The recent statement by Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo cautioning against rushing into membership in the BRICS economic grouping has sparked debate about Indonesia’s role in the rapidly changing global economic landscape. Despite its strong economy and potential to become one of the world’s top five, Indonesia’s absence from the expanded BRICS group, which now includes Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, raises interesting questions.
Given its status as a significant emerging economy in Southeast Asia, many see Indonesia as a natural fit for BRICS. Nonetheless, analysts argue that Indonesia’s decision to stay out of BRICS reflects the country’s long-standing aversion to geopolitical alliances, as well as genuine uncertainty about the economic benefits of membership.
Many analysts and former diplomats had previously warned against Indonesia joining BRICS, according to Radityo Dharmaputra, a lecturer at the Department of International Relations at Universitas Airlangga. The economic benefits are unknown, while the potential political and economic costs, particularly from Western nations, are certain.
Prior to the BRICS summit in South Africa, where the expansion was announced, approximately 40 countries, including Indonesia, expressed interest in joining. President Jokowi, who attended the Johannesburg meeting, stated that Indonesia was considering membership but was not in a hurry to make a decision. South Africa’s ambassador to BRICS, Anil Sookal, stated that Jakarta had requested a delay in order to consult with its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) counterparts about this potential move.
One of Indonesia’s concerns may be the optics of joining the BRICS group with countries such as China and Russia. According to Dharmaputra, this could harm Indonesia’s image as an independent and active player in international diplomacy, especially since the country has emphasised these principles for decades. Historically, Indonesia’s participation as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War demonstrates its commitment to a “bebas-aktif,” or independent and active, foreign policy approach.
Yohanes Sulaiman, an international relations lecturer at Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani, argued that joining BRICS would provide “no benefit” to Indonesia. He was sceptical of BRICS’ actual accomplishments beyond serving as a counterweight to the US. While BRICS has established the New Development Bank (NDB) as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and has even considered introducing a new currency, fears that the group is becoming an anti-Western alliance could complicate Indonesia’s relations with the US.
The United States and Indonesia recently reached an agreement for the sale of 24 F-15EX fighter jets to Jakarta. Such collaborations highlight the significance of maintaining strong ties with Western nations.
Sulaiman went on to argue that it makes more sense for Indonesia to prioritise regional groups such as ASEAN, which have historical and commercial ties with Indonesia’s neighbours. While Indonesia already has ties to China and Russia is facing international isolation, the benefits of joining BRICS appear limited. Furthermore, South Africa’s ongoing financial crisis adds to the worries.
Indonesia has set ambitious development goals under President Widodo’s leadership, including relocating its capital to Eastern Borneo and increasing domestic capacity to process commodities into finished products. These initiatives are critical steps towards Indonesia’s goal of having a $25,000 GDP per capita by 2045.
Dharmaputra suggested that Indonesia is looking at other global organisations that provide more obvious benefits, such as trade, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which has 38 member countries. In this context, joining BRICS may be viewed as a barrier to membership in more beneficial organisations.
Sulaiman echoed these sentiments, emphasising that Indonesia makes sound decisions. While the efforts of the BRICS to challenge the dominance of the US dollar are intriguing, they may not be enough to entice Indonesia.