Indonesia as ASEAN Chair 2023: The Dilemmas

Dinna Prapto Rahardja, Ph.D.

Indonesia picks up the theme “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth”. President Joko Widodo stated that: “ASEAN needs to be stable and peace, an epicentrum for global stability. ASEAN also needs to be consistent in enforcing international law and avoid being proxy to anyone. ASEAN needs to be a region of dignity that upholds high humanity and democracy”. Dinna Prapto Raharja, former Indonesian Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, explores the challenges Indonesia faces as Chair of ASEAN in 2023.

ASEAN Logo 2023
ASEAN Logo 2023

Indonesia has a history of proactive engagement with ASEAN. More than that, Indonesia is known for its inspiring approaches that could reduce the chance of deadlocks in ASEAN. For instance, knowing that many countries often resort to the non-interference argument, Indonesia worked up the idea on having an ASEAN Community where ASEAN is not just about achieving economic growth, which may consequently leave some members behind, but also caring about gaps in economic development. This means discussing solutions for political-security and socio-cultural challenges countries are faced with along the growth such as transnational crimes, geopolitical challenges, human rights, and the issues of marginalized groups.

Carefully crafted to win the hearts of ASEAN Member States, we then saw the birth of Bali Declaration II with the three pillars of ASEAN: political security, economic, and socio-cultural pillars. Next, knowing that most ASEAN Member States were skeptical about sharing their views on political security matters, arguing that it is a sensitive domestic matter, Indonesia voluntarily shared how the government responded to problems in Aceh and Timor Leste. Indonesia also invites non-government figures to represent Indonesia in the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights instead of avoiding talks with activists. Indonesia gave the examples that sharing and having dialogues with the members of the Community is a way to go in ASEAN.

The ASEAN 2023 theme suggests that Indonesia is confident in leading dialogues and actions on economic growth as much as it is on political and security issues. In the past, economic issues are known to be the theme chosen by the smaller countries with less open politics and yet fast-growing economies. Indonesia’s success in navigating the G20 meetings namely keeping the G20 intact despite the war in Ukraine and issuing a joint statement at the G20 Summit despite deep divides among members, have boosted President Joko Widodo’s passion to continue pushing the economic agendas from the G20 to ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific. But would this focus work?

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This article originally published by Heinrich Böll Stiftung SEA, February 6, 2023.