Government should be ‘more patient, less reactive’ on Papua issue

The jakarta Post – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo delegates the formulation of Indonesia’s position on global matters without much guidance or clarity, observers say.The Jakarta Post’s Tama Salim interviewed Siswo Pramono, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Policy Analysis and Development Agency (BPPK), to review his foreign policy and strategies for the next three years. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Question: What is the current priority of Indonesian foreign policy?

The closest region is our biggest priority, not just for economic reasons but also for our survival, which is highly dependent on ASEAN.

The challenges in ASEAN are enormous: first, a fundamental change in […] the “ASEAN way,” which has taken on new […] meanings with the generational changes.

We have the generation of [Foreign Minister] Retno [LP Marsudi] — the third generation [of the ministry’s diplomats] — but then we have a generation of people from ministries and other counterparts who have not changed all that much.

 ASEAN […] requires constant care in preserving its unity; the challenge is in the political communication.

Secondly, while our foreign policy is formulated for the long term, we feel its direct impact when it is tangible. So […] when [ASEAN] members converge into a single market we may not be able to discern its effects on prosperity within a day, but we can sense it through the penetration of goods [into the market].

[…] In celebrating ASEAN’s 50th anniversary next year, we’ve gone through many changes, including the ASEAN Charter. There is so much transparency now […] Concrete projects include the ASEAN Economic Community […] but […] we need to better inform our people about the [risks]. […]

What did you mean with generational differences among those shaping foreign policy?

[…] A lot of the [1945 generation] were Dutch-educated; […] even for homegrown talents, most universities were developed by the Dutch. So when we speak about the foreign policy of that time, we speak of

[…] Then the development of schools of thought from one generation to another is quite dynamic, owing [partly] to the extraordinary democracy in 1955 […]

We had products of Dutch thinking and then American. Then we shifted more toward the Pacific […]; around 20,000 Indonesians are studying in Australia. So we have had a Western perspective within the Asian experience. But nowadays we have more people who studied in Japan, South Korea and China […]

So how do we interpret the ASEAN Way through the eyes of our current generation? And how do others, such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam or the Philippines, see the ASEAN Way through their perspective? […]

[We require] brainstorming among leaders […] including how to face the common challenge of the South China Sea debacle. […] If these parties [in ASEAN are] economically close but are culturally different, it is something we only find out from intense dialogue.

What other regions will the Foreign Ministry prioritize apart from ASEAN?

We see [the importance of] the Indian Ocean through our leadership [in the Indian Ocean Rim Association, IORA]. […] Indonesia is bound by […] the Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea and the East Asia region to the north, and to our west is the Indian Ocean […]

When President Joko “Jokowi’ Widodo speaks about the Indo-Pacific region and the “maritime axis,” he refers to the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, including the South China Sea.

So in line with the maritime axis plan […], the foundation of our foreign policy in the last two years, we have to connect the two oceans.

Indonesia is more focused on communicating inwardly through infrastructure development — building ports, toll roads etc. But now we are being challenged by China on how to connect the maritime axis plan with their One Belt, One Road initiative. […]

Indonesia [must also] consider the Indian Ocean […]

Jokowi’s maritime axis plan [also comprises] the Pacific — the southwest Pacific in the context of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the Papua issue. Although we try to avoid internationalization of the Papua issue, many people out there make a fuss about it.

[As] a G20 member state, […] we are now a donor country, meaning we have to funnel our resources in the Pacific.

Compared to ASEAN, with a combined GDP of US$2.3 trillion […] and IORA with around $9 trillion; the MSG [has] a total GDP of $23 billion. So with a GDP of roughly $850 billion, we can play a bigger role [in the Pacific].

[…] the government should be more patient and be less reactive. […] We place great care in the MSG as it is a part of the South Pacific. […] Because it is a sensitive issue in eastern Indonesia and President Jokowi has just inaugurated several projects in Papua, the MSG should feel it is benefiting from Indonesia becoming one of its members. […]

The MSG orients itself toward ASEAN. […] Indonesia is part-Melanesian, as evidenced by our 11 million Melanesian population [in eastern Indonesia]. If they join the MSG, their slice of the political pie will get bigger and the eastern region […] will become their bridge to the Asian market. There are already direct flights from PNG to Bali […]

Papua is first and foremost Indonesia’s domestic problem […] Papua can also become a potential gateway for our friends in the Pacific to access the Asian market. […]

So these past two years Pak Jokowi has been promoting the maritime axis plan, but now we must devise concrete strategies and translate them into foreign policy. [Our challenge is] not only to realize the connectivity […] but also to ensure it becomes the gateway to profits in the Indian Ocean, in East Asia and the South China Sea area, as well as in the Pacific. [..]

Do we need better coordination among government bodies?

[…] it is up to each ministry to respond to the will of the President, who represents the will of the people. And how his ministers respond will heavily depend on how everything is coordinated.

For instance, in negotiations on the South China Sea, [apart from] the Foreign Ministry there is the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister and the Navy — even the Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Ministry is involved […] because development on the Natuna islands will be decisive in maintaining sovereignty in the area.

[But] […] it remains the domain of the foreign minister to convey the substance to ASEAN or China. Interdepartmental coordination is crucial because Indonesia [has] many gaps — whether between east and west or among competing interests. But it is the purpose of good governance to ensure that everything [put out as a policy] is discussed together.

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