Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) visited China twice in his first year of presidency alone. In contrast he made his first state visit to the United States only in October 2015. But although Sino–Indonesian relations are currently strengthening, economic and geostrategic obstacles are likely to limit progress.
When the Jokowi administration came to power in 2014, it inherited an already strong relationship with China. Under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) relations were upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2013, which saw enhanced cooperation in areas such as defence and scientific research. In 2010, China also became Indonesia’s largest trade partner and committed to assist Indonesia in infrastructural development.
In his inaugural speech as the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo communicated a vision of prosperity for his country based on a tradition of maritime trade. Indonesia, he said, is to become a sea-going trading power once again. With a new Ministry of Maritime Affairs and a US $6 billion investment in maritime infrastructure, he’s putting his proverbial money where his mouth is. While this seems like an obvious path for archipelagic Indonesia to take, there are very important reasons why this signals a profound shift in the strategic thinking of the country from an internal threat perception to an external one. Although some analysts believe Jokowi’s pronouncement is code for abandonment of Indonesia’s non-alignment policy, it is likely his words had nothing to do with external actors and everything to do with growing confidence in Indonesia’s democracy to effectively address its historically troubled internal security.
Last month, as Indonesians prepared to vote for a new president, dozens of West Papuan activists were reportedly attacked by security forces for urging local people to boycott the elections. Mischa Wilmers speaks to the exiled leader of the Free West Papua movement, Benny Wenda, about his lifelong struggle for justice and asks why nobody is talking about the territory he calls ‘little South Africa.’
The Abbott government has promised to write a new Defence White Paper within 18 months, and one of the key challenges it will face is considering the place of Indonesia in Australian defence thinking. As the fear of a direct Indonesian threat retreats into the past, it is being replaced by a view of Indonesia as a potential ‘buffer’ separating Australia from the vagaries of the East Asian system. But when the new government considers Australia’s defence options in the next century, it’d do well to remember that Indonesia gets a vote in the role it plays in defending Australia.
Historically, Indonesia has comprised an important, though unclear, element in Australia’s strategic environment. When Australia looks at its neighbourhood in isolation, Indonesia’s proximity and strategic potential makes it appear as a liability. But if the lens is widened to encompass the entire Asia-Pacific strategic system, a strong Indonesia looks more like an asset. During the Cold War Australia’s security concerns about Indonesia revolved around threats associated with Konfrontasi, communism and state collapse, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Sukarno regime menacing briefly in 1965. But as early as the 1970s, Defence was also conducting studies of possible regional contingencies which involved Indonesia as an ally in achieving regional security. So recognition of our mutual strategic interests coexisted with security concerns about Indonesia.
Once widely considered a desirable endpoint for all nations, democracy’s seeming benefits are now openly questioned by many. The poor results of democratization in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with the rise of economically successful non-democracies such as China, have caused democracy promotion to lose some of its luster. So, given these recent trends, what are democracy’s prospects for the future?
This question was the primary focus of a recent panel discussion hosted by the Forum Aussenpolitik (foraus) and NCCR Democracy at the University of Zurich. Entitled “Democracy Promotion: Lessons from Different Regions of the World,” the discussion featured three experts who analyzed the ways and means of democracy promotion; its feasibility; how and whether it should be encouraged, and its successes and failures.