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Indonesia Should Advocate for Full ASEAN Membership to the G20

17 Jan 2024
By Ridvan Kilic
The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak joins other leaders in the G20 second session. Source: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street /

With Southeast Asia’s economic and political future, there are growing calls to invite ASEAN to take a seat at the G20. Questions however hang over ASEAN’s ability to meet the regions needs first, and, in particular, the growing security challenges that have yet to meet a satisfactory conclusion. 

Today, the Group of 20 (the G20) comprises 19 sovereign countries, and two multilateral blocs – the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU). The AU became the latest G20 member at last year’s summit in New Delhi. The G20 is composed of most of the world’s largest economies and accounts for approximately 85 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 75 percent of international trade. A top priority for the grouping is to tackle global economic challenges and lay a strong foundation for sustainable, inclusive, and fair global economic growth and development.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is one of the world’s largest economic blocs and its members include some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. An integral part of the world economy, ASEAN accounts for approximately 6.5 percent of global GDP, also playing a prominent role in regional and international diplomacy. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which was first conceived by ASEAN in 2011, came into effect in 2022. The RCEP is the world’s largest trade bloc and includes all 10 ASEAN member states. Furthermore, as a single entity ASEAN is well-positioned to become one of the world’s top four largest economies by 2040.

With such considerations, it is clear that ASEAN should stand to become the next member of the G20. Its addition will give the G20 further legitimacy and weight to its decisions and bring more diversity to the world’s premier forum for international economic cooperation. This of course aligns with the G20’s vision for a more inclusive and fair global economic order.

For the time being, Southeast Asia’s sole G20 member state remains Indonesia. Jakarta has become an increasingly important political and economic actor on the global stage and is predicted to become the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2050. As the region’s largest country and economy, Indonesia can lead efforts for the full membership of ASEAN to the G20.

A cornerstone of Indonesian foreign policy  

Since 1967, ASEAN has been the cornerstone of Indonesian foreign policy and a key pillar in Jakarta’s search for a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Southeast Asia. For Jakarta’s political establishment, ASEAN helps Indonesia to strengthen its international influence and increase its global appeal. Indonesia also firmly believes that ASEAN can contribute positively to the global economic order by promoting and fostering fair and inclusive economic growth, development, and cooperation.

Since joining the G20 in 2008, Jakarta has sought to position itself as a leader and representative of ASEAN inside the G20. The country is also well aware of its increasing international stature, and this new-found confidence has been boosted by Indonesia’s successful hosting of the 2022 G20 summit in Bali. Under Indonesian leadership, the summit successfully manufactured a joint declaration which was somewhat surprising considering that the summit was held amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Indonesia could harness its growing global leadership by advocating for the permanent inclusion of nine other ASEAN countries in global multilateral forums, like the G20. This will give the grouping a more substantial voice on global economic issues that directly affect Southeast Asia.

Full ASEAN membership

Full ASEAN membership to the G20 could reinvigorate the ASEAN project. ASEAN’s role as an effective regional and global bloc has faced some major challenges in recent times. The East Asia Summit in Jakarta last year was undermined by the no-show of both President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping, which was perceived as evidence that the US and China don’t think ASEAN is a priority in Southeast Asia. This is primarily because, in recent years, ASEAN has failed to collectively deal with burgeoning security challenges like the South China Sea territorial disputes and the Myanmar coup, which has diminished its standing as an effective and leading bloc in Southeast Asia. One argument for this failure is that ASEAN is not a security alliance like NATO, thus its principal focus and greatest success has been in economic and trade development, and that this should take consideration.

On this basis, last year’s ASEAN Summit in Jakarta formally adopted the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) – the first major region-wide digital agreement in the world – showcasing ASEAN’s ability to develop forward-thinking economic development despite such challenges. The group also reached an agreement on the ASEAN Blue Economy Framework, which would drive sustainable economic growth by maximising the abundance of marine resources in many ASEAN countries.

ASEAN’s membership would contribute to the G20’s goal of driving global growth through emerging sectors like the digital economy. Southeast Asia is the fastest-growing internet market in the world, and ASEAN’s digital economy is projected to double to US$2 trillion by 2030. ASEAN’s DEFA agreement envisions the grouping as a leading digital economic bloc, powered by safe, secure, and transformative digital technologies and ecosystems.

All of this suggests that ASEAN economies are projected to have a much more commanding role in the global economy going forward. Full ASEAN membership will make the G20 more inclusive and effective while also adding legitimacy to the group. On this basis, it is in Indonesia’s interest to promote its inclusion and so centre the bloc as a new and influential global economic driver.

Ridvan Kilic is a recent graduate of the Master of International Relations course at La Trobe University. His research interests include the Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship, Indonesian foreign, defence, and trade policy, and domestic affairs, ASEAN, the Quad, and the Indonesian diaspora community. Ridvan’s primary focus is Indonesia, Australia, ASEAN regionalism, and the Indo-Pacific.
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