Since independence, Indonesian foreign relations have adhered to a "free and active" foreign policy, seeking to play a role in regional affairs commensurate with its size and location but avoiding involvement in conflicts among major powers. During the presidency of Sukarno, Indonesia's foreign relations were marked by engagement with other newly independent nations in Asia and Africa, as exemplified by the Bandung Conference, the subsequent foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement and a confrontational attitude towards Western powers, justified by a belief in the CONEFO and opposition to what Sukarno termed as NEKOLIM (Neocolonialism and Imperialism).
After a US-backed ouster of Sukarno and left-wing elements in 1965, Indonesian foreign policy underwent a major shift under the "New Order" government, as President Suharto moved away from the stridently anti-Western, anti-American posturing that characterised the latter part of the Sukarno era. Following Suharto's ouster in 1998, Indonesia's government has preserved the broad outlines of Suharto's independent, moderate foreign policy. Preoccupation with domestic problems has not prevented successive presidents from travelling abroad.
Indonesia's relations with the international community were strained as a result of its invasion of neighbouring East Timor in December 1975, the subsequent annexation and occupation, the independence referendum in 1999, and the resulting violence afterwards. As one of the founding members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), established in 1967, and also as the largest country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has put ASEAN as the cornerstone of its foreign policy and outlook. After the transformation from Suharto's regime to a relatively open and democratic country in the 21st century, Indonesia today exercises its influence to promote co-operation, development, democracy, security, peace and stability in the region through its leadership in ASEAN. Currently, Israel is the only UN member state that does not have formal diplomatic relations with Indonesia, although they maintain informal relations.
Indonesia managed to play a role as a peacemaker in the Cambodia–Thailand conflict over the Preah Vihear temple. Indonesia and other ASEAN member countries collectively have also played a role in encouraging the government of Myanmar to open up its political system and introduce other reforms more quickly.
Given its geographic and demographic size, rising capabilities and diplomatic initiatives, scholars have classified Indonesia as one of Asia-Pacific's middle powers.
The foreign policy of Indonesia has evolved over time and has been shaped by various factors such as its historical context, geographic location, national interests, and leadership. Here is an overview of the historical context of Indonesia's foreign policy:
Founding Principles: Indonesia's foreign policy is rooted in the country's founding principles of Pancasila, which emphasizes peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.
Western New Guinea. The western part of New Guinea was under Dutch colonial rule and known as "West Irian." When Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands in 1945, the Dutch retained control over West Irian, but Indonesia claimed it. The United Nations supervised the transfer of West Irian to Indonesia in 1963. The region officially became a part of Indonesia in 1969 through a UN-sanctioned referendum known as the Act of Free Choice.
Non-Aligned Movement: After gaining independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1945, Indonesia played a prominent role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM was a group of countries that chose not to align with any major power bloc during the Cold War, advocating for a neutral stance and promoting cooperation among developing nations.
Regional Leadership: Indonesia has sought to establish itself as a leader in the Southeast Asian region. It was one of the founding members of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in 1967 and has been actively involved in regional initiatives to promote peace, stability, and economic integration in Southeast Asia.
"Free and Active" Foreign Policy: In the 1950s and 1960s, under the leadership of President Sukarno, Indonesia pursued a "free and active" foreign policy. This policy aimed at asserting Indonesia's independence and taking an active role in global affairs by participating in international organizations, supporting decolonization movements, and advocating for the rights of developing nations.
Post-Suharto Era: Following the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, Indonesia experienced political and economic reforms. This period saw a shift in foreign policy priorities, focusing more on economic development, regional cooperation, and democracy promotion. Indonesia also embraced a more pragmatic approach in its foreign relations.
East Timor: In 1975, shortly after East Timor declared independence from Portuguese colonial rule, Indonesia invaded and occupied the territory. The occupation lasted for 24 years and was marked by widespread human rights abuses, violence, and resistance from the East Timorese people. The international community largely condemned the occupation. Various human rights organizations and activists put pressure on Indonesia to leave. In 1999, Indonesia agreed to hold a UN-sponsored referendum to determine its political status. The majority of the East Timorese people voted for independence, leading to widespread violence and destruction orchestrated by pro-Indonesia militias. International peacekeeping forces, led by Australia, restored order. East Timor finally achieved independence in 2002.
Territorial Integrity: Indonesia places great importance on its territorial integrity and has been firm in its stance against any threats to its sovereignty. It has been involved in various territorial disputes, including those in the South China Sea, and has sought to resolve them through peaceful means, including diplomatic negotiations.
Counterterrorism and Maritime Security: Indonesia has actively cooperated with regional and international partners in combating terrorism and ensuring maritime security. It has been affected by terrorist attacks in the past and has taken steps to enhance intelligence-sharing, border control, and counterterrorism efforts.
Economic Diplomacy: With the world's fourth-largest population and a growing economy, Indonesia has focused on economic diplomacy to attract foreign investment, promote trade relations, and strengthen economic ties with other countries. It has pursued partnerships with both developed and developing nations to foster economic growth and development.
Climate Change and Environmental Issues: As a country highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, Indonesia has been actively engaged in international efforts to address environmental issues. It has been a vocal advocate for sustainable development, forest conservation, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Global and Regional Multilateralism: Indonesia actively participates in various multilateral organizations, including the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). It has sought to contribute to global peace, security, and development by engaging in multilateral dialogues and fostering regional cooperation.
