Saturday, December 2, 2023

And So Begins Indonesia's 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship

Jayanty Nada Shofa
January 4, 2023 | 3:05 pm
Cambodian Prime Minister hands over the ASEAN Chairmanship gavel to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo at the end of the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13, 2022. 
(Presidential Press Bureau)
Cambodian Prime Minister hands over the ASEAN Chairmanship gavel to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo at the end of the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13, 2022. (Presidential Press Bureau)

Jakarta. As the world welcomes a new year, so begins Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN.

Indonesia is leading ASEAN just after it came out of its G20 presidency. Indonesia led the world’s top 20 economies in a year marred by the Russia-Ukraine war, which sparked food and energy crises. The Bali summit saw world leaders agreeing in a joint declaration stating that “most” members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine. The G20 also launched a $1.4 billion funding —known as the Pandemic Fund— aimed to finance low and middle-income countries to mitigate future global health threats. So expectations for Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship are quite high.

Last November saw the symbolic handover of the ASEAN chairmanship from Cambodia to Indonesia. Indonesia officially led ASEAN starting on Jan. 1, with the theme of “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth''. 

Indonesia intends to promote ASEAN's relevancy to its people, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world. The slogan, coupled with President Joko "Jokowi'' Widodo's remarks in Phnom Penh, also hinted that economic growth would become a huge part of Indonesia's chairmanship.


“ASEAN must be a region with robust, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth. Economic growth has been and will always be the story of ASEAN," Jokowi said, after taking the ceremonial ASEAN gravel in Phnom Penh in November.

The Indonesian government reported that ASEAN's economy had been growing at a faster rate than the global average for many years. For instance, ASEAN's economy grew at 4.6 percent in 2019, a time when global economic growth stood at 2.6 percent. For 2022, economic growth in the Southeast Asian bloc is forecast to reach 5.1 percent — well above the 3.2 percent expected globally.

On geopolitics, Indonesia vowed to prevent ASEAN from becoming a proxy to “any powers”. Indonesia seemed to allude to the tension between the US and China, who have been competing for influence in Southeast Asia. “ASEAN must become a peaceful region and anchor for global stability. Consistently uphold the international law and not be a proxy to any powers," Jokowi said, also at the Phnom Penh summit.

“ASEAN must be a dignified region that upholds the values of humanity and democracy. ASEAN should not let current geopolitical dynamics turn into a new Cold War in our region,” he added.

Myanmar: A Mammoth Task

And So Begins Indonesia's 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo speaks with the now-ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 22, 2019. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitarasari)

But what will likely make or break Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship is how it deals with the political turmoil in Myanmar. 

Indonesia had inherited the mammoth task of resolving the post-coup Myanmar crisis from past chairs Cambodia and Brunei Darussalam. Myanmar’s military seized power in Feb. 2021, during which Brunei Darussalam was the chair of the Southeast Asian club. In the same year, Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing adopted ASEAN's five-point consensus calling for constructive dialogue among all parties and cessation of violence. But to this day, Myanmar has made zero progress on the consensus.

The Myanmar military court has recently extended the prison sentence of the country's ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 33 years. According to rights monitoring organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 2,692 people have been killed in Myanmar's military crackdown against anti-coup protesters since the Feb. 2021 coup. 

Indonesia as chair will likely stick to the five-point consensus as its approach to cooling down the situation in Myanmar. 

"In the ASEAN mechanism, we only know one track of engagement with Myanmar. And that is having the five-point consensus as the main reference. There are no other tracks," Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said in a joint press statement in late December, when her Malaysian counterpart Zambry Abdul Kadir came to visit Jakarta.

"ASEAN must not be dictated by the Myanmar military junta," she said.

She added, "ASEAN will always stand with the people of Myanmar."

News outlet Reuters reported that ASEAN had seen internal discord about engaging with the military junta.

Thailand recently hosted a gathering with the Myanmar generals, and some ASEAN member states in attendance in the discussions which discussed, among other things, finding ways to implement the five-point consensus. Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Singapore did not attend the gathering.

ASEAN has barred Myanmar junta generals from attending high-profile meetings until they make progress in complying with the peace plan.

The five-point consensus calls for the appointment of a special envoy to act as a mediator. Indonesia has yet to appoint a special envoy, but the past chairs Brunei Darussalam and Cambodia have always chosen their foreign affairs ministers.

