Jokowi lays out his 'pro-people' diplomacy

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (L) calling on Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (R) during her introductory visit to Singapore on 26 November 2014. Minister Marsudi has said that there should be no gaps in Indonesian diplomacy with regard to national interests.

JAKARTA - Top Indonesian diplomats had the chance on Monday to get a first-hand briefing from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on his "pro-people" diplomatic platform, a major shift from the internationalist style of foreign relations emphasised by his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his 10-year tenure.

In his address during the opening of the Foreign Ministry's four-day working meeting to 132 Indonesian ambassadors, consul generals, consuls and permanent representatives stationed overseas, the President told them they were to put greater emphasis on economic diplomacy.

"Based on my experiences as a governor and mayor for almost nine years and now as the President for the last three months, I received foreign envoys and nearly 90 per cent of them spoke about economics," Jokowi said in his opening remarks before the meeting was closed to the media.

Jokowi, who has little diplomatic experience, reiterated his three priorities for Indonesian foreign policy: maintaining Indonesia's sovereignty, enhancing the protection of Indonesian citizens and intensifying economic diplomacy.

The President insisted that diplomats must push for economic diplomacy so that greater benefits can be reaped by the people.

"The roles of our diplomats are crucial in the efforts to turn our negative trade balance into a surplus one. Ambassadors must be able to promote our products," the former mayor of Surakarta and governor of Jakarta said.

Speaking to reporters after opening the meeting, Jokowi, also a former furniture exporter, said he would set a measured target for the ambassadors, but refused to disclose the figures to the media.

"Our products have enormous potential, but they and their markets were never identified properly. For example, the global market for furniture products reached US$480 billion (S$649 billion), but Indonesia only contributed US$1.8 billion. The opportunity is there and that is something I told the ambassadors to concentrate on more," Jokowi said.

He added that the envoys must also be able to attract investments. "Envoys must have sharp instincts to identify the economic potentials in their host countries."

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, meanwhile, said that there should be no gaps in Indonesian diplomacy with regard to national interests.

"The concrete guidelines presented by the President will enable diplomats to have a united vision in promoting Indonesia's interests," Indonesia's first female foreign minister said.

She also reiterated that the diplomats must be able to follow through on priorities for the maritime sector.

In his first appearances at international forums last year, such as the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Beijing, China, the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, and the ASEAN Summit in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Jokowi laid out his "maritime axis" vision before world leaders.

"Indonesia is also prioritizing cooperation in the maritime resources and fisheries sectors," said Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Susilo, who also addressed the diplomats.

Among the projects Indroyono hoped the diplomats could help promote overseas were the construction of 24 new ports, including five deep sea ports at Kuala Tanjung in North Sumatra, Jakarta, Surabaya in East Java, Makassar in South Sulawesi and Sorong in West Papua.

Indonesian Ambassador to Canada Teuku Faizasyah said he welcomed the prioritization of economic diplomacy.

"But it takes two sides to work best," he told The Jakarta Post, referring to the importance of Indonesian producers enhancing their products. "Economic diplomacy requires support from our economic players at home."

Faizasyah cited several issues, such as the unpreparedness of Indonesian producers to meet the requirements set out by foreign governments. "For example, Canada is a good market for Indonesian food products, but its government imposes requirements on labeling related to the ingredients," he said.