A big power in Southeast Asia and a middle power globally, Indonesia plays a “bridge builder” role in the United Nations Security Council, it says. It’s a strategy that is getting harder and harder to embody, however, with rising tensions among the five big powers in the Council: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
“You need to have lots of tolerance, you need to be able to network,” Dian Triansyah Djani, Indonesia’s permanent representative to the UN, told PassBlue. “And all of this is in the DNA of every Indonesian; we have been taught to be very patient in many ways. Our way of diplomacy has always been quiet diplomacy, we are not into megaphone diplomacy. But our diplomacy is geared toward finding solutions to our problems.”
While this may be the diplomatic approach carried out by the Indonesian government, Mochammad Faisal Karim, an assistant professor of international relations at Bina Nusantara University, says it is becoming more difficult for Jakarta not to pick sides in geopolitics. Like many other countries, it is drawn to the bottom line.
“When it comes to investment, China has more leverage stored in Asia, and that needs to be maintained, while at the same time with the rise of Trump, Trump wanted to delete Indonesia from the list of recipient of GSP [generalized system of preference], so Indonesia sided with China,” Karim said.
For August, Indonesia’s priorities as the Security Council rotating president will be looking at the effects of Covid-19 on sustaining peace; the nexus of transnational organized crime and terrorism; and important mandate renewals, such as the UN mission in Lebanon (Unifil), the joint mission in Somalia and the UN sanctions regime in Mali.
Peacekeeping is an issue particularly at the heart of the Indonesian delegation. “We are the number one contributor of PCC [police-contributing country] in the Security Council now, we’ve been contributing since 1957, with more than 50,000 boys and girls,” Djani said. “We lost a peacekeeper in an attack last month; it was a sad day for me because I had to write a letter to the parents and that’s not an easy part.” He noted in a media briefing that Indonesia would like to have the Council adopt a resolution on the role of women peacekeepers.
The Palestine question, always a priority for Indonesia, will also be discussed in a monthly meeting on the Middle East. A few days ago, the Palestinian National Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, called Indonesian President Joko Widodo to discuss, among other things, the Council presidency. Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world.
“I think it’s important for us to continue the discussion to ensure that there is no annexation of the territory,” Djani said of the Indonesia-Palestine relationship (and the possible Israeli annexation of Palestine territory). “So we want to make sure that all of the various commitments, various resolutions are duly implemented, and that we also have a meeting scheduled [on the 25th] on this particular issue in our presidency.”
In July, as president of the Council, Germany held two in-person meetings in the Economic and Social Affairs Council chamber in the UN headquarters, a larger setting than the Security Council chamber, to enable social distancing. Indonesia says it will “hear what the membership wishes” and make its decision on how often to hold in-person meetings, based on the regulations of New York City and the UN Secretariat’s advice.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as they assume the Council presidency. To hear more on Indonesia’s goals in August, with insights from Mochammad Faisal Karim, the academic, download the latest episode of PassBlue’s UN-Scripted podcast series on SoundCloud or Patreon. (Excerpts of the podcast are below.)
Ambassador to the UN: Dian Triansyah Djani, 58
Languages: Bahasa Indonesian, English
Education: Bachelor of economics (University of Indonesia); M.A. in economic development and international trade (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.); Ph.D., international relations (Padjadjaran University, Indonesia)
His story, briefly: Djani was born in Jakarta, but his parents were diplomats and he was quickly introduced to other parts of the world, including Russia, Poland, Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Thailand. “For us, diplomacy is a family business,” he told PassBlue last year. Many of his other relatives are economists, as are his wife, Lista Damayanti, and their son, Panji Caraka Djani, who graduated from Columbia University.
After earning his undergraduate degree in Indonesia and graduate degree at Vanderbilt, Ambassador Djani followed a natural path to diplomacy. He has spent most of his career hopping between New York City and Geneva, where he also served as permanent representative to the UN. “My son was actually born in Flushing,” he says.
Only five months are left on Indonesia’s two-year term on the Council, and Djani concludes: “I’m an idealist. That’s one thing that you need to have as an ambassador on the Security Council. You have to be an idealist, you have to be quite clear that you’re working for the people [of the world], not only for your own people.”
