Indonesia and ASEAN on the world stage.

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Indonesian President Widodo's trip between Kiev and Moscow launches the Southeast Asian region at the center of global dynamics

Editorial by Alessio Piazza

First Kiev, then Moscow. First talks with Volodymyr Zelensky, then talks with Vladimir Putin. Last week saw the visit between Ukraine and Russia of Indonesian President Joko Widodo. It was a diplomatic mission that put Jakarta at the center of international dynamics and thus the entire ASEAN area of which Indonesia is the main economy. Widodo said the Russian president provided him with "guarantees" on the safety of food and fertilizer transportation through sea routes "not only from Russia but also from Ukraine," according to the official Kremlin statement. The Indonesian president also said he had handed Putin a message from Ukrainian President Zelensky and was "ready to help establish contact between the two leaders" to ensure a step toward "a peace settlement and open dialogue." Neither side has further elaborated on the content of the message, and the actual negotiating prospects still appear unclear. But what is certain is that the trip in itself already represents a major turning point in foreign policy not only for Indonesia but for all of Southeast Asia. Indeed, Widodo became the first Asian leader to travel to Kiev since the beginning of the war. Of course, the main factor driving this important development was the fact that Indonesia holds the rotating presidency of the G20. According to some observers of Indonesian politics, the trip may also represent an attempt by Widodo to solidify his personal legacy. Even or especially in preparation for the G20 in Bali, which could go down in history as the final foreign policy brick of Widodo's decade. More in the immediate term, the most sensitive issue is the food crisis. Inflation is also hitting Indonesia, and the assurances received from the Indonesian president during his visit could calm a worried public. But the symbolic and political significance of the trip remains. Just with reference to the G20, Jakarta has been facing opposing pressures on the Bali summit for months. On the one hand to invite Putin, on the other to exclude him. Widodo has made it clear that the principles of neutrality and pacifism, pillars of the ASEAN way, still apply in Indonesia and in the region in general (as recently reminded by Italy-ASEAN Vice President Michelangelo Pipan). 

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