Rising Asia Journal
Rising Asia Foundation
ISSN 2583-1038



The Paradoxes of the “Asian Century”

Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, the Founder of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI), has served Indonesia as a career diplomat and ambassador. Dr. Dino is a best-selling author, academic, youth activist, and leader of the Indonesian diasporic community. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Carleton University in Ottawa, a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 2004, when the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, began his term, Dr. Dino was appointed as Special Staff/Spokesperson of the President for International Affairs. From 2010 to 2013, Dr. Dino served as Indonesia’s Ambassador to the United States. In June 2014, he was appointed as Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, until October that year. Since its founding, the FPCI has become the largest foreign policy group in Indonesia, with over 100,000 people in the network.

Dr. Harish C. Mehta: The topic of Dr. Dino’s lecture is of great relevance because the engine of Asian growth which had started with such spectacular promise when Deng Xiaoping and a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee had mooted the idea of the Asian Century in the mid- to late-1980s, seemed to sputter on account of economic crises and mistrust between the larger powers of Asia, on the one hand, and between the predominant power of Asia and the predominant power of the Western world, on the other. These conflicts that seemed to be coming together have raised a question for Dr. Dino that will there really be an Asian Century? I believe that there must be, and there will be one because from my perspective of a historian that looks at it from the longue duree of history, of the twenty centuries of the recent past, eighteen were dominated by Asia, and if they haven’t quite been Asian Centuries, they were centuries that were powered by Asia, or centuries to which Asian powers made significant contributions, individually or collectively. If the present one turns out to be an Asian Century, we will say, “we saw it coming.” 

I warmly welcome Ambassador Dr. Dino for his sporting spirit and his conviviality and collegiality. And with that, I hand you over to Ambassador Gurjit Singh, a former Indian diplomat, who is our consulting editor, to serve as the Chair of the program today evening.

Ambassador Gurjit Singh: Thank you Dr. Harish Mehta.  Let me compliment you and you team on the start of the Rising Asia Journal, and for very quickly going into organizing the first annual foreign policy lecture. Dr. Dino Patti Djalal is one of Indonesia’s foremost intellectuals, and not only on foreign policy, but on the development of society. He, of course, is a distinguished diplomat, but he did not allow himself to be extinguished. You know, he was a very well-spoken speech writer and spokesman for President SBY (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono), and he was, after being ambassador to the United States, also the deputy foreign minister during my time in Indonesia. When the Indonesian government changed, Dino was out of the government, but focused more time on the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia. Now through this is fantastic initiative, where he brings foreign policy and larger global issues to the minds of young Indonesians, the youthful Dino has a huge fan following among young people, which I have always envied. He was an eminent contributor to my book on setting an agenda for India and Indonesia, called Masala Bumbu, and he was the Chair of the India-Indonesia Eminent Persons Group, from the Indonesian side, which made great suggestions, most of which never got implemented, that being the fate of such committees.

Today, Dino Patti Djalal will talk to us about the Asian Century, the rise of Asia and as Dr. Harish Mehta said—we have always been in the Asian Century for several centuries past. This is an Asian Century and perhaps the next one too. Initially the Asian Century was an economic concept but more and more it has become a strategic concept, and with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the contention among powers has returned to Asia. Today, we not only have a locomotive of economic growth, we have severe contention because of the rise of China, what we in India believe an aggressive rise of China that is unsettling traditional boundaries and creating avenues for new partnerships. In this, Asean remains central to everybody, they are the doyen of everybody’s eyes and all of us think that Asean centrality will very soon move to Asean responsibility. With those few words, I am going to pass the floor to Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal for his keynote address to inaugurate the Rising Asia series of Annual Diplomatic Lectures.

Ambassador Dr. Dino Patti Djalal:  Thank you, Ambassador Gurjit Singh and we miss you in Jakarta, we really do. My wife sends her best and hopes to see you soon. I want to say on behalf of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia members, how much our hearts pain to see what is happening in India now with the pandemic. You know, there is a lot of India in Indonesia—Bollywood, films, telenovelas that are being watched by millions of Indonesians every day, Indian food, Indian music, we call it Dangdut.[1] There is a soulful relationship between Indonesia and India and it really hurts us to see the trouble you are having with the Covid pandemic, but we know that you will overcome it and Indonesia is praying for you. The Indonesian government is supporting more efforts by the Indian government and people to overcome the crisis.

About me, I am fifty-six, have three young kids, and like Gurjit and many of you here, we had the privilege to live through two centuries and two millenniums. There are not too many people who can claim that—passing through two centuries and two millenniums. I was born at the height of the Cold War in 1965 and all my life and in my retirement, I have had the pleasure of watching the Asean grow as an organization. I retired five years ago. I formed the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia and the reason why we did it was because I saw so much xenophobia in Indonesia, among the young people, and narrow nationalism and ultra-nationalism and I thought that was not a good thing. When we formed the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, we strongly pushed back against these trends, against xenophobia, against ultra-nationalism and narrow nationalism, and surprisingly the people’s responses have been very good. People come in thousands and tens of thousands to our lectures because they find our lectures inspiring and it allows them to see the world in the way it should be seen.

