Analysts: As G20 chair, Jokowi should not be skipping UN General Assembly

Dandy Koswaraputra and Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Analysts: As G20 chair, Jokowi should not be skipping UN General Assembly Indonesian President Joko Widodo listens as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during an event with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as part of the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit, in Washington, May 13, 2022.
[Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s absence from the U.N. General Assembly for an eighth consecutive year is a missed opportunity for Jakarta to present its views on major global issues, and lowers Indonesia’s standing as G20 chair, analysts and legislators said.

Since taking office in 2014, Jokowi has never attended the meetings of the world body in person and will not attend this year’s session in New York because he has to deal with urgent domestic issues, the presidential secretariat said.

Sukamta, a lawmaker with the opposition Prosperous Justice Party, said Jokowi’s presence at the United Nations headquarters could be an opportunity to showcase Indonesia’s leadership on the international stage amid a transformation from a unipolar to multi-polar world.

“It is quite unfortunate that Mr. Jokowi is not [going to be] present at the U.N. General Assembly,” Sukamta told BenarNews.

“In today’s uncertain global situation, the world needs new leadership figures.”

Jokowi attended last year’s General Assembly via video link as Southeast Asia’s most populous country was reeling from a surge in COVID-19 cases.

This year, Indonesia is expected to be represented by Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, while Jokowi will stay home, said the head of the presidential secretariat Heru Budi Hartono. Retno is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Monday.

“[The president] wants to focus more on domestic issues first. There are many urgent tasks that need to be discussed with the ministers,” Heru told BenarNews.

However, attending the U.N. meeting in person would have been a good opportunity for Jakarta to demonstrate leadership ahead of what is expected to be a contentious G20 summit in Bali in November, said Yanuardi Syukur, a researcher at the Center for Strategic Policy Studies at the University of Indonesia.

“Ideally, as the G20 chair, Indonesia should take every opportunity to show the world that it is capable of global leadership,” Yanuardi told BenarNews.

In his State of the Nation speech on Aug. 16, Jokowi said that with its chairmanship of the G20 this year and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, Indonesia was “at the pinnacle of global leadership.”

Jokowi now needs to be more assertive at the upcoming G20 summit to make up for his no-show at the General Assembly Hall, Yanuardi said.

The build-up to the meeting in Bali has been fraught in recent months with divisions within the G20 over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Western countries have condemned Russia for invading Ukraine, but other members, including China, Indonesia and India, have refused to follow suit and have maintained ties with Moscow.

As this year’s holder of the rotating G20 presidency, Jokowi has sought unity within the grouping of the world’s 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies ahead of the summit.

In March, U.S. President Joe Biden, who is also expected to attend the summit, urged Jokowi to invite Ukraine as a guest if Russia was not expelled from the group for invading its smaller neighbor in late February.

Jokowi said in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping were both expected to attend the G20 summit.

Dinna Prapto Raharja, co-founder of the Sinergy Policies think-tank, said face-to-face meetings with other leaders during the U.N. General Assembly would have aided Jokowi’s push for G20 unity.

“Presence [at the U.N.] also symbolizes support for multilateralism” amid global power rivalry, Dinna told BenarNews.

‘More concerned with domestic politics’

Muhammad Syaroni Rofii, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Indonesia’s School of Strategic and Global Studies, said Jokowi might have chosen to stay in the country owing to nearly daily street protests against a recent government decision to raise fuel prices by 30 percent.

“It seems that Mr. Jokowi wants to ensure that the domestic situation is stable,” Syaroni told BenarNews.

Syaroni said Jokowi’s physical absence at the General Assembly for eight straight years also might reflect his priorities.

Jokowi is more concerned with domestic politics. Infrastructure development is his top priority. Meanwhile, foreign policy is mostly delegated to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi,” said Syaroni.

Atip Latipulhayat, professor in international law at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, contrasted Jokowi with founding President Sukarno who used his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 to rally the world against imperialism.

“If I was asked to guess the reason, I suspect Mr. Jokowi feels that he is not a man of ideas, unlike Sukarno,” said Atip.

This could be the reason why Jokowi’s attempt to mediate between Russia and Ukraine was not successful, he said.

“Things could be different if he had invested in U.N. forums,” he said.


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