Reconfiguring Indonesia’s Foreign Policy Orientation under Jokowi: Revitalization of Dynamic Equilibrium in Indo-Pacific

Reconfiguring Indonesia’s Foreign Policy Orientation under Jokowi:

Revitalization of Dynamic Equilibrium in Indo-Pacific

Muhammad Ilham Razak & Peter Sean Lie

President University


Abstract. This essay discusses about the discourse of geopolitics in Indo Pacific as an increasingly important strategic area favored by many players. This essay also highlights the significant shift of the direction of Indonesia’s foreign policy from SBY administration’s active engagement as international mediator and regional leader into Jokowi’s administration with low-profile image and people-oriented policies. The objective of this essay is to explain Indonesia’s urgency in revitalizing the Dynamic Equilibrium in Indo Pacific to maintain the stability in Indo Pacific and to deter the geopolitics games by preponderant power as the result of competing visions in geopolitics return. This essay found that the government needs to interpret the vision of Global Maritime Fulcrum into more outward looking and maximizing IORA Platform which both of these opportunities can be seen as tangible and intangible goals of Indonesia’s Jokowi Administration to pursue domestic development and actively engage in Indo-Pacific region.


Keywords: Indo-Pacific, Indonesia’s foreign policy, Dynamic Equilibrium, Global Maritime Fulcrum, IORA




Increasing strategic rivalry, power politics, and confrontations in the international affairs these past few years has reminded all the world leaders that geopolitics is back (Patrick & Bennett, 2015). Regarding to the revival of geopolitical game in world affairs, the Indo-Pacific has emerged as a favorable chessboard by many players. Enormous advantages and rewards are offered by this area, following its rising strategic and economic significance (Mishra, 2013). Its transformation from a mere biogeographic region to a strategic one has attracted players to participate in the game. However some of the big players have their own strategic visions upon the area, for instance China with its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, India’s Act East policy, and Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (Laksmana, 2017). Thus the presence of dueling strategic visions is inevitable.


The former foreign minister of Indonesia Marty Natalegawa had once told the whole world that Indonesia has always projected itself as a part of the solution in international tensions and conflicts (Natalegawa 2010). He truly believed that the future of Indo-Pacific is Indonesia’s profound interest, considering Indonesia’s strategic geographical location (Natalegawa 2013). So regarding the strategic flux in Indo-Pacific, Marty Natalegawa offered a concept of ‘dynamic equilibrium,’ which promotes peace and stability in a region through maintaining balance of power, restraining preponderant power, and recognizing change and fluctuation as inevitable in the region (Natalegawa 2013). As one of the important players in Indo-Pacific, Indonesia should actively promote dynamic equilibrium and stability through its foreign policies.


However, there is a significant shift of the direction of Indonesian foreign policy in Jokowi’s administration. His low-profile image and people-oriented policies has changed the image of Indonesia from an outward-looking, multilateral, and active foreign policy to a more populist, inward-looking foreign policy (S. Qin 2015). Actually Jokowi’s foreign policy can address many domestic issues that the predecessor could not solve. But in this case where strategic flux is occurring in a region, indeed an active role in multilateral forums and platforms is required.


This essay sees the issue of strategic flux in Indo-Pacific and recognizes the concept of dynamic equilibrium as the ideal status quo for the region that should be fiercely pursued. In attempt to actualize this concept, the essay argues that a reconfiguration in Indonesia’s current foreign policy is required. Thus the main questions emerge: 1) How is Indo-Pacific significant to Indonesia? 2) How is the concept of Dynamic Equilibrium significant to the security and political stability in Indo-Pacific? 3) How should Indonesia reconfigure its position in Indo-Pacific to enhance the common spirit of peace and stability? In order to answer these question, first the essay would explain Indo-Pacific and the emergence of potential conflicts and competing visions and why this is urgent to be addressed. Second, the essay would give insights of Marty Natalegawa’s Dynamic Equilibrium and why it should be pursued. Third, the essay would analyze Indonesia’s important role in Indo-Pacific, Fourth, the essay would analyze Indonesia’s current foreign policy and later argues that why this cannot support the promotion of Dynamic Equilibrium in the region. Last but not least, the essay would reconfigure Indonesia’s foreign policy and analyze the opportunities and challenges.


