The Rise of Nusantara: New Indonesian Capital, New Strategic Perspectives?
Indonesia’s passing of the state capital law on January 18 is a major step in realizing President Joko Widodo’s dream of building a new capital for the sprawling country.
He highlighted the start of the government’s commitment to a decades-long effort to build and relocate the capital of Jakarta, which is sinking due to environmental degradation and climate change.
The aptly named new capital, Nusantara, sits right in the center of the maritime state comprising 17,000 islands.
Nusantara, which means archipelago, is located on the east coast of the island of Borneo near Balikpapan.
It is envisioned as a new smart and sustainable city and will be a new symbol of Indonesia’s national identity and diversity as well as the future economic powerhouse and center of innovation.
CAPITAL WITH A DIFFERENCE
The central government can now move to the first stage of development from 2022 to 2024 by constructing a new presidential palace and government offices in the new capital region.
The aim is to relocate the presidential office and key ministries (e.g. defence, home affairs, foreign affairs) to Nusantara by the end of 2023 or early 2024, and hold National Day celebrations Indonesian on August 17, 2024 in the new capital.
The Site will be developed and administered by the Nusantara State Capital Authority (“Capital Authority”).
This entity is the name of a provincial government with special characteristics not governed by Indonesian regional autonomy laws.
Instead, it is simultaneously a ministerial-level institution headed by an unelected head directly appointed by the president, with special powers defined by government regulation.
The new system is different from the current arrangement in Jakarta in which an elected governor is overseen by a regional House of Representatives and responsible to the people of Jakarta in regional elections.
Therefore, the central government does not directly administer government affairs in Jakarta, but works with a governor with significant autonomy and an independent source of legitimacy.
In Jakarta, the overlapping of powers between the central government and the regional government has hampered the resolution of issues such as those related to flooding and the management of Covid-19.
MORE AUTHORITY FOR THE PRESIDENT?
As a ministerial-level institution directly responsible to the president, Nusantara’s development under the authority of the capital is less likely to encounter problems related to central-regional coordination.
However, this means that the president’s authority is also greatly enhanced in the new capital vis-à-vis other state institutions, including parliament and the Supreme Court.
Additionally, Indonesian parliamentarians and political party leaders will reside in the new capital when parliament is in session, distancing themselves from their established networks in Jakarta and the island of Java.
It is therefore possible that political parties will become more dependent on state funding in the future.
Given the gradual strengthening of presidential power during the two terms of President Jokowi (who cannot run for a third term under the Constitution), authority could be increasingly recentred within the presidency, as the shows the job creation law.
This evolution was marked by a significant retreat of the powers of the regional governments towards the centre.
The new capital law also delegates broad discretion and authority to the president.
This trend, accentuated by the relocation of the capital, could accelerate in the years to come and reinforce the presidential bias in the Indonesian political system.
CHANGING STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVES?
Historically, the movement of state capitals had tended to be accompanied by a profound change in the geostrategic thinking of the elites and in the way they saw their relations with the rest of the world.
Take the case of ancient China.
After the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty and the move of the state capital from Kaifeng (an inland city away from the coast) to Hangzhou (overlooking Hangzhou Bay and the East China Sea) under the Song South, the Chinese state has transformed from a continental state to a maritime power with a permanent navy.
The current capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, is located on Java and protected to the south by the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean.
To the north, it is surrounded by its outer island provinces, isolating it from potential hotspots in the South China Sea or other non-traditional maritime security issues.
Tactically, Indonesian defense planners have always envisioned that the forces available on its outer islands will absorb the initial blow of any direct attack, while naval and air reinforcements converge around the archipelago.
The likelihood of Jakarta being directly attacked was therefore very low.
Defense planning will have to be reformulated to prepare for the transfer of the capital to Nusantara, as the new capital region overlooks the Makassar Strait, where control of the 100-200 km wide strait is crucial for the security of the capital city.
As the strait is a key outlet to the South China Sea and important for international shipping, Nusantara is also more vulnerable and closer to potential great power conflict or flashpoint than Jakarta.
In a sign that maritime surveillance and control of its archipelagic sea lanes is increasingly a priority for Indonesia, the country’s Maritime Safety Agency (Bakamla) recently announced plans to build 35 early warning stations in North Sulawesi and Maluku.
The new capital’s more vulnerable location will likely bolster current plans to modernize Indonesia’s surface/submarine fleet and deploy land-based anti-ship missile systems to secure its maritime waters.
At the same time, the relocation of Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to Nusantara is likely to support current efforts to shift the military’s traditional land focus towards the development of its air and naval forces, while water control archipelagos is becoming increasingly important to elites. based in Nusantara.
Over time, the new capital’s proximity to maritime hotspots and its strategic location in central Indonesia could lead to the development of a new fleet command there.
Over the next two years, as Indonesia heads into a 20-month presidential campaign season in the second half of 2022, Nusantara will gradually begin to take shape as the new capital of Indonesia, marking the start of the end of the Jokowi era.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jefferson Ng is a Senior Program Analyst for Indonesia at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. This article first appeared in RSIS Commentary.