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Indonesia Unprepared as Great Powers Clash in Indo-Pacific

2 9 0
26.08.2021

Indonesia could tilt the strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific. It’s the largest archipelagic state in the world and sits at the heart of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The country’s growing economic power, tradition of regional leadership, and control over critical sea lanes seem to predestine it to be a strategic fulcrum in the era of U.S.-Chinese great-power competition.

Getting Jakarta to align with either Beijing or Washington therefore seems like a logical step in the unfolding geopolitical drama. Indonesia’s every move—from military exercises to vaccine diplomacy—is scrutinized through this lens. Depending on who you ask in Beijing or Washington, Indonesia’s choice seems obvious. One offers growth and prosperity, despite bullying the region. The other has built a global network of enduring security relationships, though its commitments are often doubtful, inconsistent, or come with strings attached.

Indonesia could tilt the strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific. It’s the largest archipelagic state in the world and sits at the heart of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The country’s growing economic power, tradition of regional leadership, and control over critical sea lanes seem to predestine it to be a strategic fulcrum in the era of U.S.-Chinese great-power competition.

Getting Jakarta to align with either Beijing or Washington therefore seems like a logical step in the unfolding geopolitical drama. Indonesia’s every move—from military exercises to vaccine diplomacy—is scrutinized through this lens. Depending on who you ask in Beijing or Washington, Indonesia’s choice seems obvious. One offers growth and prosperity, despite bullying the region. The other has built a global network of enduring security relationships, though its commitments are often doubtful, inconsistent, or come with strings attached.

So why won’t Indonesia pick one over the other? One reason is deep-seated mistrust. Indonesia does not believe one great power is inherently superior, whether economically, militarily, or morally. After all, throughout Indonesia’s strategic history, every great power has undermined Indonesia’s domestic order or acted contrary to its strategic interests.

With such experience, Indonesia has developed a vision of regional order fixated on maintaining stability and legitimacy at home, seeking strategic autonomy, and denying great powers hegemony over the region. These goals underpin an Indonesian foreign policy that is largely negative—it has a list of what it does not want. Although such a strategy of avoidance has served Jakarta well in the past, it is no longer suited to an era of renewed great-power competition in the Indo-Pacific.

Indonesian governments have long avoided engaging with great powers in any way that could undermine domestic legitimacy. Domestic constituencies—not broader geopolitical interests—often determine which great power........

© Foreign Policy


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