Indo-Pacific, Competing Visions and its Significances


The frequent discussion of Indo-Pacific emerged for the first time in 2013, when some world leaders mentioned about the importance of this strategic region to their countries’ national interests. Rhetorical speeches have been given by Hillary Clinton, Manmohan Singh, Shinzo Abe, Marty Natalegawa, and other world leaders regarding Indo-Pacific (Medcalf, 2013). Not only world politicians, the Indo-Pacific also attracts the attention of scholars. They agreed on the notion that Indo-Pacific is a strategic area, not merely biogeographical, that links the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean region (Laksmana, 2017). This considerably new strategic region has overthrown Asia-Pacific as an important strategic region following the post-Cold War period. Shreya Upadhyay wrote that Asia-Pacific is too narrow compared to the Indo-Pacific, as it only focuses on China, Japan, and the involvement of the U.S while ignoring Southeast Asia and East Asia (Upadhyay, 2014). Indo-Pacific’s vast sea area spans from Russia in the North to Australia and New Zealand in the South, and from India in the West to Papua New Guinea in the East (CSIS, 2014).


Indo-Pacific has grown to be more economically important because it contains over half of the world’s commercial shipping through trade routes and vast natural resources (CSIS, 2014). The Strait of Malacca, as one of the busiest sea trade route, is considered as the heart of the Indo-Pacific, as it becomes the key waterway that links the Pacific and Indian Oceans (Hirst, 2014). Its vast and rich natural resource is mainly located in the South China Sea, where there are over tens of billions of barrels of oil reserve and other natural gases (CSIS, 2014).


Because of this, Indo-Pacific is a princess among many princes – many countries attempt to dominate in this region to harness its economic benefits. This makes Indo-Pacific as one of the most militarized region in the world with seven of the ten largest armies, the world’s largest and most technologically advanced navy and five of the world’s declared nuclear countries (Yoshihara, 2013). These major powers in Indo-Pacific, according to Gindarsah, would prefer strategic competition over cooperation, which could potentially lead to a far worse instability and unpredictability. Michael Cole (Cole 2014) then wrote “few regions around the world today seem as ready to descend into armed conflict than Indo-Pacific.”


China and its assertiveness in the South China Sea, combined with its increasing military activity have been an international spotlight for years. CNN reported that the recent installment of aircraft hangars and high-end radar capabilities on the man-made islands in the sea has further intensified China’s dominance (Westcott 2017). China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, though many think as a merely grand economic cooperation between nations, is actually much more than that. Dr. Shubhamitra Das (2017) argues that OBOR maritime initiative is likely to take a form of defence partnership among the countries where China has built its ports. These have firmly established China as not only an economic powerhouse in the region, but also a mighty military power that outbalance other powers. What about the United States’ Pivot to Asia? Susan Thornton (Panda 2017), the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs said that the rebalance attempt has officially come to an end. This means that U.S. involvement to balance the power in the region is lessening, and this means that China’s power is uncontested in the region. And very recently, the U.S.’ attention is drawn by the claim of North Korea to shoot its missile to Guam, which further worsen the tension between them, and of course this could be a trigger to a much bigger conflict in the region (BBC 2017).