Indonesian permanent representative to ASEAN Derry Aman told reporters on the sidelines of a foreign policy forum on Nov. 2022 that he still did not know who Indonesia would pick. However, it is possible that Indonesia will keep the tradition, and assign its top diplomat Retno as the special envoy to Myanmar.

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Timor Leste’s Full Membership?

And So Begins Indonesia's 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Timor Leste President José Ramos-Horta shake hands at the Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java on July 19, 2022. (Photo Courtesy of Presidential Press Bureau)

Timor Leste applied for an ASEAN membership in 2011, and Indonesia has been supportive of its close neighbor's entry. After more than a decade-long wait, ASEAN in late 2022 finally agreed “in principle” to make Timor Leste the group’s 11th member, although its full membership is still pending. The group granted observer status to Timor Leste, which would allow the country to partake in all of the bloc’s meetings.  

In mid-2022, the freshly picked Timor Leste President José Ramos-Horta came to visit Jokowi at the Bogor Presidential Palace. Ramos-Horta said that he had told Jokowi of Dili’s intention to become an ASEAN member when Indonesia is at the helm in 2023.

"Of course, Indonesia, like many other countries, has been supportive of Timor-Leste's membership in ASEAN," Ramos-Horta said, at a foreign policy conference in Jakarta, a few days after meeting Jokowi.

Ramos-Horta also told the same conference that the criteria for finding entry to ASEAN were even tougher than reaching the gates of heaven. "Sometimes as a human being, I feel frustrated. It seems like the road to heaven —to reach the perfection of heaven— is easier than to reach the gates of ASEAN," he said.

In July 2022,  The ASEAN Economic Community sent a fact-finding mission to Timor-Leste to assess whether it was ready to join the 10-member group. The ASEAN delegates acknowledged Timor Leste’s efforts in conducting economic reforms in the relevant sectors and improving its human capacity in the past few years. 

And So Begins Indonesia's 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo inaugurates the new ASEAN Secretariat building in South Jakarta on Aug. 8, 2019. The Tourism Ministry recently revealed 741 meetings throughout Indonesia's 2023 ASEAN chairmanship. About 50 percent of those meetings will be in Indonesia, particularly Jakarta — home to the ASEAN Secretariat.  (Photo Courtesy of Presidential Press Bureau)

Energy Should Be Borderless

On Indonesia’s goal to make ASEAN remain ‘an epicenter of growth’, Foreign Affairs Minister Retno said that this would depend on several factors. One of them being energy security. Think tank ASEAN Center for Energy (ACE) in late 2022 released a report revealing ASEAN’s growing energy demand over the next decades. 

According to the 7th ASEAN Energy Outlook (AEO7) report, the region’s total final energy consumption could climb to 473.1 Mtoe in 2025, and even further to 1,281.7 Mtoe in 2050, under the baseline scenario. ACE came up with the least cost-optimization scenario (LCO), which could enable ASEAN to meet its growing electricity demand while keeping costs in check. The LCO considers, among others, all viable technologies in the region. It also takes into account interconnecting the member states' electricity systems through the ASEAN Power Grid. 

“Energy should be borderless. The problem with energy is that we limit energy within [the borders of] our member states,” ACE executive director Nuki Agya Utama said some time around the AEO7 launch when asked by the Jakarta Globe what should Indonesia take note of as the 2023 ASEAN chair.

The AEO7 also revealed that Indonesia should try connecting its electricity system in Sumatra to Peninsular Malaysia by 2025, as part of the LCO scenario. The Sumatra-Peninsular Malaysia power grid would have a total construction capacity of 600 megawatts. Existing projects in the ASEAN Power Grid currently have a power capacity of 7,720 megawatts. Some of the existing projects include the Plentong-Woodlands (Peninsular Malaysia-Singapore).

"We already have Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore on the ASEAN Power Grid. I really hope that Indonesia can take the lead in 2023, and be connected [on the ASEAN Power Grid], either through Singapore or Peninsular Malaysia or maybe the Borneo grid to up until The Philippines,” Nuki said.

Under the LCO scenario, ASEAN can have an electricity generation system that costs $174.7 billion less than the APAEC target scenario (APS) for 2021-2050. This scenario, however, will reduce renewable energy share by 5.3 percent in the total primary energy supply (TPES) in 2050, compared to the APS. But the energy intensity reduction of the LCO is projected to be 3.5 percent higher than the APS by 2050, the report showed.

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