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  • Indonesia's Regional Foreign Policy After the 2019 Election
  • Dewi Fortuna Anwar (bio)

Relations with fellow Asian countries have come to dominate Indonesia's foreign policy in the past decade and will likely continue to do so during President Joko Widodo's second term (2019–24), particularly for economic reasons. For Jokowi, as he is popularly known, close bilateral relations with a number of key Asian countries, as well as the dynamism of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) under Jakarta's informal leadership, will remain critical to Indonesia achieving its national objectives. These objectives include: first, maintaining a steady and fairly high level of economic growth by enhancing Indonesia's economic competitiveness through major infrastructure projects as well as foreign direct investment, trade, and tourism, among other factors; second, strengthening Indonesia's position as a maritime nation by becoming a global maritime fulcrum; and third, ensuring ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture of the Indo-Pacific.

Indonesia's security concerns and foreign policy outlook have long been based on a formula of concentric circles, starting with its immediate Southeast Asian neighborhood and radiating out to East Asia and beyond. The two primary objectives of its foreign policy have been to develop good relations with countries that can support its national economic development, and to ensure a peaceful and stable regional order in which the ASEAN region enjoys strategic autonomy free from domination or intervention by major external powers. For its economic needs, Indonesia focused for many decades on the Western European countries, the United States, and a few Asian countries—notably Japan, Singapore, and South Korea—as export markets as well as sources of loans and investment. In the past two decades, however, increasing economic protectionism in its traditional Western markets, coupled with the rise of emerging economies in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia, have led to more intensive economic relations between Indonesia and other Asian countries. Since the start of this century, Asia has therefore increasingly become the locus of both Indonesia's economic and security priorities. [End Page 72]

This essay will examine Indonesia's pursuit of its two foreign policy objectives—economic development and ensuring a peaceful, autonomous regional order—in its relations with other Asian states under the first and now second Jokowi administrations. It will begin by addressing Jokowi's emphasis on using foreign relations to support economic growth at home, then turn to assess key political and security relationships with Asian states, and conclude by discussing Indonesia's role in promoting ASEAN centrality and a peaceful, stable Indo-Pacific order.

A Foreign Policy Focused on Economic Development

Under the Jokowi presidency, the emphasis on a more pragmatic and economic-oriented foreign policy has been more pronounced than any other administration since the early years of the Suharto regime. Indonesian diplomats have been exhorted to become salesmen to increase inflows of foreign investment and tourists as well as to secure markets for Indonesian exports. Toward these ends, the president has placed greater importance on strengthening bilateral relations with existing and potential economic partners than on multilateral engagements. In Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific region, however, economic and security considerations have become closely intertwined as a result of China's rise as an economic and military superpower challenging the United States, as well as the presence of several other major powers with various dyadic dynamics. Therefore, faced with many security threats and challenges that could undermine wider regional stability, the Jokowi government has also begun to pay more attention to geostrategic issues in the last couple of years. These will be discussed further below.

The intensity of Indonesia's relations with other Asian countries is clearly reflected in economic indicators and is unlikely to change in the coming years. In 2018, 72% of Indonesia's exports by value were to other Asian countries, while close to 75% of its imports were from Asia. In the same year, eleven of Indonesia's top fifteen trading partners, accounting for 81% of its exports, were in Asia.1 Indonesia's trade with fellow ASEAN members has also grown significantly, making up nearly 25% of its total trade, and is no longer dominated...


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