Crown Eco Management: Amid US-China Competition
Posted in the San Diego Forum
Since: Nov 12
#1 Apr 9, 2013
The superpower competition for power and influence between the United States and China will likely profoundly impact Asian politics and security in the 21st century. Already, while Chinese economic and military might are on the rise, emboldening its policymaking on issues like the South China Sea, the US has taken countermeasures to protect its regional interests. Washington has put into motion its so-called “pivot to Asia,” which has enhanced America’s economic, military and diplomatic investment to the region.
This is the regional environment that Indonesia is situated in nowadays and likely for the foreseeable future. Caught in the middle of this superpower competition, however, doesn’t mean that Indonesia is in a hopeless or unpredictable situation. It has a number of strategic options at its disposal.
This reality, let’s call it strategic flexibility, is the result of two things. First, over the last two decades, Jakarta has fairly consistently pursued a foreign policy of “friends with no enemies.” And second, Indonesia’s history isn’t marred by heated regional rivalries and enmity. As a result, Indonesia hasn’t strategically backed itself into a corner, limiting its options and choices. More to the point, it doesn’t have the foreign policy obstacles that countries like Japan and South Korea currently face.
Instead, at this point, Indonesia has relative freedom to make and implement the foreign policies it wants. In this sense, Indonesia’s comity and friendliness with foreign countries has served it well.
As it stands right now, to cope with the superpower competition while protecting its national interests, Indonesia has five broad strategic options.
Indonesia can remain neutral and on the sidelines, preferring to stay out of any confrontation between Beijing and Washington. Indonesia can choose sides, opting for either China or America. Or it can act as a mediator or troubleshooter between China and the US, actively attempting to keep superpower relations smooth and conflict-free. Also, by working to write the rules of the road in Asia, thereby shaping the regional environment in which China and America interact, Indonesia can serve as an indirect conduit between both powers. And finally, Indonesia can try to play the superpowers off each other as a way to maximize the economic, security, political and diplomatic concessions it receives from both Washington and Beijing.
Picking sides and playing China and America off each other are, by far, the two riskiest options. Should Jakarta decide to align itself with Washington or Beijing, the side that Indonesia didn’t pick will be angry, causing fraying and disruptions in relations with that side.
Moreover, if Indonesia does choose sides, this may have serious long-term consequences.
For instance, if Indonesia picks the side that eventually loses the superpower struggle in the region, its position and prestige within Asia will be severely compromised. Additionally, Indonesia could select a side that breaks mutually agreed upon deals, including security ones, or even turns aggressive toward it — something that’s not preposterous given the history of superpower behavior. To protect the country’s interests, Indonesia would likely have to cozy up to the power it once scorned, and that power, under these circumstances, would have enormous leverage over it.
For now, Indonesia has decided to act as an indirect conduit between China and the US. It has focused on working through and strengthening Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreements and bodies.
Since: Nov 12
#2 Apr 9, 2013
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