Editorial: Indonesia’s Diplomacy Loses Its Way

Editorial Omong-Omong

3 min read

Indonesian diplomacy has been in its lowest points ever since Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office in 2014 as he degraded the country’s diplomats to become merely business and trade brokers rather than becoming the face and representatives of the nation in advancing the national interests based on the country’s constitution.

In his doctrine, Jokowi wants diplomats to deliver tangible economic results, such as more foreign investments, increase of Indonesian exports, spike of incoming foreign tourists, all to offset the high expenses spent on foreign activities.

For him forging any foreign relations must result in economic benefits. Other than that, it’s non-sense. So, national interests, which become the basis for any diplomacy and foreign policies, are defined by Jokowi as concrete economic benefits the country can get as immediate as it can. Diplomacy and diplomats are rated based on how much money they can generate or how many people can come to the country in a shortest possible time.

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Indonesian diplomats are arguably the country’s most corrupt-free, most capable and smartest state officials. They are among the most skillful, smartest diplomats in the region, being able to stand toe-to-toe with brightest minds from Singapore, India and China, regarded as Asia’s best. Ask any foreign diplomats in Jakarta, and they will tell you the same stories.

Before Jokowi came to power, Indonesian diplomats are the engine of ASEAN, confirming that Indonesia is the primus inter pares – the first among equals. But now, they look as naïve as their president, nearly becoming the laughing stock in the region. Indonesia is the biggest polity and economy in ASEAN. It is Indonesia’s nature to become its leader and initiator. Without Indonesia’s leadership, ASEAN now has no teeth, failing to deter military coup in Myanmar and letting Cambodia’s Hun Sen hijack the grouping and steering it whichever way he wants, and allowing China to divide the grouping’s members.

It is in this regard that Indonesia’s confused and confusing reaction on Russia’s invasion into Ukraine must be seen. No statement can perfectly highlight the country’s lowest point in international arena but its statement on Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

First of all, what Russia has done is an aggression and invasion, a violation of any international laws and conventions. For Indonesia, whose constitution clearly stipulates that “freedom (or independence) is the right of every nation” and that one of its duties is to help “keep world peace”, there is no other statement for such as an unprovoked attack against other sovereign country’s territory but to condemn it.

But both statements by Jokowi and the foreign ministry not only fail to condemn Russia’s action, they have no guts to even mention the word “Russia” in their statement, let alone following International concerted action in giving sanction to the aggressor. This way, Indonesia has betrayed its own constitution and ideals it has been striving to follow since independence.

Indonesia seems to be in confusion because its economic and business relations with Russia and Russian oligarchs have been blossoming. Bilateral trade between the two countries rose to US$2.74 billion in 2021, an increase of more than 42 percent from the previous year. Furthermore, there has been report that Russian company Rosneft, one of world’s biggest companies led by Russian oligarch Igor Sechin, is working with Pertamina to construct a giant refinery project in Tuban with an investment of nearly Rp 200 trillion (US$140 billion).

So, what Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said as “national interests” in defending Indonesia’s position on Russian invasion are these economic and business relations. In other words, Indonesia is afraid that Russia would be angry and pull these investments out. It also means that Indonesia has been held hostage by Russia with its investment.

Does this also mean that Indonesia has been bought and its policy has been dictated by Russia’s interests? If so, then all of these policies have not been in Indonesia’s national interests but in Russia’s interests.

We also don’t know for sure if the investment really for people’s benefits because as usual many projects under Jokowi have actually benefitted only the rent seekers and the country’s oligarchs who received huge sum of money for their role as brokers, and later ask for tax-payer money to bail it out should the project goes south.

Looking more closely at Indonesia’s trade relations with Russia, it turns out that palm oil makes up almost 40 percent of Indonesia’s exports to Russia. This fact further proves that dominant interest that Indonesia’s statement on Russia’s invasion into Ukraine serves is not the national interests but big business’s interests.

These whole messy and humiliating affairs would not have happened if Indonesian diplomacy stays true to its goals stipulated in its constitution, rather than reducing it to mere business affairs and for financial gains. Making financial gains as our goal is very dangerous and destructive because then we have a price, and when we have a price, we can be bought.

When we are bought, we are done.

Editorial Omong-Omong

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