Indonesia Election 2024: There is a lot at stake for the USA and China

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — When Indonesians cast their votes for a new president Wednesday in one of the world’s biggest elections, there will also be much at stake for the United States and China and their growing rivalry in the region.

The Southeast Asian country is a key economic and political battleground in a region where world powers have long been on a collision course over Taiwan, human rights, U.S. military operations and Beijing’s aggressive actions in disputed waters, including the South China Sea.

Outgoing President Joko Widodo’s foreign policy avoided criticism of Beijing or Washington, but also rejected rapprochement with either power. The delicate balancing act has paved the way for significant Chinese trade and investment for Indonesia, including a $7.3 billion high-speed rail line largely financed by China, while Jakarta has also expanded defense ties with the US and stepped up military exercises

Analysts say that policy would likely continue if front-runner Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister whose vice presidential running mate is Widodo’s eldest son, wins.

“The problem for the major powers, however, is that Jakarta is stubbornly non-aligned and will almost certainly remain so regardless of who wins,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at Rand Corp., a U.S.-based think tank.

Subianto follows a policy of neutrality and has publicly praised the US and China. During a November forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Jakarta, he noted America’s historic role in pressuring the Netherlands to recognize Indonesian sovereignty in the 1940s.

“This is part of history and we must not forget this debt of honor,” said Subianto, who also highlighted China’s importance to Southeast Asia. “China is a great civilization. It contributed a lot and is now very, very active and contributes a lot to our economy.”

Former education minister and Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, a presidential candidate who is trailing Subianto in most independent polls, said he would switch what he called Widodo’s “transactional” foreign policy to a principles-based foreign policy if he wins the election triumph.

“When a country invades another country, we can say that this violates our core values. Even if we are friends, we can reprimand them if rights have been violated,” Baswedan said in an interview with The Associated Press last month, without saying which country he was referring to.

Baswedan said human rights and environmental protection should support Indonesia’s foreign policy. “If we don’t have values, then there is a cost-benefit ratio where we only support countries that are profitable for us,” he said.

Marty Natalegawa, a respected former Indonesian foreign minister, expressed hope that the new leaders who would be elected would not just say, “We’re not picking sides,” but “actually help create more stable relations between the two countries.” USA and China to create”.

Both the United States and China have seen how the emergence of a new leader in the region can threaten their interests.

After winning the Philippine presidency in 2016 on an anti-crime platform, Rodrigo Duterte became one of the most vocal critics of U.S. security policy in Asia while maintaining close ties with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Duterte threatened to evict American military personnel who were in the Philippines for combat exercises. He later requested termination of a defense agreement with Washington that allowed thousands of Americans to enter large-scale combat exercises. But he ended those efforts as he called on the U.S. to provide vaccines at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Duterte’s tumultuous term ended in 2016 and was succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who agreed to expand the U.S. military presence at Philippine military bases as part of a 2014 defense pact. Marcos said his decision was aimed at strengthening his country’s territorial defense at a time of increasing aggression by China’s coast guard, navy and suspected militia forces in offshore areas claimed by the Philippines.

China protested the decision, saying it would provide U.S. forces in the northern Philippines with a base area across the Taiwan Strait maritime border, which could threaten China’s national security.

Indonesia and other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations belong to the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War-era bloc made up mostly of developing countries that does not seek formal association with or against a major world power.

Still, the region is permeated by the rivalry between Washington and Beijing.

Criticism of China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea has always been toned down in ASEAN, the ten-member regional bloc.

State members allied with Beijing, particularly Cambodia and Laos, have resisted any such accusation or attempt to single out China as a target of criticism in joint communiqués after their annual summits, several regional diplomats have told The Associated Press over the years of anonymity because they lacked the authority to speak publicly.

Last year, the Philippine government accused the Chinese coast guard and suspected militia forces of using water cannons, a military laser and dangerous maneuvers against Philippine coast guard patrol vessels that led to minor collisions in a series of clashes at sea in the disputed waters.

Chaired by Indonesia, ASEAN did not specifically mention China, but only expressed general concerns about aggressive behavior in the disputed waterway after its summits.


Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez in Jakarta, Indonesia and David Rising in Bangkok, Thailand contributed to this report.


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Amanda Walker

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