Indonesia: Balancing Act In A Multipolar World – OpEd


Indonesia’s foreign policy, strategically positioned at the crossroads of major geopolitical interests involving the USA, China, Russia, and the European Union, confronts an evolving international landscape marked by a shift towards multipolarity and increasing unpredictability. This complex milieu demands a highly calculated and nuanced approach from Indonesia, as it seeks to navigate the intricate dynamics posed by these global powers.

The evolving nature of global alliances and structures necessitates that Indonesia not only adapt to these changes but also leverages them to enhance its national security and regional influence. Therefore, the thesis of this analysis is that Indonesia must craft a balanced and dynamic foreign policy that effectively manages its relationships with these major powers while promoting its strategic interests in an increasingly fluid global order. This policy should aim to capitalize on emerging opportunities and mitigate potential risks associated with the shifting patterns of international relations.

Overview of Global Power Dynamics

The USA has long held a significant influence over global politics and economics, promoting a liberal democratic model and open market economies. However, recent years have seen a slight retreat from multilateral engagements and a focus on ‘America First’ policies under previous administrations. Although there is a partial shift back towards international cooperation under the current administration, the U.S. maintains a strong interest in countering China’s influence in Southeast Asia and preserving freedom of navigation in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

China’s rise as a global superpower has been marked by its aggressive economic policies, including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to enhance regional connectivity and create new economic corridors. In Southeast Asia, China seeks to deepen economic ties and solidify its strategic footprint, often clashing with American and allied interests, especially in maritime security domains.

Russia’s global strategy increasingly involves asserting its influence on the global stage to counterbalance Western power, primarily through energy politics, military sales, and strategic partnerships with countries like China. In Southeast Asia, Russia’s involvement is less pronounced but still significant in terms of arms sales and energy sector investments.

The EU focuses on promoting stability, human rights, and economic development through soft power initiatives. It has strong trade relations with Southeast Asia and promotes regulatory standards and democratic values. The EU’s approach is generally less confrontational than that of the U.S. or China, focusing on sustainable development and multilateralism.

Indonesia’s foreign policy, guided by the principle of being “free and active,” strategically navigates complex global interactions without aligning too closely with any major power. This approach allows Indonesia to forge strategic partnerships across the globe for economic and security benefits while safeguarding its sovereignty and prioritizing national interests.

A key focus for Indonesia is enhancing the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in regional security and economic frameworks. By reinforcing ASEAN’s role as a primary platform for dialogue, Indonesia aims to mitigate the risks of regional dominance by external powers, particularly in contentious areas like the South China Sea. Strengthening ASEAN not only bolsters regional unity but also enhances Indonesia’s ability to influence broader regional policies and maintain stability.

Balancing economic interests is another crucial aspect of Indonesia’s foreign policy. Although China remains a significant investor, particularly in infrastructure projects, there is a growing need for Indonesia to diversify its trade partnerships and investment sources. Expanding economic ties with the European Union, the United States, and other Asian economies is vital. This diversification strategy helps reduce Indonesia’s economic dependency on China, thereby enhancing its economic sovereignty and reducing vulnerability to external economic pressures.

Navigating the rivalry between the United States and China requires astute diplomatic engagement. Indonesia actively participates in multilateral forums like the East Asia Summit and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which include both of these powers. Such engagement is strategic, aiming to moderate tensions and prevent the ASEAN region from becoming a battleground for Sino-American rivalry.

Promoting democratic values and human rights is also a cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy, drawing inspiration from the European Union. Upholding these values not only strengthens domestic governance but also solidifies Indonesia’s international relationships, particularly with nations that prioritize democracy and human rights. This alignment enhances Indonesia’s credibility and influence in international forums, where it often advocates for peace and stability.

The reinvigoration of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) offers Indonesia an opportunity to collaborate with other middle powers to address global issues while reducing the disproportionate influence of the world’s superpowers. Through NAM, Indonesia can advocate for a more equitable international order that respects the sovereignty and unique challenges of diverse nations.

Lastly, in the face of increasing technological advancements and cyber security threats, Indonesia is prioritizing the development of robust digital infrastructure and cyber security policies. Investing in technological sovereignty protects national interests while supporting beneficial international collaborations and advancements.

Through these strategic responses, Indonesia crafts a dynamic foreign policy that balances international engagement with national priorities, ensuring it remains a significant and resilient force in international relations.

Indonesia’s response to global anarchy and the erosion of international law and order involves a sophisticated balancing act. By adhering to its principle of independent and active foreign policy, Indonesia can leverage its strategic position to enhance national and regional stability, promote economic growth, and navigate the complex currents of global geopolitics with agility and foresight. In doing so, Indonesia not only secures its interests but also contributes to a more balanced global order.

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


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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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