Indonesia and the Neutrality of ASEAN


As the traditional leader of ASEAN, Indonesia holds the important role to enhance the body playing a significant act in keeping the region persistently neutral amid the great powers rivalry between US and China.

If one country in the South East Asian region is enmeshed in the defense alliances trap among great powers, it will damage the common value of ASEAN as a “neutral area” as a whole, then affects stability in the region. In the sense of global impact, it might be more severe than what we look at merely as a metaphysical war or the battle for influence to attract as many as comrades into the group.

As we know in history, how the region became the bloody terrain for the combat of most two political ideologies to get leverage over the countries. It is not long ago. It just happened several decades. Generally speaking, South East Asia countries experiences well steadiness precisely after Asia Financial Crisis around 1997-1998. But it is not absolutely fully described how the region enjoys economic development. Even now, the region often seems still contained by political instability, the worst one in Myanmar.

Learning from the past, where ASEAN had been experiencing relentless misery from colonialism to proxy war during the Cold War era. Recently, the region still encounters domestic problems as a result of the subjugation of colonialism decades ago. Giving us one vulnerable feature of the region, that ASEAN yet needs time to mature like the EU.

Sure, they now are growing up economically. They tried their best to manage the country and follow the way how their East Asia neighbor runs the economy. But we have to admit that ASEAN is truly still vulnerable. We have to accept one inevitable fact exposed clearly on the surface of ASEAN and becomes crucial if they could not manage it well: they are divided into two stream political systems. On the one hand, some of ASEAN adopted communism, and the rest subscribed to liberal democracy as their political way. Such conditions open the chance of hostility and partiality.

Given it was unique none of the regional forums in the world except ASEAN in succeeding to maintaining ideology diversity and walking together. But at the same time, such a situation creates deep concern, as would ASEAN survive in the uncertainty of an anarchy world amid the tension between AS and China in the region.

Therefore, Indonesia has a big responsibility to ensure that ASEAN always being as a buffer for their traditional way as non-aligned countries. Let alone, Indonesia sit as chairman of ASEAN this year. It gives the country the chance to take a decisive strategy, assuring ASEAN members that favoritism to one-sidedness would direct the region to limbo.

Indonesia must consolidate ASEAN power projection as a peacekeeping mediator altogether as a reliable friend for both superpowers. Rumors often cited as well as predicted by some scholars that some of the ASEAN countries inclined to be nearer on one side in an indirect way should be counted as a serious issue to be handled by the wise approach.

Stating that South East Asia will come to be the key to the peace of the world after Post Cold-War era might be impressed exaggeration, but indeed, it is. US assertive maneuver in its Indo-Pacific policy by strengthening QUAD and empowering AUKUS’ submarine nuclear as well as China’s obstinacy over the contested South China Sea and its active role in founding economy multilateralism inviting ASEAN members to join is proof that both superpowers are launching their clout in the region.

Indeed, it was not an easy task for Indonesia to balance the condition and ascertain its compatriot within ASEAN to stand together in the face of central power competition that seduce around them. However, there is yet a glimpse of hope, as long as ASEAN was founded, they already proved their staunch manner to not bandwagon to one party. Rather, they prefer to take hedging action as their common strategy.

So, once again, the destiny of unexpected war projection in the post-Cold War era now is in the hand of ASEAN members. If they fail to keep their solidity, instead align and fasten their relationship to a certain great power like what happened to European countries in World War I and II, where they were incorporated into each carriage, nothing impossible that proxy war will take place in the region.

Indonesia has a gigantic duty in its position as the chairman of the ASEAN this year. Apart from the fact that it is crucial to do campaigns regularly pertaining to neutrality to other members, it is also important to be underlined that Indonesia will truly do its “Free – Active” foreign policy. Let’s leave great powers seeking hegemony and provocative alone. This is our place, we need to live in peace and harmony.

Ahmad Nurcholis
Ahmad Nurcholis
Ahmad Nurcholis, Master student at International Politics of Shandong University. Now, He is preparing for Doctoral degree. His work focus on politics, economy, and IR theory.


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