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Indonesia: Jokowi walks tightrope balancing ties with Russia, West

Some pundits, who see it as mere image politics, said Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Kiev and Moscow last week, becoming the first Asian leader since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Widodo, commonly known as Jokoi, used his visits to Kyiv on June 29 and the following day in Moscow to focus on the global food supply crisis caused by the Ukraine war.

“Indonesia wants the war to end soon, and the food, fertilizer and energy supply chains need to be restored immediately because it affects the lives of millions and even billions of people,” Widodo said in Moscow.

Before leaving for Europe, he said his visits were “important not only for Indonesians, but also for other developing countries to keep people from developing and low-income countries from falling into extreme poverty and hunger.”

Rising food and fuel prices have hit Southeast Asia

Before the war, Indonesia was the world’s second largest importer of Ukrainian wheat. It also has high reliance on fertilizers and other agricultural products produced in Russia and Ukraine.

In Southeast Asia, the war in Ukraine has pushed up oil prices and pushed up inflation. It remains to be seen whether Widodo’s visit has achieved anything in dealing with rising prices.

“Such trips are often more symbolic than material,” said Ben Bland, director of Chatham House’s Asia-Pacific program and author of Man of Contradictions: Joko Widodo and the Struggle to Remake Indonesia.

Widodo visited Kyiv before Moscow, which some have interpreted as a subtle compromise in support of Ukraine’s independence. But by publicly discussing the potential food crisis while in Russia, Widodo was “pushing the West towards the vaguely false Russian description” of blaming the West for the food crisis, Bland told DW.

What will happen at the G20 conference?

For some, however, Widodo’s incompetent personality as a peace-loving man was primarily for his domestic audience.

“Indonesians see that Jokoi is admired and recognized on the international stage. It evokes a strong sense of national pride, as Jokoi is seen embodying a strong Indonesia, “said Bridget Welsh, an analyst at the University of Nottingham Malaysia’s Asia Research Institute.

As the fourth most populous country in the world, Indonesia played the first role among equals in Southeast Asia until the 1990s. However, its leaders have since moved toward isolation.

Widodo can’t sit still this year even if he wants to. Indonesia holds the rotating presidency of the G20 Group and is expected to involve itself in global issues.

The G20 summit to be held in Bali this year, scheduled for November, could be a nightmare because Widodo has denied Western pressure to oust Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He also invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and analysts say Jakarta is betting on Putin and Zelensky’s de facto participation in the summit, which could be enough to prevent a threatened US and European boycott of the summit if Putin attends.

An embarrassing G20 summit will put additional pressure on Indonesia’s position on world affairs, especially since it will take the reins of the rotating presidency of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2023 at the same time as the G20 summit in Bali.

Neutrality and non-alignment

With a tradition of neutrality and non-alignment, Indonesia has had to tap into the Ukraine war debate.

In March, Indonesia voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops. But it has refused to impose sanctions on Moscow or explicitly condemn Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

Bland said Jakarta has been more cautious in its unilateral and bilateral diplomatic statements.

“It reflects Indonesia’s relatively good relations with both Ukraine and Russia before the aggression, its long tradition of non-alignment, and the caution to pull it further into the conflict when it faces many challenges at home,” he added.

The 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia was an important precursor to the creation of a Cold War-era alliance of neutral states.

Although Widodo is closely tied to Indonesia’s historic policy of non-intervention, he must proceed with caution because, according to a recent survey, public opinion on the issue of the Ukraine war is fairly neutral.

“There is a large section of Indonesians who see the West as a provocateur for war. A neutral position satisfies this view, ”said Welsh. “Most Indonesians don’t see the advantage of taking a position at war so far from Indonesia,” he added.

Indonesia’s strong support for relations with Russia

The recently released Democracy Perception Index 2022, conducted by Latina, a Berlin-based marketing firm in collaboration with the non-profit Alliance of Democracies, asked respondents in 52 countries if they thought their government should sever economic ties with Russia because of the Moscow attack. Of Ukraine

In Indonesia, net support for relations with Russia was about 50%, the second highest among the 52 countries surveyed. Only the Chinese were more in favor of maintaining relations.

Interestingly, a larger percentage of Indonesians said they would support economic ties with China if Beijing tried to invade Taiwan than they would support maintaining economic ties with Russia despite the aggression in Ukraine.

Raditio Dharmaputra, an Indonesian analyst, wrote that “an influential strand in the discussion of Russia’s war against Ukraine in Indonesia has focused on American and Western hypocrisy.”

In an article published in March, he concluded that “there is more to hatred of the West than to sincere support for Russia’s actions.”

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