Indonesia deepens ties with China mainly for economic purposes – Analysis – Eurasia Review
By Ronna Nirmala and Tria Dianti
Indonesia-China ties are growing thanks to increased investment and trade, but analysts say these will not develop further to the detriment of Jakarta’s relations with other powers or its interests rulers in the South China Sea.
Indonesia is as open to working with the United States as it is with China or Japan as long as it benefits the country, said Rizal Sukma, former Indonesian ambassador to Britain, dismissing the perception that Jakarta turned to Beijing.
“We are working with China in areas where we believe cooperation is essential for our national interests. Indonesia will work with any country when we need it and stand up to anyone whenever we have to. This is our principle, ”Rizal told BenarNews.
“Why should the United States be concerned? If the United States is serious about establishing relations with the ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, we are naturally also open to that, ”he said, referring to the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian nations.
China is not yet the biggest investor in Indonesia, but its investments in Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country have grown steadily, nearly doubling to $ 4.8 billion in 2020, from $ 2.4 billion in 2017.
China’s investments are mainly in Indonesian transport, industry and tourism sectors, according to the Ministry of Investment.
“Everything seems to come from China these days – vaccines, investments and Mr. Luhut has been at the forefront of that,” Indonesian business tycoon Chairul Tanjung joked to senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan at an event. online in February.
Luhut, Indonesian coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investments, and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi have met twice in five months this year.
In January, Wang visited the hometown of Luhut in North Sumatra.
Earlier this month, Luhut led an Indonesian delegation for talks with Wang in China, where they signed five cooperation agreements in the infrastructure, maritime and investment sectors, details of which have not been made public.
China is also financing projects in Indonesia as part of its ambitious global One Belt, One Road (OBOR) infrastructure construction program. These include the $ 6 billion Jakarta-Bandung bullet train project, which is expected to be completed next year.
And this year, Indonesia approved China’s proposal to conduct a study on the $ 400 million Lambakan Dam project in East Kalimantan, near the site of the future Indonesian capital in the regency of Penajam Paser Utara. .
Yet Luhut told businessman Chairul at the February event that these Chinese investments have no strings attached.
“They don’t dictate anything,” said Luhut, who is widely regarded as the right-hand man of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
As Jodi Mahardi, spokesperson for the Department of Maritime Affairs, told BenarNews: “We are open to investors from anywhere, including the United States. The other day we received investment from the United Arab Emirates”.
Indonesia “can become a balancing force”
Meanwhile, it turns out that China is now able to invest in many countries, said Yose Rizal Damuri, head of the economics department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Indonesia.
“Now that China is reaching economic maturity, it can grow by doing what Japan did in the 1970s,” Yose told BenarNews.
“Over the past 10 years, they have invested more in natural resources, but now the direction is to build production bases in the countries. If Indonesia can capitalize on this, we will benefit a lot. “
So, yes, Indonesia has everything to gain by increasing its ties with China, but the United States also has everything to gain, said Muhammad Arif, analyst on Sino-Indonesian relations at the University of Indonesia.
For example, as the United States expands its footprint in Southeast Asia, with initiatives such as the Quad Group that promotes “a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” a strong Indonesia will benefit America, a. he declared.
“Strengthening Indonesia-China relations will benefit Indonesia economically and politically. And it is in the interests of the United States. Because Indonesia being strong, it can become a balancing force in the region, ”Arif told BenarNews, referring to Beijing’s broad claims in the South China Sea as well as its outsized investments in the countries. of the region.
“If Indonesia is weak, the greater risk is that Indonesia is likely to be drawn into a major conflict and its options will become more limited, having to choose an alliance with China or the United States, for example. “
Arif also said Indonesia’s ties with China will not come at the expense of relations with other great powers, including the United States.
In addition, Yose of the SCRS noted, growing economic ties should not make Indonesia dependent on China.
“Our biggest investor is Singapore, and previously it was Japan. Have we become dependent on these two countries? Yose said.
“Geopolitics can affect economic ties, but the opposite is unlikely. “
South china sea
Yet Indonesia must ensure that it strengthens its relations with other major nations involved in the Indo-Pacific theater, said Aristyo Rizka Darmawan, professor of international law at the University of Indonesia, in a recent article on the Fulcrum website. .sg.
Indeed, while Jakarta does not see itself as a party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing is claiming historic rights to parts of the maritime region that straddle Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“Jakarta should pay attention to the gap in its approach to China and also seek to balance its growing relations with Beijing by pursuing deeper relations with other major powers with interests in the Indo-Pacific,” wrote Aristyo on the website managed by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak. Institute in Singapore.
The Indonesian Navy and Chinese Coast Guard ships have had frequent skirmishes over maritime rights in the waters off Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, a chain located in the southern South China Sea, in recent years.
In January 2020, Indonesia sent warships and fighter jets after dozens of Chinese fishing vessels, escorted by the Chinese Coast Guard, entered Jakarta’s EEZ. China insists that the region is its traditional fishing spot.
Indonesia also protested to China against what it called the slavery-like treatment of its sailors working on Chinese fishing boats. At least 16 Indonesian sailors working on Chinese boats have died since late 2019, officials said.
China’s incursions near the Natunas “were serious in terms of number of ships and duration, but one of many to rock the Indonesian security establishment,” Natalie Sambhie, executive director of Verve Research, told BenarNews. , an independent think tank based in Australia.
Indonesia’s position in the Natuna Sea, however, has been consistent – balancing sovereignty concerns with the need for investment and COVID-19 relief, Sambhie said.
“While these policymakers are well aware of the slow erosion of national confidence and even sovereign rights posed by China’s incursions, they are also well aware of the current limits of resistance,” she said.
This benefited Indonesia during the COVID pandemic, said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, senior researcher in international policy at the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI).
“Amid vaccine nationalism in several countries, China has been willing to share its vaccines. This goodwill gesture paved the way for confidence, ”Dewi told BenarNews.
Indonesia’s position “also balances Indonesia’s interactions with other great powers like the United States, India and Japan,” Sambhie said.
She cited the fact that Indonesia accepted search and rescue support from Australia, India, Singapore and the United States after the KRI Nanggala-402 sank in April, killing the 53 sailors on board.
Jakarta also accepted help from China, which sent three ships to support efforts to lift the wreckage of the submarine, albeit unsuccessfully, from the waters off Bali to a depth of half a mile.