Indonesia to pursue foreign policy that focuses on interests of people

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi speaking to journalists after the Cabinet announcement at the presidential palace in Jakarta on October 26, 2014. She is the country's first female foreign minister, unveiled by Indonesian P
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi speaking to journalists after the Cabinet announcement at the presidential palace in Jakarta on October 26, 2014. She is the country's first female foreign minister, unveiled by Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Oct 26. -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - If Indonesia's new foreign minister has her way, sambal and shrimp exports will be added to diplomatic agreements and regional cooperation on the country's menu of offerings.

Ms Retno Marsudi, in her first speech to a public audience on Thursday, said the country's diplomats now have to help become salesmen and boost Indonesia's exports abroad.

This is part of the "down to earth" foreign policy that puts the interest of the Indonesian people first that she hopes to pursue.

"Our President always says work, work, work three times to his ministers. I'd like to add people, people, people," Ms Retno told a seminar on Indonesia-Netherlands cooperation in Jakarta.

But she implied this focus did not mean turning back on what her predecessors had done, noting that Indonesia had strategic or comprehensive partnerships with 18 countries, including former colonial master the Netherlands.

The task ahead, said Ms Retno, who is outgoing ambassador to the Netherlands, was for Indonesia to seize the opportunities from these strong ties.

Elaborating on her plan after the seminar, she told The Straits Times and Agence France-Presse reporters: "Our diplomats must make sure Indonesian products that are facing problems are taken care of - find out why there is a problem, what the obstacle is, and how to resolve it."

Her remarks suggest there will, however, be greater emphasis on selling locally made items including furniture, as questions remain over how much the new government will take up the previous government's attention to strategic matters and playing a mediating role in the region.

"We will increase programmes that have benefit to the Indonesian people," she said.

Greater attention will also be paid to the more than 5 million migrant workers abroad, many in Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East, she added.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg