During his preview of Indonesia’s 2011 foreign policy, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa rightly highlighted the demanding schedule of the next 12 months. As chair of ASEAN for 2011, Indonesia will host more than 300 meetings at various levels.
The meetings will cover various areas of cooperation of the 10-member grouping, including trade, investment and defense. Mingled among the multiple ASEAN agendas will be a slew of other foreign policy activities, not least a ministerial level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
One of the highlights will likely be the hosting of a major Asia-Pacific summit that will bring to Indonesia not only the 10 leaders of Southeast Asia, but also heads of government from countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. There is no doubt that these meetings will have a positive in raising the country’s international profile. There is further confidence that Indonesia will succeed in wowing participants in becoming a gracious and successful host.
Indonesia has several times, in fact several times a year, hosted international-level conferences. In fact, Indonesia is one of the masters in this slow process of deliberate conference diplomacy and evolving institutional building, building goodwill without necessarily achieving good results.
There is a danger that as the Foreign Ministry and other government agencies get caught up in the whirlwind of preparations and organization, they become too focused on the event itself, forgetting what this is really all for.
That is the question that Indonesians deserve to ask: What is it all for?
The merits of international cooperation and regional institutional building are not in question, but the utility of Indonesia’s chairmanship is, especially to laypeople.
The substance that needs to come out of these meetings is one that can be understood, explained and appreciated by all in this archipelago. The age of declarations filled with platitudes is passe.
In a political environment where scrutiny and criticism is sharper than a razor’s edge, the diplomacy of 2011 must be something more than a grand photo op for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to rub shoulders with major heads of government.
Credit should be given to the Foreign Ministry for their intent in trying to involve civil society representatives in the ASEAN mechanisms. We look forward to the realization and greater interaction on this part.
The accomplishment of the slogan of ASEAN as a people centered or oriented organization, toward a truly people-driven grouping. We are hopeful thus that the meetings will truly produce outcomes that touch the people of ASEAN.
These include, in particular, the strengthening of regional mechanisms that acknowledge and provide better protection to citizens of ASEAN: the protection of basic civil and human rights, migrant workers along with women and children. The outcome should not be yet another declaration but deliverable action plans that should have greater punitive measures if not satisfied.
After decades of being an elevated framework dealing with high issues, it is time to bring ASEAN really back down to earth.