Jakarta Globe | Insight
The Jakarta Globe interviewed Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to learn about Indonesia's developments in foreign affairs. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

FM Retno Marsudi on Indonesian Foreign Policy in 2017

Jakarta. Throughout 2017, Indonesia was working hard on foreign policy to maintain its position on the international stage and in the Southeast Asian region by promoting peace, security, stability, and focusing on economic diplomacy.

The Jakarta Globe’s Telly Nathalia interviewed Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in mid-November to learn more about these developments.

What significant outcomes are there for Indonesia from this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forums?

At the APEC forum our message was about economic integration, which is about openness. Free and fair trade benefits us all. We also discussed inclusivity — it has been consistently brought up by President Jokowi [Joko Widodo].

The issue of inclusivity is present in his domestic [policy] approach. His development strategy covers both the rural and urban, eastern and western areas. No parts, districts or persons are left out in benefiting from it. This inclusive approach also informed his activities abroad, at the APEC forum as well.

One of the reasons why we spoke up about the importance of economic integration is the 2020 Bogor Goals. The spirit of the goals must be preserved and renewed as we are nearing the year 2020. It is important that it remains the same, but of course changing dynamics requires updates. And we must resolve the issues that were not resolved [earlier].

The second thing, when we talk about inclusivity, it is about our efforts to bridge development gaps. It is east-west, rural-urban to close the gaps.

On the Asean level, there were many meetings, not only between its leaders, but also for the Asean-plus-one and plus-three groups [Asean’s cooperation with Japan, South Korea and China]. [We had] the East Asia Summit and recently the special Arcep [Asean Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership] meeting.

The president related to the 50th anniversary of the organization’s establishment. As Asean has been able to make the Southeast Asian region stable, peaceful and prosperous, we must plan how the next 50 years should look like. The president said that in order for Asean to develop, [become] stronger, more credible and respected by its people and the world, collective, powerful and responsible leadership is necessary. It is very important and can make Asean develop even faster.

In the plus-one cooperation, it all depended on which country we were dealing with, but when we see the series of events that took place, there were three parallel issues that it relied on. One of them is North Korea — we know Asean’s position is firm here. Then it was about the South China Sea. The tone has become more positive than it was last year, because we have agreed on a code of conduct. In November, Asean leaders met with China and agreed to begin negotiations. This was appreciated by other partners as well.

The third issue was the [situation] in [Myanmar’s] Rakhine State.

We also signed the Asean’s consensus on the protection of migrant workers. For four years, Indonesia was fighting for it. Finally, it bore fruit and was signed by Asean leaders.

With regard to the Arcep, we also made commitments that negotiations will conclude in 2018. The president said each party should be flexible to a certain level. We know there are high calls from everyone, because the cooperation includes Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and others. So there are many gaps [contending interests].

If the cooperation is achieved, it will mean a huge economic integration. This is why the president urges flexibility, but at the same time also ensuring mutual benefits for everyone involved. That’s the main point.

What benefits from the cooperation are expected for Indonesia? Because so far Asean members have benefited little, compared with the developed countries involved.

That’s why we have discussed tariffs, our chances to fix deficits. As China is now open, we have a chance to lower our deficit. So it makes competition healthier … A comprehensive economy involves not only trade, but also investment. And trade is not only about goods, but also services and capacity-building efforts, among others.

What is the target and what have we achieved in economic diplomacy?

Economic diplomacy is one of the pillars, or priorities, of Indonesia’s foreign policy. All our missions abroad have been strengthened for this, to search for opportunities to increase export and investment [into Indonesia], and for us to invest.

Don’t forget that when we talk about investments, it is not only about the incoming, but also the outgoing ones. At this point we are capable to invest abroad.

There are traditional and nontraditional markets, the latter are unique. While we continue to strengthen our traditional [usual] markets, [in 2017] we were also intensifying engagement with nontraditional ones such as Africa.

I went to Africa twice in 2017, and the minister of trade and our team also went there on working visits. We brought representatives from our private sector, our investors, our export-import banks.

When we talked about our readiness to export strategic industry products, we already had DI [state-owned aerospace company Dirgantara Indonesia] there to introduce them. There was also a representative from an export-import bank to work on the financial aspects.

We already had an entire picture, from A to Z, and we only had to work on final decisions. This was greatly appreciated by our African partners. In our negotiations, whether for PTAs [preferential trade agreements] or FTAs [free-trade agreements], or for a comprehensive economic partnership, we are there.

We are also renewing our investment agreements with other countries. In 2014, we decided to put an end to our old BITs [bilateral investment treaties], and made a new template. We were able to reach an agreement for a new BIT with the United Arab Emirates, and now we’re negotiating with Qatar. Next, we’ll be negotiating with Singapore.

