Many thought the G20 would end after the Ukraine war: Indonesian FM 

Many thought the G20 would end after the Ukraine war: Indonesian FM 

Indonesia thanks India for its support in G20 presidency, promises to help India take development agenda for Global South forward during the next year

As founders of the Non Aligned Movement, it is only “natural” that India and Indonesia would focus their G-20 Presidencies on raising their voice for the developing world, says Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. In an interview to The Hindu., she spoke about the challenges and “pessimism” that had challenged the G20 presidency this year after the Ukraine war, as well as India-ASEAN cooperation and bilateral ties. Excerpts:

How challenging was Indonesia’s G20 presidency?

We had one very big challenge when Indonesia assumed its G20- presidency- that was the pandemic, not only from the perspective of health, but the economic impact of the pandemic. And then February came and the story of the world became completely different, with the [Ukraine] war. The impact of the war is very significant, very big, especially for developing countries. Most people thought, we won’t be able to produce anything substantive – maybe there would be no G20 anymore, maybe it would become G19. There was so much speculation and pessimism. Indonesia has always believed in discussion and communication. So I talked to all, listened to their views, and said, okay, can I build bridges among your different views? That process went on until November 15-16, right till the summit day. Again, when Indonesia said we believe in democracy, then the way we manage to navigate the G20 was also in the democratic way – Listen, build bridges, understand, try to find the solution, the middle points and finally, together and I have to thank all 20 members. Finally we were able to produce a declaration, with very good content for G20 cooperation.

Given that you were able to forge a joint communique, but no joint photo, what are the lessons learned that you would pass on to India?

I have to thank India and other colleagues from the G20 but, I think Foreign Minister Jaishankar is the one that I communicated with the most, because India would be the next host and India is part of Troika. And [EAM Jaishankar ] said, how can I help? In the last round of negotiation, we established what we call the Friends of the Chair, and India, is one of them. After Indonesia, India, after India is Brazil then South Africa [will host G20], all four of us are developing countries. From the beginning. Indonesia made it clear that in its presidency we will bring the voices, the interests of the developing Global South. These are the countries most impacted from the pandemic and the war. I think going by the statement of Prime Minister Modi we are sure India will continue what we did for developing countries.

Next year too PM Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo are expected to meet at least twice with G20 and ASEAN…what are the priorities for bilateral ties?

Yes there will be bilateral summits between Prime Minister Modi and the President. But even at the ministers level, we have to meet quite often. We are two big democracies with significant populations. Like Prime Minister Modi, my president is always trying to focus on economic cooperation especially since we don’t have any outstanding political issues between us. Trade is very important. Investment is very important. One breakthrough was on the Andaman & Nicobar- Aceh connectivity between us from Sabang port. Another area Indonesia wants cooperation is on pharmaceuticals. We also have discussed food security issues, particularly wheat. Both India and Indonesia were founders of the Non Aligned Movement, so it’s only natural that we will have stronger cooperation on the Global South.

Why has it taken so long to take the Sabang port project forward?

A: Yes. we have had to push again and again on this but I can say that the joint feasibility studies are almost complete. Of course four years is too long to finalize the first studies, but Indonesian people don’t give up. So hopefully the construction can start very soon. There are other ongoing projects by Indian investors such as the development and operation of the Kuala Namu Airport (in Medan), worth about $5 billion in investment. And there’s also the development of solar panel energy of about $500 million, and then there is also a plan to produce recyclable packaging for edible oil worth $35 million. You know, everybody talks about the Indo Pacific- India has its concept of Indian Pacific, ASEAN has its concept and U.S., Canada other countries have theirs. The way I see it there is too much energy focused on the security aspect. We want to draw attention to the economic cooperation aspect in the Indo-Pacific. And I think we can, together with India and ASEAN focus on prosperity in the Indo-Pacific: connectivity, infrastructure, attainment of SDGs and trade and investment . So, I will be very pleased if next year when Indonesia chairs the ASEAN summit and convenes the ASEAN Indo Pacific infrastructure forum, India and its the business community participates fully.

So Indonesia’s concept of the Indo-Pacific is not strategic? I ask, since China sees it as a containment strategy.

I have spoken to Chinese FM Wang Yi and also Russian FM Sergey Lavrov – to be honest they did have reservations at the beginning with the ASEAN engagement in Indo-Pacific. I explained to them both what our ideas were, and both are willing to cooperate with us on the Indo-Pacific. So it is important how one articulates these ideas. The outlook of ASEAN is inclusive, and we open our doors to all partners to join us. Because if it is exclusive, we will only increase competition in the region. The most important thing is how we navigate, how we manage this competition and not let it become an open conflict or war.

You said you spoke to EAM Jaishankar during the pandemic quite a few times. During the pandemic, hundreds of Indonesians belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat were kept in custody in India, did that cause a strain in ties?

During the pandemic, I spoke to [EAM Jaishankar] frequently, including on the Tablighi issue. We tried to convey our requests, our concern, the family’s concerns, because we are not only dealing with India for our nationals who are part of the Tablighi [jamaat], but we had to deal with their families, with the community. After a long process, and some active diplomacy, intensive communication we were able to resolve the issue and they could leave India . Obviously every country has its own way of thinking, has its own different culture. But I’m a person that believes in communication and building bridges, and that can settle even very difficult and complex issues.

This year was the Commemorative Summit for ASEAN-India and upgradation of the partnership. There was some disappointment over the fact that PM Modi didn’t attend the summit in Cambodia. Do you think India is committed enough to its relationship with ASEAN?

I think India is committed, of course. We all have the responsibility to commit on furthering and strengthening the relation because it takes two to tango. Because of scheduling issues, maybe the [Indian] prime minister or the President were not able to attend. But hopefully, that won’t be a regular issue.

What about on RCEP? While ASEAN says the door is open for India to return to the FTA agreement, but India doesn’t seem to be walking towards the door…

Well, the door is still open, we still look forward to welcoming India and we will say it again and again. So hopefully that one day, India will change their mind and join RCEP.

Does ASEAN have differences with India over Myanmar engagement, given that India has maintained its relationship with the Myanmar military government, and was part of the BIMSTEC summit where a Myanmar Minister was invited.

Every time I meet [EAM Jaishankar],I also raise this issue [with him]. The position of ASEAN is very clear- it was well reflected when ASEAN members met Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. And we agreed to have the five point consensus. Our message to ASEAN partners is… Please support the ASEAN efforts – because if you do differently, then that will not help us be effective and to help Myanmar out of this political crisis. For nearly two years, ASEAN chairs Brunei and Cambodia tried very hard with the Myanmar [military], but the response was not good and there has been no progress on implementing the five points. Indonesia will use these as the guide in managing the Chairmanship of ASEAN this year. We repeat again and again, please respect ASEAN, please support the five point consensus. I last discussed this with [EAM Jaishankar] in September on the sidelines of the UNGA, and we will discuss the issue again.

Do you think India and other countries should make visits to Myanmar conditional on progress on the ASEAN five-points?

Well [EAM Jaishankar] has said that in each meeting in Myanmar India has stressed its support to the ASEAN consensus. So I do hope that it is really [followed].

Finally, I’d like to ask you about your political career. President Jokowi’s second term will soon come to an end, and he has said he would not extend term limits. Do you see a larger political career for yourself?

(Laughs) I’m not a politician. I’m a career diplomat. And I’ve been in the service for 36 years since I joined the foreign ministry in 1986. So in 2024 means that I will be there for 38 years. I think there’s a time when we start, and there’s a time when we have to end. Maybe I will play with my grandsons more after 2024.

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