Bismillahirrahmanirrahim. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Dr John Chipman, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured for the opportunity to address this distinguished forum. I congratulate you as you mark the first decade of the Shangri-La Dialogue. Over the years, this forum has been instrumental in bringing together officials and stakeholders in the defence community. As such, the Shangri-La Dialogue has made a significant contribution to the strengthening of peace and cooperation in our region and beyond.
Today, I wish to speak to you about how we can seize strategic opportunities to build a durable architecture for peace in our region. That durable architecture can only happen if we work together to evolve a new geopolitics: the geopolitics of cooperation.
Let me begin with this point: our geopolitical landscape is being transformed. Five decades ago, if you drew a matrix of countries in the region and tried to map out bilateral partnerships between them, you would see lots of empty boxes. Beyond Cold War alliances, and beyond normal bilateral relations, there was not much else. However, today that same matrix is full of checked boxes, showing one important fact: that almost every country in the region has established an elaborate web of diplomatic, security or economic partnerships with other countries.
The same is true for regional organisations. Several decades ago, not only were there only a few regional organisations in our region, but membership in those organisations was also very limited. Today, we see a matrix that is much more elaborate, with many more member countries, and also full of checked boxes. Indonesia too has moved from membership in only one regional organisation in late 1960s, to becoming member of at least eight regional forums today: the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), ASEAN Plus Three, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit (EAS), the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, and the Bali Democracy Forum. That is a fundamental reflection of how our region has changed.
As we look around the region, we can feel gratified with where we are today, and with our future prospects. Southeast Asia, once sharply divided, is now home to ‘ASEAN 10’, all bound to achieve an ASEAN Community by 2015. There is no war in Southeast Asia and, in contrast with the past, ASEAN states are in charge of regional affairs. Trade barriers between ASEAN states are down, and connectivity is increasing. We have decisively moved on from a region of conflict and division, to a region of peace, progress and cooperation.
Overall, Asia too is changing. Relations across the board have long been de-ideologised. Emerging powers are rising. The strategic and economic weight of the world is shifting towards this region. There is talk about this being the Asian century, though I am more inclined to call it the Asia-Pacific century.
For the first time in history, the relationships among the major powers are peaceful, stable and cooperative. From New Delhi, to Jakarta, to Beijing and Seoul, the region is brimming with optimism and dynamism. Goodwill is becoming more abundant in inter-state relations. Cross-border linkages between our citizens are at their peak and globalism is increasingly embraced. Compare this with just a few decades ago, when we lived under the threat of nuclear holocaust, major wars, proxy wars, polarisation and conflict.
Today, geopolitical relationships in Asia remain fluid. Countries are changing, and relationships are changing. The geopolitical ramifications of the political changes in the Arab Spring countries for the rest of Asia remain to be seen. It is worth reminding them of Indonesia’s case, where, in the early years of democratic transition, things got worse before they got better, and for a short period we became inward-looking. But once democracy settled down, we resumed our outward-looking posture and became a stronger force for ASEAN. We have since pursued a ‘million friends and zero enemies’ diplomatic strategy.
Perhaps Indonesia’s lessons would be relevant to Myanmar. Recent political developments in Myanmar, which we welcome, are opening up new diplomatic and economic opportunities, have led to the easing of sanctions from the US and European Union, and also to the strengthening of ASEAN as a political and security community. We urge the international community to continue to support Myanmar’s democratic transition and reforms – with all its expected ups and downs – and we look forward to Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014.
The geopolitical fluidity of our region reveals some shortcomings and vulnerabilities. For one, the overall security architecture of our region still needs to catch up with the much more refined economic architecture in the Asia-Pacific. Some strategic distrust still persists. In the past, threats to geopolitical stability came from military invasion and occupation. Today, most geopolitical risks come not so much from the threat of military attack, but from conditions of mistrust, miscalculation and miscommunication, which give rise to occasional eruptions of incidents. This is why we are seeing an escalation of disputes, border clashes, naval stand-offs, brinkmanship and the like.
