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Indonesia: Its potentials to shape its destiny as a major player in world affairs
Indonesia: Its potentials to shape its destiny as a major player in world affairs

Indonesia has been a silent player in world affairs but if it can realize its potential it could play a decisive role in the world of politics

Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami-India

With more than 260 million population in 2017, Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest country, its third largest democracy and its most populous Muslim majority country. The country is nearly a $ trillion economy in GDP nominal, the highest in the Muslim world and 16th largest economy in the world. Comprised with all these high statistics, Indonesia still remains largely a silent player in international politics and is considered to be a more inward looking major country in the world. It may rightly be categorized as a sleeping giant.

Indonesia has gone through numerous critical changes in the last two decades. It is more interconnected and now classified as a lower-middle income country, up from its earlier status as a low income country with its below-standard connecting facilities during early 21st century. Under its current President, Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s economic growth prevails around 5 % despite the much-hyped economic slowdown in major developed and emerging economies of the world. Its infrastructure has attracted massive investments; many bureaucratic hurdles have been truncated that enabled its development to surpass the previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon’s record. Indonesia also holds distinction as the only Muslim-majority and G-20 member country without any major terrorist incident happening in its territory; the other two are Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The world’s largest archipelagic country’s economic performance has been among the best in Asia, and its economy has proved resilient to shocks.  According to a study by the US-based global information company IHS Inc., Indonesian GDP is projected to exceed US$3.7 trillion by 2030, and which would see Indonesia surpass South Korea as the seventh-largest economy in the world. According to McKinsey Global Institute, in 2030 Indonesia’s middle income class would grow into 135 million people, up 45 million from current middle income number. According to the Institute, Indonesia also has an opportunity window to become an advanced country in 2030, with its economy estimated to be the seventh largest in that year. Of those 135 million people, the economic potential for domestic market would be more than tripled from current 500 billion US Dollars to 1.8 trillion US Dollars.

Being relatively passive at the world arena, Indonesia’s indulgence is hardly heard in the Middle East, South China Sea and worldwide anti-Muslim tide issues. It’s rather embroiled in domestic issues despite the administration’s propagation of Indonesian-style Islam (Islam Nusantara). As the most populous Muslim country in the world with strong tradition of tolerance, located in the intersection of two continents and two oceans, Indonesia is historically and geographically endowed with a unique place to become an active player or even leader in the world diplomacy. Its experience in maintaining unity amid threats of separation and temptation of extremism, copes with large potential of “agents of changes” it possesses, and may vitally influence and give weight into current Middle East political situation. Although, Indonesia had been invited to join the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance against terrorism but it has not yet decided about its participation in the 37 member alliance.

The biggest loophole in Indonesia’s quest to become a world player lies in its historically low military spending. From decades in the past, military spending has remained consistently below 1 per cent of GDP. Indonesia’s much lower defense budget harmed its military modernization and the acquisition of big ticket items for the country’s armed forces.  A draft for the 2017 state budget allocates Rp 104.58 trillion (US$8.3 billion), which is barely half of the almost Rp 200 trillion as suggested by the government.

Democracy in Indonesia is still young but it is growing dynamically. Despite numerous problems that Indonesian government has to face, the country has successfully maintained its economic growth, while curbing the unemployment rate, reforming legal system, and building infrastructure. Since 1998, Indonesia has undergone four general elections, which were consecutively won by different political parties, namely Indonesian Democratic Party (1999), Golkar (2004), Democratic Party (2009), and PDI (2014).

Indonesia’s  practical example of smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy has a major role to play in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as also in the politics of larger Muslim world where it can strategically align itself with  other modern democracies in Muslim world such as Turkey, and help the troubled Arab spring countries with its own successful experiences of democratic transition and governance. Such constructive role, if played by Indonesia with due caution, would be historic, not only for the troubled Muslim countries, but for the world at large. By doing so, it would assume the role of leadership while impacting the course of the world affairs in a positive manner. In the current world’s geo-political scenario, this great Muslim country can justifiably discharge its obligations y by coming out of its self-imposed alienation. Its constructive role, particularly in the Arab-spring countries, can prove vitally counteractive against the West-driven Islamophobia worldwide.

Domestically, as long as the economic growth surpasses the inflation year-on-year, it is only a matter of time before the abovementioned potentials turn into reality. Increase in population, ceteris paribus, would result in increase in consumption. Continued economic growth would provide Indonesia with additional resources to invest and to gain political leverage.

It is true that Indonesia is seen as a big brother in ASEAN because Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia with massive population advantage. Indonesia has also played the role of mediator in negotiation of Cambodia and Thailand conflict to prevent clashes between members and maintain the relationships among the members of ASEAN countries. Suffice it to say here, whether Indonesia has been unwilling or unable to use its strategic location and economic heft to project power regionally and globally in the past, now time has come when Indonesia must start seeing beyond ASEAN and should realize its true potential and devise its foreign policy accordingly to play a more decisive role that matches its size and true potential. The course of history is, by far, in its favour in the way as its geography, and which must be utilized fully for the emergence of new power centre in world politics. 

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