Jakarta. Indonesia has a female foreign minister, a first in the country’s history, following the appointment of veteran diplomat Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi to the post on Sunday.
Retno was Indonesian ambassador to the Netherlands before being recalled by President Joko Widodo as he began shaping his cabinet. She has nearly three decades of experience in the Foreign Ministry and she is also among the few female ambassadors in the nation’s male-dominated diplomatic service.
“Indonesia has so much to offer the world and we should gain a lot from our international relations,” Retno, 52, told the Jakarta Globe in Amsterdam recently. “We must work hard to maintain and continue to boost our global standing.”
Retno, who was named as one of the nation’s 99 most powerful women by Globe Asia, is married to architect Agus Marsudi, and they have two children together. She has a bachelor’s degree from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta and a master’s degree in law from the Hague University of Applied Sciences.
She became Indonesia’s ambassador to Norway and Iceland when she was 42 years old and served as the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s director general for the Americas and Europe before being assigned as ambassador to the Netherlands in 2012.
Known as a Foreign Ministry sweetheart by her colleagues, Retno hails from the same batch of diplomats as Marty Natalegawa, the previous minister. Retno is seen by many as the most appropriate choice to replace Marty, who is considered highly successful as foreign minister in the administration of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“She is tough and has very strong character,” says Bantarto Bandoro, an international relations expert at the Indonesian Defense University.
“I believe she can carry the torch from Marty, and, most importantly, that she can realize Jokowi’s idea of making diplomacy economically — beside politically — beneficial to the nation.”
Retno’s signature success as a diplomat was to bring relations between Indonesia and the Netherlands back to one of their highest points after Yudhoyono canceled a trip there in 2010 over fears that he could be arrested for alleged human rights abuses. Relations between the two countries then plunged.
However, Retno managed to convince the Dutch government to restore ties with Indonesia and restate this country’s economic and geopolitical importance to the Netherlands, peaking with the visit of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to Jakarta just last year.
“Indonesia and the Netherlands must have equal relations. Each of us must benefit from cooperation,” Retno said at the time.