Significance of Dynamic Equilibrium in Indo-Pacific


Amidst the contested visions among the major powers in the Indo-Pacific region, the writer sees that there is a need to find the common perception about the security and peace as the main priority within the area. This view cannot be separated from the reason that Indo-Pacific has become the center of economic gravity (Medcalf 2013)In 2017, a total of economic activities within the area encompasses a third of bulk cargo and two-thirds of world oil shipments (US Department of Defense n.d.) Furthermore, many countries particularly in East Asia, there are about 90% of the oil imports activities to Middle East and Africa are shipping through Indian and Pacific Ocean. (Kapoor 2014) Not to mention that at least twenty major economic powers actively playing parts within this region. Conversely, it can be said that any clash within the area involving these major economic powers would profoundly impact to the global concern. In the worst scenario, the tensions would hardly to be avoided when it comes to the military actions and trust deficits. One example that can be seen as the real threat posed by the major power is the South China Sea dispute when the solution has yet to be a reality. (Sputnik News 2016) A scholar such Timothy Hoyt even argued that the most significant potential cause of instability remains in the traditional security realm in which formed as regional rivalries and the rapid shift of the presence of major powers. (Hoyt, 2014). He continued that, “in the absence of commitment to ensure the security commons, other states would be tempted to increase their own regional capabilities to protect interest.” Moreover, he argued, this absence has created a big potential of arms race cycle and the presence of security dilemmas throughout the region. (Hoyt, 2014)


Based on the paragraph above, the competing visions among nations in Indo-Pacific remains as a concern. Important thing to be notice is that these visions supposed to be not jeopardizing the common objectives among countries to maintain the peace and security since the recent years has shown the need of cooperation among states to work together. It is proven by emerging security concern in Indo-Pacific, to name a few, such are South China Sea territorial dispute, China-US Hegemony rivalry, and DPR Korea Nuclear threat.


The effort to overcome such danger has actually been coined by Indonesia’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marty Natalegawa. During the SBY administration, Indonesia Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by Natalegawa came up with the idea that Indo-Pacific should aim to make a proper common deal to maintain the peace and stability in the region (Natalegawa, 2013). Thus, he coined the idea of Dynamic Equilibrium which explains as follows:


“A dynamic equilibrium thus is marked by an absence of preponderant power not through the rigidity, rivalry and tensions common to the pursuit of a balance of power model. Instead, through the promotion of a sense of common responsibility in the endeavor to maintain the region’s peace and stability.” (Natalegawa, 2013)


Natalegawa even stepping further by initiating Treaty and Amity Cooperation in Indo-Pacific in 2013 as the base of the Dynamic Equilibrium framework. (Natalegawa, 2013). Nevertheless, the idea of Dynamic Equilibrium is vital within Indo-Pacifc region. The reason is because this idea can be seen as a common perception to avoid the preponderant power in the region. Thus, absence of this common perception will only make the region is first, (1) prone to the trust issue degradation and second, (2) a shrinking confidence in terms of maintaining the spirit of regional peace.


First, the trust issue. The absence of such idea would jeopardize the trust among countries within the region in which, consequently, bring many countries to find themselves to focus more on self-security by putting aside the common security concern. This condition, where the trust is degrading to one another, would only lead to the phenomena of the vicious cycle of action-reaction model where it defined by Buzan as “An action by any state to increase its military strength will raise the level of threat seen by other states and cause them to react by increasing their own strength.“ (Buzan 1987) In the worst scenario, degrading trust issue phenomenon among countries have bigger chances to bring the minor incident in the region to evolve into a world security concern.


Second, the confidence of maintaining regional peace. The intense growing of populism in recent years from America’s Tump, India’s Modi or Phillipines’s Duterte (McPhillips 2017) and uncertainty of common security framework would certainly put the Indo-Pacific into a contesting area of hegemony pursuit. The Dynamic Equilibrium works as deterrent effect to constraint many major powers in pursuing this preponderant power which often familiar with the rigidity and highly escalated tensions of the balance of power model. Accordingly, Dynamic Equilibrium would encourage the whole states in the region to be confident in maintaining the common purpose of the regional peace.


