Indonesia at UN: ASEAN refuses to be a pawn in ‘a new Cold War’

Shailaja Neelakantan
Indonesia at UN: ASEAN refuses to be a pawn in ‘a new Cold War’ Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Sept. 26, 2022.
[Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

Updated at 4:47 p.m. ET on 2022-09-26

Regional bloc ASEAN will “refuse to be a pawn in a new Cold War,” Indonesia’s top diplomat said at the U.N. on Monday, as she vowed that Jakarta would not let geopolitics block global economic recovery under its G20 presidency.

During her speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spoke twice about how “the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are non-negotiable” but did not mention Russia’s war in Ukraine or territorial tensions in the South China Sea.

As she stood in for Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who was conspicuously absent from the most visible podium on the international diplomatic stage, Retno also criticized many post-war “mini-lateral groupings,” saying they had “become part of a proxy war between major powers.”

“This is not what regional architecture should be. It must serve as the building block for peace and stability rather than undermining them,” she said.

One such regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was formed to advance peace in the region, she said.

“ASEAN was built exactly for this purpose. We refuse to be a pawn in a new Cold War,” Retno said.

“Instead, we actively promote the paradigm of collaboration with all countries. This paradigm will also guide Indonesia’s Chairmanship in ASEAN next year.”

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country, is a founding member of the regional bloc and Jakarta serves as the headquarters of the ASEAN Secretariat. It will take over as ASEAN chair from Cambodia next year, during a tumultuous time for the grouping, when it is dealing with a post-coup crisis in member-state Myanmar.

ASEAN has been roundly criticized for its inaction in Myanmar and for the failure of a five-point consensus that the Burmese military agreed to at an emergency meeting last year. Washington, too, has been pushing ASEAN to take stronger steps against the Burmese junta led by Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Meanwhile, during a keynote appearance at an event in Washington marking the 45th anniversary of U.S.-ASEAN ties, the secretary-general of the bloc referred to the crisis in Myanmar as a “family issue.”

“Very complex issue and will take time ... Always an issue that will be discussed by the family itself. ASEAN will work together in the run-up to the summit and see how we can manage the issue related to a family problem,” Lim Jock Hoi told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think-tank.

The 10-member regional bloc famously operates by consensus. And critics have said that some of the member-states’ close ties with China have prevented stronger action by ASEAN against the Myanmar military.

At the United Nations on Monday, Retno said that Indonesia was very concerned about the Myanmar military’s inaction on the five-point roadmap to return the country to democracy, a roadmap that fellow member-state Malaysia has said should be scrapped in favor of a new approach.

Similarly, ASEAN has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, analysts say, because several countries, including Indonesia, rely on Moscow for their weapons needs.

Indonesia, too, did not directly condemn Russia for the invasion, although it did vote for a U.N. General Assembly resolution in March that “deplored” Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  

‘World is pinning their hope on G20’

Still, Jakarta is caught betwixt and between, because as G20 president this year it has to balance the ire of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, on the one hand, and Russia’s defense of its actions and Beijing’s support of Moscow, on the other.

In March, U.S. President Joe Biden, who is expected to attend the G20 summit in Bali in November, urged President Jokowi to invite Ukraine as a guest if Russia was not expelled from the group. Jokowi did invite Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but it is not yet certain if Russian President Putin will attend the summit.

In her speech on Monday, Retno said there was no option but for the G20 summit to produce some solutions for the struggling post-pandemic world.

“The whole world is pinning their hope on G20 to be a catalyst of global economic recovery, especially for developing countries,” Retno said.

“G20 must not fail. We cannot let global recovery fall at the mercy of geopolitics,” she told the General Assembly.

Ukraine and Russia provide 30 percent of the world’s wheat and barley, a fifth of its maize and more than half of its sunflower oil. The two countries are also major producers and suppliers of fertilizers. In addition, Russia is the world’s largest natural gas exporter and second largest oil exporter.

For almost six months after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it blocked all of the latter’s Black Sea ports and cut off access to almost all of that country’s exports, especially of grain, several news services have reported. Those moves sparked fears of a global food crisis.

Russia has since lifted the blockade under a U.N.-backed deal in July, the Black Sea Grain Initiative, but the spillover effect of the months-long halt of grain exports has led to food inflation in many parts of the world. The rise in food prices comes on top of sky-high fuel prices, amid Western sanctions on Russian oil.

“We must act urgently to address food and energy crises and prevent a fertilizer crisis from happening. Otherwise, billions more people would be at risk, particularly in developing countries,” Retno said.

In such a situation, Retno said, “peaceful solution is the only option to settle any conflicts.”

“My president conveyed these messages of peace in his visits to Kyiv and Moscow last June,” the Indonesian foreign minister said, referring to Jokowi’s so-called peace mission to Ukraine and Russia.

“A habit of dialogue and cooperation would nurture strategic trust,” Retno said.

“These are the rules of the game that we must maintain if we truly want peace.”

Joshua Lipes, with the English Service at Radio Free Asia (RFA), an online news service affiliated with BenarNews, contributed to this report.


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