Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum: From Hedging to Underbalancing

Date01 December 2021
Publication Date01 December 2021
AuthorEdna Caroline
DOI10.1177/23477970211041661
SubjectResearch Articles
Research Article
Indonesia’s Global
Maritime Fulcrum:
From Hedging to
Underbalancing
Edna Caroline1
Abstract
This article examines why Indonesia’s vision of the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF)
was not properly developed in accordance to its strategic response to the increased
rivalry between China and the USA in the Asia-Pacific region. Although the GMF
initially focussed on achieving domestic agendas, Indonesia’s implicit intention
is to utilise the GMF as a hedge in order to strengthen economic cooperation
with China while keeping the USA engaged in the region’s security architecture.
My article seeks to go beyond the existing literature’s employment of primarily
structural realist analysis to understand Indonesia’s strategic behaviour by applying
a neoclassical realist approach to Indonesia’s case, which better demonstrates
current conditions exhibiting how conflicting elite interests generate political
discord which in turn hinders the state’s ability to extract and mobilise domestic
resources, ultimately hampering Indonesia’s ability to achieve its GMF goals.
Although certain threats and opportunities within the international system have
manifested themselves to actively encourage the proper implementation of GMF,
this strategy remains underdeveloped since the time of its launch. Neoclassical
realism provides a better explanation that enhances our understanding of how
Indonesia assesses and responds to its strategic environment.
Keywords
Neoclassical realism, Indonesia, hedging, oligarchy, Global Maritime Fulcrum
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(3) 413–432, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/23477970211041661
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1 Jakarta Defence Studies, Jakarta Pusat, Jakarta, Indonesia.
Corresponding author:
Edna Caroline, Jakarta Defence Studies, Redaksi Kompas, Menara Kompas, Jl Palmerah Selatan no 21,
Jakarta Pusat, Jakarta 10270, Indonesia.
E-mails: edna.pattisina@kompas.com; edna_aja@yahoo.com
414 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 8(3)
Introduction
At the onset of his presidency in 2014, President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo announced
his vision of transforming Indonesia into a Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF). The
GMF has both domestic and foreign policy elements, positioning Indonesia as a
fulcrum between the Indian and the Pacific Ocean with the intent of exploiting
Indonesia’s geographical potential for the security and prosperity of its people.
The GMF is driven by the idea that Indonesia had neglected its strategic potential
as a maritime country for a long period. The strategy was built on seven main
pillars, that is: (a) marine and human resources development; (b) maritime defence,
security, law enforcement and safety at sea; (c) maritime governance; (d) maritime
economy and infrastructure; (e) maritime spatial management and environmental
protection; (f) maritime culture; and (g) maritime diplomacy (Cabinet
Secretary, 2017).
Similar to the visions espoused by the ASEAN Community 2015 and beyond,
China’s One Belt One Road initiative (renamed as the Belt Road Initiative),
India’s Act East policy, and the US’ rebalancing strategy towards Asia-Pacific, the
GMF defines Indonesia’s strategy in geopolitical and geo-economic terms.
Through the GMF, as a middle power, Indonesia aims to improve its bargaining
position rather than become entangled in the midst of competition between the
bigger powers.
Indonesia’s geographical position brings with it certain vulnerabilities.
Notwithstanding the statement in its Defence White Paper that reinforcing
Indonesia’s position that Indonesia is not one of the claimant states in the South
China Sea, the defence policy community took the view that China’s aggressive
behaviour needed an appropriate response. On 23 June 2016 and 8 January 2020,
Jokowi made special visits to the Natunas Islands on warship to instil public
confidence and assert Indonesia’s claim to its exclusive economic zone in the
Natuna Sea—a waterbody that borders the South China Sea. Before these actions,
tensions arose after a number of Chinese fishing boats escorted by two coast
guard ships and a fishery patrol vessel entered waters north of the Natuna Islands,
which China has claimed as part of its traditional fishing areas. The US’ rebalancing
strategy had also brought along its own complications, including airspace
violations by the US military (Indonesian Air Force, 2017). The airspace violations
have increased in the recent years as the activities of the USA and its allies grew
in magnitude in the region. In the first three months of 2020, 453 violations
occurred compared with 163 throughout 2018 (Caroline, 2020a).
However, Indonesia’s implementation of the GMF though had been very slow
and inconclusive. Since its launch in 2014, projects under the GMF had also mainly
focussed on domestic economic concerns, instead of boosting Indonesia’s maritime
capabilities to answer to increasing external threats. The Ocean Policy—a document
that seeks to coordinate the government agencies’ direction of implementing the
GMF strategy—was not launched until two and a half years after Jokowi’s GMF
speech. The GMF narrative eventually faded from Jokowi’s speeches and policies,
and by his second term, it had practically disappeared, especially after his
announcement of a new mega project—the relocation of the national capital.

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