The world is not a threat but an opportunity. The world is not an enemy but our friend. That has been our work at the Foreign Policy Community. It is an uphill battle because if you look at Indonesian YouTube and social media, people who advocate these ultra-nationalist and xenophobic messages are getting millions of hits because the more sensational it is, they more hits they get and the more their message spreads. I don’t know about India, but in Indonesia that has been the case.

To be honest, that is not healthy and that is why we are pressing on with our work at the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia—to spread positive nationalism and robust internationalism. I should also add that I am a Covid survivor. I had it in September [2020] and now I have had my two vaccine shots and I think that the best realization is that I am more fearless now. When I see the world, when fighting for climate change, or human rights, or events in Myanmar, and so on, I fight with the attitude that you only have a few years, you have to give it your best to make things right.

The Twenty-first Century will be “Asia’s Best Century”

Ambassador Dr. Dino: The topic today is about the Asian Century and Dr. Mehta was right in saying that out of the last twenty centuries, eighteen belonged to Asia. I agree with him and I noticed that in the literature there is still some debate whether or not the twenty first century would be the Asian Century. Indonesians believe so, and I think Indians also believe so, but there are those who believe that’s not going to be, it’s not going to happen here. There is still some debate about it but what I can say with confidence is that the twenty-first century will be Asia’s best century. It may not be the Asian Century, but it will be Asia’s best century compared to the previous eighteen centuries.

Why do I say this? I say this because if we look at Indonesian history for example and maybe Indian history as well, you see a lot of great kingdoms. In Indonesia, Srivijaya and Majapahit, and so on—great armies and great conquests—but they were not solid societies. You know about the elite, the kings, the princes, but the people were weak, poor, and illiterate. There were no institutions. You hardly hear about how in these kingdoms they treated their own people.

Did they respect their people? Did they educate the people?  In most cases, the answer is no. Therefore in the eighteen centuries, you had a lot of glory and conquests by the kingdoms, but they were not strong nations with strong individuals, societies, and institutions. This is what is different about the Asian Century in the twenty-first century because the texture is very different. I come from a family that broke generations of poverty because for many years their lives had not changed. Social mobility was stuck until my father found education, and then he became a diplomat, and then the lines of poverty were broken by his actions.

Across Asia you see the same thing. You see political and economic reforms. You see entrepreneurialism that is producing businesspeople, small and medium enterprises, and you see a lot of people getting educated. They are graduating out of high school and also with university degrees. This is very important because if you’re poor but you’re educated and get a university degree, you immediately switch to the middleclass. You open up a lot of possibilities and you feel empowered as you feel that you have more social and economic mobility.

In other words, what I see in Indonesia, and in many other Asian countries, is that countries grow, the economies grow, but the individuals also grow. More and more individuals become empowered due to the increased social and economic mobility. This is why I think that the twenty-first century will be Asia’s best century. When you look at what is happening in Indonesia and India, you see the occurrence. This is important because when countries grow in their power, they tend to think differently. The texture of the country becomes different and the way they see the world and engage with it becomes different. This is how I see the twenty-first century—countries growing in their power.

What is different this time is the position of the individuals in those societies that are rising. Obviously the growth will be uneven between the countries and also within the countries, but what is important for these countries is that they are changing relative not to the west—don’t compare them to America or Europe—they are changing for the better, relative to their own past. This is one of the most dramatic changes we will see in Asia.

Why is this important? It is important because as countries grow in their power, their economies grow, leading to a phenomenon of confidence, of entitlement, of ambition, and some even want to exercise leadership—maybe China, maybe India or Indonesia. And when countries grow—there is always a degree of entitlement that follows with it. We saw this happening in Imperial Japan. We see this happening with China. Once China rises, it develops a much stronger sense of entitlement. We see this in Korea. We see this in small Singapore, with only more than five million people, but they are definitely punching above their weight diplomatically. We see this in my country Indonesia, as we see ourselves as a regional power in Southeast Asia.

This is definitely true for India. Every time I ask an Indian friend—do you consider yourself a major power?—they quote the Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and call India an “enlightened power.” There are more countries who will want space: diplomatic, political, strategic, and economic space, and more countries will want respect. They would not want to be on the receiving ends of sanctions, they would want a seat at the table, and they do not want to be told what to do. My point is that countries will grow in their power along with their sense of entitlement and that will shape the Asian Century.

