Indonesia and G-20 sees Jokowi on the world stage: Jakarta Post contributor

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Nov 1, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - For Indonesia 2022 will prove a historic year as the nation hosts the Group of 20 (G-20) summit for the first time. Indonesia is the only South-east Asian nation to ever become a G-20 member and will be the first country to host the prestigious summit.

It will also be the first event of this stature - where heads of state of the world's 20 largest economies convene - Indonesia has ever hosted, after successfully hosting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank annual meetings in 2018.

There is a lot at stake for both President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Indonesia as it attempts to further the President's domestic agenda and elevate Indonesia's standing as an economic powerhouse amongst its G-20 peers. This will also likely be the last international event President Jokowi focuses on before shifting to domestic politics in early 2023 ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.

In the short term however, Jokowi's priority will be to ensure that his administration's handling of the pandemic will bolster the success of the summit itself. What is most crucial is his ability to capitalise on commitments reached during the summit into concrete policy actions both domestically and regionally.

Unlike his predecessor president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who actively sought to assert Indonesia as a multilateral leader, President Jokowi takes a more passive approach to multilateralism. He utilises moments of international spotlight on Indonesia for two objectives: pushing progressive domestic policy agendas by citing heightened international scrutiny, and to elevate Indonesia's attractiveness as an investment destination.

In addition to his experience governing as Surakarta mayor, Jokowi's deep pragmatism also stems from his experience in participating and leading in other multilateral forums. These experiences, specifically the inability to deliver upon ambitious commitments born from Indonesia hosting the Asian African Conference in 2015 and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit 2016, have shaped Jokowi's expectations, and ultimately agenda setting, of high-level multilateral summits.

For example, the Indonesian Agency for International Development (Indonesian AID), was considered a monumental outcome from the Asian African Conference as it cemented Indonesia as a developing nation capable of assisting less developed nations.

In practice however, the agency has yet to produce any significant influence on recipient nations and continues to engage in working groups without tangible indicators of impact.

Another is the establishment of the Indonesian International Islamic University (UIII), as agreed upon in the OIC summit. As an effort to counter the spread of radical ideology in universities across Indonesia and entice Indonesians from studying in Middle Eastern countries, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia supported Indonesia's establishment of UIII which was meant to promote moderate teachings of Islam at the tertiary education level.

Despite prominent support, it took the university more than five years to welcome its first cohort of students and is yet to be accredited. These large gaps between high-level commitment and realisation have significantly impacted Jokowi's perspective.

Jokowi's agenda as G-20 president is to promote equitable access to technology, capital and depending on developments of the pandemic, vaccines. Though these issues will benefit many developing countries, to ensure Indonesia reaps the most rewards if commitments are reached, Jokowi will likely follow up with regulations such as mandatory transfer of technology for investment, tax on digital goods and doubling down on government's ambitions of substituting 35 per cent of imported capital and auxiliary goods related to manufacturing by 2022.

Jokowi will also capitalise on Indonesia's G-20 presidency to push through key environmental and digital economy policies domestically, namely the implementation of carbon tax in 2022, enforcement of the use of 20 per cent of palm oil and 10 per cent of bioethanol as fuel substitutes (dubbed B20 and E10 respectively), the large-scale use of electric vehicles (EV) and lastly the passage of the personal data protection bill where several aspects mirror the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In addition to exerting pressure to pass domestic policies, Jokowi will use the G-20 summit as an opportunity to announce that Indonesia has "arrived" and leverage its status to court investors. This will have significant impact on Indonesia's closest competitors in the region such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam as it will be the only South-east Asian nation able to directly "pitch" to an audience of this level of prominence.

Jokowi's priority sectors are testament that Indonesia is more self-aware of where its strengths lie. Boosting use of EVs for example, cannot be separated from Indonesia's ambitions to develop sophisticated EV battery supply chains supported by its vast supply of nickel. Jokowi's focus on passing environmental policies is also meant to bolster credibility of Indonesia's commitment to economic growth driven by sustainable energy, ultimately justifying the administration's push for increased use of EVs.

The focus on technology and ensuring adequate access to capital for burgeoning startups is also meant to supersize Indonesia's rapidly growing digital economy. As of Nov 20, Indonesia has produced the second most startups with valuations above US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion) of "unicorns" in the region, behind only Singapore. Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam unicorns trail far behind Indonesia.

It is clear Indonesia is deliberately focusing on industries where its competitors do not have a significant head start.

However, aside from competing for investment against its South-east Asian peers, Indonesia will also raise issues on behalf of its neighbours as the only South-east Asian representative in G-20. Issues such as the ongoing political crisis and Chinese influence in Myanmar as well as its potential repercussions for the Indo-Pacific will be the foremost security issue for Indonesia at the summit.

One notable priority that is sorely missing from Indonesia's G-20 agenda is continuation of designing the implementing framework for pandemic preparedness, as agreed upon in this year's joint Health-Finance Minister Task Force at the G-20 in Rome.

While it is assumed that the pandemic will be manageable by October 2022 when the summit takes place, Indonesia's concerns with equitable access should go hand-in-hand with ensuring the World Health Organisation's goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of the world's population by 2022.

Despite being a founding member of the Health-Finance Minister Task Force, which committed to prepare, prevent, detect and respond to future pandemics, Indonesia's lack of commitment toward pandemic preparedness is also exhibited by its domestic policies.

The 2022 state budget shows a sharp decline in overall healthcare which includes healthcare worker incentives and reforming health systems. There are also no plans to upskill pharmacists to exponentially expand the number of vaccinators and construction of healthcare infrastructure is still centralised in large cities.

The success, or failure, of Indonesia hosting the G-20 summit cannot be divorced from its ability to produce a comprehensive, sustainable plan to mitigate future outbreaks and not merely commit to high-level agreements as Jokowi so clearly avoids.

The writer is an Indo Pacific fellow 2021, Perth USAsia Center, University of Western Australia. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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