Russia-ASEAN-Indonesia triangle relations in handling the COVID-19 pandemic

_ Hendra Manurung, doctoral student, international relations, Padjadjaran University. Bandung, 29 June 2020.

Russia and ASEAN cooperation is valuable as multilateral effort in solving the effect of COVID-19 pandemic spreading. This Corona virus has affected around ten millions world population with 500 thousand deaths, and 5.01 patients recovered (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus, June 28, 2020).

On February 21, 2019, upon the elevation of the Russia-ASEAN partnership to strategic level at the 3rd ASEAN-Russia Summit (https://www.asean.org/asean-russia-commit-deepen-cooperation, 21 February 2019). Russia has reaffirmed its commitment to further deepen and substantiate cooperation with ASEAN in the areas of, among others, science and technology, energy, connectivity, information and communication technology, education, health, trade and foreign investment, and in combating transnational crime, drugs trafficking.

It can be done through maximizing utilization of Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership Financial Fund (ARDPFF) to facilitate Russia-ASEAN cooperative projects. For Russia leaders and Indonesia national leadership have fully commitment to deepening cooperation with ASEAN as regional organization.

For Russia and President Vladimir Putin, fighting against COVID-19 is immediate needed as stated by Putin Address to the Nation on June 23, 2020 (http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/63548):

“It is for this reason that the fight against the epidemic started along the perimeter of our country. We stepped up sanitary controls at our borders, and these measures paid off, enabling us to fend off the first blow, delay the epidemic, its peak, for a month and a half or two months. Therefore it was back then in February and early March that we were able to win precious time, which enabled us to do everything to save tens of thousands of lives, and I really mean tens of thousands. We saw that we could counter the epidemic, and understood that what matter the most was to be forward-thinking and proactive in learning from the experience of other countries, preparing ourselves and using the time we had to consolidate and mobilize the reserves we had, and increase the capabilities of our healthcare system and manufacturing. It was also obvious that in today’s interconnected world it was impossible to completely shield ourselves from this threat. Sooner or later, the virus would penetrate our homes, our borders. This was clear to us”.

International relations, for Russia, can be defined as a system based on the generally recognized principles and rules of international law and on political and diplomatic methods of solving international problems. Putin also stated that their countries stand for improvements in the United Nations system and increasing the efficiency of that organization’s various mechanisms.

 In Jakarta, on June 17, 2020, Indonesia has proposed three potentials strategic cooperation involve Southeast Asia and Russia Federation in fighting against COVID-19 pandemic. It results from the ASEAN foreign minister meeting with Russian foreign minister counterpart (Bisnis.com, June 17, 2020).

In Asia Pacific region, Russia and Indonesia mutual interest empower to have stronger relations which are generally on the rise and are dynamically evolving since President Joko Widodo leadership began on October 20, 2014. Russia and Indonesia have great potential for the intensification of cooperation in the political, trade, economic, technological and military-technical fields. During the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the recently improved political and economic situation in Indonesia acts as constructing foundation for this development.

In the international system and the achievement of security stability in the Southeast Asian region, Indonesia must be able to enhance a leading role and strengthen a better position in the implementation of any international cooperation through effective economic diplomacy to support the sustainability of national interests and efforts to creating a positive perception of Indonesia at the international level.

On 21 April 2003, following talks with Indonesia President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Vladimir Putin declared that Russia and Indonesia advocate the formation of an equitable and democratic system of international relations (http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/28511). Russia and Indonesia signed a Declaration on the Foundations of Friendly and Partner Relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Indonesia in the 21st Century, which is a political document which is called upon to determine Russian-Indonesian relations in the long-term.

The United States and China influence competition and tight rivalries grow more intense since 2017, and make Moscow must assess which side will do more to do self-help solving its problems across the former Soviet space. However, Moscow’s choice will effect on how Russia’s identification as European, Asian, or Eurasian sooner or later.

After the end of the cold war and Arab spring 2011, Russia’s active movements in Asia mostly related to Japan, South Korea, and India. But in 2018, President Vladimir Putin apparently began to realize how great the potential for economic cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. Probably, it always starts from a trade agreement to the sale of weapons to nuclear cooperation, in which Moscow makes itself a competitor of the third country in the strategic region, in addition to balancing the widening influence of Washington D.C and Beijing in the Asia Pacific regions.