The Twentieth Century’s “Troubled” Relationships

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  For me, the question is how many relationships will change along with this trend. The twentieth century was stubborn with relationships that were conflictual and are still going on today. Important relationships are marked by tension, such as between India and Pakistan, between China and Japan, the United States and China, North Korea and South Korea, and these relationships will remain troubled for some time.

There have also been wonderful stories in Asia where enmity turns to amity, and again I want to refer to the case of Indonesia that had a conflictual relationship with Malaysia with its policy of Konfrontasi that was fueled by negative agendas.[2] But Malaysia and Singapore are very close neighbors of Indonesia and members of the Asean family. Indonesia also had a conflictual relationship with Timor-Leste. There was a referendum that led to its split from Indonesia and the situation worsened as the conflict between the countries went on for two years. Relations gradually improved and that led to the friendly situation today.

China at a point also had a tumultuous relationship with Indonesia, which froze all diplomatic relationships with them. This was the result of the abortive coup of 1965, and for about twenty-two years we froze all diplomatic relations with China and turned our backs to them. However, we re-established our relationship with China, which is now a strategic partner. We were also worried about the war in Vietnam, that Communist Vietnam would cause Southeast Asian countries to fall like dominoes. A lot of us were scared of that possibility, but now that is no longer the case. Vietnam is a member of the Asean family.

The Asean Way and its “Major Challenge of Grass-rooting”

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  My point is that in all these cases, we were able to evolve a certain degree of strategic trust which developed with Singapore, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, China and, to some degree, with Vietnam. What it took was leadership—leaders who took political risks to mend relationships, leaders who had the political will to do so, a great sense of opportunism in a good way, along with a good dose of diplomatic imagination, a good dose of pragmatism, and also a forward-looking attitude, which was very difficult in many cases because of the conflictual history. It also took a lot of patience and persistence and we were able to develop all of this strategic trust without compromising our sovereignty, and without developing or entering alliance systems.

One of the most important transformational formulae of Asean is about political diversity and not uniformity—unlike the European Union, which has the requisites for member countries to be a free market, a democracy, and to have high respect for human rights, but in Asean you can have different political systems as long as you espouse the principles of Asean as contained in the Asean Declaration and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation along with being a part of Southeast Asia. These are the requirements of belonging in Asean.

However, Asean faces a major challenge—the problem of grass-rooting, even decades after its inception. This basically means that there are large numbers of citizens in Asean countries who know about Asean and what it entails but they are not touched by its activities. When asked about Asean’s economic community, they do not know what it is. A lot of economic activities are still far away from Asean.

In Indonesia, for example, only twelve of our provinces are trading with Asean. The rest, twenty-four of them, have no trade whatsoever with Asean, even though they are just next door. If you ask students in universities—what do you know about the Asean economic community or an Asean community—a majority of them would not know. Asean’s biggest challenge is to become a people-centered organization, which is the goal of Asean. It has not been people-centered to its fullest extent.

The Asean experience is important because it proved that nationalism and regionalism can go along together. It proved that regionalism can be a powerful force for order, stability, and cooperation. It proved that regionalism can be manufactured, just like in Europe. Regionalism can make a huge difference in regions such as Southeast Asia that was once deeply at war. It also proves that it is possible to establish a functioning a regional order in Southeast Asia, where the regional countries know what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to relate to one another.

Countries outside of Asean, such as China, the United States, India, Australia, and Japan are able to engage with the region by respecting the fact that Asean is the driving force, and by signing on to the rules, that is the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which are set by Asean. This is the only place in Asia where this is happening. What is interesting also about Asean regionalism is that the biggest country, Indonesia, is not the dominant country. There is a sense of equality in how Indonesia deals with the smallest countries, Brunei and Singapore.

It’s a very unique regional order that we have in Southeast Asia and as I look at Asia, the wider Asia, the question is—where else can this regionalism work in Asia? Can it work in South Asia? As you all know, it hasn’t worked in South Asia. Can’t it work in Northeast Asia? The answer is no, it has not worked out at all in Northeast Asia. In Central Asia? Not really. Emulating the Asean experience in other parts of Asia has proved to be difficult, and you have to answer a lot of questions. Is there the political will to do so? Where do you begin? Who will take the lead here? How do you develop the structure you already have? There isn’t much scope for the evolution of political thought. We do not have the answer to this, but if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration, do look at the Southeast Asian example.

The one thing about regionalism is that it is a bottom-up process. Countries in the region have to want it and build it from the ground up. We are still very far from reaching an all-encompassing Asia-wide order made of scattered building blocks with different, and sometimes overlapping, members and serving different purposes. That picture of an Asian order is a very mixed one, which is still going to be around for quite some time.

The Indo-Pacific: Conflicting Perceptions

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  Of these building blocks, one that is rapidly developing is the Indo-Pacific. It is a new concept denoting a vast geographical area, but it is an unsettled one. I am looking at what the geography of the Indo-Pacific concept is—the American, or the Australian, or the Indonesian? You come with different geographical definitions. The geographical scope is still an unsettled one, but it is definitely a geopolitical concept. It is a concept in progress. For example, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that it’s not going to stay for long. I cannot recollect the full anecdote, but he used the metaphor of an ocean that changes shape all the time.