Indonesia’s Role in Indo-Pacific


In terms of geographical location, Indonesia position at the center of the region has been vital in connecting two busiest oceans as highways for the movement of global trade (Chandramohan 2014). As the consequences, ensuring the safety of this most strategic sea lanes will need Indonesia’s participation to actively maintain the regional stability and peace. Moreover, Indonesia plays a key ‘pivot state’ in Indo-pacific, thus, its supports will determine the success or failure of the peaceful regional construct (Bremmer, 2012)


During SBY administration in 2004-2014, Indonesia had been approaching the Indo-Pacific by reshaping it in advance that Indonesia can play a leadership role of mediator. This role is done through interpretation of Indonesia’s free-active foreign policy by more focusing on the mitigating the regional conflict and regional stability (Piccone and Yusman 2014). Indonesia approaches during that time were given credit for expanding Indonesia’s clout on the international stage primely through closer cooperation with major powers and active leadership in the region. (Piccone and Yusman 2014) Indonesia’s active participation particularly with its proposed idea of Dynamic Equilibrium and “Million Friends Zero Enemies” had been proven successfully in mitigating the regional conflict as well as Indonesia economic prosperity. According to a foreign policy expert such Ted Piccone, Indonesia approaches has helped themselves to sustain their impressive growth in foreign trade and investment. (Piccone, 2014)


Hence, the Dynamic Equilibrium as what proposed by Marty Natalegawa, a former ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia in SBY administration, seems to be an ideal continuation for Indonesia today seeing the strategic flux in Indo-Pacific and the emerging competing visions that could give profound impact to the regional peace and stability.


The Concern of Jokowi’s Foreign Policy Direction toward Indo-Pacific


Having look back to the past three years under Jokowi administration, Indonesia seems to turn the direction into more inward looking foreign policy compared to his predecessor. After the inauguration, Indonesia launched the “Pro People” diplomacy, a foreign policy vision that focuses on the outcome of tangible benefit for Indonesian People (Kemenlu n.d.). Moreover, Jokowi believes that any international engagement that does not give direct benefit to the Indonesian people should be pulled away (Yahya, 2015).


In spite of that, Jokowi Administration has actually put the active role in regional and international level as Indonesia’s strategic target, according to Ministry of Indonesia Foreign Affairs, which is written to enhance the active participation in Regional and International Level (Kemenlu n.d). However, the writer believes that the implication of foreign policy of Pro People diplomacy is likely to burden Indonesia role because it will limit Indonesia’s movement to do something more in the regional or international level particularly Indo-Pacific. Jokowi’s attention on domestic reform means that he is willing to only seek foreign policy that has the scope to directly give advantages to the domestic agenda and the Indonesian people (S. Qin 2015).


Bear in mind that Indonesia’s position in Indo-Pacific inherently has given Indonesia a vital role to actively participate for the stability in the region. However, Indonesia’s foreign policy is constrained by the purpose to give the tangible benefit to Indonesian people. This inward looking orientation has shown its infectiveness when China’s successful in fracturing ASEAN Unity which ASEAN has been one of the cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy. (Willis, 2016). Moreover, this inward looking policies have made Indonesia busy with its interests toward the infrastructure development across the archipelago by engaging great powers to invest. (Willis, 2016) As the consequences, the writer believes that this move appears to make Indonesia will show little interest of the emerging preponderant powers in Indo-Pacific in which could impact the common purpose of Indonesia’s dynamic equilibrium that has been succeed to maintain the regional stability in many years.


Reconfiguring Indonesia’s Foreign Policy: Opportunities and Challenges


Seeing the urgency for Indonesia to bring dynamic equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific, this essay would suggest that there should be a reconfiguration of Indonesia’s foreign policy. Indonesia’s foreign policy would have to support Indonesia’s active role as a mediator in maintaining peace and security in the region. This does not mean that Jokowi’s Down to Earth foreign policy should be completely scrapped and then changed to the previous SBY’s foreign policy.