As we enter the 21st century, we have the opportunity to build a durable architecture for peace in our region. This architecture can be more durable, and more peaceful, than at any regional order in previous decades or centuries. How do we achieve durable architecture for peace in our region? What conditions must be achieved to attain it? Let me offer some thoughts.
To begin with, a durable architecture must be built on a strong and dynamic regionalism. Regionalism, of course, is a tricky thing to build. It is about cultivating among governments and peoples a real sense of belonging to a region, and a willingness to work together for it. It is not just a diplomatic undertaking; it is an economic, political and psychological phenomenon.
This is what we are trying to achieve in Southeast Asia, a strong regionalism driven by a robust commitment to the common vision of an ASEAN community. ASEAN itself took time to build: before joining ASEAN, there was a time when Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar perceived ASEAN with much suspicion, and kept a distance from the Association. However, today they are all equal stakeholders in the big ASEAN family. In this way, regionalism has created strategic opportunities that have fundamentally altered geopolitical relationships in Southeast Asia.
Wherever it grows, it is important that such regionalism connects with nationalism. In other words, countries must see their regional identity as complementary with their national identity. In the larger Asia-Pacific region, it is true that a sense of Asia-Pacific community does not yet exist, despite numerous efforts to promote it. However, even in the absence of a clear-cut community, we do have layer after layer of regional schemes and platforms. Perhaps someday they will naturally bring the Asia-Pacific into a deeper sense of community, but make no mistake: a sense of loose regionalism is already in the making.
There are those who say that the regional architecture is still messy, like an alphabet soup or spaghetti bowl. I do not dispute that. For now, though, we can live with it. The proliferation of these regional undertakings – from APEC and ARF to EAS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and others, whatever their acronyms – is a positive trend. I do believe that such regionalism should eventually include all countries in the region. Presently, this has not been totally attained in our region. North Korea, for a variety of reasons, is still isolated. Timor Leste is still not part of ASEAN.
A durable architecture must also be built on a dynamic equilibrium. Keeping this dynamic equilibrium is important in view of the evolving power relationships, a process that will continue well into the coming decades. This dynamic equilibrium consists of at least two major challenges: first, ensuring that the state of relations among the major powers will remain peaceful, stable and cooperative well into the long future.
If a new pattern of polarisation and rivalry among the major powers emerges, that will be a step backward and will lead regional affairs in the wrong direction. In this connection, we are encouraged that the United States and China are attempting to evolve a positive, cooperative relationship. Given their combined strategic, diplomatic, economic and demographic weight, US-China relations will have impacts far beyond their bilateral relations. With their enormous economic potential, it is natural that many countries want to build good relations with both China and the United States. Both the US and China have an obligation not just to themselves, but to the rest of the region to develop peaceful cooperation.
Keep in mind that the relations of major powers are not entirely up to them. Middle and smaller powers too can help lock the major powers into this durable architecture, through a variety of instruments. For example, in Bali last year, 18 leaders taking part in the EAS agreed to a set of morally binding principles which, if adhered to, will help foster a more stable and peaceful region.
Furthermore, a dynamic equilibrium must also ensure that the rise of the present and next emerging powers finds their proper accommodation in the regional architecture. The rise of emerging powers should be seen as a positive development: they can provide valuable assets for spreading peace and prosperity. If embraced properly, they would not produce additional strategic tensions nor spark new conflict. Their pursuit for security need not be done at the expense of the insecurity of others. Asia is certainly big enough for all powers – established and emerging – and there is always room for new stakeholders, so long as they invest in common peace and progress.
I am optimistic that we can achieve this dynamic equilibrium, because we are living at a time when nations are experiencing a major realignment of interests. The challenge of new non-traditional threats – from terrorism, natural disasters, people smuggling, piracy, or economic crisis – are forging common interests that compel nations to work together. In the fight against terror, against drugs and diseases, against natural disasters, we are all partners and allies.
