Indonesia’s Strategy: Prioritizing Autonomy Instead of BRICS Membership

Indonesia has been a potential BRICS member since 2011, with the country’s potential to become one of the top five economies by 2045 and a leading power in Southeast Asia. However, Indonesia was not among the six countries selected from the 23 countries that submitted letters of interest. Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo stated that the government did not want to rush membership and needed more time to study the benefits and drawbacks of BRICS membership, especially in the economic domain.

Indonesia’s decision not to join BRICS is rooted in its long-standing non-alignment with China, causing fear and urging Cold War-era bloc building. Joining BRICS would signal a shift towards China, affecting Indonesia’s hedging and issue-balancing policy, which currently leans towards the US in security and China in economic matters.

Indonesia’s position in the BRICS forum is being viewed as a geopolitical vehicle for China and Russia, causing concern in the West. Indonesia’s failure to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its negotiation of a free trade area with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union has raised concerns. Joining BRICS would have exacerbated Western irritations and jeopardized relations with the West. Moreover, membership would come with high transaction costs for Indonesia, as it would need to devote significant diplomatic resources to align with its national interests. Indonesia’s goal of being a ‘good global citizen’ would also be compromised, as its identity in international relations differs from that of other BRICS members. In 2013, Indonesia joined MIKTA, a forum consisting of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and Australia, to act as a ‘constructive multilateralist’, ‘bridge-builder’, and ‘force for good’. Indonesia’s moderation has allowed it to maintain open dialogue channels with the Global North while advocating for the interests of the Global South.

Indonesia’s government is hesitant to join the BRICS group due to its economic ties with China, its largest trading partner and major investor. Trade with China is significantly larger than with other BRICS member states, and maintaining such close economic relations does not require BRICS membership. Indonesia’s New Development Bank, with an initial subscribed capital of US$50 billion, is not seen as an attractive option for financing its investment needs. Key figures in the Indonesian cabinet, such as Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, have opposed joining BRICS and may have more confidence in Western-dominated financial institutions. BRICS accession could also threaten Indonesia’s efforts to become the third Asian member of the OECD. Not joining BRICS reflects Indonesia’s foreign policy pragmatism, a key aspect of the Bebas aktif doctrine, which is unlikely to be abandoned in a volatile international political environment.

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