In July, Indonesia hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta. On the first day of the conference, foreign ministers concluded agreements on ASEAN external relations. Among the points of accord was a decision to initiate inter-secretariat cooperation between ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). The ministers also adopted a concept note on ASEAN-PIF cooperation. This effort to bring Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island countries (PICs) closer is important for the interests of Indonesia and, more broadly, of ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region.
Earlier, Indonesian President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) made a state visit to Papua New Guinea, during which he underscored the importance for ASEAN to have closer relationships and cooperation with Pacific Island countries. Indeed, in the past few years, Indonesia has reiterated its commitment to closer relations with the PICs. Jakarta aims to do this through the Indonesia-Pacific Forum for Development (IPFD), a gathering convened in December 2022 that built on previous interaction between Indonesia and countries in the South Pacific. As Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has said, Indonesia and the PICs share the goals of common security and prosperity.
Why is it important for Indonesia to push ASEAN to have a closer relationship with the PICs through the PIF?
First, there is the geopolitics. With the dynamics of the United States and China rivalry in the Indo-Pacific, Indonesia is concerned that the region should not become a battleground for a proxy war in the competition between the great powers. ASEAN has asserted its neutrality and centrality amid the global contest through the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), released in 2020. Even though some ASEAN countries might prefer to lean one way or the other in balancing their relationships with the US and China, ASEAN as a group has reiterated its commitment to remaining neutral.
As it does so, ASEAN should project its ideals and principles – including the idea of neutrality – beyond the region and across the Indo-Pacific. It is, therefore, important for ASEAN to have closer relations with the PICs. Both ASEAN and the PIF (which was founded in 1971 and includes 18 members) are both key regional organizations in the Indo-Pacific which can be critical platforms for cross-regional cooperation Australia and New Zealand, both part of the PIF, are dialogue partners of ASEAN.