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Moscow, Kyiv welcomed at G20 summit

By PRIME SARMIENTO and YANG HAN in Hong Kong | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-05-17 07:59

Neutrality, non-alignment principle guides Indonesia's policy, experts say

Efforts by Indonesia to include Russia and Ukraine in November's Group of 20 summit, despite pressure from Western nations to exclude Russia, reflect the country's stated commitment to neutrality and non-alignment, experts say.

Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president and current chair of the G20, a bloc comprising 20 of the world's major developed and developing economies, has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the summit, to be held on the island of Bali.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have urged Widodo to bar Putin from attending the summit in light of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, G20 member countries including Argentina, Brazil and China have opposed this call.

Widodo said in a statement last month that "Indonesia wants to unite the G20, not let there be fractures". He said peace and stability were key to the recovery and development of the world economy.

The Indonesian leader has also invited Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, to the summit. Ukraine is not a G20 member, but as host, Indonesia can invite guests to attend.

By welcoming both Russia and Ukraine to the summit, Indonesia is "making a bold gamble", Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, said in an interview. "Inviting one without the other is unacceptable."

Thitinan said that by inviting Putin and Zelensky, Indonesia could "take the high ground and (showcase) … a platform for both sides to be at the same table", even though the G20 is a platform to discuss the economy and development.

While one cannot say what the situation will be like in November concerning the Russia-Ukraine conflict, "the Indonesian move seizes the initiative", he said.

Thitinan said that there was an "outside chance" that Indonesia could serve as a mediator, noting that "this would be the ideal outcome for Indonesia, holding the G20 successfully with a global broker role" in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Ian Wilson, senior lecturer in politics at Australia's Murdoch University, has a less sanguine view. He said that Indonesia's invitation to Ukraine could serve as a "symbolic overture", adding that Indonesia's impartiality and neutral stance reflect the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' principle of non-interference.

Indonesia's foreign policy is anchored by the principle of bebas dan aktif, an Indonesian phrase that translates to "independent and active", experts say. The nation is independent and will not side with any world power. At the same time, Indonesia is not a passive state, and it aims to actively contribute to the settlement of pressing global issues.

'Earning global trust'

For example, the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that holding the G20's rotating presidency will help Indonesia "earn credibility or global trust in leading the global recovery efforts (following the pandemic). Credibility is invaluable capital in diplomacy and foreign policy".

Indonesia was among the ASEAN member countries that voted in favor of the UN General Assembly's resolution demanding Russia to "immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw "its military forces from Ukraine. However, it rejected the Western countries' move to impose unilateral sanctions against Russia.

Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer in international relations at Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani in Bandung, said that it is unlikely that Indonesia will succumb to any pressure to disinvite Putin from the G20 summit.

Yohanes said Indonesia needs to protect its relationship with Russia, as Moscow is a key source of investment and military weapons.

He said there is also domestic pressure on Widodo to reject the Western countries' demand to exclude Putin from the G20. Any move otherwise would be viewed as weakness and bowing to Western demands, Yohanes said.

Indonesia's adherence to an independent and active foreign policy has been evident since 1955, when then Indonesian president Sukarno convened the Bandung Conference. The conference, attended by Asian and African leaders, ended with a pledge to remain neutral in the Cold War and led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement, in 1961. To this day, the principle of non-alignment continues to guide Indonesia's foreign policy.

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