By: Noto Suoneto and Birgitta Riani
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of Indonesia finally made his debut at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (GA), after sending his previous Vice President, Jusuf Kalla, to represent the country throughout his first five years in office. His virtual presence is timely, as world leaders gather to talk about pressing issues with a global health crisis looming in the background. This year’s underlying theme of multilateralism is a fitting topic for a world that is filled with uncertainties as the pandemic exacerbates geopolitical and geo-economic tensions.
This year’s UNGA is special because it commemorates the organization’s 75th year. If compared to a human's lifetime, 75 years is too late for someone to rethink their life choices and change courses. As a matter of fact, it is usually a time to count achievements and see their legacy for the future generation. For an intergovernmental body like the UN, the 75th anniversary is supposed to be a time where it can recalibrate its goals and assess both its successes and failures in achieving its main goals. As the world hopes for the continuity of the UN, reform is clearly indispensable for it to be able to withstand recent upheavals.
As world leaders convey their concerns and highlight their visions for the upcoming future during the first virtual General Assembly, President Jokowi also laid out Indonesia’s thoughts. Despite the huge expectation for his first speech, Jokowi’s choices of words fell short on us.
His 10 minutes long speech mainly answers the “what” and “why” of today’s world predicaments, something that has been conveyed by many. From the weakening multilateralism, prolonged conflicts, unsolved inequality, and the depressing COVID-19 pandemic. These problems are further aggravated by the heightened tensions between two major powers, the U.S. and China, as they compete in almost all sectors to win bigger influence.
We also know "why" all those problems happened. The current global order is arguably in chaos and very fragile. The latest trend also shows that countries are heading towards more unilateralism and relatively lost their trust on multilateralism platforms. What has been missing from Jokowi’s speech is “how”.
In his speech, President Jokowi brought forward three main narratives: the reformation of the UN system, the strengthening of collective global leadership, and cooperation in tackling COVID-19, while highlighting Indonesia’s commitment to “play a role as bridge builder” and become part of the solution. However, we think that Jokowi has failed to provide a blueprint of this “bridge” he’s seeking to build. As we assess his rhetoric, we believe that his visions are utopic at best and it would be hard to achieve them in the near future.
The first thought he conveyed was the need for the UN to prove that multilateralism delivers. This call for UN reform and accountability was also put forward by many other world leaders during their speeches. But, in affirming his country’s unwavering faith in the UN multilateralism, Jokowi omitted the systemic flaws that sparked this debate on multilateralism in the first place. Despite Indonesia’s membership at the UN Security Council, one of the main UN bodies that gained criticism due to its sub-par performance during the pandemic, his brief mention of it failed to highlight Indonesia’s contributions and observations throughout the period.
In comparison, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his speech pointed out the shortcomings of the UN.SC and his solution for it. He expressed that restructuring in the Security Council is crucial, as a “more effective, democratic, transparent and accountable” will be the solution to the ineffective global mechanism brought to light by the pandemic. Indonesia, who sits as one of the non-permanent members of the Council, must have had the opportunity to assess the UNSC’s effectiveness. Without a clear appraisal, it is hard to judge to which directions Indonesia sees the UN and multilateralism going in the short term.
Jokowi also brought up the vision of collective global leadership, something deemed undesirable by some countries amid this COVID-19 crisis. We have witnessed how countries tend to look inwards and those who have powers keep fighting for their national interests. The contest between China and the U.S. also made it more difficult for other powers to effectively contribute to the global collective effort.
In his speech, President Trump continued his agenda of holding China accountable for the global pandemic and putting America first. Meanwhile, China continues to highlight its commitment to work with the UN to achieve a peaceful and cooperative world. Looking at these contrasting views of the two major powers, it is not too pessimistic to say that Jokowi’s vision of collective global leadership is blurry due to the lack of a feasible path on this issue.
Jokowi’s vision of enhancing global COVID-19 cooperation is also insubstantial. He mentioned a resilient global health system that is based on national health resilience, but his domestic policies show Indonesia’s unpreparedness in handling the pandemic, despite being many months in. While Indonesia has launched successful diplomacy campaigns to secure vaccines for its people, it is no secret that its health system is at the brink of collapsing. Revitalization of the economy, whether it is domestic or international, might need some more effort besides his call to work together, work together, and work together.
There is no something new in his speech and arguably lacks impact. It contains the right catchphrases and ideas but was unable to provide viable ways to achieve it. It is regrettable because Jokowi should have used this platform to not only address Indonesia’s stances but also to convey more solutions for global problems. It is not an exaggeration to say that the narratives in his speech were delicate and good to hear yet blurry.
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