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Good year in diplomacy

Jakarta Post Editorial - December 28, 2021

Jakarta – What has been Indonesia's biggest achievement in foreign affairs in 2021? The answer will likely be getting the G20 presidency for 2022. This is the first time Indonesia has chaired the club of the world's largest economies. Yet, what is equally important is the diplomacy on COVID-19 vaccines and on Myanmar.

The government's ability to procure ready-to-use and bulk COVID-19 vaccines, mostly from China, was the key factor behind the government's success, at least for now, to deal with the coronavirus after it devastated the country in June. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo personally approached Chinese President Xi Jinping for emergency assistance to save the lives of Indonesians.Some have criticized Indonesia for being too dependent on China for its vaccine procurement. There is also the problem of Chinese vaccines being less effective than the Western competition. But we are in a race against a deadly disease and we also later found out that Chinese-made Sinovac and Sinopharm were more effective than originally thought.

To be fair, we should acknowledge the fact that China was the only country ready to provide the vaccine for Indonesia at the earliest opportunity and in a large volume. Other producing countries were still too busy meeting their own needs, and they were only ready to donate or sell the vaccines at a much later stage and in a much smaller amount. Now Indonesia has a better chance to diversify its vaccine sources, including a possibility of producing its home-grown vaccine.

The year 2021 also marked the first time after seven years in office that President Jokowi made a public display of his personal interest in foreign policy. In October, the President fully entrusted his chief diplomat, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, to manage foreign affairs, sometimes with the help of other ministers including Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan.

Shortly before attending the G20 Summit in Rome and the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in late October, Jokowi participated in the ASEAN summit during which his initiative to push other ASEAN leaders to boycott the presence of Myanmar's junta leader Gen. Aung Min Hlaing bore fruit.

The general was punished because he refused to make good on his own promise, the five-point consensus, agreed by the ASEAN leaders during their emergency summit in Jakarta on April 24. President Jokowi has made a big diplomatic breakthrough to sidestep the grouping's non-interference principle. It is unacceptable that we let our neighbor torture and intimidate its family members simply because it is deemed a "domestic affair". We can only hope that President Jokowi can continue prodding the Myanmar junta to stay true to its word.

Vaccine diplomacy has allowed Indonesia to gain the upper hand in the long war to eradicate the pandemic. And Jokowi's decision to punish Gen. Hlaing can be a milestone for ASEAN in dealing with leaders who commit crimes against their own people, simply because impunity is no longer guaranteed within the regional grouping.

The two success stories can certainly allow Indonesia to have a stronger footing in leading the G20 next year.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2021/12/28/good-year-in-diplomacy.htm