Indonesia president Jokowi's foreign policy seen on track, but still falling short

Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
PHOTO: AFP

Experts highlighted on Monday that the performance of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in implementing foreign policy after one year in office was worthy of appreciation, but many important tasks remained unfinished.

Former ambassador Soemadi DM Brotodiningrat applauded Jokowi's and Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi's efforts in pushing Indonesia to be more active in international forums and strengthening bilateral ties with developing countries through down-to-earth and people-centred policies.

He said that down-to-earth means a foreign policy is oriented for the benefit of people, in that the diplomatic agenda should bring immediate concrete advantages to the people, while people-centred policy means that people have to be involved at the centre of all items on the development agenda.

"The ministry, especially, has given as an example the countering of Papuan separatism and has actively participated in a number of Pacific forums. We are getting more active," Soemadi said.

In March, Retno visited three Pacific countries, namely Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands and Fiji, to strengthen relations between Indonesia and the Pacific nations and also to address the Papua issue following the worry that it is no longer solely a domestic Indonesian affair.

Soemadi said that Retno had also made a good start toward accomplishing her office's foreign policy priorities, which are to maintain the country's sovereignty, enhance the protection of Indonesian citizens and intensify economic diplomacy.

However, he made criticisms that Jokowi had set aside issues that used to be the country's foreign policy "assets", such as those of climate change, democratization and interfaith dialogue.

"I don't know whether such issues no longer interest the current administration, but they are what the Indonesian public is awaiting. The government shouldn't slow down," Soemadi said.

Dinna Wisnu, director of the Paramadina graduate school of diplomacy, said that the Jokowi administration has been too focused on domestic issues and even brought them to an international level.

"He always speaks about what Indonesia thinks and wants. That's not a foreign policy. Foreign policy means engaging with other countries. What the president does is pure marketing." Dinna said.

She gave as an example that in a recent visit to Turkey, Jokowi said that Indonesia needed investment for infrastructure and that labour-intensive manufacturing is very critical in Indonesia - something that other countries would not really care about.

The Jakarta Post editor-in-chief Meidyatama Suryodiningrat said Jokowi's style in foreign policy reflected his character.

"He's a very practical person. We all knew what he was, but everyone seems to be so surprised," Meidyatama said, arguing that Jokowi actually performed fairly well and exceeded expectations.

Jokowi, he said, was not an expert in international relations. Thus, he still looked uncomfortable dealing with foreign policy.

"But he is learning to be comfortable and he really is learning his job," he said.

According to Meidyatama, in the future the situation will be more or less the same, simply because nothing can change a man's style in a night, or in a year, or in a couple years, or more.

He said, however, that Indonesia was too big to be ignored by any country, but whether it was big enough to take a role on the international stage was another question.

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