia would continue to portray her neutrality toward the Quad and will work toward improving and maintaining new relationships with the various countries in the region, such as Japan, Korea, and Australia.

Panel 2:  National Politics and the Future of Decentralisation

The second panel featured speakers Dr Ridwan Kamil, Dr Syarif Hidayat and Dr Burhanuddin Muhtadi. Dr Hui Yew-Foong moderated the panel. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The session analysed the challenges of decentralisation faced by central and regional governments. It also discussed the evolving political landscape, especially with the rise of a new generation of political leaders preparing to contest the 2024 elections. Moderated by Dr Hui Yew-Foong (Coordinator of Indonesia Studies Programme), this session discussed how decentralisation had impacted Indonesia in two aspects, the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming election processes. The panellists for this session are Dr (H.C.) Ridwan Kamil (Governor of West Java, Indonesia), Dr Syarif Hidayat (Research Professor, Economics Research Center, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)) and Dr Burhanuddin Muhtadi (Senior Lecturer, Islamic State University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah).

Dr (H.C.) Ridwan Kamil began this session by sharing how decentralisation had given some specific autonomy to implement key strategies that are better suited to the local context. This is especially so for COVID-19 management, where West Java had been implementing new policies to handle the pandemic, apart from the central government’s initiatives. Some regional initiatives included data sharing, enhancing collaboration with other sectors as well as utilising technology to support the containment of the virus. The success of these strategies had enabled West Java to become a leading example in fighting the pandemic.

Dr Syarif Hidayat proceeded to discuss the implications of decentralisation over the past two decades. He stated that even with the progressive changes made to tighten the gaps within the decentralisation framework, there are still existing issues between the central and regional governments, as evident in the implementation of policies to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from that, Dr Syarif Hidayat also discussed the role of Regional Direct Elections in the decentralisation policy and how the implementation of decentralisation can be further improved.

Dr Burhanuddin Muhtadi elaborated on the effects of decentralisation on the upcoming 2024 presidential and regional elections. He shared data from opinion polls, highlighting the generally positive public sentiments toward President Jokowi despite the pandemic. Dr Burhanuddin Muhtadi also suggested some potential candidates for the upcoming 2024 presidential elections that Indonesia watchers should be paying attention to. In addition, he anticipated that there would be a potential decrease in candidates running for local elections, as well as other possible repercussions due to the legislative elections and local elections being held simultaneously in 2024.

Panel 3: Economics and Business

The third panel featured speakers Dr Febrio Kacaribu, Ms Shirley Tan and Ms Tirza R. Munusamy. Dr Siwage Dharma Negara moderated the panel. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

This session focused on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the economy, including the challenges and prospects of recovery in the post-COVID-19 world. Dr Siwage Dharma Negara (Co-coordinator of the Indonesia Studies Programme) moderated this panel. The panellists for this panel are Dr Febrio Kacaribu (Head of Fiscal Agency, Indonesian Ministry of Finance), Ms Shirley Tan (CEO of Rajawali Property Group) and Ms Tirza R. Munusamy (Director of Central Public Affairs, Grab Indonesia).

Dr Febrio Kacaribu discussed the impact of COVID-19 on Indonesia’s economy and how the pandemic served as momentum for reform. He mentioned that the government had implemented an extraordinary fiscal policy to cushion the impact of the pandemic. Financing the budget required the widening of the deficit threshold to an unprecedented level. This year, the Indonesian government had also implemented an economic recovery policy framework that included public health interventions, mainly through implementing a free vaccination programme, the social distancing campaigns, and other interventions to strengthen health facilities. In addition, it also offers a survival and recovery kit, such as the Social Protection Programme and structural reform through the Job Creation Law. In the next three years, the government will continue to commit to this reform and fiscal consolidation.

Ms Shirley Tan began by explaining the impact of COVID-19 on global travel and tourism. She showed that in 2020, 62 million jobs in the travel and tourism industry were affected, and the industry suffered a USD4.7 trillion loss. The pandemic has affected 1.4 million jobs in Indonesia, and the total spending had dropped by USD21.6 billion. Ms Shirley Tan argued that the general industry trend for hotels had shown an increase in occupancy rates for star-rated hotels since the initial travel lockdown. However, Bali, the barometer of Indonesia’s tourism sector, continues to struggle. The hospitality industry in Bali had performed poorly due to limited foreign travel access. Improving this situation would be an uphill task in the post-COVID-19 world. As for the capital of Jakarta, she highlighted that the industry had demonstrated a slightly positive trend due to governmental travel and free and independent travellers (FIT). Lastly, Ms Shirley Tan argued that Indonesia should adapt to global tourism trends and adjust its economic strategies to rebuild the tourism sector. This included expanding domestic tourism and upskilling niche and nature-based tourism to capture the shift in traveller behaviour in the post-COVID-19 world.