That remains to be seen, but no one can deny that the Indo-Pacific has gained a great deal of traction in recent years. It has been adopted by the Asean countries, by India, by the United States, by Japan, by Australia, by the European countries, and so on. It is gaining more currency and there is some significance to the concept. As it is a maritime-driven concept, it seems that the definition is not about the whole of Asia but the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the countries surrounding it. Due to this, the Asean Outlook says that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are not contiguous; they are an integral part of the Indo-Pacific.

The other significance is that the United States is a part of the Indo-Pacific. I need to say this because there is an earlier definition of the Indo-Pacific that did not include the United States as a part of it. As the concept evolved, some countries said that the Indo-Pacific includes the United States, meaning its west coast. The United States also regards itself as an Indo-Pacific power. In fact, it has changed the Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command. That part is worthy of note, but equally the other geopolitical significance of the Indo-Pacific is that the weight of India is now added to the East Asian or the Asia-Pacific concept because it is not about Pakistan, or Bangladesh joining the Indo-Pacific—although I think it should be, as it is an all-inclusive process. But its significance, geopolitically, is that the weight of India is now placed within the dynamics going on in East Asia. Geopolitically, that is the facet to be underlined, but the Indo-Pacific has its challenges. There are different interpretations of the Indo-Pacific, and there different strategic intentions driving it. This is reflected in the fact that there are different labels to the Indo-Pacific. The Indians and the Americans use the label “free and open Indo-Pacific” along with the Japanese and Australians.

The biggest question is whether the Indo-Pacific is seen by some countries as a geopolitical construct to marginalize China, or to contain China, or was it created with China in mind. Different countries may have different responses to it, but I think the American strategy, or the American strategy under Trump at least, seemed to point in that direction. We remember how there was a Quad meeting in Tokyo and Secretary Pompeo said, at the end of 2019 that everything was about China. He would attack China very strongly and he did it at the Quad meeting in Tokyo. The impression was that the Quad’s interpretation of the Indo-Pacific was that it was an anti-China geopolitical construct. The label—free and open—also denotes this. That notion was confirmed in my conversation with my friends in Washington, when I asked, “what do you mean by ‘free,’ and do you mean a free democracy?” It was free and open in the way that China was not, in their view. If you use that definition then the Indo-Pacific is not just a geopolitical concept, but it is also a political concept. The point is that some countries are not comfortable with it. We believe that for any regional order or concept to have a long staying power, it has to be open and include everybody, and not have a design to exclude any power, especially a major power.

The Indonesian and the Asean concept of the Indo-Pacific is a bit different than the American one, which keeps focusing on the free and open Indo-Pacific. But on the Indonesian and Asean side, we refer to the free and open part, but we stress more on the inclusive side of it. We stress more on the cooperation side and not on the competition side. We believe that the Indo-Pacific is going to grow and it cannot exclude any major power, and in this case it is China. Obviously until now, China is just not comfortable with the Indo-Pacific. It is very resistant of it.

My feeling is that China is also not comfortable with the rules-based aspect of the Indo-Pacific definition, and that puts it in a different position than Asean because Asean used the term ‘rules-based Indo-Pacific’ as we want solid rules and norms that guide the interaction in Asia. This remains the case now, that it is an evolving concept. Asean is watching very closely that the Quad has a very strong role in the Indo-Pacific, raising it to the leaders’ level. What is important for the Quad is that it should always need to pay attention to Asean’s sensitivity regarding the centrality of Asean. In this, I think, there are some in Asean who are worried that the Quad will be taking action ahead of Asean, which is not preferred. Asean wants to be in the driver’s seat of the Indo-Pacific, and the biggest question now is—what is the relationship between the Quad and Asean? It is an open question, but Asean definitely wants to be in the driver’s seat to maintain its centrality in the Indo-Pacific.

China’s Growing Footprint in Southeast Asia

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  Let me talk a little about China because I know China is a big issue. For us, in Southeast Asia, if you ask me what is the most important geopolitical development in Southeast Asia in the last decade or two, it is definitely the growth of China and its engagement with the region. They came in not by hard power, but by using soft power, economic and social engagements, by its many student exchanges, and so on. Diplomatically, one of the most significant developments in Asean has been its relationship with China which has grown dramatically in contrast to China’s position thirty or forty years ago.

