Our Head of ASEAN Studies Program, A Ibrahim Almuttaqi was quoted in The Jakarta Post's article on 'RI offers to host new Indo-Pacific Forum'. Read below for the full article:

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is expected to speak about the adoption of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and the next step forward at the East Asia Summit (EAS), part of a series of ASEAN summit meetings to be held in Thailand this weekend.

Speaking to reporters before leaving for Bangkok to attend preparatory meetings, the Foreign Ministry's director general for ASEAN, Jose Tavares, said that the ASEAN Outlook on the IndoPacific would be at the top of a list of potential topics that Jokowi would bring up at the summit.

In particular, Jokowi is to propose Indonesia host an ASEAN Indo-Pacific Infrastructure and Connectivity Forum, a follow-up to the ASEAN outlook document that he debuted at the same forum of 18 countries last year, Jose said.

"This is the time for the President to convey that the Indo-Pacific Outlook has been completed and we can invite cooperation from ASEAN partner countries in the region. The foreign minister has also submitted an idea to hold the ASEAN Indo Pacific Infrastructure and Connectivity Forum in 2020," he said at a weekly press briefing.

At her foreign policy address on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said ASEAN would remain the cornerstone of Indonesia's foreign policy and pledged that Indonesia would host the connectivity forum next year.

For the past few years, Indonesia has pushed for ASEAN to have its own Indo-Pacific concept, an elusive concept for a regional order that underpins the area straddling the Indian and Pacific oceans. The term is often associated with United States President Donald Trump's vision of the Indo-Pacific, which observers noted was intended to hedge against Chinese economic expansion done through the multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Leaders from the region adopted the document during the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok on June 22, setting it as a guide for member states to engage with their external partners, including the two rivaling superpowers.

Other countries have imbued their own interests and developed their own concepts, such as India's Act East Policy, Japan has its Free and Open Indo-Pacific and Australia its updated Foreign Policy White Paper, while ASEAN's strategy seeks to "maintain its central role in the evolving regional architecture", as the outlook document stipulates.

One of the areas of cooperation outlined in the ASEAN document is connectivity, which seeks to ensure that "connectivity initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region should complement and support the existing Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity [MPAC] 2025".

"The increasing integration and interconnection among Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean countries require investments and efforts to build connectivity infrastructure," it says.

According to a 2017 Asian Development Bank report, the region needs as much as US$26 trillion from 2016 to 2030 to finance its infrastructure.

Yose Rizal Damuri, the head of the economic department at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said the hosting of a forum on infrastructure and connectivity would be one of the most concrete actions taken from the outlook.

"Connectivity is very concrete, compared to some vague political action," he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. "Even though there are already plenty of connectivity agenda items in the Indo-Pacific, such as [MPAC] and China's BRI, they are not a coherent coupling."

Meanwhile, Ibrahim Almutaqqi, head of the ASEAN Studies Program at the Habibie Center, said by organizing the event, Indonesia is leading by example, showing other member states how ASEAN's version of the IndoPacific should look.

"It also reinforces Jakarta's argument that the Indo-Pacific should be more than just political-security concerns," he said.

Jokowi is expected to arrive in Bangkok on Saturday where he would attend an ASEAN plenary session in the evening, as well as other ASEAN meetings, including the EAS.

Other issues that are expected to surface are the highly anticipated conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the South China Sea dispute and the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Jokowi is scheduled to have bilateral meetings with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and leaders from New Zealand, Australia, India and Japan.

[This article was first published in The Jakarta Post on 31st October 2019 and can be found at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/10/31/ri-offers-host-new-indo-pacific-forum.html ]

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