chapter  9
21 Pages

Indonesia and China: ambivalent relations

Over the past 60 years domestic politics has played a significant role in shaping all Southeast Asian governments’ perceptions of, and policy towards, the PRC. Perhaps in no other Southeast Asian country has this been truer than in Indonesia. Although Indonesia was one of the first Asian countries to recognize the People’s Republic, Jakarta’s decision to forge ties with Beijing had more to do with a commitment to non-alignment rather than shared revolutionary camaraderie. At independence, anti-communism was strong in Indonesia, particularly among key power brokers such as Muslim groups and the armed forces, and communist China was viewed with distrust. Suspicions of China also stemmed from negative perceptions of the country’s resident Chinese population, long distrusted and, after 1949, viewed as potential fifth columnists. When Indonesia’s founding President Soekarno moved closer to China in the first half of the 1960s, conservative forces were deeply perturbed and took advantage of an alleged communist coup in September 1965 to remove him from power and end the Sino-Indonesian alignment: Soekarno’s successor, Soeharto, accused China of seeking to overthrow the government using communist and ethnic proxies. Accordingly, diplomatic relations were suspended in 1967 and remained frozen for 23 years. Economic self-interest led to tentative normalization in the early 1990s, but Indonesia’s ‘engagement’ with the PRC was insipid at best.