Indonesian President Joko Widodo as Chair of the 43rd ASEAN Summit. Photo by BPMI Setpres.

Prabowo Subianto is set to become Indonesia’s next president after winning an estimated 58 percent of the vote in the presidential election on 14 February. He inherits the leadership of a country currently enjoying robust economic growth. But the path forward is not as idyllic as it might seem.

In the short term, Indonesia faces external vulnerabilities stemming from global environmental and geopolitical uncertainties and the looming spectre of high inflation, driven by soaring food and energy prices. Simultaneously, the nation grapples with persistent, deep-seated economic weaknesses – sluggish consumption growth, limited job creation, premature deindustrialisation, unemployment and the threat of extreme poverty stemming from widening income inequality.

Despite these challenges, the deal cut between Prabowo and the outgoing president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo – which saw his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka appointed as Prabowo’s running mate – will likely see continued implementation of Jokowi’s Golden Indonesia 2045 vision, which plans to transform Indonesia into a rich country with an advanced economy.

Achieving developed status by 2045 is a worthwhile aspiration, but the journey is fraught with complexities. Indonesia cannot simply assume that wealth guarantees global influence. Measured in terms of Purchasing Power Parity, the Chinese economy is now 22 percent larger than the US. This has made it the economic centre of gravity in Asia but China still struggles to project diplomatic and soft power influence throughout the region.

Indonesia will need do more than tout its newfound riches for international sway – a Golden Indonesia will also demand diplomatic finesse and strategic alliances.

The elephants in the room

One of Indonesia’s most significant challenges is the current great power strategic competition that is constraining the world’s ability to resolve major global challenges. This rivalry has resulted in trade and investment diversion, economic coercion and unilateral sanctions.

As a result, national security considerations have taken precedence over economic prosperity considerations for many countries in recent years. Increasingly tense geopolitics has pushed the world towards a zero-sum outlook, where many countries now face conflicts between national security and economic interests.

For smaller countries this can create decision-making dilemmas, narrow policy options and force vicious trade-offs between prosperity and security.

In the face of US-China rivalry, Indonesia must assert its position in an evolving global order on the world stage with agility and nuance.

In a world where no single hegemonic power dominates, it will be crucial to prioritise concerted unilateral efforts. This means isolating and carefully managing the genuinely zero-sum aspects of the US-China relationship to maintain an open global economic system and prevent a descent into extreme solutions.

Indonesia needs to join the call to action for the international community to safeguard and uphold our shared strategic interests, ensuring the preservation of an open global economic system rather than succumbing to the zero-sum dynamics between these two superpowers.

Rethinking Indonesia’s foreign policy ambition

Indonesia’s current vision of global order is based on preserving autonomy, notably for small and middle countries to have the freedom to determine their own path without external interference. It reflects a broader trend in which emerging nations, particularly those from the Global South, seek to assert their influence and chart their economic paths. Indonesia, alongside other countries like India, has backed a new narrative that champions the economic rights of developing nations and calls for a more inclusive global economic order.

However, under Jokowi, Indonesia pursued these aims in a very passive way. Without taking tangible and constructive action on the international stage, Indonesia will only lag behind other Asian counterparts – like China and India – and miss out on the potential to achieve great power status amid the wave of a rising Asia and the shift of global power from West to East.

Instead of sitting back and proclaiming the country’s economic potential, the incoming administration should focus on leveraging Indonesia’s newfound economic clout to shape global power dynamics amidst the growing US-China tensions that challenge regional stability.

For instance, Indonesia should work through ASEAN to establish a more strategic vision for the region and address diverging priorities among member states. As the largest country in ASEAN, Indonesia can play a more prominent leadership role and build consensus on how to address the region’s critical challenges, including bridging differences with Myanmar and mediating territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and ASEAN members.

The next president needs to devise a strategic and nuanced foreign policy that can elevate Indonesia’s place in the world and take concrete actions to maintain regional stability and prosperity – and that will mean more than just relying on economic growth to do all the work.

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