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Southeast Asia urgently needs regional leadership

largelast novemberas the war in Ukraine rages on, fears G20 The Bali summit will be ruined by no-shows and strikes. But the talk met with moderate success. Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with Joe Biden in person for the first time since taking office as U.S. president. The 20-member club issued a joint statement (the most debated paragraph, about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, stated that most members condemned the war). Can Indonesia work the same magic as the new chairman of the ten ASEAN countries (asean)?

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The region could provide some leadership. Over the past two years, an estimated 30,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced by Myanmar’s civil war. China continues to bully its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.and asean Efforts to emanate a sense of mission from new Pacific organizations, including the Group of Four initiated by the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, and Australia, Consists of the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Indonesia’s year-long helm should at least be given asean more prominent. The country is the largest economy in the region, aseanThe so-called “second to none”. Indonesia, long a bystander in world affairs, has also taken a bigger role abroad under President Joko Widodo. Jokowi is known to be a proponent of “down to earth” diplomacy, which mostly translates into prioritizing Indonesia’s economic strengths.

According to Rizal Sukma, a former Indonesian ambassador to the UK, the country’s diplomats have three mandates: to promote exports, foreign investment and tourism.indonesian slogan asean Leadership is “the center of growth.”

However, this approach does not promise much action against China’s regional aggression. Jokowi’s signature economic policy is to extract more value from Indonesia’s rich mineral deposits. No country has contributed more to the effort than China, which has invested billions of dollars to help Indonesia process one of the world’s largest nickel reserves. This has sometimes caused friction within Indonesia. Chinese and Indonesian workers have clashed over some Chinese projects. A Chinese-backed high-speed rail project has exceeded deadlines and budgets.Nonetheless, China’s investment in Indonesia in 2022 exceeds $8 billion, which is a strong reason for Jokowi not to push China back to some extent asean Members and the US (with an investment of $3 billion) want him to do that.

The president’s main concern is protecting Indonesian waters from Chinese maritime aggression. With this in mind, Indonesia recently signed an agreement with Vietnam to delineate an exclusive economic zone, which the two countries have previously disputed. Jokowi is also keen to defend Indonesia’s sovereignty over China in the Natunas Sea, east of Singapore. Although China does not directly claim sovereignty over the Indonesian archipelago, its waters are bisected by a “nine-dash line” it draws around nearly the entire South China Sea.

However, while this is a problem that affects most aseanmembers, Jokowi is unlikely to unite them. In fact, he seems to have no particular ambitions for Indonesia’s development. asean The helm goes beyond attracting more investment and trade.

His attitude towards Myanmar’s ruling military government will be the test of that.last year asean The generals were barred from the meeting pending progress on a conceptual peace plan that would include a halt to violence and the appointment of a regional envoy to the war-torn country. Myanmar has yet to implement the plan.and asean There is disagreement on how to respond.

In December, Thailand tried to negotiate with the junta through informal dialogue, but was resisted by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.Some asean Countries could argue that the junta’s planned elections in August should lead to wider regional re-engagement. Widodo has given conflicting signals.He said asean Will not be “taken hostage” by the military government; also said that Indonesia will send a general to Myanmar for talks. This does not bode well for serious efforts to end suffering in the country.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is preparing for presidential elections scheduled for February 2024. After two consecutive terms, Jokowi will not run for re-election. But the domestic issues that will dominate the campaign could still infiltrate his foreign policy in some way. Fresh clashes between Chinese and Indonesian workers could put pressure on the president to hit back harder at Chinese aggression. Or, more likely, it might persuade him to relegate his tricky district leadership role to a lesser profile than he would otherwise have done.

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