JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – When Indonesians voted Wednesday for the election of a new president in one of the world’s biggest elections, the stakes will also be high for the United States and China and their growing rivalry in the region.
The Southeast Asian nation is a key economic and political battleground in a region where world powers have long been in conflict. collision course over Taiwanhuman rights, US military deployments and Beijing’s aggressive actions in disputed waters, including the South China Sea.
Outgoing President Joko Widodo’s foreign policy has avoided criticizing Beijing or Washington, but has also rejected alignment with either power. This delicate balancing act has paved the way for substantial Chinese trade and investment with Indonesia, including a $7.3 billion high-speed train which has been largely financed by China, while Jakarta has also strengthened defense ties and stepped up military exercises with the United States.
These policies would likely continue if Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister whose vice presidential candidate is Widodo’s eldest son, wins, analysts say.
“The problem for the great powers, however, is that Jakarta is systematically non-aligned and will almost certainly remain so regardless of who wins,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at Rand Corp., a US-based think tank. in the USA.
Subianto adheres to a policy of neutrality and has publicly praised the United States and China. He cited America’s historic role in pressuring the Netherlands to recognize Indonesian sovereignty in the 1940s during a November forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Jakarta.
“This is part of history and we cannot forget this debt of honor,” said Subianto, who also touted China’s importance to Southeast Asia. “China is a great civilization. She has contributed a lot and now she is very, very active and contributes a lot to our economy.
Former Education Minister and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, a presidential candidate who trails Subianto in most independent polls, said he would change what he calls Widodo’s “transactional” foreign policy towards a policy anchored on principles if he triumphs in the elections.
“When a country invades another country, we can say that it goes against our fundamental values. Even if we are friends, if rights have been violated, we can reprimand them,” Baswedan told The Associated Press in an interview last month, without specifying which country he was referring to.
Baswedan said human rights and environmental protection should underpin Indonesia’s foreign policy. “If we don’t have values, then there is a cost-benefit relationship where we will 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 only say “we are not choosing sides” but would “actually help create more stable relations between the United States.” United and China.
Both the United States and China understood how the emergence of a new leader in the region could threaten their interests.
Rodrigo Duterte, after ascending to the Philippine presidency on his anti-crime agenda in 2016, became one of Asia’s most vocal critics of US security policy while maintaining close ties to Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Duterte threatened to expel U.S. military personnel who were in the Philippines for combat exercises. He then moved to end a defense deal with Washington that allowed thousands of Americans into the country for large-scale combat exercises, but he ended that effort by calling on the U.S. United in delivering vaccines at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Duterte’s stormy term ended in 2016 and was succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who approved the mandate expansion. US military presence in Philippine military bases as part of a 2014 defense pact. Marcos announced his decision aimed to strengthen its country’s territorial defenses at a time of increasing aggression from the Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militias in offshore areas claimed by the Philippines.
China protested the decisionsaying it would provide US forces with staging areas in the northern Philippines, across the maritime border from the Taiwan Strait, which could harm Chinese 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 composed mainly of developing countries that aspire to not be formally associated with or against any major world power.
Yet the rivalry between Washington and Beijing permeates the region.
Criticism of China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea has always been watered down in ASEANthe regional bloc of 10 members.
Beijing-aligned member states, particularly Cambodia and Laos, have opposed such rebukes or any attempts to single out China as the subject of criticism in joint communiqués after their annual summits, several regional diplomats said to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity over the years. because they did not have the authority to speak publicly.
Last year, the Philippine government accused the Chinese coast guard and suspected militias of using water cannonsA military grade laser And dangerous maneuvers against Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels which caused minor collisions during a series of clashes on the high seas in the disputed waters.
Under Indonesia’s presidency, ASEAN did not specifically mention China, but only expressed general concerns about aggressive behavior in the disputed waterway after their summit meetings.
Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez in Jakarta, Indonesia, and David Rising in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.
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