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Beyond routine diplomacy

Jakarta Post Editorial - January 10, 2022

Jakarta – While promoting Indonesia's strong commitment to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and to ASEAN as a leading force in region, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi refrained in her annual press conference on Thursday from addressing the House of Representatives' failure to ratify the ASEAN-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) before the December 2021 deadline.

Even without Indonesia's ratification, the RCEP came into force on Jan. 1, but the House's foot-dragging deliberation of one of the world's largest trade pacts has sullied a diplomatic milestone. Not only is the failure difficult to accept given that more than 80 percent of the House belongs to the ruling coalition, it is also a slap in the face of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the chief promoter of the free trade agreement.

In addition, it demonstrates poor coordination and a lackluster ministerial effort to push lawmakers to ratify the treaty on schedule.

The prolonged pandemic has forced the government, including the Foreign Ministry, to readjust its targets and goals. But these difficulties are not an excuse to allow progress to be arrested. It is natural for the public to ask more of the government during trying times, and the RCEP is incomplete without Indonesia's ratification.

During her press conference, Retno highlighted the country's foreign diplomacy achievements in 2021, including the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, successes in economic diplomacy and its official expressions of concern about the worsening situation in Myanmar. She also shared Indonesia's diplomatic outlook for the year ahead, including its Group of 20 presidency.

In response to Myanmar's prolonged crisis, Retno warned that ASEAN would find it difficult to accept the presence of military junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing at any of the body's meetings unless he could prove his commitment to the five-point consensus he and ASEAN leaders agreed upon during the group's emergency meeting in Jakarta in April of last year.

President Jokowi, too, has made it clear that he does not intend to back down from his demand that the military junta respects the consensus, which includes an immediate cessation of violence and constructive dialogue involving all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in Myanmar.

On the COVID-19 front, the government's vaccine diplomacy has enabled the country to surpass the World Health Organization (WHO) target of vaccinating at least 40 percent of the population, a product of strong coordination among ministries and state agencies and the prudent use of international bargaining power.

With regard to economic diplomacy, Deputy Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar has had some notable successes, thanks to his wide-ranging experience as a diplomat, a former deputy trade minister, a former deputy finance minister and a former Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) head. Retno has cultivated strong teamwork and set clear divisions of responsibility between herself and her deputy.

It is, perhaps, unfair to expect the Foreign Ministry to have produced diplomatic breakthroughs over the past year, as Indonesian overseas missions have been locked down to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But it is similarly reasonable for the public to raise the bar higher for the country's diplomats this year – to demand more than routine diplomatic activities as the country strives for progress on a set of stubborn regional and global issues.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/01/09/beyond-routine-diplomacy.htm