TCSS Security Commentaries #031

Under its matured leadership and credible experiences in mediating conflict resolutions in ASEAN, Indonesia would significantly progress in overcoming the Myanmar crisis, the South China Sea dispute, and operationalizing the AOIP.

Marina Ika Sari, Researcher-The Habibie Center

After Indonesia successfully served as the G20 Presidency last year, 2023 is again a momentous year for the country to demonstrate its strategic position in the region as the ASEAN Chair. Earlier, Indonesia held the ASEAN’s rotating Chair position for three terms in 1976, 2003, and 2011. In the history of its chairmanship, Indonesia has always been active in spawning various new initiatives to advance ASEAN, such as Bali Concord I, II, and III.

For the 2023 Summit, Indonesia promotes the “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth” theme as President Widodo stated that ASEAN is to emerge as an “anchor of world stability” and a “fast-growing, inclusive, and sustainable economic region.” The region’s volatile political and security dynamics are undoubtedly a tough challenge for Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship. So, which political and security issues will Indonesia prioritize for the 2023 summit, and will Indonesia attain breakthroughs in dealing with prioritized regional affairs? Firstly, the Myanmar Crisis remains a central issue for the Indonesian ASEAN Chairmanship. High expectations and hopes are pinned on Indonesia to have a shot at addressing the crisis. But Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s Military – has not exhibited its compliance to implement the Five-Point Consensus agreed upon in April 2021. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs 2023 Annual Press Statement, Indonesia plans to establish and lead a Special Envoy Office. It is a concrete and practical step to help Myanmar out of the crisis and will strictly be based on the ASEAN Charter’s fundamental principles and values.

ASEAN Foreign Ministers at the 32nd ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC) Meeting held at the ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta.
Source: MOFA Indonesia

Under its leadership, a threefold solution to cope with the Myanmar Crisis was proposed by Indonesia. Firstly, involving all stakeholders in Myanmar to facilitate an inclusive national dialogue. Second, building conducive situations – such as reducing violence and continuing humanitarian assistance – to pave the way for an inclusive dialogue. Thirdly, synergizing efforts from ASEAN with external parties such as neighboring countries and the UN Secretary-General’s special envoyto Myanmar. Moreover, Indonesia plans to launch military diplomacy and appoint a high-ranking military official as an emissary to entice the Tatmadaw to engage with democratic forces and restore peace. It might be Indonesia’s creative approach; however, progress and results remain to be seen in the future. The key factor behind involving all stakeholders in Myanmar is to build trust between Tatmadaw and Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy. Indonesia is expected to embrace all parties so that they “sit together at one table” to share concerns and perspectives with no go-betweens.

Secondly, Indonesia will likely address the long-standing South China Sea (SCS) dispute and Code of Conduct (CoC). China and ASEAN have been negotiating such a code for nearly two decades, with an initial target to complete talks by the end of 2021. However, the CoC negotiation progress has been relatively slow, further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CoC negotiation timeline was planned for three years, from the first reading to the third reading phase. The first reading was completed in 2019 as the individual national draft complied compiled into a single document. Further, the second reading of the text was already underway in 2020. Indonesia will host rounds of COC negotiation and the first round will be in March 2023.

Although Indonesia is a non-claimant state in the dispute, it continues to play an active role in accelerating the CoC negotiation process. So, for Jakarta, the ASEAN Chair is pivotal in handling the tensions between the ASEAN Member States and China over SCS and CoC. Indonesia’s leadership would serve as an opportunity to strengthen unity, reinforce ASEAN’s collective stance toward China, and encourage the CoC negotiation for finalizing the third reading phase.

Third, Indonesia will focus on operationalizing the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). Over AOIP, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi highlighted a need for coherence among member states as not all opinions converge on the Indo-Pacific concept. Therefore, Indonesia will use a “paradigm of collaboration” approach, which emphasizes that the Indo-Pacific should be approached not only from a security aspect but also from an inclusive economic development aspect. Inclusive cooperation in implementing the AOIP in all ASEAN activities should also be carried out so that it would have greater leverage at the government and the grassroots levels. As such, the AOIP can be derivated from a concept on paper into more practical collaborations.

As the de facto leader of ASEAN, Indonesia must embrace all ASEAN member states and ensure their unity to cope with regional matters. Under its matured leadership and credible experiences in mediating conflict resolutions in ASEAN countries, such as the Thailand-Cambodia border conflict and Moro conflict in the Philippines, Indonesia would make significant progress in overcoming the Myanmar crisis, the South China Sea dispute and operationalizing the AOIP. With note, Indonesia is fully supported by all ASEAN members for its proclaimed ideas.

Marina Ika Sari is currently a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan Fellow (2023) at the Taiwan Center for Security Studies in Taipei. She is a researcher at the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center in Jakarta, and holds a master’s degree in defense diplomacy from the Indonesia Defense University (UNHAN).