Indonesia and China: The Politics of a Troubled Relationship

Indonesia and China: The Politics of a Troubled Relationship

Indonesia and China: The Politics of a Troubled Relationship

Indonesia and China: The Politics of a Troubled Relationship

Synopsis

Investigating why Indonesia broke off relations with China in 1967 and resumed them in 1990, Sukma (Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta) sheds light on Indonesia's foreign policy, the nature of the New Order's domestic politics, the mixed functions of diplomatic ties, the legitimacy of the new regime, and the role of president Suharto. He argues that the breaking the diplomatic ties was part of the effort by the military-based New Order government to sustain its political legitimacy and counter domestic challenges by posing as the guardian of the state against communist threats. It also, he says, bolstered the army as the only defense against China. The restoring of ties he links to changes in the political power of the military and Suharto's new goals.

Excerpt

In October 1967; the government of Indonesia took the unilateral decision to suspend diplomatic relations with the government of the People's Republic of China which had been entered into in 1950. That suspension took place in the context of a fundamental regime change within Indonesia which had been set in train by an abortive coup in 1965 which was officially attributed to the country's communist party with support from its Chinese counterpart. For Indonesia's military based government, headed by Lt. General and subsequently President Suharto, the act of suspension of diplomatic relations was justified with reference to national security, with China represented as the prime source of external threat. That suspension of relations was sustained over more than two decades despite positive changes in Indonesia's external environment indicated by a willingness among most of its regional partners within the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to establish diplomatic relations with the government in Beijing. Moreover, Indonesia's government was not influenced to change its mind even when both the United States and Japan transferred their diplomatic links from Taipei which had not been an impediment in Jakarta's case. In the event, the suspension of diplomatic ties endured for nearly 23 years until August 1990.

The reasons for the sustained absence of diplomatic ties between two of the most important countries in Asia is the subject of this scholarly study by Dr Rizal Sukma which is based on meticulous field research. The volume has two evident merits. First, the author demonstrates thorough skilful analysis that in determining Indonesia's case the primacy of domestic context was the determining factor in initiating and sustaining the rupture in diplomatic ties. At issue for the militarybased administration of General and then President Suharto was the need to protect a claim to legitimacy located in the conventional wisdom that it had saved the Republic from a foreign-inspired plot. In the event, although the decision to restore the ruptured relationship was influenced by changes in Indonesia's external environment, the primacy of domestic context remained the overriding consideration in circumstances in which economic performance had come to replace order as the basis for regime legitimacy. Second, the author looks into the particular case of the domestic dimension of Indonesia's foreign policy to examine the functions of diplomatic ties, both in terms of their presence and their absence, which are related also to the issue of regime legitimacy. He

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