Cyr: Indonesia’s success offers great opportunities | Columnists
President Joe Biden’s trip to Northeast Asia in May deservedly received extensive media coverage. By contrast, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s June trip to Southeast Asia received far less.
Shame. Asia is of enormous strategic importance. President Richard Nixon deserves special credit for establishing direct ties between the United States and China.
Singapore, one of Austin’s main stops, hosted the nineteenth in a series of conferences sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Established in 1958 by the Ford Foundation, the IISS is respected for providing reliable information on military developments around the world, as well as in-depth analysis of international security and strategic challenges.
China’s defense minister also attended the conference, as well as leaders from the Indo-Pacific region. Earlier this month, President Biden hosted an American ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) meeting in Washington D.C.
In Singapore, Austin met with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. A happy encounter, because this nation provides powerful evidence for the future of Asia.
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Indonesia held the largest free one-day elections in the world in April 2019. President Joko Widodo was re-elected for a second term by a majority.
In 2018, a Gallup poll found an unprecedented 75% of Indonesians believed the elections were fair. It is the highest percentage on record, in a long-term upward trend in public confidence, following a troubled national history.
Horrific past events provide graphic and important context. In May 2018, the Islamic State carried out bloody terrorist attacks in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city.
Terrorism is persistent but infrequent in Indonesia. In an attack in 2016, four people died. In 2002, the worst attack killed 202 people in Bali, including many foreign tourists.
The Indonesian election took place in the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Trade routes and commodities give Indonesia great strategic importance.
Washington has the opportunity to present Indonesia and neighboring countries as success stories in expanding political stability, modernization and the rule of law. In 1998, opponents forced Indonesia’s longtime autocratic president and former general Muhammad Suharto out of power. Since then, the nation has had a representative government.
Indonesia’s international conflicts today are largely technical and legal, including maritime disputes that involve East and Southeast Asian nations. The dictatorship has ended, although corruption remains a problem.
At the height of the Cold War, Indonesia enjoyed pivotal power status among Third World nations. Flamboyant nationalist President Sukarno pitted the Soviet Union and the United States against each other. CIA efforts to bring down Sukarno were frustrated and backfired.
During the 1960s, cooperation between Indonesia and the Soviet Union grew exponentially. This evolution, vital in the massive American military intervention in Vietnam in 1965, is rarely mentioned today.
British forces, along with Australian and New Zealand allies, defeated Indonesian attacks on Malaya. Previously, Britain defeated an aggressive and virulent communist insurgency in Malaya, which is now part of Malaysia.
The British Army avoided massive firepower, unlike the United States in Vietnam, especially from 1965 onwards. True, the British Army used airstrikes and artillery, but relatively selectively. The authorities rightly viewed heavy bombing as counterproductive. Given American preferences for firepower and technology, we must always keep this fundamental lesson in mind.
With today’s solid base, the United States has promising opportunities. Stronger ties with Indonesia can increase influence and investment in huge parts of Asia. Meanwhile, our veterans, especially of the Vietnam War, should be proud of this long-term success.
We can continue this success if we show discipline – and maturity.
June 10 photos from Kenosha News readers
There’s no place like Gnome
“After some much-needed rainy days”
A Memorial Day exhibit
Lightning over the ocean
Flags and flowers
Sunrise over Lake Michigan
Arthur I. Cyr is the author of “After the Cold War” (Macmillan/Palgrave and NYU) and other books. Contact [email protected]