Indonesia Table of Contents

Since its founding on August 8, 1967, ASEAN has been a major focus of Indonesia's regional international relations. In ASEAN Indonesia, together with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, helped construct a regional multinational framework to facilitate economic cooperation, diminish intra-ASEAN conflict, and formulate ASEAN positions regarding perceived potential external threats. From the point of view of Jakarta--the site of ASEAN's general secretariat--ASEAN's predecessor organizations had been flawed. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)--established in 1954 and composed of Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States--included only two Southeast Asian members. Established as part of the network of United States security alliances, SEATO was seen as violating the principle of nonalignment. The Association of Southeast Asia (ASA)--established in 1961 and composed of Malaya (as Malaysia was then known), the Philippines, and Thailand--was seen by Jakarta as suspect because of the overlapping SEATO memberships of two of the members. In 1963 the proposed nonpolitical confederation Maphilindo (for Malaya, the Philippines, and Indonesia) was, for Jakarta and Manila, a tactic to prevent or delay the formation of the Federation of Malaysia. Manila had its own claim to Sabah (formerly North Borneo) and Indonesia protested the formation of Malaysia as a British imperialist plot. When Maphilindo failed, Indonesia turned to political and military Confrontation, an attempt to undermine the new state of Malaysia. Sukarno's radical anti-Western rhetoric, combined with the growing strength of the PKI, marked Indonesia as a disturber of the regional international order rather than a cooperative, peaceful contributor to it.

By 1967 Indonesia's disruptive stance had changed. ASEAN provided a framework for the termination of the IndonesianMalaysian Confrontation, allowing Indonesia to rejoin the regional community of nations in a nonthreatening setting. Furthermore, the five founding members of ASEAN (Brunei became a member in 1984) now shared common policies of domestic anticommunism. The ASEAN process of decision making by consensus allowed Indonesia to dictate the pace of change within ASEAN. Some observers asserted that ASEAN moved only at the pace of its slowest member, which often was Indonesia. With ASEAN increasingly seen as a symbol of regional peace and stability, its maintenance became an end in itself in Indonesian foreign policy. Suharto became ASEAN's elder statesman by the time of ASEAN's 1992 Fourth Summit in Singapore. He was the only head of government at ASEAN's 1967 establishment or at the 1976 Bali First Summit who was still head of government in 1992.

Within the ASEAN framework, Jakarta was hesitant about committing itself to permanent structures and agreements that would facilitate functional integration. In particular, Indonesia was resistant to market sharing, fearing that its market, by far the largest in ASEAN, would be swamped by the exports of its more competitive ASEAN partners. It was only reluctantly that Indonesia agreed to accept in principle the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) contained in the fourth summit's document, "Framework Agreement on Enhancing ASEAN Economic Cooperation." Although committed to AFTA in theory, Indonesia, again as ASEAN's slowestpaced member, won a fifteen-year delay of the implementation of AFTA, and the mechanism of the Common Effective Preferential Tariff was adopted as the instrument of transition. This measure meant that a future exemptions list would dictate the economic significance of items in the Common Effective Preferential Tariff's broad trade categories.

Moreover, there was some question as to whether Indonesia was outgrowing ASEAN in terms of economic cooperation. Indonesia invested the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)--a grouping of ASEAN members and major East Asian and Pacific trading countries established in 1989--with greater significance than some of its ASEAN partners. It was Indonesia's desire to promote broad multilateral forums, such as APEC, that led it to resist more narrowly based schemes such as the East Asia Economic Grouping proposed by Malaysia, which in its original formulation had the exclusive trading bloc characteristics of Japan-based general trading companies. The Malaysian plan was downgraded at the Singapore ASEAN summit to a proposed caucus and referred to committee.

Although Indonesia was the last member nation of ASEAN to embrace fully the organization's economic potential, its leaders saw early that ASEAN could be used as a vehicle to promote a regional political identity. Through ASEAN, Indonesia became the most articulate advocate of a Southeast Asian Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) and a Southeast Asian NuclearFree Zone (NFZ). The ZOPFAN ideal was enshrined in the 1971 Kuala Lumpur Declaration and given lip service by all ASEAN members. Since the July 1984 Seventeenth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Indonesia insisted on giving the ZOPFAN ideal high priority. Between the third (1987) and fourth (1992) ASEAN summits, a major alteration in the regional political-military power presence of the former Soviet Union and the United States lessened the urgency for such a treaty. Although the Fourth Summit's Singapore Declaration of 1992 stated that ASEAN would continue to seek the realization of a ZOPFAN and NFZ, it would be done "in consultation with friendly countries, taking into account changing circumstances [emphasis added]."

Indonesia's vigorous push for these zones involved a number of foreign policy interests that corresponded to other policy goals. As a leading nonaligned power, one of Indonesia's consistent policy goals was to reduce regional dependence on external military powers. Second, the zones would improve the prospect of integrating Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos into a wider, peaceful Southeast Asian international order. The zones responded to the residual xenophobic element of Indonesian nationalism. The accomplishment of a nuclear-weapons-free ZOPFAN would heighten Indonesia's profile as a middle power with international aspirations. One of the reasons why some ASEAN nations were reluctant to embrace the zones fully was the perception that one outcome might be to enhance a regional hegemonic role for Indonesia. The question of Indonesia's future regional role was made more pertinent once the need for ASEAN solidarity on the issues posed by the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978 passed.

More about the Government and Politics of Indonesia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress