Indonesia wants Asean to be axis of Indo-Pacific strategy

JAKARTA (The Straits Times/ANN) - It aims to get other member states on board to build free and open regional framework.

Indonesia wants to work with other Asean countries to strengthen the regional architecture under an Indo-Pacific cooperation, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in her annual speech yesterday.

The world's largest archipelagic nation aims to focus on maintaining stability, security and welfare in regions surrounding the Pacific and Indian oceans, which it considers a "single geostrategic theatre".

"We must all ensure that the Indian and Pacific oceans do not become a site of battle for natural resources, regional conflicts and maritime supremacy," Ms Retno said at the event attended by foreign ambassadors and diplomats.

The United States, Japan, Australia and India have advocated a "free and open Indo-Pacific" to augment strategic cooperation among like-minded maritime powers. It involves countries situated within the world's major oceans.

However, there have been different interpretations of the concept. The US, for instance, envisions wider cooperation with Japan, Australia and India as a way to contain China, which has been trying to exert greater power over South-east Asian countries through its multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo first introduced the country's vision of the concept during the East Asia Summit last November in Singapore. It is based on the key principles of openness, inclusivity, cooperation, dialogue, respect for international law and Asean centrality.

Asean so far has yet to unite on the issue and may deliberate it in the foreign ministers' retreat next week in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Dr Beginda Pakpahan, a political and economic analyst on global affairs at University of Indonesia, said Indonesia must exercise its free and active approach at the centre of major powers and cooperation.

Along with its Asean neighbours, Indonesia must take an independent stance in the creation of regional governance based on the Indo-Pacific concept, he added.

"The goal is to make Asean an axis of symmetrical interests between itself and its external partners. It can offer peace, regional stability and economic prosperity for countries located between the two oceans," Dr Beginda told The Straits Times.

"By existing means, such as the East Asia Summit and Asean regional forums, Indonesia and other Asean countries must put themselves in the driver's seat in the Indo-Pacific framework," he added.

Ms Retno, who is Indonesia's first female foreign minister, also said Asean must be proactive in responding to developments in the region and become the driver of change.

Underlining the importance of stability and security in the South China Sea, she said Indonesia will make sure that the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties, which Asean and China settled late last year, can be fully implemented, and an agreement on the code of conduct will be completed within the next three years, as expected.

Indonesia also plans to introduce several initiatives to expand regional partnerships, including the Indonesia-South Pacific Forum and Indo-Pacific Maritime Dialogue.

It will also exercise its rights as a member of the United Nations Security Council this year till the next.

It will focus on peacekeeping, fighting terrorism and supporting Palestine, among other issues, said Ms Retno.

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