Nevertheless, in spite of a stronger emphasis on the development of political relations and trade with countries of the Asia-Pacific region in the last ten years, Russia has been so much focus on the strategic alliance with China and strengthening ties with Japan, South Korea, India, and Indonesia. The Kremlin previously paid relatively little attention to Southeast Asia. But there are also positive signs by Moscow which now have begun to change the orientation of foreign policy and defense policies abroad through Russian bilateral defense cooperation with Indonesia and Vietnam.

On November 14, 2018, during East Asia Summit (EAS) regional meeting, Russia President Vladimir Putin attendance has shown and relevance signaled in Asia Pacific region (Asia Times, November 15, 2018). Obviously, it shows on how Kremlin utilizes its optimal efforts to proactively playing bigger role in securing Asia Pacific regional stability dynamically. The U.S President Donald Trump has not attended the summit and assigned Vice President Mike Pence to be there. However, each of Southeast Asia countries always attempts to have closer relations with the United States as some of them do not want to live in the region dominated by China as they want to have choice, an also want to maintain regional balance of power.

Russian Federation and ASEAN member-states together with Indonesia continuous regional leadership have in common that that weathered the financial crisis of the late 1990s and emerged as stronger economies. Within a decade, in particular, the sustainable relationship has evolved from compressive cooperation to a strategic partnership with some ASEAN members such as Indonesia.

Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno L.P Marsudi stated clearly that the latest certification for Avifavir and Levilimab as a drug that can cure Covid-19 in Russia has also shown encouraging medical developments (https://kabar24.bisnis.com/read/20200617/15/1254082/kemitraan-asia-tenggara-rusia-indonesia-usulkan-3-kerja-sama-ini?utm_source=Line&utm_medium=Artikel&utm_campaign=Line%20TodayBisnis.com, June 17, 2020). All this three proposals by Indonesia only focus on how the response of both parties to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic inter-regionally. Suppose that this proposal of cooperation is not only short term, but also can be applied in medium and long term period. Those three Indonesia proposals, i.e.:

First, in the development and procurement of vaccines and medications aimed at COVID-19. Thus, through this partnership, suppose will guarantee access and affordable prices for all countries. In fact, Russia has qualified technology. Nine of the 130 candidate vaccine derived from Russia.

Second. It is related to the improvement of health cooperation through existing mechanisms in ASEAN. During the meeting, Indonesia encouraged the Russian Federation government to become the leading state-actor in improving public health governance in the Southeast Asia region, including in relation to previous and current crisis prevention, and also anticipating to the pandemic in the future.

One of them is through the establishment of preventive mechanisms in the Southeast Asian region and supporting the strengthening of the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund through the previously established ASEAN-Russia cooperation fund.

Additionally, closer and sustainable cooperation is also needed that should encouraged as soon as possible to support the formation of strategic regional medical supplies, as well as the development of military medicine competencies for Southeast Asian countries that are members of ASEAN today.

Third, is how the collaborative efforts of economic recovery that can be carried out by ASEAN and Russia effectively done post-COVID-19. This cooperation as much as possible can be realized through the establishment of a regional collaboration of two organizations in the near future, ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC).

Indonesia, recently, has asked the regional organizations can immediately explore the possibility of formation of a more intense cooperation as agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding between ASEAN and EEC.

Henceforth, in responding to COVID-19 pandemic and dynamics of international political system, Indonesia under President Joko Widodo national leadership, as also the largest democracy in Southeast Asia during this global pandemic, needs to manage the positive perception of the Indonesian economy, especially to encourage increased foreign investment and strengthen Indonesia’s trade access to regional and international markets, as well as an understanding of national and foreign policy.

Indonesia through its free and active foreign policy, however, needs to immediately reconstruct the formulation of positions and play how to strengthen Indonesia’s role at the bilateral, regional, pluri-lateral and multi-lateral levels. Then, it proceeds with the implementation of the intensification and extension of international relations to support the national interest; exchange of data and / or information to support the sustainable formulation of Indonesian economic policies in ASEAN with Russia and Eurasian economic cooperation; accompanied by the sustainability of human resource capacity development programs in the region.

COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things in human life and international relations, including managing effectively international cooperation in the globalized world governance. Still lot of things to adapting and accommodate it in responding to spreading of Corona virus up to 2021.

Thus, in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN, Russia, and Indonesia must able to enhance more implementing various modes of strategic mutual cooperation for pursuing international peace and co-prosperity in the Southeast Asia region.

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