04 Maret 2010

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Mythology and history of Indonesian diplomacy

Mengkubuwono, an old Javanese expression, means assuming a role as guardian of the world. We once decolonized the world through the Afro-Asian Conference and mitigated the global Cold War through the Non-Aligned Movement. Our global orientation revived as we were invited to become a member of the prestigious G20. Should ASEAN remain the cornerstone (soko-guru) of our foreign policy?
If mythology and history matter, the making of Indonesia’s concentric circle of diplomacy was influenced by the feeling of insecurity linked to the susceptibility of our vast archipelago.
The invasions of Java by Emperor Kubilai Khan in the 13th century (during the Singasari/Majapahit era) and then by Emperor Hirohito in mid-20th century (during Indonesia’s revolution era), show the vulnerability of our Northern periphery.

Thus, the naval expeditions Pamalayu, by Singasari in 1275, and Sabrang Lor, by Demak in 1521, were in fact examples of gunboat diplomacy to correct these weaknesses.
Thus, our concentric circle of diplomacy is about defense. Indeed, K.J. Holsti (1992) maintains that diplomacy is about “defending” national interests by “communicating” with those whose actions we wish to deter.
Since the writing of Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War (3rd century BC) or Vyasa’s Mahabharata (4th century BC), scholars have learned how defense strategy can be adapted into diplomacy, or vice-versa.
As Mpu Sedah and Panuluh adapted Mahabharata into Kakawin in 1157, Javanese elites learned about the concentric circle of defense, called Chakravyuha. Negarakertagama (1365) reveals the implementation of Chakravyuha by Majapahit in its diplomatic relations with vassal kingdoms throughout the Indonesian archipelago and beyond.
As Java was the center of Majapahit, the first layer of defense was extended Northwards, to include Sumatra, the Malacca Strait, the Malay Peninsula (including Singapore) and the Northern coasts of Borneo (including nowadays Sarawak and Sabah).
The second layer included the rest of the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos. The third layer covered a region of the now ASEAN “CLMV”, which by then included Champa, Cambodia, Siam, Burma (Myanmar) and Vietnam.
Mataram also adopted a three-layered Chakravyuha that consisted of the main territory called negara, the greater area called negara agung, and the neighboring territory called manca negara (Siti Widayatsari, 2002).
Embedded in Chakravyuha is the “North-South axis”. The North represents challenge and opportunity. The South represents an escape route to the South Sea. As Japanese forces invaded Java in 1942, Dutch forces used the port of Cilacap in the South as an escape route to Australia (Susanto Zuhdi, 2006).
Sukarno, Soeharto and Yudhoyono, all Javanese, adhered, unconsciously perhaps, to the principles of Chakravyuha.
However, under Sukarno, the Afro-Asian Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement not Southeast Asia regionalism were the cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy. Sukarno even embarked on konfrontasi politics with Malaysia.
Soeharto ended Sukarno’s confrontation and founded ASEAN, just two years after the Indonesia’s 1965 bloodshed.
Against the backdrop of the rampaging war in Indochina, and much worried Domino Theory, Soeharto made ASEAN the cornerstone of his foreign policy.
Soeharto treated ASEAN in the way a Mataram prince protected nagara agung. In 1987, Soeharto deployed Indonesian warships off Manila Bay in a bid to deter Honasan’s and communist rebel armies from disrupting the ASEAN Summit in Manila.
Under Yudhoyono’s presidency, ASEAN remained strategically important for Indonesia, but Yudho-yono would not deploy the Indonesian navy to help Thailand secure the ASEAN Summit in 2009, which was eventually cancelled because of chaotic anti-government protests there.
Being articulate, Yudhoyono’s diplomatic style is close to Sukarno’s. He focuses more on global issues that affect Indonesia most (i.e. climate change and financial crises). Yudhoyono also has revitalized the Afro-Asian ties and promoted an ASEAN-based Asia-Pacific political architecture.
With the pressing need for a more proactive, multilateral diplomacy, our current concentric circle hardly accommodates the complexity of our interests across layers.
For instance, ASEAN is placed in the first layer, while ASEAN+3 — of which China, Japan and South Korea are of paramount importance to our economy — is in the second layer. The layer-ordering for the UN, WTO and G20, however, are not clear (deplu.go.id).
As such, our concentric circle Chakravyuha should be modified into Sudarshana Chakra (Vishnu’s sacred weapon), which is a single base chakra in “all directions”, with outward pointing serrations along its edges.
There are two options in repositioning ASEAN in the new chakra. The first option is to place the ASEAN Community at the base of the Sudarshana Chakra, and thus ASEAN will become the basis of our global politics. But do we have the determination to treat ASEAN as our negara agung?
The second option is to regard ASEAN as one of the main serrations. It is our national interest, as identified in the RPJM (Midterm National Development Plan), which should be placed at the base of the chakra, and hence become a guide for our global politics.
With this new chakra, our diplomatic approaches toward “home-region” (ASEAN), strategic regions (Asia, Oceania, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, America, etc), multilateral fora (i.e. the UN, WTO, G20) and strategic issues, are all treated as serrations of equal importance.
If Yudhoyono’s “all direction foreign policy” is to be implemented beyond rhetoric, the shift from Chakravyuha to Sudarshana Chakra represents a change of mindset, from “defending”, to actively “projecting” our national interests abroad.

Siswo Pramono, The writer is a researcher at
the Policy Planning Agency under the Foreign Ministry, and a lecturer at the Graduate School of Diplomacy, Paramadina University, Jakarta. This is a personal opinion

Opini The Jakarta Post 05 Maret 2010