Indonesia’s absence from the larger BRICS organization echoes decades of non-alignment policy Business and Economics

Medan, Indonesia – Indonesia may seem like a natural fit to join the enlarged BRICS, a group of emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The Southeast Asian nation of more than 270 million people is a large emerging economy, and according to some estimates could rank among the world’s top five economies by mid-century.

But when South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa announced the expanded BRICS membership in Johannesburg last week, Indonesia was not on the list that included Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Analysts say Indonesia’s decision to leave BRICS, despite similarities with other emerging economies, reflects lingering wariness about the geopolitical alliances and uncertainty about the economic benefits of membership.

„As many analysts and former diplomats have already warned against joining the BRICS, the economic benefits are not clear and obvious, while the political and economic costs of the West’s backlash are more certain,” said Radidio Dharmaputra. A lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Universitas Erlanga told Al Jazeera.

’Free Action’

Ahead of the BRICS summit in South Africa last week, some 40 countries, including Indonesia, had expressed interest in joining the group.

Indonesian President Joko „Jokowi” Widodo said after attending a meeting in Johannesburg on Thursday that he was considering membership but was „not keen”.

Speaking about Indonesia’s membership, South Africa’s ambassador to BRICS, Anil Sookal, said Jakarta had asked for a delay to discuss the move with its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Dharmaputra of Universitas Airlangga, one of Indonesia’s concerns is the optics of entering a group with countries like China and Russia.

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„Indonesia’s appearance as part of the China-Russia world will be a problem,” he said.

„Especially Indonesia really insists on its independent and active foreign policy. How can it be sold to other countries when it is in the same group with China and Russia?

Indonesia was one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War and has for decades adopted a „Babas-Active,” or independent and active, approach to foreign policy, including a role in peacemaking around the world. Like when Widodo visited Russia and Ukraine in June last year.

Yohannes Suleiman, an international relations lecturer at General Ahmad Yani University in Bandung, said there is „no benefit” to Indonesia joining the BRICS system.

„We have yet to see any real results from BRICS other than a group to counter the US, and there doesn’t seem to be any concrete progress,” he told Al Jazeera.

Indonesia seeks to buy 24 F-15EX fighter jets from US [File: Eric Shindelbower/Boeing/AFP]

BRICS has fashioned itself as a coalition to succeed in the Global South by establishing the New Development Bank (NBD) as a replacement for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, floating the possibility of a new currency. The grouping could complicate Indonesia’s relations with the growing anti-Western alliance, the United States.

Last week, the Indonesian government and US aircraft manufacturer Boeing agreed to finalize the sale of 24 F-15EX fighter jets to Jakarta following Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto’s visit to Washington, DC.

Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani’s Sulaiman said it makes more sense for Indonesia to be part of groups with its neighbors, such as ASEAN, rather than arbitrary groups of countries with which Indonesia has some historical or trade ties.

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„Indonesia already has relations with China, and Russia is now under international boycott, so there is no advantage,” he said. „South Africa is facing a financial crisis and we can work directly with other countries like India.”

Jakarta Indonesia aims to reach a GDP of $25,000 per capita by 2045. [File: Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

Under Widodo’s presidency, Indonesia has set ambitious development goals, including moving its capital to East Borneo and building capacity to process goods into finished goods at home, a cornerstone of Jakarta’s efforts to reach its $25,000 per capita gross domestic product (GDP). 2045.

Dharmaputra said Indonesia has its sights set on other global groupings that offer more tangible benefits in areas such as trade, such as the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

„Indonesia wants to join OECD and joining BRICS will be an obstacle to this,” he said.

Suleiman said efforts by BRICS to challenge the dominance of the US dollar would be viewed as unattractive to Indonesia.

„It’s a very fair decision,” he said. „Things will be the same whether we join or not.”

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