My organization had conducted an opinion poll in which we asked, “which country is the most impactful and consequential to Indonesia?” In the last several years, the answer had always been the United States, but when we did the survey recently, for the first time the answer was China. When we asked, “which country would be the most consequential in the next ten years?” the answer again changed from the United States to China. It doesn’t mean that they are comfortable with it. It doesn’t mean that everybody loves China, but they all recognize that China is now a huge part of our economic life. Most Indonesians, especially the political and economic elites, recognize that no matter how much you chart where Indonesia would be in the next ten to thirty years—and I believe that a lot of Southeast Asian countries think also this way—China will always be a big part of it. Of course, we see the United States there with Japan as big part of it, and we hope that India will also be a big part of it, but definitely people think that China would be one of the topmost countries in our economic future.

There is also a feeling that China cannot be contained, that its power will grow politically, diplomatically, and strategically. The question is—how do we engage China, as its power is constantly rising? We see that U.S.-China competition is viewed as a play for strategic dominance, perhaps, but what we see more on the ground is really about competition for political influence. This is particularly intense for countries around China. Never mind Africa, Middle East, Europe, or Latin America, I think what China wants is to have political influence and leverage in countries that are in China’s periphery, especially in Southeast Asia, that exceeds the influence and leverage of any other country—the United States, Japan, India, or others. I think that is the name of the game. I don’t know about strategic dominance but definitely political dominance. China wants to have more of it than any other country—in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and so on.

The United States has rivalry with China, and it wants to influence Southeast Asia in such a way that feels uncomfortable. Trump tried to do so and Biden also. But the Southeast Asian countries may have to scold China from time to time. Indonesia does that because we have issues with China on Natuna waters, and other issues as well, but I think that there are a few Asian countries that will take to permanently confronting China. In Southeast Asia, I don’t see one who will want to do that. Occasionally there may be some schooling China back and forth on certain issues relating to Southeast Asian countries, especially Indonesia.

The key thing now is balance. Twenty or thirty years earlier, we used to say the key factor was independence. Strategic independence is important. Strategic autonomy is key and we continue to regard it as a priority, but the question of balance has become more important now. If you are very exposed to China, then we would also like to improve the exposure to the United States. In Indonesian foreign policy in the last ten to fifteen years, this has been the mindset—how do you continuously balance between the exposures to different great powers.

In a way, we see India in this sense too. India is a growing power. It is huge along with the Indian Ocean. India is strong in building the regional architecture and on some global issues. It is a member of the G20 with its growing navy and military forces. Our relationship with India is also seen as a way to balance between our relationships with these great powers. That is something new for us as we are seeing this in recent times.

The Risks of Growing Nationalism in China and the Region

Ambassador Dr. Dino Patti Djalal:  We don’t believe China is an ideological threat as the United States claims it to be. I don’t think that China wants to export communism. What is truer is that China wants political influence, and in fact they have been very careful about the issue of ideology. There is no question that China will be a huge factor in the twenty-first century, strategically, diplomatically, and economically. What we don’t want to see is a Chinese Century. We want it to be the Asian Century, with China being a part of it, and all of Asia rising together. I believe that the future of China is Chinese Nationalism. What do I mean by that? China now claims its rise is peaceful, and it is saying all the right things such as “win-win,” a new type of power game, shared destiny, and so on. But what happens at some point in time when China’s nationalism, one way or another, takes a wrong turn, which is a possibility. When I went to China, I asked this particular question—will China’s nationalism become hard at some point? Everybody said, “no, we will be cool, we will be responsible,” but no one can guarantee it. You saw the rise of nationalism in America after 9/11, and later during Trump’s presidency. Things go up and down. Nationalism can sharpen at different points in time. It could happen to Indonesia. I would never say that Indonesia would never develop a hard nationalism, or ultra-nationalism, or the wrong kind of nationalism. I am sure for India, you would not make that 100 percent bet, too. There is always a chance that nationalism can take a certain form that is not healthy. This would be my thing to watch on China, which is dismissed by the Chinese, but as political scientists, I think it is a valid question. What happens when China becomes more powerful and prosperous, and their nationalism takes on a form that is not healthy? We have seen this happening with some other countries.

Towards an Abrahamic Peace: Calming Interfaith Tensions

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  In my work on something called the Abrahamic Circle, I have noticed interfaith tensions growing around the world. There are more occurrences of identity politics along with religion and politics getting mixed up. You see it in rise of Islamophobia in Europe, in the United States, and in parts of Asia. I notice that in the last 1,300 years, there has never been a century where Muslims, Christians, and the Jewish people have lived totally and globally at peace with one another. Underline the terms totally and globally. There has always been a century in which the Muslims, Christians, and Jewish people were at war, or in conflict, with one another. My worry is that in the twenty-first century, we are not seeing the situation getting any better. I would love to see the twenty-first century as a century where an Abrahamic peace can be finally achieved totally and globally, but we’re not seeing signs of it.

