Indonesia’s Foreign and Maritime Policies Under Joko Widodo: Domestic and External Determinants

Publication Date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
AuthorLeonard C. Sebastian,Jonathan Chen
Indonesia’s Foreign
and Maritime Policies
Under Joko Widodo:
Domestic and External
Leonard C. Sebastian1,2
and Jonathan Chen1
This special issue aims to explain Indonesia’s maritime and foreign policies,
under President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, by looking at the intersection between
domestic politics and systemic pressure. The extent to which domestic politics
shape Indonesia’s foreign policy has always been an interesting topic. While
numerous major scholarly works on Indonesia’s foreign policy have underlined
this, most of them are empirically rich, but they lack an adequate theoretical
framework (Agung; 1973; Anwar, 1994; Fionna et al., 2018; Hein, 1988; Kahin &
Kahin, 1995; Leifer, 1983; Mackie, 1974; McMichael, 1987; Roberts et al., 2015;
Shekhar, 2018; Smith, 2000; Sukma, 1999; Suryadinata, 1996; Weatherbee, 2016;
Weinstein, 1976).1 This special issue uses neoclassical realism as a theoretical
framework to explain how domestic politics interplay with external stimuli in the
formulation of Indonesia’s foreign policy.
Although structural realism continues to play a major role in explaining a
state’s approach to its surrounding environment, there has emerged a growing
literature, utilising concepts of neoclassical realism, placing greater emphasis on
domestic politics as a complementary explanation. Neoclassical realism, along
with variables of domestic politics, are explained at great lengths in the remainder
of the articles in this special issue. Randall Schweller argues that the domestic-
level counterpart to structural realism is nationalism, particularly in an age of
social media and mass politics (Schweller, 2018). According to him, nationalism
had implications on the struggle among nations over issues of power, security and
prestige that animate realism. Nationalism could result in the support of the policy
of retrenchment or in increased assertiveness. Meanwhile, Steve Chan highlights
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(3) 287–303, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970211039639
1 Indonesia Programme, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
2 Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA), University of Canberra, Bruce, Canberra,
Corresponding author:
Leonard C. Sebastian, Indonesia Programme, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam
School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Block S4, Level B3, 50 Nanyang
Avenue, Singapore 639798, Republic of Singapore.
288 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 8(3)
that nationalism could fuel interstate rivalry by defining ‘in- and out- groups’, as
well as perpetuating ‘perceived grievances’ (Chan, 2012).
This special issue acknowledges the importance of understanding domestic
politics and nationalism in shaping foreign policy. Here in this Introduction, we
will set the stage of how the relative rise in nationalism under Jokowi, which is
marked by the resurgence of sovereignty politics, has projected itself onto
Indonesia’s foreign and maritime policies. However, at the same time, this special
issue acknowledges that the definition of nationalism is often too wide—it can
encompass many domestic variables. Therefore, the remainder of the articles in
this special issue will focus on more specific variables, which shape Jokowi’s
approach to maritime and foreign policies, and provide in-depth analysis on how
domestic politics interplay with external pressure. Amidst the growing number of
studies, which focus on the role of domestic politics in explaining Indonesia’s
foreign policy, this special issue will look into details on what really constitutes as
domestic politics (as opposed to structural realist variables) and how they interact
with external factors. In examining the nexus between these two, the articles featured
in this special edition employ three interlinked frameworks: (a) neoclassical
realism; (b) actor-specific theory; and (c) models of decision-making process.
In this Introduction, various domestic variables are subsumed under the theme of
nationalism, discussed in the following section.
Nationalism, Sovereignty and Foreign Policy
Under the administration of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, Indonesia’s foreign
policy measures, particularly ones related to maritime security and diplomacy,
have taken a substantial turn from the former policies of his predecessor, Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). Departing from the style of SBY, who focused on
ceremony, protocol and norms in international diplomacy, Jokowi’s administration
emphasised on the need to shape a diplomacy that is ‘down-to-earth’ (diplomasi
membumi). With Jokowi’s frequent reminders that foreign policy should benefit
the common people, Indonesia’s diplomacy is closely linked with domestic
developments and needs.
Early on, during his presidency in 2014, Jokowi announced his vision of a
‘Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF)’—his vision to turn Indonesia into a global
maritime hub, motivated by the idea that Indonesia had turned its back on the sea for
too long. Initially, the GMF received widespread acknowledgement from various
quarters, particularly after Jokowi elaborated on the idea during his speech at the
East Asia Summit in Naypyidaw in November 2014. By extrapolation, Jokowi’s
focus on maritime affairs and questions of state sovereignty initially seemed to
prioritise Indonesian sovereignty over diplomacy, which had led to greater tension
among neighbouring states and China (Connelly, 2015). Others contended that
Jokowi’s new maritime enterprise carried with it a strong element of securitisation2
by the Indonesian Navy against external threats so as to create an ‘adequate maritime
defence infrastructure to ensure the security of its islands, maritime resources,
territorial waters and exclusive economic zones’ (Shekhar & Liow, 2014).

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