As the April 2019 presidential and legislative elections are drawing nearer, President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo is facing even harsher ‘attacks’ from his rivals and political opponents. Increasingly vocal, they mentioned that Jokowi, the ‘down-to-earth’ figure now seeking reelection, had significantly increased Indonesia’s borrowings for too little benefit for the people, especially the poor.
And, among the other points of criticisms against the President is his alleged leaning on China to boost Indonesia’s economic development. They claim that rising numbers of Chinese investors had come in alongside big numbers of Chinese workers, including low-level laborers whose jobs could actually go to the locals. Political ppponents also argued that the presence of Chinese investments and their workers in Indonesia are giving ground to potential resurrection of communism in the country.
In response to such views, and amid other’s warnings that Indonesia needs China more than China needs Indonesia, Indonesian academician Humprey Arnaldo Russel wrote an opinion article in Kompas daily (8/5) entitled Mendekat ke China (Getting Closer to China). Humprey Arnaldo is a doctorate candidate at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University, China. Here is an English translation of part of his article.
Getting Closer to China
by Humprey Arnaldo Russel
Since his rise to the presidency in 2014, Jokowi has made several official visits to China, in the bilateral context and in connection multilateral and international conferences. Chinese President Xi Jinping also visited Indonesia in 2015. In addition, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang is scheduled to make a visit to Jakarta this week (6-8 May 2018).
The rising intensity of visits by the respective leaders to one another’s country and the up trending oif Chinese investments in Indonesia have sparked speculations that Jokowi is intending to get Indonesia closer to China. In fact, Jokowi’s move should get support from all sides given that China is now the world’s second largest economy after the United States and it provides very promising market potentials for Indonesian products. But, Jokowi’s move has caused worries among several parties in Indonesia.
The basic factors behind such worries are ideology, economy, and national defense and security.
On ideology, several parties and individuals view that China’s communist ideology is a real threat to Indonesia. The residue of the 1965 bloody coup attempt that was orchestrated by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) still remains deep down in the heart of many Indonesians. Up till today, many still hold that China had been the main party supporting the aborted coup attempt by the communist group that was led by DN Aidit.
This is why Indonesia’s closeness to China is viewed as very dangerous as propagated by the chain messages that are widespread in various timelines. Those messages include slanders towards Jokowi who is alleged of intending to fertilize communist ideology due to his move to build closer relationship with China.
On the economy, rising Chinese investments in Indonesia has worried some parties that such a situation would make Indonesia’s economy be heavily dependent on China. As a result, Indonesia would lose its sovereignty. Such worries are intensified by Chinese workers allegedly abusing their permits in several parts of Indonesia in the past few years.
On national defence and security. Chinese investors’ wish to be involved in various strategic projects in Indonesia. They include the development of integrated industrial estates in Kuala Tanjung and Sei Mankei in North Sumatra, Bitung in North Sulawesi, and Tanah Kuning in North Kalimantan. Such involvement in strategic projects are predicted by some as threatening state defense and security.
There are worries that the involvement of Chinese investors in those projects will provide a room for high-technology vessels from that country to sail freely in Indonesian waters. Some people view this as posing a serious threat toward Indonesia’s maritime security given the current limited capacity of its navy armadas at this time.
Surely, the worries of several parties must serve as important input for the government. But, several points need the attention from all of us. Firstly, worries about possible reawakening of communist movement in Indonesia are highly reasonable. All of us surely do not want any recurrence of the 1965 communist move. In addition, the communist ideology fully contradicts the philosophy of life of the Indonesian people.
But, it would not be reasonable that we seek justification for the possible reawakening of communist ideology in Indonesia by blaming Indonesia-China close relationship as the root of such issue. It is noteworthy that since China’s launching economic expansions in different parts of the globe after that country’s economic reawakening in the 1990s, no country has been found adopting communist ideology because of China’s intervention.
Secondly, it is too far to view that China’s investment in Indonesia could lead to the latter losing its sovereignty. Indonesia is not a ‘novice’ country that can be dictated by any other nation. On Chinese workers abusing their stay permits in Indonesia, the government should take strict measures. It is undeniable that ground officials had been negligent in fully implementing the Law on Manpower.
On this, Chinese government’s support is highly necessary considering that Chinese investments in Indonesia are generally affiliated to that country’s state enterprises. It would be better that the policy adopted by Chinaco (China Aluminum Corporation) in Peru, which optimizes the use of local workers, be taken as a reference for Chinese investments in Indonesia.
Thirdly, Chinese investors’ interest in strategic projects like the integrated economic zones in several areas in Indonesia has to be followed with the strengthening of Indonesia’s maritime capabilities. The government needs to think about the best way of increasing defense budget allocation for the country’s navy.
Admittedly, it is not easy for Jokowi to persuade those parties who worry about his move of getting Indonesia closer to China. Accordingly, all parties, including the Chinese government, need to work together and give support. We all are surely aware that Indonesian and China hold important positions in the regional and international context.