Jakarta. Former foreign minister of Indonesia Marty Natalegawa said on Wednesday (07/02) discussions on Indo-Pacific regional architecture require a geopolitical underpinning and countries must identify common challenges and opportunities in the region to move forward.
This is why, he said, it is important to strengthen the East Asia Summit as part of the concept's development.
"We have to go beyond geography. If the Indo-Pacific [regional architecture] is merely a geographical concept, [we are] missing the geopolitical underpinning," Marty said in a discussion organized by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) in Jakarta.
He warned the absence of a geopolitical underpinning could lead to a prolonged, hollow debate that is procedural and ceremonial in its nature and outcome.
As part of its foreign policy priorities this year, Indonesia wants to develop the concept for an Indo-Pacific regional architecture, which it said must be based on a "building blocks" approach.
The government sees the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as a main driver in this effort, and stresses that cooperation must be free, open and inclusive.
However, Indonesia is not the only country to orient its foreign policy toward the Indo-Pacific concept. The United States, Australia and Japan have also used the term with growing intensity in recent months.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi initiated a meeting between Asean member countries to further discuss the endeavor, highlighting the need to respond to geopolitical and geo-economic changes in the region.
"Asean, I believe, in particular the East Asia Summit, must be the primary vehicle [to develop the regional architecture]," Marty said.
The East Asia Summit is an annual forum held by leaders of 18 countries, including the US, India and China.
The forum addresses underlying concerns that seem to have driven the focus on Indo-Pacific, which may trigger rivalry among the world's major powers.
Marty believes Indonesia must exercise an intellectual leadership and distinguish the nature of challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific — which have yet to be identified at this current stage of discourse.
"People are talking about the Indo-Pacific, but they are missing the geopolitical argument and also forgetting to work out the common problems they're facing,” Marty said.
He noted at least three problems in the region: trust deficit, territorial disputes and managing change.
The Indonesian diplomat also stressed that the region requires a better mechanism to respond to challenges and crises.
"Asean – the EAS – needs to be better at crisis management. We have crises all around our region and there is deafening silence," Marty said.
He highlighted the need to create a peace and security council for the EAS in order to make it more time sensitive, responsive and also effective in responding to issues in the region.
According to Marty, this can be done at the ambassadorial level with weekly meetings to discuss regional and global issues.