When Indonesia’s term ends, Djani will likely pack up and go back home, following Indonesia’s diplomatic tradition.
Karim of Bina Nusantara University says of Djani: “I think he’s the best man that Indonesia has so far, when it comes to representing us on the international level. Ambassador Djani has more experience than any other diplomat, even the minister of foreign affairs [Retno Marsudi], when it comes to seniority and experience in international high profile forums.”
Djani represented Indonesia in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) from 2002 to 2008, with his tenure capped by a three-year stint as its director general. “He is the one who, with his diplomatic skills, finally made sure the other Asean members created what we call an Asean intergovernmental commission on human rights,” Karim said.
Djani talked to PassBlue on July 30. His remarks have been edited for space and clarity.
What are your country’s priorities for August? Our theme of last year [as Council president] was investing in peace, and we want to continue that approach. Our current theme is advancing sustainable peace, which of course portrays once again Indonesia’s mission for the Security Council. So we wanted to advance the agenda of sustaining peace in the post-pandemic world. We want to ensure that there are issues and responses to the new security challenges; terrorism is an issue that we have to continue to watch over. We want to ensure also that members of the Council are able to deliver even in times of conflict.
So, there are several priorities. One thing is that we want to ensure that there is continuity. . . . The Security Council has discussed so many issues in the past, so we want to make sure that there are no gaps. That is precisely why we are pushing this agenda of advancing sustainable peace. One thing that I would like to highlight also is that in the time of Covid-19, all the constituencies, whether it’s in Europe, in America, in Asia or in Indonesia, they’re all looking at us, at the Security Council, the United Nations, to be able to address what has been happening.
After the UN physically shut down during the first months of the pandemic, Germany started holding in-person meetings of the Security Council in July, as restrictions were being lifted in New York City. Is there pressure for you to do more physical meetings? We will hear what the [Council] membership wishes. We have to balance everything, including the situation in New York; we have to balance also the assessment from the Secretariat. Regardless of whether you have a meeting in person or through VTC, we have been doing what people might not expect that the Council could do in trying to address many of the issues. So what is most important is the outcome. Of course, we also would like to continue to build on what Germany was doing. Looking at the situation, hopefully, it keeps improving in New York, so that we can have more meetings in person.
If you had to write to the ambassador who will represent Indonesia when it is next on the Council, what would you say? One thing that I would write, from my own personal experience, is you need to have a lot of patience. You need to have lots of tolerance, you need to be able to network. All of this is in the DNA of every Indonesian, we have been taught to be very patient in many ways . . . our diplomacy is geared toward finding solutions to our problems. That is one thing that we have to focus on when you are in the Council, to always remember that you are not only representing your country, but as elected members, you are representing 193 members of the United Nations.
In our case, we had to compete to become a member of the Council. I taught all of my colleagues in the Asia-Pacific region that although we come from there, we are representing 193 countries. Not only that, we are representing the peoples of the world, and we should not lose sight of that. I have been consistently fighting for this principle ever since we started in January . We dare to be principled; we look at things based on the various simple points, which is to save lives, whether it’s in Yemen, whether it’s in Syria, whether it’s in Libya, in Venezuela and other places all around the world. That has been our quest, and I hope we have done it as best as we could.
For the next Indonesian ambassador, I think that would be the thing to say because we are here in this world together; just like I mentioned on Covid, no country is immune. No country can face this pandemic alone, whether you are a superpower or not, unless you work together. For us, bridging the gap, finding some consensus, finding unity in the Council, will be our main theme for August and until the end of our presidency; and even after we are not in the Council, we will continue to do this. We continue this as our foreign policy, since we joined the UN.
Head of State: President Joko Widodo
Foreign Affairs Minister: Retno Marsudi
Type of Government: Presidential representative democratic republic
Year Indonesia Joined the UN: 1950
Years on the Security Council: 1973-74, 1995-96, 2007-08, 2019-20
Population: 267 million (world’s fourth-most populous country)
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.