Indonesia and China: The Politics of a Troubled Relationship

By Rizal Sukma | Go to book overview

6

Towards the restoration of relations

The dimensions of change in the New Order's China policy

In the previous chapter, it has been argued that Indonesia's resistance to restoring diplomatic relations with China was the result of strong opposition from antinormalisation forces among which the Armed Forces (ABRI) constituted the most significant. As the powerful and dominant actor in the New Order's decision-making structure, ABRI's opposition appeared to serve as the main domestic constraint to normalisation for more than two decades. In opposing it, ABRI had maintained consistently that 'the time was not yet ripe', because there were two main problems-national security and the ethnic-Chinese minority-that had to be overcome first. In the eyes of ABRI and other anti-normalisation forces, these two problems were rooted in the so-called 'China threat' to Indonesia. China was seen as a hostile power which had attempted to revive the banned PKI and manipulate the ethnic-Chinese minority in Indonesia to its political advantage.

As discussed in Chapter 5, the main locus of constraint to normalisation by the New Order was domestic. In the background to the New Order's resistance lurked the fundamental problem of challenges to regime legitimacy and even survival. Seen from this perspective, it was the very nature of the New Order's domestic politics that had prevented the restoration of diplomatic ties between Indonesia and China for more than two decades. Moreover, major initiatives by pro-normalisation forces had enjoyed a meagre chance of success because they had been taken at times when the New Order government, in which ABRI played a dominant role, was faced with strong challenges to its legitimacy from various opponents. It responded to those challenges by emphasising the evil of a communist threat with the object of deterring any future challenges and of justifying ABRI's continued dominance in domestic politics.

Seen from such a domestic context, the normalisation of diplomatic relations with China would not have served any political purpose. It would have made things worse. On the contrary, a continued resistance to restoration at the time when regime legitimacy was still justified primarily in terms of the communist threat continued to fulfil the important domestic political function of perpetuating perceptions of that threat. However, Indonesia-China relations began to enter a new phase in 1985 when the New Order government resumed direct trade relations between the two countries. Again, the domestic political situation at the time still prevented the restoration of full diplomatic ties. ABRI, while it

-135-

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Indonesia and China: The Politics of a Troubled Relationship
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Indonesia's Foreign Policy and Indonesia-China Diplomatic Relations (1950-1967) 16
  • 3 - The Suspension of Diplomatic Ties 44
  • 4 - Foreign Policy Debate 73
  • 5 - The Functions of Resistance 104
  • 6 - Towards the Restoration of Relations 135
  • 7 - Indonesia's Normalisation Decision and the Role of President Suharto 166
  • 8 - Conclusion 199
  • Bibliography 210
  • Index 220
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