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  • Indonesia's Foreign Policy in 2016:Garuda Hovering
  • Donald E. Weatherbee (bio)

The Garuda—the man-bird—in Indian mythology is the vehicle of Vishnu. Perhaps the best known image of the Garuda in ancient Javanese art has it transporting historical eleventh-century East Javanese king Airlangga. The Garuda has been adopted as the symbol of the modern Indonesian state. The author has used the Garuda as a metaphor for Indonesian foreign policy and has likened it to the Phoenix, the fabulous bird of Greek mythology that arises from the ashes of the fire that consumed its previous incarnation, to fly again.1 Sukarno's Garuda was left in ashes in 1965. Under Soeharto, it rose to fly again, towards Indonesia's leadership in ASEAN and the so-called "South". It was immolated in the economic meltdown and political turmoil of the collapse of the regime in 1998. The ashes of the Garuda were barely stirred by the short presidencies of B.J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur); the former engulfed in the disastrous separation of East Timor from Indonesia and the latter by the leader's erratic eccentricity. It was not until President Megawati Sukarnoputri's term of office that the Garuda began to struggle out of the ashes of its predecessor. It was a wounded Garuda, bleeding from the internal war in Aceh, but able to stretch its wings at the 2003 Bali ASEAN Summit (Bali II), where it sought to reclaim ASEAN leadership. Only in the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) did the Garuda take full flight again. SBY's high-profile global foreign policy outreach was viewed as a tool to advance Indonesia's place in the world as an emerging middle power actively engaged in international affairs. [End Page 163]

In President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's first two years in office, the Garuda has been hovering, circling a more self-restricted flight zone while casting about for direction, still unsettled on a course. Jokowi seems uninterested in foreign policy, or at least only in how it connects to his domestic agenda. During the 2014 election campaign, both Jokowi and his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, trashed the globalist internationalism of outgoing President SBY. The fact that SBY's high-level international visibility showcased Indonesia as a rising middle power was dismissed as having no direct domestic payoff. SBY showed the Indonesian flag to the world; Jokowi has furled it. In 2016, for the second year in a row, the Indonesian President passed up the opportunity to address the opening of the United Nations General Assembly annual session. Also, for the second year in a row, Jokowi did not attend the APEC Leaders Meeting, although it was important enough to bring Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin to the twenty-one-country gathering. Of the seven ASEAN countries that are APEC members, besides Indonesia, only Thailand was not represented by its head of government. That was because of the death of the Thai king. Jokowi did make the 2014 APEC meeting when China's Xi Jinping hosted it. Jokowi also attended the 2016 G20 meeting, likewise hosted by Xi Jinping. This may say more about Jokowi's interest in Indonesia's bilateral relationship with China than his interest in high-level multilateral diplomacy. Vice President Jusuf Kalla is increasingly fronting for Indonesia internationally.

Jokowi's Distancing from Foreign Policy Process

There are foreign policy consequences for a diminished visibility on the world stage. SBY and his aides presented Indonesia to the world as a modernizing Muslim democracy sharing with other democracies commitments to political and human rights. No matter how flawed that image might have been, it was far more positive than that which is emerging under Jokowi. The new picture of Indonesia is one of religious intolerance, Islamic radicalism, church burnings, legislative attacks on the LGBT community, group executions, and other indicators of a retreat from democracy. Rather than defending democracy, the President has acquiesced in the spread of the military-backed ultranationalist Bela Negara ("Defend the Country") indoctrination programme, with its anti-Western-culture bias.

Jokowi's distancing from the foreign policy process has meant that there has been no captain; no single...


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pp. 163-176
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