Indonesia stresses 'Asian way' for resolving challenges in a multipolar region

Indonesia's Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto speaks at a plenary session during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 11, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Indonesia's Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto on Saturday (June 11) stressed Asian nations' prerogative to use their own brand of diplomacy to resolve the geopolitical challenges that come their way, as he expounded on the rationale behind his country's choice not to take sides in international conflicts.

Drawing upon the political history of Indonesia and its surrounding region, Mr Prabowo said those experiences had brought about an awareness in Asian nations of the importance of "wise and benevolent leadership".

"South-east Asia - in fact, Asia - has been for many centuries at the crossroads of imperialism, big-power domination, exploitation, depredation," the defence minister said at Asia's top security summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore.

"We are the most affected by big-power competition, and therefore… we have come to our own - the Asian way - of resolving these challenges. Our common experience of being dominated, enslaved, exploited, has forced us now to strive to create a peaceful environment, one of friendship.

"We have our differences, we have competing territorial claims… but our view is that we must strive for understanding, for communication, and we are proud that we have… achieved nearly 50 years of peace, friendly cooperation and prosperity."

Mr Prabowo - who was speaking at a plenary session on managing geopolitical competition in a multipolar region - defined “the Asian way” as each country in the region having its own approaches towards resolving its challenges “in a mutually beneficial way… without resorting to any force”, while at the same time maintaining good relations with its neighbours and the big powers. 

The minister said Russia's invasion of Ukraine had shown Indonesia that it cannot take its security and independence for granted, making a case for strengthening its defences.

Indonesia supports "a rules-based international order because we are the most affected by any order that just relies on big powers, and our experience of being colonised, being exploited, is always in our subconsciousness", he said.

Strategic neutrality

But Mr Prabowo also highlighted Jakarta's policy of strategic neutrality and respect for the rights of the big powers.

"This sounds like we are sitting on the fence, but no, this is a conscious decision because, for us, to respect the interests of all our neighbours and all the big powers in this region is essential," the minister said.

Indonesia has adopted the United Nations General Assembly's resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine and demanding for Russia's immediate withdrawal, but it has declined Kyiv's request for weapons, though it says it is ready to send humanitarian aid.

"Your enemy is not necessarily my enemy," Mr Prabowo said, citing a popular quote by anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in explaining Indonesia's foreign policy stance.

Indonesia remembers the help it has received from various countries including the United States, Russia and China in its times of struggle, and it will not forget these favours in the good times, he added.

On a question of whether the multilateral alliances of Aukus and Quad were compatible with the Asian way of resolving challenges in the region, the defence minister responded that countries have to “decide for themselves what their priorities and security needs are”.

Aukus is a security pact involving Australia, Britain and the US, while Quad is a strategic forum comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US. Both alliances are seen as having been set up as a means of dealing with China's increased assertiveness in recent years.

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Mr Prabowo added, however, that countries should respect "the national interests" of China and its "rightful rise back to its position as a great civilisation".

Separately, France's defence minister Sebastien Lecornu and Japan's Defence Minister Kishi Nobuo also spoke at the plenary session.

Mr Kishi warned that ties between China and Russia could deepen - heightening security concerns in Asia - as Moscow faces a slew of international sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine.

"Japan is surrounded by actors that possess, or are developing, nuclear weapons, and that openly ignore rules," he said.

Mr Lecornu, meanwhile, sought to allay concerns that Europe was too distracted with the war in Ukraine to pay attention to developments in the Asia-Pacific.

"Sometimes people fear and say that the crisis in Europe and Ukraine might take us away from the Indo-Pacific or might lead to the French Republic cutting back on some important commitments; this will not be the case," the French minister said.

"Your stakes are also our stakes... The problems of the Indo-Pacific are also the problems of Europe."

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