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Prabowo's head start diplomacy

Jakarta Post Editorial - May 2, 2024

Jakarta – President-elect Prabowo Subianto has launched an early diplomacy offensive to lay out his foreign policy direction for the next five years after he takes over the country's top leadership position from Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in October.

Prabowo started his mission by visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo early in April. This constitutes a strategic decision to let the world – or at least some Asian neighbors – understand what to expect when he takes the reins of Southeast Asia's largest economy.

Prabowo is lucky to have several months to finalize his foreign policy platform. This is the first time that Indonesia will witness a power transition between two administrations of the same political alliance, something that should ensure that the process runs unhindered.

Prabowo toured China and Japan, as well as Malaysia, in his capacity as defense minister. The outgoing President Jokowi had previously announced his intention to introduce his successor to other world leaders he has grown to know over the last 10 years. On some occasions, Prabowo has stated that he would continue Jokowi's short and medium-term economic diplomacy.

While Prabowo has the right to decide on his next overseas visits, it would be best for him to give priority to Indonesia's long-standing partners, such as members of the Group of 20, ASEAN and the regional grouping's partners in the annual East Asia summit.

However, it is also evident that as a former Army general, his vision of foreign diplomacy will be much broader than just seeking short-term economic gains. Under his leadership, Indonesia as a middle power will be keen to play a more prominent role in global affairs, where geopolitical aspects such as security and defense will be critical.

Indonesian diplomacy is more than just seeking short and medium-term economic gains. Such narrow-minded diplomacy would only cost the country many opportunities to project itself as a force to be reckoned with.

As part of the transition of power, President Jokowi will likely bring his defense minister to Laos for his last ASEAN leaders' summit just days before he ends his second five-year term in October. The regional leaders will meet their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Russia, New Zealand, India and the United States.

Jokowi can also bring Prabowo along when he attends the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.

When the President hosted his last annual retreat with Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Bogor Palace last week, both Jokowi and Lee used the opportunity to introduce their successors. Deputy PM and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong will replace Lee, who has been in power for 20 years, on May 15.

Prabowo also plans to visit Indonesia's critical partners in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. He is reportedly scheduled to meet US President Joe Biden at the invitation of his friend, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. In the Middle East, Prabowo should do more than simply reiterate Indonesia's support for the independence of Palestine amid Israel's confidence about opening a diplomatic relationship with Indonesia.

Prabowo can use his introductory visits with other world leaders and global institutions to reaffirm his determination to continue the development of the Nusantara Capital City (IKN). There have been questions among diplomats in Jakarta about whether the next government will be as enthusiastic as Jokowi's in relocating the capital city. They would like confirmation from the highest level before moving their embassies and offices to the new city.

The next Indonesian president will likely continue the traditional role of Indonesia as the de facto leader of ASEAN. Indonesia under Prabowo, however, needs to expand its focus beyond the regional grouping.

For Indonesia to play a bigger role in the fast-changing world, preserving an independent and active doctrine will be the best foreign policy.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/02/prabowos-head-start-diplomacy.htm