Indonesia election 2024: Stakes are high for US and China

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — When Indonesians cast their votes On Wednesday, the stakes will also be high for a new president in one of the world’s biggest elections 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 held power collision course over Taiwanhuman rights, US military deployments, and Beijing’s aggressive actions in disputed waters, including the South Chinese Ocean.

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 for Indonesia, including: $7.3 billion high-speed rail line that was largely financed by China, while Jakarta has also strengthened defense ties and intensified military exercises with the US

This policy would likely continue if election frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister whose vice presidential running mate is Widodo’s eldest son, wins, according to analysts.

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

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

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

Former Education Minister and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, a presidential candidate who trails Subianto in most independent surveys, said he would shift what he called Widodo’s “transactional” foreign policy to one anchored on principles if he wins the election. to win.

“If one country invades another country, we can say that this is against our fundamental values. Even though we are friends, if rights are violated, we can reprimand them,” Baswedan told The Associated Press in an interview last month, without saying 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, 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 are not taking sides” but would “actually contribute to helping create more stable relations between the U.S. and China’.

The US and China have both seen how the rise of a new leader in the region can threaten their interests.

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

Duterte threatened to deport American soldiers who were in the Philippines for combat exercises. He later moved to end a defense deal with Washington that allowed thousands of Americans to enter the country for large-scale combat exercises, but he ended that effort when he called on the U.S. to provide vaccines at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Duterte’s stormy term ended in 2016 and he was succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who approved an expansion of the government. US military presence on Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense pact. Marcos said his decision was aimed at strengthening his country’s territorial defense at a time of increasing aggression by the Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militias in offshore areas claimed by the Philippines.

China protested the decisionsaying it would provide U.S. forces with a staging area in the northern Philippines, across the maritime border from the Taiwan Strait, which could undermine Chinese national security.

Indonesia and other state members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations belong to the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War bloc of mostly developing countries that seek not to be formally associated with or against any major world power.

Yet the rivalry between Washington and Beijing has permeated the region.

There has always been criticism of China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea diluted in ASEANthe regional bloc with ten members.

Members of state aligned with Beijing, particularly Cambodia and Laos, have resisted such accusations or attempts to single out China as an object of criticism in joint communiqués following their annual summits, several regional diplomats have told the Associated Press over the years told on condition of anonymity. 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 it water cannonsa military grade laser And dangerous maneuvers against Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels that caused minor collisions during a series of clashes on the high seas in the disputed waters.

Under Indonesia’s chairmanship, ASEAN has not specifically mentioned China, only issuing general expressions of concern about aggressive behavior in the disputed waterway after their summits.

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

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