The reason why I bring this up is because in Indonesia, for example, where we pride ourselves on being a multicultural country with religious freedom, in our last election in 2019, religion was an issue. President Jokowi, who won a second term, had to win by proving his Islamic credentials, demonstrating that politically Islam was definitely the main issue. This was in a country that is the third largest democracy in the world, a country that has religious freedom, but still at the grassroots you see some degree of, what you can call, friction between Muslims and non-Muslims. In fact, I was surprised to find that there was a study by a presidential office that found that there were ten ‘most intolerant cities’ in Indonesia, which included Jakarta, the capital city. The study was done by the presidential office, so it has a great deal of credibility. It surprised me that after so many years, the issue of identity, intolerance, and diversity are still there in Indonesia, and this is true of many other countries. This is an issue that we need to pay attention to because there are a lot of Muslims in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

“An Asian Century Cannot be Imagined if there is Climate Disaster Everywhere”

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  We have a very active campaign at the FPCI for a Net Zero World by 2050. The problem is that it is hard to awaken public imagination and political responsiveness to the threat of climate change. We have only till 2050 to make sure that the global average temperature is below two degrees. After that, we run the risk of going into a world that is four degrees hotter than the average. What we see, for example, is that China’s emissions are more than that of developed countries. The challenge for us is no longer the emissions from developed countries which caused all the greenhouse effect, but how do we make sure that all developing countries are a part of the solution. We are getting too much into the politics of accusations. We need to go beyond that, and that’s why I think that the COP26 was particularly important. We cannot imagine an Asian Century being a place where there’s just climate disaster everywhere. I think I read somewhere that India had a record heat wave, where at one place the temperature rose to 123 degrees Fahrenheit or 53 degrees Celsius, which is just like hell. If we don’t do anything about it then 2050 is definitely doing to be a climate disaster. We cannot define a happy and stable twenty-first century unless Asians really get on with the fight to reduce their emissions and achieve a Net Zero World, hopefully by 2050.

I do want to stress that there are paradoxes that we need to be mindful of in pursuit of the Asian Century, that at a time when Asia is becoming a center of gravity, it is becoming a greater theater for conflicts and strategic mistrust. We need to avoid that paradox. There is a paradox that at a time when Asia’s soft power and smart power is rapidly expanding, Asia becomes embroiled and entrapped, and that’s never good. At a time when we are connected and integrated, Asia becomes more embroiled in divisive and oppressive narrow nationalism and identity politics. At a time when Asia is potentially reaching its best century, countries in Asia bungle the opportunity and descend into more division, exhibit an inward-looking attitude, and narrow nationalism. These are the paradoxes that we need to avoid in order to achieve what could potentially be Asia’s best century.

Remarks from the Audience

Ambassdor Gurjit Singh: Thank you very much Dr. Dino for giving us a large swath, pointing out the many paradoxes and contradictions, and yet showing where the unity lay. Four quick points from what I understood, and my comment: First, this has to be an Asian Century and not a Chinese Century. If Asean can help in that, then we would be very grateful. Two, China has used the “free and open” rules-based order, globalization, and everything which came with it, to try and become a dominant power. Now these two together cannot co-exist. Three, the Indo-Pacific and the Quad are reactions to Chinese aggressive intent. They are not peace-making bodies by themselves. Four, India has decided that the economic integrity of Asia can be sacrificed in order to retain its own strategic autonomy, unlike Asean, which talks about strategic autonomy but gives political gains to China for economic benefit. Countries like Australia, Japan, India, and the United States suffer from Chinese actions and they are resolute in contradicting them. I think that the Quad is ready to work with certain Asean countries who have the ability but need to show the will, and I would like to name two, Indonesia and Vietnam, to come along, draw the line and say, “this is where you are and no more.”

But these are not easy questions. You point out about climate change and trade issues. China has taken advantage of everything the world had to offer them and has tried to close the world for others. So, the Asian Century, at least till the next twenty-five years is going to be one of contention and not as peaceful as we would like. I would like to stop and open the floor for questions.

Dr. Harish Mehta: I compliment you Ambassador Dino on the way you have drawn the whole argument on the paradoxes. The two things that have struck me were that, can an Asean type regionalism work in South Asia and other parts of the region, as you’ve stated that it will be difficult to achieve an Asean type regionalism. You’ve pointed out the stumbling blocks. Do you think South Asia, Northeast Asia, and Central Asia can arrive at some kind of Asean type regionalism or a consensus, in their own spheres? Unless these things happen, an Asian Century will remain distant because after all, you cannot only have Asean as a role model and the others sort of traveling in their own orbits. That’s my question.

