Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 08:40 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 08:40 | SYDNEY

Indonesia: Unpeturbed by China

20 April 2011 15:15

Greta Nabbs-Keller is writing a PhD at Griffith's Asia Institute on the impact of democratisation on Indonesia's foreign policy.

The Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables has presented some interesting insights into Indonesia's foreign relations.

Last month, corruption allegations against President Yudhoyono contained in a leaked cable from the US Embassy in Jakarta strained Indonesia-US relations, infuriating Yudhoyono and reportedly reducing his wife to tears.

Yet there was another Wikileaks release that was more interesting in what it revealed, not about Indonesia-US relations, but about Indonesia's paradigmatic policy shift toward China.

In a cable dated 5 March 2007, a US Embassy official in Beijing recorded the views of Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cui Tiankai, and another senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official on policy objectives with respect to Indonesia.

The cable revealed that China was 'not impressed' with the presidents who led Indonesia in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis and more contentiously, reported China 'sought to promote secular Islam in Indonesia by encouraging interaction with China's 20 million Muslims'.

It is quite conceivable just over a decade ago that a Chinese policy objective of 'secularising' Indonesia's 88 percent Muslim population would have been incendiary, given the history of enmity in Indonesia-China relations and the violence against Indonesia's ethnic Chinese community. But the response in Jakarta was noticeably muted.

Indonesian officials downplayed the contents of the cable. Presidential spokesperson Julian Aldrin Pasha told the media that 'Indonesia's relations with China remained good' and as there was 'no crucial information released by Wikileaks, Indonesia did not need to respond'.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Agung Laksono, claimed it was an 'attempt to damage 60 years of relations' and did not believe 'there was an intent' to secularise Indonesian Muslims.

Jakarta-based experts thought there was 'nothing surprising' in the cable and questioned the motives behind the release, rather than those of the Chinese government. Even Indonesia's parliament, the DPR, normally a bastion of plurality and vocality on foreign policy issues remained quiet.

Although Chinese views on Indonesia were essentially sanguine in contrast to the sensational allegations against Yudhoyono reported from the US embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia's muted response is, nevertheless, illustrative of the remarkable improvement in Indonesia-China relations over the last decade. 

In sum, there is no longer any political benefit in inciting anti-Chinese sentiment and it is clear that political reform in Indonesia, by ending the military's dominance over the policy apparatus and breaking the nexus between regime legitimacy and the threat of Chinese-backed subversion, has engendered a high degree of policy consensus on closer relations with China.

Why upset your banker'

Photo, from the Indonesian pavilion in Shanghai, courtesy of Flickr user fabonthemoon.