Ms Tirza Reinata Munusamy elaborated on the impact of the pandemic on the digital economy. She stated that the pandemic had fast-forwarded Grab’s strategic plans in maximising its ‘super’ app. Ms Tirza Reinata Munusamy mentioned Grab’s three main strategies to promote its super app: 1) modifying the algorithm that was initially used for transport service, i.e. Grab Bike, to identify vaccination spots; 2) empowering the small and medium enterprises (SMEs); and 3) creating innovation in delivery services, especially the last-miles delivery. She asserted that the safety protocols of its personnel are strictly adhered to. Moreover, Grab had launched new business units, such as GrabMart and GrabAssistance. Digital business opportunities amidst the pandemic had enormous potential, especially for start-ups. In facilitating this, Grab had initiated incubator projects to accelerate more local start-ups. She concluded that Grab would continue to upskill its human capital, including promoting better health and social protection.

Panel 4: Islam and Society

The last panel of the forum featured speakers Dr Muhammad Adlin Sila, Dr Noorhaidi Hasan and Dr Ahmad Najib Burhani. Dr Norshahril Saat moderated the panel. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The session focused on the Muslim community in Indonesia post-New Order. Moderated by Dr Norshahril Saat (Coordinator of Regional Social and Cultural Studies), this session discussed three critical issues in contemporary Indonesian Islam: radical Islam, religious minorities issues, as well as the prospects for religious moderation in the country. The panellists for this panel are Dr Noorhaidi Hasan (Faculty of Islamic Studies, UII), Dr Muhammad Adlin Sila (Ministry of Religious Affairs) and Dr Ahmad Najib Burhani (Research Center for Society and Culture, Indonesian Institute of Sciences).

Dr Noorhaidi Hasan discussed the development of Muslim radicals and jihadists in Indonesia. He started by sharing how the Islamist radical and terrorist organisations, such as Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), Laskar Jihad, Laskar Mujahidin, and Jama’ah Islamiyah (JI) were historically active, calling for sharia and Khilafah as well as perpetuating violence and terrorism. Dr Noorhaidi Hasan argued that Islamist ideology resonated well with the mounting uncertainties and frustration among Indonesians due to the multi-dimensional crisis after the Soeharto era. Indonesia had successfully tackled the threats of Islamist radicalism and terrorism, making the country less prone to major terrorist attacks than it was in the early 2000s. Dr Noorhaidi Hasan asserted that the government had embarked on its “war on terror” without any systematic counter-violent extremism grand strategy, relying simply on a combination of “hard” (law enforcement) and “soft” (persuasion and deradicalisation) measures. President Jokowi, in particular, had vowed to roll back radical Islamist influence further and had been mainstreaming religious moderation through his policies. Despite the polarised society and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Noorhaidi Hasan concluded that the threat facing Indonesia today was to rebuild trust and cohesion within the fragmented Indonesian Muslim community to prevent radicals and jihadists from operating and spreading their ideology among the masses.

Dr Muhammad Adlin Sila explored the prospects of religious moderation in Indonesia, initiated by a working group at the Ministry of Religious Affairs. He began by explaining the legal basis for this moderation, and mentioned that this vision aimed to align and relate the following indicators: national commitment to accept the constitution and its regulations; tolerance; non-violence; and acceptance of local traditions. He also mentioned some basic messages to be reiterated, including protecting and advancing human well-being, upholding civilisation based on religious values, respecting humanity, promoting moderate values in religious practice, creating peace, appreciating diversity, and obeying the constitution and the rule of law. Dr Adlin further explained the ecosystem whereby the vision of religious moderation would be mainstreamed. Finally, he mentioned the targets, policy directions and the road map for religious moderation, and elaborated on its shortcomings.

Dr Ahmad Najib Burhani concluded the session with insights related to religious minorities in Indonesia. He started by explaining the current regulations on religion where he argued in favour of the established six official religions under Indonesian law: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Dr Najib Burhani stated that religion, beliefs, and culture are unstable categories that have experienced changing definitions introduced by different regulations over time. He further explained the definitions, characteristics, and categorisation of the minorities. In this panel, Dr Najib Burhani highlighted that having religious rights was part of the constitution and within the scope of domestic and international laws. However, the overlapping interests of actors, as well as various political and cultural issues, had generated a situation where there was a lack of protection for religious minorities. He elaborated more using examples such as the Ahmadiyah and Penghayat. Finally, Dr Najib Burhani proposed to create better protection for religious minorities by revising, especially, the law on defamation of religion.