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  I would like to first answer Dr. Mehta’s question. I think that is the reality on ground. We see the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, is not becoming a vehicle for regionalism in South Asia. I think the main problem is obviously the difficult relationship between India and Pakistan. As that persists, it is hard to develop a strong regionalism. And keep in mind Indonesia. Things began to evolve in the right direction once relations between Indonesia and its neighbors like Malaysia and Singapore changed, and the relationship between Philippines and Malaysia changed, when the Philippines dropped its claim to Sabah. I don’t see that occurring in South Asia. The structural relations between India and Pakistan are too deep, and the structural split is going to be around for some time. It is the same for Northeast Asia. It is just hard for South Korea, China, Japan, Mongolia, and North Korea to develop the kind of regionalism that has developed in Southeast Asia. That will continue for some generations. So, I am afraid that this is going to be operational for some time, and that is going to undermine the quality of the Asian Century that we are trying to achieve.

Professor Biswajit Mohapatra: Do you see a kind of convergence of views between Indonesia and India, more particularly when you hint at the point that Indonesia’s views on the Indo-Pacific are more inclusive than exclusive as it is being viewed by other countries?

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  For Dr. Biswajit’s question, you know that India’s and Indonesia’s relations are changing. It is no longer about non-alignment. I think now it is more geopolitical. I know the Minister of Defence for Indonesia, General Prabowo Subianto, pays a great deal of attention to India, especially because he sees the Indian Navy as a very active and visible presence in the Andaman Islands and in the waters around Indonesia in the Indian Ocean. He takes notice of the Indian defence industry, for example. The geopolitical rationale is for India and Indonesia to get closer and there is already a comprehensive partnership, but that has become more obvious these days. What we regret is India not being a part of our Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). We would have been much different and much more substantive with India within it than with India outside of it. However, we understand the circumstances for India and we believe that at some point India will join the RCEP. I think that Gurjit will also agree with me that the toughest nut to crack is the economic engagement between India and Indonesia. The trade is growing with more Indian investments in Indonesia, with more Indian tourists in Indonesia, but it is just not growing at the level of China. Our trade with China is US$ 75 billion. Keep in mind that this is three times larger than our trade with the United States. Our trade with the United States is around US$ 28-29 billion. With China, it will soon reach US$ 100 billion. So, our economic engagement with India is really a challenge for both sides, but definitely the potential for diplomatic and strategic engagement is strongly present, and we need to harness it.

Mr. Himanshu Bhushan Sidnath: Namaskar, Dr. Dino. I am a student from Indira Gandhi National Tribal University. What is the role of academia and how may academia promote the general and economic values and policies of Asean? How does it affect academia and its thought process?

Ambassador Dr. Dino: Obviously, the academia is an important part of the policymaking process, and of the people to people contact. In terms of India and Indonesia, there has been quite a lot of movement with relationships between universities, but getting Indonesians to study in India has been a challenge. The academia has a great role to play in building the relationship between the two countries. In Indonesia, I am the Chairman of the Indonesian Lecturers’ Association, but for a variety of reasons, we have been having hard time developing university to university connections, even within Southeast Asia. I notice among Indonesian lecturers, they are not well exposed to global issues. Indonesia has 270 million people, but if you want to find foreign policy experts, there’s really a handful. There are just not too many around and that is very surprising for a large country like Indonesia.

Ambassador Gurjit Singh: Just to add to that, Indonesia has two hundred and fifty students in India. Ethiopia has one thousand. Most Indonesians who come to study take up religious studies. Either they are at the gurukul or at the madrassa. Very few are actually studying science. Some are into humanities. So, India has offered one thousand scholarships to go to the Indian Institute of Technology for all the Asean countries. Now this is in its second year. A second call has gone out but the response is still slow. We are on the right track but we need more encouragement and enthusiasm.

Mr. Arijit Ghose: Dr. Dino, I compliment your expertise in painting a very wide canvas. It is very difficult to cover a century, very difficult to cover Asia, and to define Asia. Two areas which struck me which are equally important in the next century: one is the whole issue of food security. If you look at parts of Asia, where the populations are growing, there is a problem of equity with food. Food security is going to be a challenge in the next century. The other one which I think is a big one for North Asia is the aging population. If you look at China and Japan, these are now becoming countries with an aging population. Things won’t change in the next twenty years, but if you look at 2050 and then contrast it to what happened in Europe—will China start having to look for migrants? There will be a period of muscular nationalism, of course, but there will come a time, say about 2050-2060, when they will face the same challenges that Europe faced in the last century. What is your view on that?

Ambassador Dr. Dino: First on food security. I spoke earlier on climate change, that if we don’t control global warming, food security is definitely going to get worse. You might be familiar with the ice melting from the Himalayas and how that will affect the flow of water and irrigation in agricultural areas in North India, and that would affect some 500 million people.

Mr. Arijit Ghose: Just to interrupt there, that’s one aspect of the issue. I used to work with Unilever for over thirty years. One of the things which we found is that if you take the average calorie intake required for an adult male, it is about 2,000 calories per person. If you take the entire production of the world today and you divide it by the number of people who are there, you have 4,000 calories available per person, but it just doesn’t work per person. It just doesn’t work because of inequity of distribution systems, and now of course global warming. It is a very big challenge which has not been tackled yet.

