Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies

Indonesia’s ‘Great Power’ aspirations: a critical view

By Greg Fealy and Hugh White

Indonesia is readying itself for a return to a diplomatic assertiveness not seen since the early 1960s. Partly, this reflects the approach of 0050 resident Joko Widodo and his government, but it also reflects growing aspirations among the wider circles of Indonesia’s elites for their country to act as, and be acknowledged as a ‘big country’ – negara besar. This constitutes a significant shift from the traditions of low-key diplomacy of the New Order and Reformasi eras. Several factors are pushing this shift. Indonesia’s growing economic weight will, over time, provide more of the foundations of national power than it has had hitherto. The changing regional strategic and political order will make it harder for Indonesia to take its place in Asia for granted and to assume that its intentional interests can be protected primarily through ASEAN. And domestically the trend to rising nationalism will provide political incentives to greater assertiveness. On the other hand, Indonesia still has big hurdles to overcome before it can act as an effective major power in Asia. Its economic trajectory remains uncertain, its military is weak, its diplomatic capacities are underdeveloped, and it lacks a clearly articulated set of policy objectives to pursue. So, it remains to be seen whether Indonesia’s aspirations to major power status will be realised.

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