Indonesia's Global South Diplomacy and Its Impact on Domestic Politics: A Superpower-Oriented Country's Trajectory (Edited lecture transcript)

Jun Honna

1. The Jokowi Administration's Global South Diplomacy

President Jokowi, who took office in 2014, will leave next year; this year marks his ninth year in office while the maximum term as presidency stipulated by the Indonesian Constitution is ten years. During this decade under the Jokowi administration, there was much mention of the Global South. Jokowi referred frequently to the Global South in international diplomatic events and promoted his diplomacy by identifying with the Global South. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the term became a part of Indonesia's identity.

Amid the global fragmentation, Indonesia pursued a diplomacy that was not leaning toward the East or West. This is the identical stance taken by Global South countries. Unbiased diplomacy is deeply identified with Indonesia's DNA—the spirit of the 1955 Bandung Conference, which advocated non-alignment and neutrality.

Jokowi did not show much interest in diplomacy but has recently become more proactive. In 2022, as leader of the G20, he hosted a summit meeting in Bali and invited Ukrainian President Zelensky, with whom he had separate discussions. Before the summit, he had met with Russian President Putin—therefore, he was, at that moment, the only Asian leader who met both Putin and Zelensky, the two men at the forefront the Ukraine war. In May 2023, Jokowi hosted an ASEAN summit and succeeded in presenting a joint statement also agreed to by Russia. Later, he conveyed at the Hiroshima G7 summit a message from the Global South.

During his trip to Africa in August 2023, Jokowi actively emphasized solidarity with the Global South. At the Island Nations Forum Indonesia hosted, it also stressed its solidarity with the Global South. Through a series of diplomatic activities, Indonesia has been successful in establishing its self-identity as representing the Global South in Southeast Asia, receiving international recognition as such.

When, in June 2023, the Japanese Emperor visited Indonesia for the first time, the Emperor spoke of Indonesia as part of the Global South.

Next, I would like to discuss Indonesia's strategic importance to Japan or to the Indo-Pacific.

First, Indonesia is located in a geopolitically important area where sea lanes run from the Strait of Malacca to the South China Sea.

Second, Indonesia is a resource-rich country and one of the foremost producers of mineral resources such as coal and rare metals, as well as agricultural resources like cacao and palm oil.

Third, Indonesia is recognized as an emerging market. With the world's fourth-largest population and a growing middle class, the country is an attractive market for Japan and other developed countries.

Fourth, Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority country, with 90% of its 270 million people being Muslim. The country's Muslim diplomacy matters also for Japan.

2. "Indonesia's Golden Age in 2045"

Indonesia holds a clear goal of becoming a superpower; Jokowi clarified a vision to achieve "Indonesia's Golden Age in 2045." 2045 is the 100th anniversary of Indonesia's independence. Indonesia aims to join the group of developed countries or economic superpowers before that time. According to a global GDP estimate, Indonesia, which was ranked 16th in 2016, would ascend to 9th position in 2030, then to 4th in 2050 with a GDP of US$7.275 trillion, thus surpassing Japan. According to this prediction, China will be the leading economy in 2050, followed by the United States, India, Indonesia, and Japan.

The vision to achieve "Indonesia's Golden Age in 2045" involves (1) promoting infrastructure development and strengthening connectivity, (2) relocating the capital city, and (3) implementing policies for natural resources downstreaming and industrialization.

In the area of infrastructure development, the Indonesian government will develop land and sea infrastructure to promote logistics and to expand exports. Power plant development is also underway.

Last year, the Indonesian government decided to relocate its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan (Borneo Island). Relevant development work is proceeding at a rapid pace. Until now, Java has been the center of Indonesia, which accounts for 7% of the country's land area but 60% of its population and the GDP, respectively. The project aims at overcoming the current state of overconcentration.

The natural resources downstreaming policy is to restrict the export of unprocessed natural resources and to promote industrialization by processing them at home, adding high value, and exporting them as products. The targeted items include palm oil, nickel, and bauxite. For instance, nickel will not be exported but instead will be used to manufacture batteries, even for the production of EVs.