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  I totally agree with you. I do think that food security will be under threat due to global warming. In Indonesia, we see more drought and floods affecting our rice paddy fields. We see more forest fires, not this year but in previous years. In fact, the rise of sea temperature by 1 degree would kill the coral reefs and that would affect the Blue Economy. This a global problem and that’s why we’ve made the task of a Net Zero World a lot more urgent because we only have thirty years to achieve it. The formula is quite simple, actually. The formula to achieve Net Zero 2050 is to reduce emission by 50 percent in the next ten years, and then repeat the process in subsequent periods of ten years. So, by 2050, you have Net Zero. I hope that India will be a part of that global challenge. I read some place that India constitutes 7 percent of global emissions, and Indonesia is about 3 percent of global emissions. We have great responsibilities there.

On the graying of the Asian population, I definitely share your concern for Indonesia. We have a young population. I think 50 percent of our own population is around 30 years old. We have a demographic dividend that will only last for another fifteen years before our workforce loses the competitive advantage. The problem for Indonesia is that more than 50 percent of our workforce has only elementary degrees, and that means that a lot of them are not going to be competitive, and we are going to be wasting our demographic dividend. It may be the same case in India as well. We’ll get there soon. Our population will start aging just like the population of China, Japan, and Korea. This is why President Jokowi has stressed on the need for human development as a priority for his administration. It is not just about the infrastructure, but human resource development, especially in education. Covid sort of messed up everything for Indonesia.

Ambassador Gurjit Singh: We can now conclude this first Annual Distinguished Foreign Policy Lecture. Dr. Dino has given us a tour de horizon. The horizon will keep changing, but the sun will keep rising in the east. The path will not be easy to travel. Dino, one of the things we can take way is, perhaps, a collaboration between the Rising Asia Journal and the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, to connect younger people and academics, to do a conference in the near future. I leave that thought with you, and go back to our Chairman, Dr. Harish Mehta.

Dr. Harish C. Mehta: It has been an extremely illuminating experience listening to Dr. Dino, and learning from him several aspects that have enlightened me. In his talk, he took us back to the Konfrontasi, for example, about Asean overcoming its initial hangups over setting aside intra-Asean rivalries that had existed, that were again a throwback to the colonial era. And within that, the way Indonesia had worked with Malaysia and Singapore to end Konfrontasi. All of these are important messages, not just for South Asia, but beyond to include the wider North Asia and its diplomatic interactions with South Asia, ideas that are also embedded within the narrative that Dr. Dino has wonderfully brought out. As well as his need for the Indo-Pacific as a building block at a time when most of the countries have different interpretations of what it is, which raises the question, “how are we going to bring all these different interpretations into one common plank,” if that is at all possible. Or let each one stay with their own version of the Indo-Pacific. Some overlap is always nice, and this would create a diversity of opinion. But eventually, you’ve got to move forward with it. With that, I thank you profusely, Dr. Dino for coming today. I wholeheartedly accept the idea mooted by Ambassador Gurjit Singh, and accepted by you, to heighten and tighten the relationship between the FPCI and the RAJ/RAF. I now hand over the baton to Professor Julie Mehta to deliver her vote of thanks.

Ambassador Dr. Dino:  Thank you very much, everybody. I really enjoyed meeting you and talking to you.

Dr. Julie Banerjee Mehta: Dr. Dino that was a priceless, insightful, compelling, persuasive, and visionary talk. As postcolonial scholars who are present here today in large numbers, some of whom are my postgraduate students, we totally understand where you’re coming from. The issue of nationalism, the issue of ultranationalism, and your Abrahamic Peace, we are familiar with that. You have added so many rich pickings to the subject of the Asian Century, the paradoxes and the challenges, and the promises and the possibilities. Your particular idea of brokering of individual identity, individual empowerment through growth and economic enhancement in Asia, is a point very well taken. You have made references that the younger generation will immediately connect with. I would like to thank Dr. Dino, and the members of the Rising Asia Journal and Foundation, the copyeditors, particularly Mohini Maureen Pradhan who has always helped us with our technology. Thank you all.


  This manuscript was edited by Harish C. Mehta and Mohini Maureen Pradhan.

[1] Dangdut refers to Indonesian popular music for dancing that combines local music traditions, Indian and Malaysian film musics, and Western rock. The style emerged in Jakarta in the late 1960s and reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. https://www.britannica.com/art/dangdut.

[2] Konfrontasi (or Confrontation, 1963–1966) was a conflict started by Indonesia under the leadership of President Sukarno, who opposed the formation of the Federation of Malaysia consisting of Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah). https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/f950e04d-44d7-47ad-a10c-16dfb0cc9ce3#text=Konfrontasi-or-Confrontation1963-and-North-Borneo-(Sabah)