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Photo Credit: straitstimes.com , published on 11 Sep 2018

Indonesia and South Korea: Progress Towards a Robust Partnership

It has always been interesting to see how Indonesia and South Korea as two middle powers in Asia elevate its position in international affairs and advance their bilateral relations. President Jokowi of Indonesia who has just been announced to be re-elected as the ruling government for the next period is being questioned on what would be his foreign policy direction in upcoming second term as President. However, many have predicted that Jokowi’s priorities will not depart drastically than those during his previous term. The “free and active” foreign policy doctrine which has been strongly embedded in the national constitution will be the clear foundation for any of foreign policy directives.

In the early years of his presidency, Jokowi has championed the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) concept and emphasized its four foreign policy priorities surrounding developing Indonesia’s identity as an archipelagic state, enhancing the global role of middle power diplomacy, expanding engagement in the Indo-pacific region and promoting the economic diplomacy. Most likely these goals will remain be the underpinning strategic priorities of Jokowi’s administration, whoever would be Marsudi’s successor.

On the other hand, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has promoted the “New Southern Policy (NSP)”, a diplomatic strategy to advance its engagement with Southeast Asian countries and India. This strategy is defined by many experts as the platform to — diplomatically, diversify its foreign policy and widen its diplomatic horizon. From a political standpoint, it aims to garner strong international support for peace on the Korean Peninsula, and promote peace and stability in the region, while economically it would aimto expand and deepen trade and investment cooperation with ASEAN member countries. Southeast Asia is extremely important for South Korea, besides the geographical context, ASEAN is also the 2nd largest investment destination and 2nd largest trading partner. President Moon even defined ASEAN as “friends with heart-to-heart understanding” in his writing before a series of visits to several countries in the region this year.

NSP was first announced by President Moon during his visit to Indonesia in November 2017, he pointed out that Indonesia has a good prospect in advancing the policy implementation of the region. The South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha during her visit to Jakarta in April this year, also reaffirmed that Indonesia is the key partner of the NSP. Hence, Indonesia can’t just take this for granted, the positive trust by ROK should be applied in parallel with our foreign policy goals. NSP is a work in progress, therefore assessing or evaluating the effectiveness and impact of this policy would be too premature.

There are some contexts that should be addressed to view this relation. In the geopolitical context, President Moon’s balanced foreign policy is matched with Indonesia’s free and active foreign policy which highlights the country’s independent diplomatic movement — practically aimed to not be swayed by the strong influence of the US and China power race. The geopolitical constellation is somehow a challenge on how two countries can further cooperate in establishing a stable and prosperous region.

Recently, Indonesia promoted its official Outlook on Indo Pacific into ASEAN’s diplomatic circle, a concept that envisions the maintenance of peace, freedom and prosperity by putting forward the dialogue and cooperation in areas such as maritime, digital technology, climate change and economic connectivity. The elements of this concept are relatively in line with the three main pillars of South Korea’s NSP which are 3P (People, Peace, Prosperity).

In this regard, Indonesia views the outlook as the main regional achievement of the year. The first statement of President Jokowi on the sideline meeting with President Moon during the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan reiterated the commitment of ASEAN member states through this Indo Pacific Outlook to the South Korean government. It clearly shows the importance of this concept for Indonesia diplomatically and the wish to obtain significant support from South Korea to succeed the desire of bringing this concept into fruition.

At the economic level, the Indonesia and South Korea cooperation has expanded substantially. The state visits in the last two years have resulted in a commitment to increase the bilateral trade volume into US$30 billion by 2022. Two trade ministers have also reactivated the negotiation process of Indonesia-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IK-CEPA) in February 2019. These developments are ongoing under the frame of Special Strategic Partnership which have been upgraded by two leaders.

To support Indonesia’s major policy focus in developing infrastructure across the archipelago, South Korea has strengthened its commitment by utilizing the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) and reaffirmed its agreement to manifest the mutually beneficial Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Having Indonesia at the central of NSP can’t just be a rhetoric statement, but needs to be transformed into tangible results. In comparison to Vietnam for instance, the investment and trade volume to Indonesia is still less than expected. The range of cooperation should be expanded and the barriers contributing to this fact must be reduced.

Moreover, at the domestic level, Ambassador of South Korea to Indonesia, Kim Chang-beom stated that both countries have shared the same values on socio-political system, the rule of law, democracy-based system and civil rights are only few of the similarities that both nations have in common. In conjunction with the people-centered policy which is shared interest between both governments, there are some progress on non-economic sector cooperation such as cultural exchanges, education and technology. Therefore, the partnership extends not only in the inter-government and business level, but also through people-to-people connection.

President Jokowi has made a clear vision statement to continue the development of national infrastructures as the back bone of economic growth while at the same time shifting his priority to advance the capacity of Indonesia’s human resources. This is also a right momentum where South Korea can partake.

Indonesia-South Korea relationship is relatively complex and has multiple dimensions, both countries are in the process of stepping up its effort to share their peace and prosperity together. The actualization of South Korean NSP must be in coherence with the ambition to fulfill Indonesia’s foreign policy goals.

Considering the importance of Indonesia to South Korea and vice versa, it is highly important to review the perception towards one another, aiming to pursue mutual interests and to sustain the bilateral cooperation across all areas. By doing that, Indonesia and South Korea would not only enjoy a normatively strategic partnership on paper, but would also have a tangible and robust future partnership for years to come. My last note, Happy Independence Day South Korea!

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