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DISENCHANTMENT with ASEAN could see Indonesia adopt a more vocal stance on the global stage . . . 

SINGAPORE — A post-Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Indonesia could well be more nationalistic, and is likely to be more
vocal on global issues affecting Islam.

That’s the view of US Professor Donald Weatherbee, who had been a student of politics in the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) for four decades. He believes Indonesian foreign policy is likely to change with the incoming Administration under a new President, who will be inaugurated by October 2014.

A rising middle power with a trillion-dollar economy, Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population and is the world’s third-largest democracy. As such, it could seek to be more visible and vocal in regional and global affairs, Weatherbee says.

Although Indonesia is a non-secular State and a moderate Islam nation, the fact is that all political parties in Indonesia are Muslim, and their politicians listen to the concerns of their constituents, he adds.

Weatherbee, who is Professor Emeritus at the Institute of International Studies, University of South Carolina, and a visiting Professor to many Southeast Asian universities, says he expects Indonesia’s next President to campaign on a platform that moves towards
Islamic issues — but as a “lateral” issue.

Islam is a factor that has emerged in Indonesia’s relationship with Myanmar. Having watched the conflict between Muslims and the Buddhists in that country, President Yudhoyono was recently moved to urge Yangon to resolve the conflict.

Indonesia is a player within the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (IOC), where it has a role as a moderate Islam State in providing a bridge between the Islamic world and the world at large, he says.

Concurrent with Indonesia’s rise as a middle power, ASEAN as a cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy has diminished. Weatherbee told a seminar at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore that he believes this fundamental shift in Indonesia foreign policy is a result of the country’s disappointment and disenchantment with ASEAN.

For decades, and now continuing under SBY’s Administration, Indonesia has looked to ASEAN as the core of its foreign policy strategy. But ASEAN has repeatedly failed Indonesia, in that it could not be relied upon to present a unified voice — even in affairs that affected its own members.

Outside of its cumulative economic efforts, ASEAN does not have the capability, the
political will or the strategic coherence to shape common policy necessary to be an effective international actor, Weatherbee says. 

ASEAN has left Vietnam and the Philippines, which are in dispute with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea, stranded — revealing the rift in the ASEAN grouping, which was set up to protect security and promote solidarity in the region.

ASEAN has failed to speak up for its members, and can no longer pretend to project a single voice on behalf of its member States, Weatherbee says, adding that ASEAN’s pursuit of a Code of Conduct on maritime activities in the South China Sea — which he refers to “an ASEAN dead end” — has fractured the unity of ASEAN on political and security issues.

Indonesia made a frantic diplomatic effort last year to save face for the grouping following the failure of Cambodia, as Chair of an ASEAN Summit, to issue a declaration which mentioned the dispute with China. It was the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history that a Chairman’s declaration was not issued at the conclusion of a meeting.

Weatherbee speaks of a deepening gulf between continental ASEAN — members of the Greater Mekong Subregion — and ASEAN’s maritime States as the most ominous internal division within. 

The Mekong States, particularly Laos and Cambodia, are oriented towards China, with growing economic ties and political links. Through them, China has increasing influence over the politics of ASEAN. 

Weatherbee surmises that Indonesia has no choice but to look for an alternative in its own national interest in speaking out unilaterally on issues of importance.