One example comes to mind. After Indonesia was hit by the tragic tsunami in Aceh in December 2004, military contingents from all over the world – from Singapore, Australia, China, the US, and many others – came to take part in the massive humanitarian relief efforts, which became the largest military operation other than war since the Second World War. They did not compete; there was no rivalry. They all worked together with the Indonesian military to save lives.
What happened in Aceh offers us a glimpse to an important possibility on how to build a durable architecture: by evolving a new strategic culture. This new strategic culture must be forward looking, which means being able to overcome historical baggage that has burdened us in the past. We in Southeast Asia, despite our traumatic experience during the Second World War, have been able to relieve ourselves of our traumatic past. To cite another case, Indonesia and Timor Leste, once burdened by bitter relations, now have one of the strongest relations among neighbours in the region.
This new strategic culture must also be driven by a win-win mindset, rather than a win-lose predisposition. Where there is a will, there are plenty of ways to deliver a win-win outcome. A win-win mindset delivered the joint cooperation schemes in the Mekong River, which affects the livelihood of 70 million people, and avoided what could have easily become an international conflict over sensitive water resources. In Indonesia, we applied this win-win approach in Aceh, and as a result we achieved permanent peace based on special autonomy which ended three decades of separatist rebellion.
A win-win approach is not easy. It requires leadership, creativity and courage, especially on occasions when you need to break away from the convention of the past. However, the rewards of a win-win strategic mindset are always substantially better – and more durable – than a win-lose one. This win-win strategic culture will become ever more necessary in dealing with flash points that are still found in parts of our region. The South China Sea comes to mind prominently. We can accept that the overlapping territorial and jurisdictional claims are still a long way from being resolved. However, even without waiting for resolution over territorial disputes, we can still find ways to transform the potential conflicts in the South China Sea into potential cooperation. We need to pick up speed. It took ten years – ten long years – for the Guidelines of the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea to be completed. It should not take another ten years for the ASEAN-China Working Group to complete the Code of Conduct; we expect them to move on speedily with their task.
Another area is the Indian Ocean. It is a vast strategic area. There are no overlapping territorial claims there. Compared to the Pacific side, the architecture in the Indian Ocean is still minimal, but military and economic activities are bound to rise significantly. There is every likelihood that in the twenty-first century the Indian Ocean will grow in geostrategic importance. We must make sure that the Indian Ocean does not become an area of new strategic contest and rivalry. Indeed, now is the time to cultivate the seeds for long-term cooperation, based on common interests in that part of the world. Stable transition in Arab Spring countries; long-term political stability in Afghanistan; a warming-up of relations between India and Pakistan, especially if it can be sustained; the growth of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership: all of these will be important building blocks in that direction.
Stable transition in Arab-Spring countries; long-term political stability in Afghanistan; a warming-up of relations between India and Pakistan, especially if it can be sustained; the growth of the Asian-African strategic partnership – all of these will be important building blocks in that direction. This strategic cartel must also be coupled with critical confidence-building measures. This is pertinent as we anticipate geostrategic condensation that may come from the growing military capabilities of countries in our region. Across Asia, we are seeing a trend of growing military spending and efforts to modernise armed forces. By and large, this is a logical consequence of the fact that Asian economies are growing, and they can afford to spend more on defence.
This is also happening in Indonesia, as we move forward to modernise our military capability. In the last 20 years or so, economic crisis and other factors forced us to allocate only minimal resources for defence expenditure. As a result, our defence posture was kept to a minimum. Now that Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia, with GDP growth of around 6.5%, we are in a better position to allocate greater portions of our national budget to defence. The main purpose will be to increase our capacity to protect our borders; to counter transnational threats; to increase our contribution to peace-keeping operations worldwide; to be better prepared for military operations other than war; and to conduct special operations.
