Indonesia's 2023 chairmanship for Asean officially started earlier this month as Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen symbolically handed over the hammer to Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Phnom Penh.
President Widodo remarked, "Indonesia is honoured to be the chair of Asean in 2023. The chairmanship will adopt the theme Asean Matters: Epicentrum of Growth". Under its chairmanship, Indonesia aims to build the institutional capacity and effectiveness of Asean to ensure faster growth, inclusivity, and economic sustainability of the region. Moreover, President Widodo asserted that Indonesia would continue to tackle challenges in the Asean Way, upholding the norms of cooperation in accordance with the Asean Charter.
Indonesia is to host Asean Summit in the first quarter of 2023, where representatives of Asean members will share their priority concerns and regional issues that need immediate attention.
Heading the G20 throughout 2022, Indonesia appears prepared for robust Asean chairmanship in 2023. Indonesia played an incredible role during its G20 hosting, and its careful manoeuvring of foreign policy saved the G20 from geopolitical divides over the Ukraine war.
Under the Indonesian chairmanship, G20 experienced a renewed sense of multilateralism in dealing with global economic challenges.
Indonesia has served as the Asean chair previously in 1976, 2003, and 2011. During its 2011 presidency, Indonesia laid the foundation for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement which came into effect on Jan 1, 2022. This shows that Indonesia upholds the principles of liberal international order as being the world's largest free trade area, RCEP is a remarkable example of multilateralism, trade liberalization, and politico-economic cooperation. Despite mounting challenges, RCEP is going to be Indonesia's effective economic diplomacy tool during its 2023 presidency to strengthen regional economic interdependence.
Under the course of its bebas dan aktif "independent and active" foreign policy, Indonesia desires to enhance regional peace and security, and for that very purpose, peaceful conflict resolution remains one of its topmost manifested priorities. This is evident from how quick Indonesia was in assuming the leadership role following the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021 and calling for a high-level Asean meeting to discuss the Myanmar crisis. Indonesia has previously resorted to shuttle diplomacy in dealing with the Myanmar problem. However, to find a plausible and permanent solution to the political and social crisis still ongoing in Myanmar, Indonesia must keep Myanmar atop its regional policy concerns.
Another regional issue that needs to be in Asean's top priorities is the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, an area in that Asean has always played a non-interference role. While this has helped build trust between North Korea and Asean, it has not been able to prevent North Korea from pursuing its nuclear programme and resuming missile launches this year. With strengthening regional cooperation such as the trilateral military pact between South Korea, Japan, and the United States established in July 2022, Asean needs to enhance its role and maintain a solid position against North Korea's aggressive actions. As Indonesia and North Korea have had sound relations, Indonesia must use its diplomatic leverage to convince North Korea to exercise self-restraint and preserve regional stability and security.
Moreover, in allowing Asean to become a solid regional bloc and enhance its institutional effectiveness, regional states seeking Asean membership must be welcomed. During the Asean Summit in Cambodia earlier this month, Asean announced granting Timor-Leste observer status while the process for its "in principle" membership was underway. Now that Indonesia is leading Asean, the process of granting full membership to Timor-Leste must be made swift to make Asean an example of strong regionalism and economic cooperation under the Indonesian presidency. It will further help Timor-Leste diversify its economy as Asean presents an enormous market for the tiny Asian state. Moreover, this will be the first time a new state is entering Asean since Cambodia joined in 1999.
The South China Sea dispute remains another pressing challenge. To ensure that it does not turn into an intra-Asean dispute, Asean held defence talks in which 18 countries, including the US and China, participated in reaffirming the significance of freedom of navigation and avoiding conflict in the South China Sea as geopolitical tensions and rivalries are on the rise. It is important for Indonesia to emphasize dialogue and mutual respect to prevent the Taiwan Strait and the wider South China Sea from turning into a theatre of conflict and regional instability in the months to come.
Indonesia can become successful in delivering an extraordinary role as Asean chair by strengthening the powers of the Asean secretary-general, currently Jim Lock Hoi from Indonesia. Given both the chair and secretary general are from Indonesia in the coming year, it will allow for better coordination and effective management in dealing with the top regional challenges. Overall, with Indonesia's well-delivered role in G20, its independent foreign policy, and sound relations with regional states, Indonesia's Asean chairmanship is likely to result in useful and profitable prospects for the region.
Simon Hutagalung, a graduate of The City University of New York (CUNY), is an official staff member, terrorism and Korea expert with Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.