There was another celebration at the Indonesian Embassy in London earlier this week. The reason? Indonesia had been successfully re-elected as a council member of the International Maritime Organisation, C category for 2020-2021.
This successful candidacy takes us back to the 2014 presidential campaign, when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo proclaimed his bright vision to make Indonesia a global maritime fulcrum. One element of this was making Indonesia a leader in maritime diplomacy.
However, Jokowi’s return to office for a second term was met with a lot of criticism and suspicion, and in his campaign speeches he rarely touched about his dreams of turning the country into a global maritime fulcrum. It seemed as if his maritime vision had been forgotten.
Though Jokowi did not touch upon his maritime dreams very much during the campaign, there are at least three key reasons why the ocean may still become an important element of Indonesia’s foreign policy in the next five years.
First, the Indonesian leadership is pushing for Indo-Pacific cooperation, second, its white paper on maritime diplomacy has just been introduced, and third, the issue of maritime boundaries and sovereignty at sea remains to be addressed.
Indonesia has taken the first step in endorsing the Indo-Pacific concept in Asean, and even though it is not a purely Indonesian proposal, it has emphasised the strategic role Asean has played in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Asean outlook on the Indo-Pacific also focuses on the importance of respecting the rule of international law, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is very important, especially since the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea are still deemed as threats to the region’s stability.
The Indo-Pacific initiative is also crucial in balancing the regional dynamics between major powers such as the United States’ Free and Open Indo-Pacific and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Hence, taking into account the strategic location of Asean, the members of the grouping should also propose their outlook on the Indo-Pacific cooperation.
Secondly, earlier this year, for the first time in Indonesian history, the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs launched the Indonesia Maritime Diplomacy White Paper, as part of the implementation of the 2017 Indonesia Ocean Policy.
There are four main goals encompassed in the Maritime Diplomacy White Paper, namely the protection of Indonesia’s sovereignty, prosperity and connectivity at sea, regional stability and national capacity.
This will pretty much be the guideline for Indonesian diplomacy.
This maritime diplomacy white paper could be the policy framework and trajectory in implementing any government policy in relation to maritime issues, including foreign policy. Indonesia’s interests at sea are very much to maintain safety and security in the region, including its trilateral cooperation with Singapore and Malaysia in Malacca Strait.
Thirdly, for the last five years, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prioritized the maritime boundary delimitation with neighboring countries. This is crucial since un-delimited maritime boundaries with neighbouring countries are often contentious issues.
In 2018, there were some incidents between Indonesia and a neighbour’s law-enforcement agency, as to who had the right to enforce law in the disputed maritime boundaries. This was crucial because not only does this involve sovereignty issues, but also the fishing sector and other resources within the un-delimited area.
Even though the delimitation of maritime boundaries might require a lot of time and negotiations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should focus on all unresolved maritime boundaries within the Exclusive Economic Zone, Territorial Seas and Continental Shelf.
Considering those three elements, it is likely that Mr Widodo’s foreign policy for the next five years will still be dominated by maritime issues.
Aristyo Rizka Darmawan is a researcher at the Centre for Sustainable Ocean Policy at Universitas Indonesia and Fellow at the Centre for Politics and Transnationalism at Policylab.