The Politics of Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under President Joko Widodo

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The South China Sea disputes continue to be one of the most pertinent security issues in Southeast Asia. Historically, Indonesia has adopted a hedging strategy that combines maintaining good (particularly economic) relations with China, while preparing for contingencies. However, under the administration of President Joko Widodo, the government has adopted a more confusing approach that projects assertiveness during certain events (e.g. the March 2016 “standoff” with Chinese paramilitary vessels), while adopting a more careful approach in others (e.g. releasing a bland press statement regarding China’s rejection of the July 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling on the legality of China’s “nine-dash line”). Additionally, events surrounding the South China Sea disputes often elicit different (sometimes contradictory) statements by different government officials. Indonesia’s official foreign policy towards the South China Sea disputes has not changed. Rather, competing interests and objectives among intranational and societal actors have made Indonesia’s response on the South China Sea more complex. In part, this can be attributed to the Jokowi administration’s ambitious maritime agenda, conceptualized under the “Global Maritime Axis”, that aims to strengthen state sovereignty over maritime resources and maritime boundaries. These domestic imperatives receive high priority and have empowered a number of intra-national actors, while weakening others. This study will examine how foreign policymaking has been made more complex by the administration’s maritime agenda, while also examining how democratization has affected foreign policymaking overall, by focusing on how intra-national competition and bargaining shape state behaviour.

Gatra Priyandita completed his Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Security (Honours) at the ANU in 2014. He commenced his PhD candidature at the Department of Political and Social Change in 2016.

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