Invisible no more: Widodo’s Indonesia is returning to the world stage
- New laws against extramarital sex and political criticism have drawn global attention alongside President Joko Widodo’s deft statesmanship amid superpower tensions
- As incoming Asean chair, Indonesia has cemented its position as the de facto regional leader and a new global force to reckon with
The revised criminal code also outlaws any insult against top leaders and any ideological challenge to its secular Pancasila principles.
As Asean chair next year, Indonesia is expected to enhance the cohesion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and manage regional geopolitical fault lines.
Since its founding in the mid-20th century, Indonesia has been the linchpin of postcolonial solidarity. Its founding father, Sukarno, was instrumental to the establishment of the non-aligned movement. Under his watch, the 1955 Bandung Conference brought together leaders across the developing world to create an alternative pole to Western and Soviet imperialism, hence the Third World concept.
No wonder Donald Emmerson wrote of an “invisible Indonesia” in the twilight years of the 20th century, lamenting the scant geopolitical attention received by the Southeast Asian giant.
More recently, a Guardian article called it “the biggest invisible thing on earth”. Last month, The Economist wrote that it was “the most important country that people routinely overlook”, in a special issue on the country.
Indonesia’s so-called invisibility was not helped by Widodo’s decision to largely shun international diplomacy in favour of grass-roots projects during his first term. After his emphatic re-election in 2019, however, he has steadily, albeit reluctantly, emerged as a global statesman. Widodo realised that, even if he weren’t interested in world affairs, Indonesia’s future will be largely shaped by external developments.
Things came to head earlier this year, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked a spike in energy and food prices. Meanwhile, escalating US-China tensions raised fears that Southeast Asia could once again become a battlefield for superpower competition.
The tropical paradise of Bali was an ideal place for the summit, especially because of Widodo’s cordial personal ties with both the American and Chinese leadership. For both, Indonesia represents a credible, non-aligned regional power primarily interested in preserving peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.
Having proven its global leadership mettle, Indonesia is in a prime position to take over as Asean chair. In the past, the country has played a pivotal role in mediating territorial conflicts among member states as well as preserving Asean centrality in South China Sea disputes.
Richard Heydarian is a Manila-based academic and author of “Asia’s New Battlefield: US, China and the Struggle for Western Pacific” and the forthcoming “Duterte’s Rise”