Recently, for example, our armed forces for the first time conducted the farthest military operations to rescue Indonesian seamen held hostage by Somali pirates – a difficult mission that, Alhamdulillah, was carried out successfully. However, I wish to assure you that our military modernisation efforts will be transparent and coupled with intensified efforts at confidence-building measures, such as joint military exercises and exchanges. We will make sure that our military modernisation will not lead to new strategic tension, but instead lead to stronger cooperative security in the region.
Indeed, we are encouraged by the fact that defence diplomacy has become much more active today, and that, overall, there are better military-to-military relations in the Asia-Pacific. Within ASEAN, for example, there is now an annual meeting of defence chiefs, armed forces chiefs and intelligence chiefs, but there are still gaps that need to be reduced, especially among major powers, where the potential for strategic rivalry is still reasonably high. One way to promote greater confidence-building to reduce this gap is to hold joint military exercises, which would include countries such as the United States and China. Indonesia is willing to be part of these efforts.
As we strive to build a durable architecture for peace, we now have before us a strategic opportunity to usher in the geopolitics of cooperation. For centuries, the international system witnessed the prevalence of the geopolitics of conflict, confrontation and rivalry. As we step into the 21st century, we still see signs of it in many parts of the globe. The territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea; on-going security problems in the Korean Peninsula; the continued challenge to stability in Afghanistan; strategic strains in South Asia; the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict; recent tension in the Straits of Hormuz; the turbulence in Syria; sub-regional tensions in Africa – all reveal that, in these areas, geopolitical cooperation is still elusive.
Geopolitics, of course, is traditionally understood as being all about competition and rivalry – for power, resources, territory, access and influence. I admit that the nature of international relations is such that there will always be elements of competition and rivalry among nations, but I also believe that we can always expand the space for win-win cooperation and reduce the space for zero-sum rivalry. There are signs that we are heading in this direction.
Across the Pacific, there is an important trend in the making: the proliferation of partnerships diplomacy. Let us return to the earlier matrix, and you can see the dramatic increase in the number of countries forging diplomatic, political, security and economic partnerships, and it goes in all directions: the US and India have a strategic partnership, and so do South Korea and China, China and Pakistan, Japan and Australia, Russia and China, and so on. In some cases, they involve nations that previously had adversarial relations.
For our part, Indonesia has, in recent years, struck comprehensive and strategic partnerships with some 14 countries, including all the major powers. The fact that these partnerships have different substances and forms is less significant than the fact that different sets of countries are redefining and upgrading their relations. These partnerships are important because they reveal positive strategic intention and, in cases where the two parties are involved in a dispute, the partnership opens up possibilities to alter the dynamics of how the disputes are handled.
I predict that, in the 21st century, partnership diplomacy will continue to spread. While the number of countries involved in military alliances will remain more or less the same, the number of countries involved in new bilateral, trilateral or regional partnerships will continue to grow significantly. The overall impact will be a sweeping change to the geopolitical landscape. Geopolitics of cooperation, therefore, are about promoting nations to compete for peace and progress. This is a win-win formula.
There was a time when Southeast Asia was ripped apart by extra-regional powers that fought for ideology, access and influence but, today, extra-regional powers compete for more trade, investment exchanges and education. It is a good thing – we like it and we welcome it – because the more they compete on these sectors, the more everybody will benefit.
As a final thought, the geopolitics of cooperation are open to every state. As more states participate in this new dynamism, we will have greater chance to create deliverables. The more we promote this geopolitics of cooperation, the closer we will inch to that durable architecture for peace for our region, and for our time.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I therefore have high hopes for the role of the one-and-half-track Shangri-La Dialogue, with all members of the defence community who are here today, in bringing us closer to that game change. I thank you.
Dr John Chipman
Mr President, thank you so much for your definition of the strategic culture of inclusive regionalism; also your words of comfort to some of the countries that are passing through the Arab Spring that sometimes things get worse before they get better; your appeal for increased speed in the discussions between ASEAN and China towards a code of conduct; your call for the Indian Ocean not to become an area of new rivalry; your reassurance about the nature of Indonesian military modernisation; and your strong support for the principle of partnership diplomacy.