Relations between Indonesia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are once again tense. On December 1, 2021, some diplomats representing the PRC government sent a protest letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia (Kemlu) regarding the exploration of natural resources in the northern waters of Natuna and the joint military training which was previously carried out by the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI). However, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Indonesia, as a coastal state, has sovereign rights over the natural resources of this water, given its location in the economic zone. exclusive territory (EEZ) of Indonesia.
To date, the PRC-led intrusion into the waters of Natuna is still occurring. Sources from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the Republic of Indonesia noted that more than 1,000 foreign vessels, some of which were PRC Marine Militia vessels. These vessels were fishing vessels that usually caught fish in offshore waters but were then armed, and some were manned by paramilitaries and escorted by coast guard vessels. Maritime patrols which are regularly carried out by the Indonesian Navy, the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla), as well as the General Directorate of Marine and Fisheries Resource Surveillance and Control (PSDKP) of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fishing from Indonesia, have not been able to hunt these foreign vessels effectively.
While retreating, Indonesia has also repeatedly become a victim of geopolitical intrusion by several countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Not only related to China, but moments before the diplomatic chaos between Indonesia and China, Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (USA) also declared the formation of AUKUS, a defense pact that was seen by the Indonesian government as a challenge to regional stability. Of course, the decisive efforts of various domestic policymakers are increasingly crucial to safeguarding Indonesia’s sovereignty amid the growing vortex of regional instability between China and the United States.
Has the free and active foreign policy really been effective?
Along with the increasingly widespread intrusion of Indonesian national sovereignty as occurred above, the implementation of a free and active principle, which remains a principle of Indonesian foreign policy, requires careful attention. particular. According to the analysis of Rizal Sukma (2019), the free and active principle of Indonesian foreign policy has a pragmatic essence – by implementing it, Indonesia is expected to gain political benefits, especially in dealing with various regional instabilities. This takes into account that Indonesia has good relations with the two superpowers mentioned above. However, over time, it seems difficult to describe Indonesia’s prospects amid regional geopolitical rivalries, especially with the implementation of a free-active policy that has not been effective and has not not followed the fundamental essence of the effort to obtain said advantages and bargaining power.
Until now, the implementation of a free-active policy has always been imagined with the active role of Indonesia in the diplomatic process, the maintenance of world peace and international organizations. For example, Indonesia’s centrality within ASEAN, Indonesia’s role in resolving various conflicts and building relationships with various countries around the world. On the other hand, various geopolitical intrusions that have intensified over the past decade have indirectly become evidence of Indonesia’s lack of bargaining power to maintain its sovereignty and national security. Thus, the implementation of free and active policies in the future must aim to strengthen strategic autonomy, which is the fundamental capital of Indonesia’s strategic position and bargaining power.
One step forward
This analysis suggests several main points that can be considered by policy makers to effectively implement the principles of free activity. First, the awareness of the state of crisis must be emphasized, especially in the interpretation of the regional and international regimes that Indonesia has to deal with. Although partnerships, improving bilateral relations or active participation in peace are priorities for the Indonesian government in the pursuit of its foreign policy, it is undeniable that external threats to sovereignty can lurk at any time. It would be great if situational awareness of the crisis were also involved in shaping Indonesia’s foreign policy so that the benefits of Indonesian diplomacy could be balanced with preparedness to deal with external threats. This effort will certainly involve strategic defense and security elements, including the Indonesian Navy and Air Force, and encourage the latent modernization of the Indonesian defense sector.
Second, the synergy between strategic policy makers needs to be strengthened, especially between ministries, including Kemlu, the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment (Kemenkomarves) and the Indonesian Ministry of Defense (Kemhan), which are the spearheads of international issues. These three countries must have a common vision to face the various international threats, in particular the regional threats in the Indo-Pacific. For example, when Kemlu tries to deal with diplomatic threats from other countries, the Ministry of Defense can help in the process of deterring threats by formulating effective defense policies.
Third, even though Indonesia is seen as a central and natural leader of ASEAN, it seems that the organization has not been able to effectively become an arena to stave off geopolitical rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region. This is in line with the policy-making process within ASEAN, which focuses on setting standards rather than developing concrete policies. Among them, the ASEAN Shared Vision in the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) contains mere declarations of cooperation instead of efforts to resolve regional geopolitical rivalries that threaten sovereignty and regional stability.
To compensate for this limitation, Indonesia needs to play a more active role in mini side forums such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and AUKUS. The expansion of this partnership means that Indonesia does not always rely on ASEAN to address regional strategic issues. This means that Indonesia, as a medium political power country, still has strategic partners needed to build bargaining power in the region. Moreover, by associating well with ASEAN and the mini side forums mentioned above, Indonesia has the flexibility to maneuver politically to avoid the possibility of being pinned down by the Sino-US rivalry in Indo -Peaceful. Indonesia can further strengthen the economic and trade aspects by participating in various forums, declarations and regulations prepared by ASEAN to enhance regional solidarity and cooperation. On the other hand, by collaborating with lateral mini-forums, Indonesia can gain political and security bargaining power.
Free-Active Policy Recalibration
The above considerations can be viewed as an effort to recalibrate the implementation of free-active policy. Indeed, this principle is still relevant to Indonesia’s foreign policy objectives and implementation, given that Indonesia itself is not a superpower that can act at will in dealing with issues world politics, but must actively participate and be free to have relations with other countries with the objective of partnership. However, this principle cannot always be interpreted verbatim. With the times and regional geopolitical dynamics, these principles need to be more pragmatically and contextually oriented, giving priority to national interests.
The aforementioned recalibration can be seen as positive for enhancing synergies between national strategic institutions, forming broader partnerships with various regional powers, both state and international, and increasing situational awareness. Practically, the free-active policy is no longer just a basic principle that is always echoed in various policies, but has become a core value that can strengthen Indonesia’s negotiating position at the international level and support the realization of interests. nationals of Indonesia.
*Alfin Febrian Basundoro Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Research Assistant of the Department of International Relations Universitas Gadjah Mada