Indonesian Foreign Policy in the Future: Predictions Based on Discourses

Indonesian foreign policy has made the concept of freedom and activity, which it has adopted as its basic doctrine since its establishment.

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Indonesian foreign policy has made the concept of freedom and activity, which it has adopted as its basic doctrine since its establishment, a tradition. The ideology of a free and active foreign policy (politik bebas dan active), proposed by the first vice president, Muhammad Hatta, has been one of the most significant national symbols and a fundamental component of the consensus-driven and non-negotiable design for Indonesia’s external relations. According to how this guiding concept is often understood, Indonesia does not support any global powers, so the policy is autonomous. Indonesia’s foreign policy is active at the same time, meaning that the government actively participates in resolving international issues rather than taking a passive or reactive stance.

Although Free and Active is the cornerstone of Indonesian foreign policy, there have been significant changes in policy over time. Especially in the bipolar world order in the pre-democratization period, Indonesia’s close relations with the Soviet bloc during the Sukarno period and then with the West during the Suharto period caused the “free” part to be questioned. This situation has created a change and continuity problem, especially in the literature on Indonesian foreign policy. Therefore, it has become a matter of curiosity as to what continues and what changes over time. However, discontinuation becomes clearer when a leader-focused foreign policy analysis is made.

The comprehension and elucidation of the hegemonic status of the Indonesian president are contingent upon the informal institutions and structures, namely cultural elements and the historical imprint on the country’s political framework. The chief executive’s powerful position aligns with the Javanese tradition of absolute authority. Many Indonesians, particularly Javanese, believed that the president was virtually a king up to the end of the Suharto administration. In this case, we can see Javanese presidents, except for BJ Habibie’s short-term transitional presidency, hegemonia in Indonesian politics.

After the democratization period, Indonesian foreign policy moved away from leader-oriented foreign policy, and the participation of domestic actors increased. Especially for political parties and non-governmental actors such as Islamic-based organizations, support has become a fundamental need for any decision-maker to legitimize their policies. This was made abundantly evident after 9/11, when Indonesia positioned itself as an example of how Islam and contemporary democracy coexisted. This made a big change in the continuity of Indonesian foreign policy, which was rarely sin tin then in New Order Period. Besides that, especially after SBY periods, Indonesian foreign policy has undergone various foreign policies, such as the Dynamic Equilibrium of Marty Natalegawa or the Economic Diplomacy of Jokowi. This is where the actors doctrines or thoughts have a significant impact on foreign policy. Therefore, analysis of the presidential candidates’ thoughts on foreign policy will give us clues about what kind of continuity and changes will occur in Indonesian foreign policy after the 2024 elections.”We need to build collective awareness that we are citizens of the world, so that the Indonesian nation’s participation space is global, meaning that when there is a crisis out there, we are present to help; there are events we attend and participate in, so we come as members or citizens of the world,” he said. When we look at Anies’ words, it gives signals that pro-active and multi-literal diplomacy similar to the SBY period may come back to Indonesian foreign policy. Anies also stressed the importance of the culture that Indonesia may offer to the world as a problem solver. Anies also talked about the idea of smart power, which consists of hard power and soft power. Accordingly, in parallel, Anies also launched the New Basic Force, in which Indonesia’s defense equipment should be directed not only to quantitative targets but also to function and technology. The New Essential Force concept was conceptualized in 2010 to be completed in 2024, and it is considered to have failed to achieve the target as it will only reach 70% of the target in 2023. But beyond that, there are so many technological and geopolitical changes that many of the goals set in 2010 or 13 years ago are no longer current at all. The idea of expanding Java-centered economic development throughout Indonesia to achieve the Hard Power goal put forward by Anies is quite interesting. This may have been a challenge to the Java-centric economic development of Indonesia for decades. Apart from this, the reference to ASEAN, Indonesia’s golden cage, seems to have maintained its place in foreign policy.

Ganjar, on the other hand, Similar to the food sector, Ganjar referred to the need to be prepared for the transition to renewable energy but said that this could be an expensive transformation. On the other hand, he stated that Indonesia has an electricity supply and that it can be exported at the ASEAN level. According to Ganjar, in defense policies, Indonesia needs to optimize international cooperation and agreements to strengthen Indonesia’s position, such as using the Indonesian language for the outermost sea islands, doubling the maritime defense budget, and being obliged to build a domestic defense industrial complex. This can be read as a reflection of Jokowi’s famous Global Maritime Fulcrum in Ganjar’s foreign policy goals. This is what we mean by continuity.

Finally, Prabowo Subianto emphasized the importance of maintaining peace through a good neighbor policy. Probowo said, “A thousand friends are too few, but one enemy is too many”. This attitude of Probowo symbolizes the good neighbor policy, similar to SBY’s “thousand friends, zero enemies”. On the other hand, Probowo referred to the non-bloc doctrine and stated that Indonesia has good relations with both China and the USA and that both countries make positive contributions to the country’s economy. Therefore, there are more elements of continuity than change in the Probowo period.

It seems that Ganjar and Probowo’s statements stand out as some of the usual doctrines in Indonesian foreign policy. In this regard, Ganjar has not been able to stand out very well in the foreign policy agenda of the current president Jokowin. Probowo, on the other hand, wants to preserve traditional Indonesian foreign policy agendas with its emphasis on bebas active and non-bloc. Unlike the two, Anies offers a different foreign policy agenda, highlighting both soft and hard power elements. In this case, Anies constitutes the change part of the future Indonesian foreign policy, while Ganjar and Probowo can be seen as continuity.

Tufan Kutay Boran
Tufan Kutay Boran
PhD Candidate, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada

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