There is an opportunity for Indonesia to emerge as the region’s principal, if it chooses so writes Khanh Vu Duc and Duvien Tran for Asia Sentinel.
For the first time in the 45-year history of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a joint statement was not issued. At the heart of this were the South China Sea disputes, particularly the Scarborough Shoal conflict between the Philippines and China. The Philippines and Vietnam (also in dispute with China) pushed to have the Scarborough Shoal dispute included in the communiqué, but was rejected by China-allied Cambodia.
Since 2012, the disputes continue, a peaceful resolution elusive. If ever there was a time for a leader to step forward, now would be it; and who better to shoulder this responsibility than Indonesia, a founding member of Asean. It is the most populous of Asean member states and is considered one of the six major economies. Although GDP growth in the country dipped below 6 percent for the first time since 2009, recording growth of 5.78 percent in 2013, there is reason for optimism with the Indonesian rupiah slowly stabilizing.
Economics, however, is not the only measure of one’s potential as a leader. Indonesia is already the de facto leader of the 10-member treaty organization, but as the forum begins to stress under the weight of the South China Sea disputes, Jakarta should look beyond it as a means to express its leadership in Southeast Asia. Its strength lies not in the size of its economy but its potential as a consensus builder.
Yet, Indonesian leadership is not immediately self-evident. Asia-Pacific does not suffer from a shortage of leaders. However, due to circumstances, these countries may not provide the best fit for guiding Southeast Asia through the South China Sea disputes.