Strategic autonomy vital part of Indonesian foreign policy: expert

Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar is one of Indonesia’s leading foreign policy intellectuals and strategic analysts. The Asia Media Centre caught up with Professor Dewi ahead of her public lecture on 15 November in Wellington.

How does Indonesia view itself on the world stage?

Dewi Fortuna Anwar: “In terms of economy, we are a G20 country. Indonesia is also the largest member of ASEAN and is considered a natural leader of ASEAN. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation – people are surprised by that. We are also the world’s third-largest democracy.”

New Zealand’s perception of Indonesia and Asia in general is dominated by natural disasters. What does this mean for Indonesia’s international identity?

“It doesn’t hurt Indonesia as such – it hasn’t hurt Indonesia’s global and regional place engagements.

“It’s a fact Indonesia has natural disasters. We are in the Ring of Fire. But looking at the size of Indonesia from west to east, it’s the size of the whole continent of America ... if we reported every single disaster that happened that’s huge.

“Of course bad news is news. But one of the rules of media is public education and giving balanced information, particularly at a time when we have now instant news and fake news. The responsibility of professional media is heavier and one of them is to write feature articles, fully researched, comprehensive information.”

Joko Widodo and Xi Jinping (Photo: Joko Widodo/Facebook)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) and China President Xi Jinping. (Photo: Joko Widodo/Facebook)

There’s growing debate about PRC influence in New Zealand. Are there similar discussions in Indonesia?

“We’ve gone full circle. Indonesia was the first to recognise the People’s Republic of China and we developed extremely good relations until 1965. We froze diplomatic relations from 1965 to 1990. Now we’re very close again.

“Everyone’s concerned with China products swamping local markets. Concerns about China as it grows is inevitable – it’s not just regional, it’s global. We’re all competing – it’s just at the moment, the Chinese are out-competing everybody.

What are Indonesia’s major foreign policy challenges and preoccupations?

“Indonesia has evolved. But there is one constant theme, regardless of what government is in power – independence. National independence and political independence in a strategic sense and also economically, independence of judgement, freedom of action.

Indonesia has always refused to be drawn into one or other military allies. Indonesia does not allow its territory to be used as a foreign military base. It does not join in any foreign military adventures.

“Ensuring the strategic autonomy of Indonesia and Southeast Asia through ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian nations] has been a priority of foreign policy since 1967.

Do you think ASEAN will continue as a collective or will members be pulled in different directions?

“There’s always this danger that Southeast Asia will be divided; internally or externally. If you’re always fighting with each other you are vulnerable. We need unity.

“ASEAN has adopted what Indonesia calls ‘national resilience’ – close cooperation between each other. Our destinies are interlinked so you need to be mindful of your neighbour’s needs.

“In pursuing national interest, you always be mindful of your interest of your region.

“We need bigger powers to see the stability of the region isn’t just important for smaller countries, but also benefits the bigger countries.”

Indonesia goes to the polls next year. What are the key issues?

“Economics is always top of mind. It’s about employment, inflation, purchasing power. You may have wonderful things in foreign policy, but if people don’t like what is happening in their daily life ... that’s what matters most.

“Foreign policy only matters if you’re at war or if it affects the economy – trade and employment. Illegal workers are a hot topic and Chinese investment is an issue.”

Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar was in New Zealand as a guest of Victoria University’s Centre of Strategic Studies in her role as the Sir Howard Kippenberger Chair in Strategic Studies 2018.

– Asia Media Centre