Indonesia foreign minister vows to put people first

Indonesia foreign minister vows to put people first
New Indonesian President Joko Widodo on October 26 unveiled a cabinet including the country's first female foreign minister, Retno Marsudi who was Indonesian ambassador to the Netherlands before being recalled by President Joko Widodo as he began shaping his cabinet.

Indonesia's new foreign minister said in her first public speech that she will pursue a "down to earth" foreign policy that puts the interest of Indonesians first.

"Our President always says 'work, work, work' three times to his ministers. I'd like to add 'people, people, people'," Ms Retno Marsudi said during a seminar on Indonesia-Netherlands cooperation in Jakarta yesterday.

But she implied that this focus did not mean turning back on what her predecessors had done, noting Indonesia had strategic or comprehensive partnerships with 18 countries, including the Netherlands, its former colonial master.

Ms Retno, the outgoing ambassador to the Netherlands who was sworn in as minister on Monday, said the challenge for Indonesia's envoys abroad was to seize opportunities offered by these strong ties.

Elaborating to reporters later, she said Indonesian diplomats now had to help become salesmen to boost Indonesia's exports.

Her remarks suggest that there will be greater emphasis on promoting Indonesian-made products, ranging from food to furniture and batik, even as questions remain over how much the new government will sustain the previous government's attention to strategic matters and playing of a problem-solving role in the region.

"Our diplomats must make sure Indonesian products that are facing problems are taken care of - find out why there is a problem, what the obstacle is, and how to resolve it," she said.

"We will increase programmes that give benefit to the Indonesian people."

Ms Retno added that she would pay greater attention to the more than five million migrant workers abroad, many of them in Malaysia, Singapore and countries in the Middle East.

Dr Makmur Keliat, a University of Indonesia international relations academic, told The Straits Times that Ms Retno's policy line reflects President Joko Widodo's vision. "That is realistic because foreign policy must be based on national interests," he said.

"The foreign ministry has to hold public consultations and meet interest groups so they can define national interests based on concerns that various domestic groups have."

Addressing the country's diplomats and local media a day earlier, Ms Retno said Indonesia would use international forums, such as next month's Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting in Beijing, the ASEAN and related summits in Naypyitaw, and the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, to introduce Mr Joko's foreign policy vision to countries in the region.

This would include Indonesia's focus on developing its maritime strengths and discussing the settlement of sea boundary disputes with neighbouring countries.

She also said she would be tough in guarding Indonesia's sovereignty and press for the resolution of ongoing border negotiations. "Being tough and decisive does not necessarily mean confrontational. I will try not to be involved in confrontation; the most important thing is that our goals can be reached," she said.

But she also stressed that diplomats must change their mindsets, aimed at "making us more active in doing economic diplomacy". "Indonesian diplomats, including ambassadors, must also perform 'blusukan'," she said, referring to Mr Joko's trademark impromptu visits.

These visits should give information on business opportunities in these countries, she added.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Oct 31, 2014.
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