Overcoming Pandemic Legacies: Indonesia-China Strong Cooperation is Eminently Needed

Image Credit: CNN Indonesia

By Noto Suoneto and Alvin Ernesto

Indonesia should think some strategic cooperation with China in facing displeasing legacies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state of Indonesia-China relationship now is in a good degree. Despite having many common interests and recent progress in pushing the relationship move forward, China-Indonesia relations are limited to domestic-driven factors. It is very much affected by the factors that are inherent to our historical baggage such as communism.

The deepened relations with Beijing by our leaders are also politically hindered by the rising negative perceptions of Indonesians towards China. The recent poll by LSI found that 36% of Indonesians view China brings a bad influence on the country, rising from the same survey in 2016 accounts for only 16%. Indonesia has always been trapped in the inevitable barriers to developing closer ties with China by those factors.

However, economically, China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner with the total trade accounts for US$ 72.8 billion in 2019. While in terms of FDI realization, China ranked in the 2nd spot. As prioritized by Indonesia’s foreign policy, economic diplomacy will be the number one Jokowi’s concern. In this case, China undoubtedly remains Indonesia’s major significant partner in the succession of our economic diplomacy’s ambitions.

Both governments have made some efforts in avoiding the significant political disruption to the economic partnership. However, it is distinctly seeing the negative responses when our government is being too economically close with China. Of course, it has always been politicized.

In facing the endangerment of economic recession in the post COVID-19-time, China and Indonesia should deepen its cooperation to revive our economies. Considering China’s strategic position, Indonesia will significantly lose its potentiality to meet its domestic interest (economic development) without Chinese trade and investment. The shifting economic direction in the post Covid-19 world should be eventually winning Indonesia. Concretely, Indonesia should reap the benefits of the changing regional “economic map” by increasing competitiveness, compete with Vietnam for instance.

Amid U.S. retrenchment in the Southeast Asian region, China is conscientiously showing its commitment to help ASEAN member states to face the pandemic. President Xi Jinping has committed to include ASEAN to receive partly the $2 billion international aid to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

China’s support to ASEAN member states in mitigating the crisis risks is even higher than other major partners like Australia, Korea, Japan even United States. It is not only showing that China is the reliable partner for ASEAN at the time of crisis. But it has told us the advantage of playing a diplomatic diversification. For ASEAN to not taking sides on any major powers.

The U.S.- China escalating competition of influence has even made the region become more divided than ever before. Vietnam has more vocal in navigating our stance in the South China Sea, by strongly referring it to the UNCLOS. Meanwhile, the Philippines’s Duterte forbid the Philippine navy force to join the US military exercise in the water which favors Beijing assertions over the territory.

Against this backdrop, Indonesia needs to elevate its influence in playing the traditional leadership role in ASEAN. First, to navigate our growing and multi-calibrated relations with China has always have some differences. There is a certain situation to say “No”. Second, to maintain ASEAN to not being economically dragged and lose its strategic independence by China.

In the post COVID-19 time, the challenges are even harder. The external political influence on the region might upraise ASEAN’s divergences, and Indonesia needs to exercise its role in making ASEAN more congruent.

Furthermore, Indonesia needs to anticipate the resonance of U.S.-China rivalry in the future multilateral engagement. Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic and aggravating friction of China and the Western nations have weakened the trust in the role of multilateral bodies. Indonesia and China have the same interest to against it.

In the G20 forum, Indonesia always reiterated the importance of equal and accessible vaccines in particularly for developing nations. Meanwhile, China affirmed its commitment to support vaccine development. China and Indonesia have even conducted collaboration in developing vaccines through the work of Sinovac and Bio Farma.

In the recent UNSC meeting, Indonesia encouraged the UN to improve global health governance. This is the area of convergence on multilateral affairs where China can surely take part. The most vital interest for Indonesia is to ensure our global agenda will not be neglected, mainly by the rising unilateral power. China and Indonesia should be always keeping the merit-based multilateral agenda, and uphold the international rules-based order in solving the global problems.

Conclusively, Indonesia should re-assess our ways in dealing with China. This is important to synergize our efforts in facing the pandemic legacies. The course of our relations needs to account the domestic political barriers and asserted a strong line against the accusation of economically driven by China. Indonesia needs to set a formula which it captured the balance degree of our foreign policy towards China. It’s also vital to never being caught between the United States and China.

Economy has continued to be a highlight of the overall relationship between Jakarta and Beijing. However, pandemic has revealed more opportunities and further signaling the relationship’s importance to both countries. By the facts, Indonesia would be dragged more into China than to the U.S., but Indonesia should not lose its strategic independence. It would not be happened if we have clearer foreign policy towards China particularly in the post COVID-19 time.

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