April 28, 2022
Jakarta- Next month’s meeting between ASEAN leaders and US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, will be a golden opportunity for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to salvage the Indonesian presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) and the Bali summit scheduled for November.
While Biden is expected to focus on punishing Russia and containing China’s global rise, Jokowi will focus on persuading his American counterpart to ease his threat to boycott the Bali summit until the Indonesia can find a win-win solution.
All leaders of the 10 ASEAN states except Myanmar are expected to travel to the US capital at Biden’s invitation to commemorate 45 years of ASEAN-US relations on May 12-13. The meeting was originally scheduled for March 28-29, but was later postponed as several ASEAN leaders were busy with their domestic agendas while Biden was concerned about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The postponement of the meeting is already a clear indication that ASEAN is less dependent on Washington today than it was a few decades ago.
Myanmar’s junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, will be absent as he has been banned from attending all ASEAN functions for reneging on his own promise to end the army’s violence against those resisting the junta’s coup on February 1, 2021, which overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Last October, ASEAN held a virtual summit with the United States, as well as similar meetings with the leaders of two other dialogue partners, China and Japan.
“It is a top priority for the Biden-Harris administration to serve as a strong and reliable partner in Southeast Asia. Our shared aspirations for the region will continue to underpin our shared commitment to advancing a free Indo-Pacific. and open, secure, connected and resilient,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said April 16.
President Jokowi is currently facing one of the greatest challenges of his administration since taking office in 2014. Indonesia’s G20 presidency should mark Jokowi’s most valuable diplomatic achievement, especially in light of the little interest he showed in foreign affairs. Despite rifts among G20 members following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Jokowi remains optimistic that leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies will meet in Bali to craft an action plan to achieve the Indonesian G20 theme, “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”. .
The G20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, UK, USA and Europe. Union.
Indonesia has focused its G20 presidency on three main issues: global health architecture, digital transformation of the global economy, and energy transition.
There will be 184 main events throughout the year, including a summit, 20 meetings of ministers and central bank governors, 17 meetings of Sherpas, 56 meetings of working groups and 90 meetings of engagement groups. There are also 257 side events and Road to G20 Indonesia events.
Jokowi carefully choreographed what was to be his crowning achievement, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could crush his ambitions. The likelihood of the Russian-Ukrainian war spoiling the party is very real, but knowing his character, Jokowi will never give up and will keep trying until the very last minute to keep the show going, at all costs.
After Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeatedly threatened to boycott the G20 summit unless the Indonesian host prevented Putin from attending. the event as demanded by the United States and its allies.
They later softened their stance by asking Indonesia to invite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to brief the leaders’ summit on Russia’s alleged atrocities in Ukraine.
Putin will be an unwelcome guest, which is not a first. He left the G20 summit in Australia in 2014 because he felt unwelcome by other G20 leaders after annexing Crimea.
Putin won’t decide to come to Bali alone, so Jokowi has to come up with a face-saving solution. As a Javanese, Jokowi is a master at making everyone feel respected and appreciated, although reality may prove otherwise.
Of course, Biden has a lot to offer to win the hearts of ASEAN leaders to support the United States in its bitter rivalry with Russia. However, it is almost certain that the American president will not be able to bring Indonesia closer to the Western camp. Biden’s efforts to entice Indonesia into joining his multilateral action to isolate China won’t work either.
China’s claim to almost all parts of the South China Sea has become a powerful magnet for many ASEAN countries to draw closer to the United States as the only power capable of forcing China to think twice. times before initiating open warfare or military action to secure his ownership of the resource-rich marine area.
But it is clear that Biden has chosen his favorites. As evidenced by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to Washington on March 29, Biden is prioritizing ASEAN states that already have close military ties with the United States and are ready to accept more troops and American ships at dock or in transit.
“Singapore and the United States are both committed to freedom of navigation as well as the unfettered flow of violence and intimidation,” Biden said at a joint press conference with Lee after their meeting.
Meanwhile, Lee said: “For more than 30 years, we have had a Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation, signed in 1990 and recently renewed in 2019, which has given the United States military access at Singapore Air and Naval Bases.”
Upcoming visits by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines in August and July further indicate that Washington will set aside, at least temporarily, all ASEAN states. who have openly expressed their refusal to follow the American division. mantra of “you are with us or against us”.
It won’t be easy for Jokowi to convince Biden to attend the Bali summit, but at least the US leader seems willing to give Indonesia a chance to save it.