These three goals are organically linked with one another. The vision aims to industrialize the entire nation by relocating the capital, downstreaming resources from areas other than Java, upgrading distribution through infrastructure development, and reaching a golden age in 2045.

To this end, massive foreign investment is essential; at this juncture, Indonesia is deepening relations with China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The development work will take place mainly outside of Java, which appears risky to Japan because it traditionally prefers risk-free investment. China and the UAE, on the other hand, are not afraid of taking risks and, therefore, will find more opportunities. Chinese investment delegations are said to visit Indonesia every week (with just one a year from the United States). When Jokowi calls Xi Jinping over the phone, by many accounts, he is usually connected to Xi within two minutes.

Jokowi's diplomacy is ruled by his global south perspective that seeks to profit by taking advantage of the US-China confrontation. He believes that diplomacy is a transaction and that what one can obtain matters. Indonesia's self-identity as belonging to the Global South justifies its equidistant diplomacy.

3. The Impact of the Global South Diplomacy on Indonesian Domestic Politics

The impact of the Jokowi administration's Global South diplomacy on domestic politics can be summed up in two words: authoritarian politics and a regression of democracy. In particular, as Jokowi entered his second term (2019-2024), this authoritarian tendency intensified, discounting democracy. This move was synchronized with Jokowi's emphasis on the Global South. The watchword "Indonesia's Golden Age in 2045" is used to excuse the administration's authoritarian tendency in domestic politics.

First, in 2019, Jokowi brought Prabowo Subianto from the largest opposition party into his administration; as a result, the ruling coalition came to occupy 80% of the parliamentary seats. Although the Jokowi administration became more stable, the parliamentary check on the executive has been reduced to a formality.

Second, in 2019, the Jokowi administration weakened the independence of the Corruption Eradication Commission and actually used this organ to eliminate its political foes.

Third, the Jokowi administration amended a package of laws regarding foreign investment (the Omnibus Law) and boasted that this action improved the country's investment environment. However, it only led to the deterioration of the labor environment, hindering environmental assessments. The administration enacted a capital relocation law in a short time, neglecting deliberations on relevant environmental issues. Funding was the main issue for the capital relocation; the administration obtained financial cooperation from Chinese conglomerates by resorting sometimes to intimidation.

Since Jokowi is keen to create a legacy by transforming Indonesia into a developed country by 2045, prioritizing his three-fold vision, he tends to criminalize—the term used by opponents—criticism of the government. Freedom of the press is also under constraint.

Jokowi attempted to retain his power to fulfill the Golden Age legacy by maneuvering for a third term—the Indonesian Constitution limits the presidential term to two consecutive five-year periods—, by extending his current term of office, and postponing elections. However, none of these attempts bore fruit. Nonetheless, Jokowi succeeded in arranging that his eldest son would become a vice presidential candidate if Defense Minister Prabowo became president. This is called power-sharing. Jokowi allegedly meddled with the Constitutional Court's decision to ensure that when Prabowo takes power, his eldest son can become vice president despite his being under the age of 40, which is prohibited by the Indonesian Constitution. The Constitutional Court, which performs a significant role in elections, has been impaired of its authority; for this reason there are many concerns that the next presidential election will be affected.

Indonesia is attracting world attention as a representative of the Global South. It is gaining a presence as an emerging power emphasizing an equidistant diplomacy, not taking either side in the superpower competition. This international recognition makes Indonesia confident of its position as an emerging power.

However, this international recognition and confidence as an emerging nation cannot help but give rise to a narrative which, endowed with strong political legitimacy, would talk about a dream of success as an emerging power or of joining a group of developed countries. In order to realize this narrative, any state operations would be justified.

The price to pay for this anomaly is a substantial regression of democracy or the appearance of election supremacy, which says, "Winning elections is all that matters, right?"

Such are domestic politics in Indonesia under the impact of the Global South. I am interested to see what dynamics are working in other Global South countries.

(Professor, Ritsumeikan Univeersity)

Edited by the SSDP Secretariat from the transcript of the same titled lecture.

current topics