Indonesia's Foreign Minister on ASEAN as a Model for Relations Within Asia-Pacific

Video: Highlights from Dr. Marty Natalegawa, Foreign Minister of Indonesia, speaking at Asia Society New York on Sept. 29, 2014. (4 min., 38 sec.)

At Asia Society New York on September 29, 2014, Foreign Minister of Indonesia Dr. Marty Natalegawa offered his views on Indonesia and its neighbors in Southeast Asia, declaring that his country is ready to act as a “net contributor” to the peace and security of the broader Asia-Pacific region. Dr. Natalegawa’s appearance was the final program in Asia Society’s lineup for the 2014 United Nations General Assembly. (Watch the complete video of his speech.) Below are condensed and edited excerpts from Dr. Natalegawa’s remarks.

In our part of the world, the Asia-Pacific, we are also at a critical juncture: whether the region continues to promote a spirit of partnership, or tries to tinker with what has been working in the past but has led to a new situation of tension and conflict in the region. All of us are well informed about the dividends of peace in the Asia-Pacific, how peace and stability have allowed the countries of the Asia Pacific, from Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia, to benefit. Yet when we should really be locking in these peace dividends and positive trend, we are perhaps trying to be too clever by half in looking at the past and allowing history to impact how we look at the present and the future and to create the potential for conflicts.

At the Foreign Ministry of Indonesia, we identify three types of challenge in our region. The first, which is very profound, is the problem of a trust deficit. It used to be clear where the deficits are — traditional Korean peninsula issues, for example. But unfortunately now, notwithstanding greater economic interdependence and even integration in some parts of Asia-Pacific, we are seeing an increasing deficit of trust. All of our conferences and diplomacy have not quite done the trick in terms of dealing with this trust deficit.

We have territorial disputes. These are not new. Yet we have to ask ourselves why these disputes are now coming to the fore. We’ve managed to deal with them over the past decades, but somehow we have a confluence of territorial disputes such as in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

And not least, there is the problem of managing change in the form of geoeconomic and geopolitical shifts. Some countries are rising. Some countries perceive that they are in decline. This is creating tension and suspicion about the true intentions of other countries.

It is in such a milieu that a country like Indonesia must navigate and execute its foreign policy. It requires a lot of agility and adaptability to see the bigger picture and secure peace. We consider ourselves, in a very humble way, a regional power but with global interests and concerns. Beyond the security and political domain, Indonesia has played a role in other forums as well: the G20, as well as high level discussions on the post-2015 global development agenda and on climate change.

The time has come for Southeast Asia, and Indonesia within it, to be a net contributor to the wider region’s peace and security. There was a time when Southeast Asia essentially sought guarantees from the rest of Asia — Asia-Pacific, the ASEAN Plus Three, the United States, China, India — to ensure its security. This is what was meant when we sought the endorsement of the non-ASEAN countries for the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. We were saying to the world, “We want to be at peace. Please don’t bother us. Please respect our wish to be peaceful with one another.”

But the ASEAN community now has a sufficient portfolio of state practices to begin to project those experiences elsewhere. Initially, Southeast Asia was a region very much divided, not only by tensions and suspicions but open conflict. Over the years, we have developed an ASEAN community that may not have a more advanced institutional setup, such as in Europe. But at least we have the notion, increasingly, that open conflict among Southeast Asian countries is becoming less and less obvious and being set to the side. We have many examples where conflict situations in our region have been managed in a very peaceful way.

Since 2011, Indonesia has been promoting the notion of projecting or replicating the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which has only applied in Southeast Asia, to the wider region. Avoidance of the use of force and peaceful, legally binding settlement of disputes would extend around the outer countries in the region: China and India, Japan and Korea, Japan and China, the U.S. and China. As of now, these remain norms and principles.

We are now working earnestly, and with a greater sense of urgency, to elevate these principles to become a legally binding treaty. We are calling it the East Asia Summit Treaty for Friendship and Cooperation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This underscores Indonesia’s place as a country that bridges the two oceans, and recognizes the fact that relations must be managed not only in East Asia but around the Indian Ocean, especially with India.

This idea gotten the endorsement of ASEAN. We are now working with the rest of the East Asia Summit countries and hope that this idea will one day be endorsed by all of them.

About the Author

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Dewi Astuti is an intern with the Asia Society Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C.