A ‘cordial’ and ‘productive’ meeting . . .
The doors of Bogor Palace in West Java, Indonesia opened to another high-profile foreign official this week. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo capped off his four-nation Asia tour with a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Similar to last week’s visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indonesian leaders welcomed the prospect of inclusive international collaboration against the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as trade and defence co-operation with Washington. But Indonesia also reasserted its commitment to foreign policy neutrality and its desire that the South China Sea remain “stable and peaceful.”
Raising a thorny issue . . .
During his visit, Pompeo spoke to the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), urging them to take a stand against China’s persecution of its Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang. NU does not have an official stance on China’s Uighur ‘re-education’ camps and categorized Pompeo’s ask as attempt to inflame religious sentiment against Beijing. The Uighurs’ plight puts Indonesian leaders in a thorny spot as Jakarta’s silence on the issue often fuels criticism of the Widodo government as anti-Islamic. But a tough Indonesian stance would not only antagonize relations with its largest trade partner and second-largest foreign investor, but also embolden radical Islamic or separatist groups within Indonesia.
Looking for partnerships but no push-over . . .
Washington has made increasing overtures to Indonesia, including allowing the visit of previously barred Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto to Washington earlier this month and several Pompeo visits to Jakarta. Nonetheless, Widodo and his cabinet have refused to pick sides amid U.S.-China tensions, pushing back on both powers when necessary. For instance, Jakarta resisted incursions by Chinese vessels in the North Natuna Sea and refused to allow a U.S. military aircraft to refuel in Indonesian territory. Jakarta has also adhered to multilateralism, resisting being drawn into the Quad – the informal strategic defence alliance between the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia – which it regards as unnecessarily antagonistic toward Beijing. Indonesia understands its regional value and is not afraid to leverage it in pursuit of true partnerships with the U.S. (or others), particularly on trade and investment, and is not likely to put much stock in promises that may not materialize after the November 3 U.S. election.
- Jakarta Post: RI pledges neutrality during Pompeo visit
- Nikkei Asia: Pompeo uses Jakarta visit to blast China’s treatment of Uighurs
- South China Morning Post: In Indonesia, Pompeo makes last gasp push for Trump’s China agenda