On the promotional level, the increase in transactions at the TEI [Trade Expo Indonesia] was more than 30 percent. It was acknowledged by the minister of trade that the involvement of our diplomats has been very helpful in attracting buyers.

What were the regions other than Africa?

South Asia, Central Asia were also in our focus. To Bangladesh we delivered 150 railcars, and there is a deal for another 250.

Some of our strategic industry products [small aircraft], which are already used by several African countries, attracted offers from South Korea … So there are negotiations with South Korea too.

Right now our diplomacy is much more down-to-earth, we are not discussing anything that is a far reach, we discuss the real things we can do. We always represent, wherever we go, the interests of private and state-owned enterprises. We fight for the private sector.

With regard to people-to-people relations, what are the main challenges? The common understanding of the Asean cooperation is still very weak.

That’s a process of awareness. To make you feel a part of Asean is a process, which is why we have increased our public campaigns, helped establish Asean centers at several universities, and organized public lectures.

At the provincial level, we also promoted Asean, like we did in Bandung. And as 2017 marks [the association’s] 50-year anniversary, we had bigger events too, like a parade during Car-Free Day [in Jakarta] in which members of the public could participate.

The challenge we are facing is how to make Indonesians enjoy the benefits of being part of the Asean family.

We do not need visas to visit other Asean countries, because there is freedom of movement in the region. This is one of the benefits … From the economy side, we are working for our small- and medium-sized enterprises to gain more from it. The challenge, which is also faced by other countries, is how to increase our ability to compete. If we don’t improve, we will lose.

In terms of mobility, many Indonesian workers still struggle to find jobs in other Asean countries.

The rules are the same [for all Asean members] … For example, for architects there are certain standards one must reach, so it’s up to us to if we compete and achieve it. I am sure our human resources are ready to compete.

What are the potential threats we must prepare for?

First, we have to protect Southeast Asia and its outer region, which includes South Asia and East Asia, to ensure stability and security. When the region is stable and secure, we can [start to] talk about prosperity and economic problems. But this stability and security are fundamental. The threats are in transnational organized crime, including terrorism, so wherever we go we discuss possible cooperation in counterterrorism. It is a priority in all our meetings.

On the sidelines of Asean, we also held bilateral talks with Malaysia and the Philippines to discuss our next steps after the liberation of Marawi City. When Marawi was freed, we congratulated the Philippines, but we can see there are still threats, and they can even increase. That’s why we need to strengthen our cooperation in counterterrorism.

Marawi has brought the world’s attention to Asean. How will the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia prevent the transfer of militants? What is the real threat now? What are our main concerns?

Very important is to exchange intelligence and control the borders. I think we are ready to cooperate. Indonesia is able counter this threat, and we have been doing quite well, in terms of both hard and soft power. In our hard power approach, an example of which is law enforcement, at the JCLEC [Jakarta Center for Law Enforcement Cooperation] we trained a few thousand police officers from other countries in countering terrorism.

In soft power, deradicalization [programs] by our National Counterterrorism Agency [BNPT] made many countries interested in working with Indonesia on the issue. Our deradicalization efforts involve communities, families and  even former terrorists, who after serving their sentences also become agents for tolerance and peace-building.

In law enforcement, it is also important how to act without violating human rights. We could just strike, but there is still the human rights aspect that we must consider.

With all our achievements, we should be able to become a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council. When will it happen?

We are always doing our best, for me hard work is something that we must do. We must work hard to make the UN realize that Indonesia’s seat at the council would benefit the world.

When we want to become something, we have to campaign. Jokowi said that doing hard work is already the campaign itself. … Can you imagine that a country that has never done anything suddenly wants to become [the council’s] member and makes all kinds of promises without a sound track record?

As for us, what we have been doing is our capital. … Hopefully, we will become a “true partner for world peace,” because peace diplomacy is one of our signatures. We always bring our peace advocacy, wherever we go, we attempt to bridge differences, and we are actively involved in peacekeeping missions.

When we talk about being a partner for world peace, no one will find it strange, because we have a good track record.

So it is not true what people say, that Jokowi’s cabinet is not paying attention to foreign affairs?

This is not true at all, as you can see from our engagement in Rakhine State. The whole world, the UN secretary general, everyone, appreciates Indonesia’s leadership in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.

It can be said that other countries follow Indonesia when they plan to engage with Myanmar. We share information, we help aid organizations bring relief to Rakhine State. We are trying to offer support not just from one side, but on multiple levels. And we have been appreciated for it … and for our counterterrorism efforts, in which we are present everywhere.

On the North Korea issue, what will we do?

Our relations with North Korea have always been good, also historically. But it does not mean we will not criticize it.

We cannot tolerate their regular missile launches, and we have been urging North Korea to comply with the existing [UN] resolutions and stop its nuclear tests.

Our stance and that of Asean is already very clear.