Teuku Rezasyah, a lecturer in international relations at Padjadjaran University in Sumedang, West Java, ponders whether Indonesia has enough qualified ambassadors to represent it in a rapidly changing world. (Photo courtesy of State Secretariat)

In Search of Indonesian Ambassadors for President Jokowi's Second Term


OCTOBER 12, 2019

Joko "Jokowi" Widodo will start the second term of his presidency on Oct. 20. While domestic issues continue to dominate, his immediate task is to speed up the country's economy, and appointing ambassadors to represent Indonesia on the world stage.

The question is, do we have qualified ambassadors to represent Indonesia in this rapidly changing world?

Well, becoming an Indonesian ambassador is a dream for all career diplomats; it has also become an aspiration for Indonesian elites from various backgrounds, such as the defense, business, sociocultural and political communities.

Theoretically, becoming an Indonesian ambassador requires a thorough understanding of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which recognizes five diplomatic functions: representing, protecting, negotiating, reporting and promoting.

While career diplomats receive proper education, training and assignments throughout their careers, and are therefore prepared to become ambassadors, non-career diplomats face great challenges to fully grasp the above-mentioned yardsticks.

Regarding representation, ambassadors are usually issued with letters of credence signed by the leaders of their respective countries – in this case President Joko Widodo – stating that the persons named in such letters will represent their respective countries in the receiving country to work toward closer relations involving both state and nonstate actors. An ambassador's duties also involve following up bilateral and international agreements between the two countries. 

Then, as country representatives, one of ambassadors' main challenges are having to comment on domestic affairs in the receiving country, as well as on disputes between the government and its opposition.

Career diplomats who have been trained to restrain themselves in the public arena will wisely compare similar developments in various parts of the world and carefully comment, using proper phrases. However, this may pose a challenge for non-career diplomats, who may be media darlings back home, must often adapt to become media listeners overseas and to be properly briefed by their staff prior to making statements.

Any ambassador, if not careful in responding to domestic matters, could become disliked in the receiving country, or even be declared undesirable, or persona non grata.

On the other hand, regarding protection, Indonesian ambassadors must understand the ongoing status of all Indonesians posted, residing, studying, working and traveling in their receiving countries and ascertain themselves that these citizens are treated in accordance with local and international laws.

They must also protect and further the interests of Indonesian state-owned enterprises, small and medium enterprises, and private businesses. Usually relying on insufficient business plans, ambassadors will have to approach the receiving country's relevant ministries, chambers of trade and commerce, bridging contacts with the local business actors, examining competitiveness in the local market and designing penetration strategies at the same time. 

Ambassadors are also representing Indonesian nationalism and credibility; so they should never compromise their dignity by involving themselves in business ventures and accepting commissions from any parties.

Indonesian ambassadors assigned to countries in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and the United States will rarely face labor issues, because most Indonesians working in those countries largely come from white-collar backgrounds and tend to be professionals who can easily adjust to the local working environment. 

However, ambassadors assigned to neighboring and Middle Eastern states will see thousands of Indonesians employed in those countries as caregivers and domestic workers, who may face classical problems, such as poor working conditions and abuses of their basic rights.

Consequently, ambassadors must have the capacity to monitor all legal processes, deal with authorized lawyers and utilize public opinion to support such cases, along with a readiness to comfort the workers in their homes, offices, courts and prisons.

Regarding negotiations, especially on critical and strategic issues, ambassadors will personally lead negotiation teams seeking to protect and further Indonesian interests. Accordingly, ambassadors must be familiar with the laws in the two countries, along with their attachments to bilateral, regional and global arrangements. 

When it comes to actual negotiations involving competing national interests, legal frameworks and technicalities, ambassadors must master all kind of diplomatic rules and procedures, which are supported by their capacities to compare the ongoing issues with relevant best practices coming from various parts of the world.

Irrespective of the topics, ambassadors must master negotiation skills and be willing to absorb advice from experts and opinion makers, as well as to work as a team with all embassy staff.

Other skills future and current ambassadors require to be able to convey their reports to their home country include a capacity for critical thought in their daily activities, absorbing and analyzing all kinds of information from documents and publications issued in the receiving country.

At the same time, representatives must be able to supervise embassy staff in preparing recommendations. To produce high standard reports, Indonesian ambassadors must involve themselves in various seminars, conferences and symposiums to gain first-hand information on what is happening in the receiving country. If necessary, consulting local actors, specialists and opinion makers on a regular basis may also be necessary.

They also have a duty to promote Indonesia to people in the receiving country by widely engaging with the public and the media. They must have the capacity to enlarge their networks within various communities and bureaucracies. Promotions and exhibitions are part of their responsibilities when it comes to business, trade, tourism and investment, leading to contracts and cooperation.

In fulfilling such assignments, mastering international languages is necessary and knowing the local customs and cultures is a great bonus. 

Based on these requirements, we return to our initial question: Do we have qualified ambassadors to represent Indonesia in this rapidly changing world?

Regardless of their backgrounds, do they understand the complex nature of globalization in the 21st century vis-à-vis their strategic consequences for Indonesia? Although it is ultimately for President Joko Widodo to decide, it is not an easy decision.

Teuku Rezasyah is a lecturer in international relations at Padjadjaran University in Sumedang, West Java.