At the end of his current trip to Asia, Secretary of State John Kerry will be stopping in Jakarta and meeting with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Le Luong Minh. Although his visit in Jakarta will be short, Kerry will undoubtedly emphasize the same themes he is hitting throughout the visit, including pushing to restart talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and prodding China to work more seriously with Southeast Asian nations on a real code of conduct for the South China Sea. Matthew Lee of the Associated Press, traveling with Kerry, has a thorough summary of the trip’s agenda here.
At the ASEAN Secretariat, Kerry surely will find a welcoming audience for a speech about a South China Sea code of conduct; although he has thus far taken pains to play the role of regional statesman, ASEAN’s Secretary General does hail from Vietnam, one of the two Southeast Asian nations most involved in disputing areas of the Sea with China. Still, it is hard to see what Kerry can say about a code of conduct that would be new in any way, or that would exert more pressure on Beijing than other strategies tried by the administration. Indeed, Kerry might eventually have better luck getting Kim Jong Un to make a deal on his nuclear program than on getting Beijing to agree to a real and binding code of conduct. (The Secretary also will sign two Memorandums of Understanding with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister. These will deal with more modest issues like working together to help other developing countries improve their human rights records.)
Despite the short amount of time Kerry is spending in Jakarta, and the focus on ASEAN and regional issues, it would be valuable for him to dip his toe, slightly, into domestic Indonesian politics. He should meet with Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, who is almost sure to be the next president of Indonesia, and who provides an excellent counter-example to failing democracy in Thailand and Cambodia and Malaysia—an accountable, successful, and democratically elected Southeast Asian leader. [See Bloomberg View for a summary of Jokowi as counter-example.] Surely the Secretary of State can make time for a bilateral with the Jakarta mayor?