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From Latent Threat to Possible Partner: Indonesia's China Debate

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China has played a major and at times controversial role in Indonesia s post-independence history. While founding President Sukarno viewed China as a role model, the emerging power of Indonesias Communist Party PKI greatly alarmed the military. Following Soehartos emergence to power after 1965, China and domestic communists were viewed as the principal threats to Indonesia s cohesion. Indonesia s civilian and military elite, obsessed by fears of national disunity, refused, from 1967 to 1990, to engage in normalized relations with China on the grounds that the People s Republic of China PRC had fostered internal rebellion and remained a military threat. Since the 1980s a debate has been waged in Indonesia between the military TNI and the Department of Foreign Affairs Deplu. The TNI, which viewed China as a threat, urged Soeharto not to restore the relationship, while Deplu argued that failure to normalize would hold Indonesia back diplomatically and economically. Deplu won the debate, but Indonesias military establishment is still wary of an emerging China. Chinas growing economic power poses an immense challenge for Indonesias growth. Currently Indonesia has a healthy trade surplus with China, but the structure of trade with Indonesia providing raw materials while China exports manufactured goods could be the death knell for an array of Indonesian firms. Fear of the Chinese market could conceivably become fused to the indigenous Indonesian communitys imagined fear of the economic dominance of Indonesian Chinese. Indonesians fear Chinas possible involvement in behalf of domestic ethnic Chinese. While a skepticism of Chinas intentions is alive and well in Indonesia, the relationship has grown in terms of substance and warmth over the last decade. In particular, Western criticism of Indonesias questionable human rights record and U.S. sanctions on military-to-military contact, have pushed Indonesia to look to its other options.

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  • Government and Political Science

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