There is actually a great platform that combine both short-term and tangible goals that Jokowi focuses more on, and the less-tangible goals that are actually important in maintaining long-term peace and security in the region; which is the Global Maritime Fulcrum. This vision was first published in 2015’s ASEAN Summit by Jokowi as a vision to make Indonesia a great maritime nation. The vision recognizes the strategic geographical position of Indonesia, which is between the Pacific and Indian oceans (Staf Presiden RI 2015). Although some people perceive this vision as a nationalistic-oriented one, no one can deny that the vision also bears international responsibilities in maintaining peace and maritime security. The vision emphasizes on the importance of maritime diplomacy in the teritorial dispute management and furthermore reducing the tension between the big powers (Perwita & Agastia 2015).


This vision is a great opportunity because it is in line with how Indonesia should bring dynamic equilibrium to the region and the proper role that Indonesia should bear as the country connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, so far Jokowi has been more focused on developing the national maritime. His recent report, Kerja Nyata, has been showing reports of rising fish productivity, rising fishermen’s welfare and income, the development of sea toll, and the lowering price of commodity because of the sea toll (Kerja Nyata Staff 2017). So this is a challenge that needs to be addressed; how to enhance the understanding of Global Maritime Fulcrum to all of the relevant government bodies and agencies. Poor understanding between relevant agencies and ministries will only hamper the implementation. Thus, more framework needs to be created and great support from the internal side will surely give a significant impact towards Jokowi’s administration in implementing the strategic vision of Global Maritime Fulcrum. A clear emphasis of the fourth pillar needs to be intensified more to all the relevant governmental agencies and ministries; that maintaining maritime security and regional peace and stability is important and too crucial to be ignored.


Earlier this year, Indonesia had the chance to host the summit of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). From this summit, a concord called IORA Concord or Jakarta Concord was agreed by the members. According to Dedi Dinarto (2017), the event helped boosting Indonesia’s reputation as an informal leader of IORA, even he questioned Indonesia’s leadership role in ASEAN. Retno Marsudi and Jokowi both have expressed the importance of IORA, and for the last few years as IORA chair, Indonesia has made many initiatives in making this international organization flourish (Anjaiah 2017). However, Ristian Atriandi Suprianto (2016) argues that this IORA Concord, which appears to be the mechanism of a grand strategy centered on Indo-Pacific, is nor more than ‘bland diplomatic statements that have little restraining force over signatories’ behavior.’ In other terms, the initiative of Indonesia to host the summit and IORA Concord is merely a diplomatic rhetoric. There is no tangible proof that Indonesia would take effective and active leadership role in this wildly diverse international organization (2016).


IORA could be a great opportunity for Indonesia to promote dynamic equilibrium, peace and stability in the region, considering the chairmanship that Indonesia currently holds. Several challenges need to be addressed. First, IORA consists of 21 considerably diverse member states, and most of them are economically and institutionally weak (Brewster 2017). This means that this organization has a range of issues that they need to tackle, and even a simple framework would be difficult to be implemented by every country. Second, Indonesia’s current focus on economic diplomacy and infrastructure development has left Indonesia with little time to embrace IORA member states, especially the underdeveloped one. Thus it is important for Indonesia to embrace IORA member states as a chairman in order to make IORA a more effective organization.




Indo-Pacific is a vast area with strategic importance to some countries. Its economic and strategic benefits make competition and further friction and conflict among countries inevitable. Indonesia, as a country of great importance and role as the middleman, could not stay populist and so inward-looking on its foreign policy. Noting that Marty Natalegawa is the one who initiated the Indo-Pacific treaty in 2013, Indonesia now needs to look back and reconfigure its foreign policy to become more outward-looking and active in the region. The utilization of Jokowi’s Global Maritime Fulcrum and Indonesia’s status as chairman of IORA are the steps to get both tangible short-term goals that Jokowi has been focusing these past 2 years, and also intangible goals that are equally important.





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