Indonesia’s Role As A Bridge Builder In The Korean Peninsula – OpEd


Indonesia has a global reputation for its role in peacekeeping and peacebuilding given its mediation efforts in multiple conflicts. Indonesia is known for establishing peace in Cambodia during the 1978-1992 conflicts when Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Through the framework of ASEAN and the United Nations. Indonesia did not only force Vietnam’s withdrawal but also ensured political stability in Cambodia which led to political development in Southeast Asia, contributing to regional peace and stability (Sudrajat et al. 702-4). 

Similarly, Indonesia acted as a mediator between the government of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) seeking to establish an autonomous region. Having successfully gained autonomy in early 2019, Indonesia has played a significant role in the economic development of Bangsamoro through trade and private sector investment (Sheany). 

The tales of Indonesian peacebuilding do not end here. Indonesia has also played a crucial role in establishing peace in Afghanistan. For instance, Indonesia hosted the Trilateral Ulama Conference including Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in 2018 to discuss religious extremism and Taliban attacks (Mosamim et al. 272). Post-Taliban takeover, Indonesia is now assisting Afghanistan through approximately $2.85 million in funding and humanitarian assistance for humanitarian, economic, and educational development for 2022-24 (Rakhmat and Purnama).

Currently, Indonesia is occupied with peace efforts in the South China Sea as it works toward establishing a South China Sea Code of Conduct (Strangio). However, there is another problematic area that needs Indonesian attention and its peacekeeping expertise: the Korean Peninsula. Traditionally, Indonesia has been a close friend to both North Korea and South Korea, an opportunity it can use to act as a bridge builder and establish peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. Recent North Korean aggression in the Korean Peninsula with more than 90 missile launches in 2022 has added to the ever-prevailing risk of conflict escalation between North Korea and South Korea (Guzman). 

Since the suspension of the Six-Party Talks in 2009, the Korean Peninsula has witnessed a long halt in diplomatic initiatives to cater to the deteriorating relations between North and South Korea. With alarming nuclear proliferation, it is now more important than ever for Indonesia to act as a bridge builder in the Korean Peninsula. 

As an emerging middle power in the Indo-Pacific, the escalation of conflict in the Korean Peninsula puts Indonesia’s strategic interests at stake. Indonesia maintains a significant trade and investment relationship with Northeast Asian countries including China, Japan, and South Korea (Tuijl). Any potential violent conflict can have serious economic, social, and political implications for Indonesia as well as for the entire region.

Indonesia maintains good relations with different major powers involved such as the United States, China,  and Russia, with other significant stakeholders such as Japan, and with the two primary actors North Korea and South Korea. Indonesia also maintains friendly relations with North Korea given its historic role in the non-aligned movement during the Cold War which helped develop close relations between the ruling families in both countries (Priyandita). As positive relations continue up to the date, Indonesia holds an edge in approaching North Korean President Kim Jong Un. 

As far as South Korea is concerned, Indonesia and South Korea elevated their bilateral relationship from a strategic partnership to a special strategic partnership in 2017 for greater cooperation in defense and foreign policy, trade and development, and cultural relations (SSP Young Pro Lab). Moreover, South Korea’s Indo-Pacific policy aligns with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. This way, ASEAN’s soft diplomacy enjoys positive support from South Korea, and its impartiality is believed to pave the way toward peacebuilding in the region (Badruzaman 20). 

Indonesia holds a strong position, sufficient leverage, and crucial strategic interests to play a mediator role so, it can strive for a peaceful Korean Peninsula through resuming negotiations between primary and secondary actors along the pattern of the Six-Party Talks, adopting the leading role as a neutral stakeholder. The aim should be to have an open agenda with no conditions. The Six Party Talks however can evolve into Seven Party Talks, with Indonesia representing ASEAN as a new stakeholder.

This can positively work out for three reasons: first, Indonesia maintains a global positive reputation for peacekeeping efforts; second, the Biden administration seeks to resume negotiations with North Korea following a disturbing episode between the Trump administration and North Korea; and third, the U.S. allies including South Korean and Japan now sense a heightened need of independent security given foreign policy shifts of the United States. So, as all the key stakeholders are willing to negotiate a solution to the inter-Korean problem, Indonesia’s mediating and neutral role can yield fruitful results. 

With ASEAN as a key stakeholder in Korean Peninsula negotiations, Indonesia can further strengthen its leadership role as well as advance its Pancasila foreign policy based on ‘ASEAN centrality’. Overall, a comprehensive balance of power between regional and extra-regional stakeholders will result in long-term regional peace and stability.                                                    

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.


  • Badruzaman, Idham, and Rafyoga J. Irsadanar. “ASEAN Way in Korean Peninsula Peacebuilding.” Indonesian Journal of Peace and Security Studies (IJPSS), vol. 2, no. 1, 2020, pp. 16-30.
  • Guzman, Chad D. “North Korea Is Ramping Up Its Missile Tests. How Worried Should We Be?” TIME, 12 Apr. 2023, Accessed 2 May 2023.
  • Mosamim, Parwiz, et al. “Indonesia’s Peace Efforts in Afghanistan.” 1st International Conference on Anti-Corruption and Integrity, 2019, – Science and Technology Publications, 2019, Accessed 2 May 2023.
  • Priyandita, Gatra. “Indonesia and North Korea: warm memories of the Cold War.” New Mandala, 7 Mar. 2023, Accessed 2 May 2023.
  • Rakhmat, Muhammad Z., and Yeta Purnama. “Indonesia and Qatar Collaborate on Afghanistan Relief Efforts.” The Diplomat, 10 June 2022, Accessed 2 May 2023.
  • Sheany. “Indonesia to Support Economic Development of Moro Autonomous Region in the Philippines.” Jakarta Globe, 21 Aug. 2018, Jakarta globe. id/news/indonesia-to-support-economic-development-of-moro-autonomous-region-in-philippines. Accessed 2 May 2023.
  • SSP Young Pro Lab. “Indonesia – Korea Special Strategic Partnership.” 2022, Accessed 2 May 2023.
  • Strangio, Sebastian. “China, ASEAN to ‘Accelerate Consultations’ on South China Sea Code.” The Diplomat, 23 Feb. 2023, Accessed 2 May 2023.
  • Sudrajat, Ajat, et al. “THE ROLE OF INDONESIA IN CREATING PEACE IN CAMBODIA: 1979-1992.” Journal of Critical Reviews, vol. 7, no. 2, 2020, pp. 702-706.
  • Tuijl, Peter V. “Now time for Indonesia to build peace on Korean Peninsula.” The Jakarta Post, 3 Dec. 2016, Accessed 2 May 2023.

Simon Hutagalung

Simon Hutagalung is a retired diplomat from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and received his master's degree in political science and comparative politics from the City University of New York. The opinions expressed in his articles are his own.

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