Significant international memberships
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
A cornerstone of Indonesia's contemporary foreign policy is its participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which it was a founding member in 1967 with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. Since then, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia also have joined ASEAN. While organised to promote shared economic, social, and cultural goals, ASEAN acquired a security dimension after Vietnam's liberation of Cambodia in 1979; this aspect of ASEAN expanded with the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994, which comprises 22 countries, including the US.
Indonesian national capital Jakarta is also the seat of ASEAN Secretariat, located at Jalan Sisingamangaraja No. 70A, Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. Other than serving their diplomatic missions for Indonesia, numbers of foreign embassies and diplomatic mission in Jakarta are also accredited to ASEAN. ASEAN Headquarter has led to the prominence of Jakarta as a diplomatic hub in Southeast Asia.
In the late 1990s to early 2000s, Indonesia's continued domestic troubles have distracted it from ASEAN matters and consequently lessened its influence within the organisation. However, after the political and economic transformation, from the turmoil of 1998 Reformasi to the relatively open and democratic civil society with rapid economic growth in the 2010s, Indonesia returned to the region's diplomatic stage by assuming its leadership role in ASEAN in 2011. Indonesia is viewed to have weight, international legitimacy and global appeal to draw support and attention from around the world to ASEAN. Indonesia believes that ASEAN can contribute positively to the international community, by promoting economic development and co-operation, improving security, peace, the stability of ASEAN, and making the Southeast Asia region far from conflicts.
Indonesia's bilateral relations with three neighbouring ASEAN members—Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam—are not without challenges. If not appropriately managed, it would result in mutual mistrust and suspicion, thus hindering bilateral and regional co-operation. In the era of rising Indonesia, which might assert its leadership role within ASEAN, the problem could become more significant. Nevertheless, the rise of Indonesia should be regarded in the sense of optimism. First, although Indonesia is likely to become assertive, the general tone of its foreign policy is mainly liberal and accommodating. The consolidation of the Indonesian democratic government played a key role and influence in ASEAN. The second, institutional web of ASEAN will sustain engagements and regular meetings between regional elites, thus deepening their mutual understanding and personal connections.
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
Indonesia also was one of the founders of NAM and has taken moderate positions in its councils. As NAM Chairman in 1992–95, it led NAM positions away from the rhetoric of North-South confrontation, advocating the broadening of North-South co-operation instead in the area of development. Indonesia continues to be a prominent, and generally helpful, leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and is a member of OIC. It carefully considers the interests of Islamic solidarity in its foreign policy decisions but generally has been an influence for moderation in the OIC.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
Indonesia has been a strong supporter of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Mainly through the efforts of President Suharto at the 1994 meeting in Indonesia, APEC members agreed to implement free trade in the region by 2010 for industrialised economies and 2020 for developing economies. As the largest economy in Southeast Asia, Indonesia also belongs to other economic groupings such as G20 and Developing 8 Countries (D-8).
G20 major economies
In 2008, Indonesia was admitted as a member of the G20, as the only ASEAN member state in the group. Through its membership in the global economic powerhouse that accounted of 85% of the global economy, Indonesia is keen to position itself as a mouthpiece for ASEAN countries, and as a representative of the developing world within the G20. Bali, Indonesia had played host to the 2022 G20 Summit.
IGGI and CGI
After 1966, Indonesia welcomed and maintained close relations with the international donor community, particularly the United States, western Europe, Australia, and Japan, through the meetings of the Inter-Governmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI) and its successor, the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI), which coordinated substantial foreign economic assistance. Problems in Timor and Indonesia's reluctance to implement economic reform at times complicated Indonesia's relationship with donors. In 1992 the IGGI aid coordination group ceased to meet and the coordination activities were transferred to meetings arranged by the World Bank through the CGI. The CGI, in turn, ceased activities in 2007 when the Indonesian government suggested that an internationally organised aid coordination program was no longer needed.
Indonesia has numerous outlying and remote islands, some of which are inhabited by numerous pirate groups that regularly attack ships in the Strait of Malacca in the north, and illegal fishing crews known for penetrating Australian and Filipino waters. While Indonesian waters itself is the target of many illegal fishing activities by numerous foreign vessels.
Indonesia has some present and historic territorial disputes with neighboring nations, such as:
Ambalat Block in dispute with Malaysia (ongoing, overlapping EEZ line drawn by both countries)
Ashmore and Cartier Islands in dispute with Australia (ongoing, the islands known by Indonesians as Pulau Pasir)
Fatu Sinai Island (Pulau Batek) formerly disputed with East Timor (settled, East Timor ceded the island to Indonesia in August 2004)
Miangas (Las Palmas) formerly disputed with Philippine Islands (settled, part of Indonesia's territory as of Island of Palmas Case)
Northern waters off Natuna Islands in dispute with China and Taiwan (ongoing; overlapping with Chinese nine-dash line claim)
Sipadan and Ligitan Islands formerly disputed with Malaysia (settled, part of Malaysia's territory per International Court of Justice's decision in 2002)
List of countries which Indonesia maintains diplomatic relations with:
International organisation participation
Indonesia–United States relations
Indonesia–Saudi Arabia relations
European Union-Indonesia relations
List of diplomatic missions in Indonesia
List of diplomatic missions of Indonesia
List of diplomatic missions in Jakarta
List of Indonesian Ambassadors to Australia
List of Indonesian Ambassadors to the United Kingdom
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