Jakarta's shadow stretches farther across Asian politics
Indonesia is trying to peck out of its diplomatic isolation and assert itself in world affairs. The latest move is Jakarta's announcement that it plans to recreate the Bandung Conference on April 24 -- 30 years after the historic Asia-Africa meeting that sounded the death knell of colonialism and the rise of a confident, nonaligned third world.
In the past 12 months Indonesia has shown itself increasingly ready to play a more prominent role in both regional and global affairs.
Last January it was host to more than 80 countries for a nonaligned information ministers' conference. It has played a central role in trying to find a solution to the Kampuchea (Cambodia) question. And Indonesia's foreign minister, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, has been one of the most widely traveled of statesmen. He has made extensive overseas trips, including the first visit to Moscow by an Indonesian foreign minister for 10 years. Meanwhile, a succession of world leaders have visited Jakarta.
Analysts see this new, more outward-looking policy as partly a reflection of Indonesia's increasing confidence and its willingness to assume a role befitting the world's fifth most-populous country, whose territory straddles an area wider than the continental United States.
But it is also a policy designed to counter the influence of China, seen by Indonesia as the major threat to stability in the region in the years to come. For some time Indonesia has quietly criticized the new coziness that Western countries, in particular the United States, have indulged in with China.
``We feel they lavish too much attention on China and don't pay enough to the fast-growing, dynamic countries of southeast Asia,'' says Dr. Mochtar. ``All this worries us; the Chinese are too smart,'' he says.
Relations between Jakarta and Peking have been frozen since 1967 after Indonesia accused China of playing a key role in a coup attempt two years earlier. Recently there have been moves to form direct trade links, but Indonesian officials have been quick to deny any hint that diplomatic relations will also be reestablished. There are both internal and regional geopolitical reasons for what one commentator has described as ``Indonesia's China obsession.''
In some quarters there is still suspicion about the loyalty of an estimated 4 million Chinese in Indonesia. There's also resentment at their economic power -- resentment that has on occasions boiled over into bloody violence. In many cases the Chinese are still discriminated against, despite government declarations to fight such practices. All Chinese script in magazines and newspapers entering the country is blacked out for fear that it might contain secret and inflammatory messages from Peking.
In regional terms, Indonesia perceives China's sheer size and its increasing economic power as future destabilizing factors in the region. The chief of Indonesia's Armed Forces, Gen. Benny Murdani, recently told foreign reporters that as China progresses, it will be capable of causing harm to the economies of Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations.
``When that day comes -- 50, 60, or 100 years from now -- then the countries outside China, especially in Southeast Asia, will have to be united, if not physically then ideologically,'' General Murdani said.
Indonesia perceives Vietnam as an ally in this struggle against China's influence. Murdani said that in the future, Vietnam could act as a buffer between China and Southeast Asia. While such a view might be based on Indonesia's future perceptions of the region, this does conflict with present circumstances, particularly in relation to the Kampuchea question. Indonesia, along with the five other countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Brunei -- has been at the forefront of political efforts to remove an estimated 170,000 Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea.
Indonesia gives political and humanitarian aid to the coalition of Khmer forces, led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, fighting the Vietnamese. Yet it maintains close relations with Hanoi, based primarily on a strong mutual respect for each other's independence struggles -- but also on a common fear of China.
Other ASEAN countries, particularly Singapore and Thailand, have viewed such relations with displeasure. It has also given rise to speculation about differences between Mochtar, charged with carrying out the day-to-day running of foreign policy, and Murdani.
Mochtar has tried to reassure his ASEAN colleagues of Indonesia's solidarity: He has shown increasing frustration with what is viewed as Vietnamese intransigence on the Kampuchean issue. Earlier this month he postponed for the second time a trip to Hanoi in what is seen as a protest against large-scale Vietnamese attacks on Kampuchean guerrilla camps on the Thai border.
But equally, Mochtar has tried to moderate the views of other ASEAN members who do not want any accomodation with the Vietnamese. Clearly there are very different perceptions within ASEAN about future dangers in the region.
Thailand is seeking ever closer relations with Peking, fearful of the expansionism of the Indochina states. Singapore, and to a certain extent Malaysia and the Philippines, are equally concerned about Vietnamese power and influence. They are particularly worried about what is seen as a Soviet military buildup in the area, based in Vietnam. The Soviets maintain important bases at Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang.
But to Indonesia, it is still China that poses the greatest danger and Jakarta sees itself as the main balance to Peking's power in the region. As Murdani says, ``Once China becomes an advanced country, or a partially advanced one, it will have something more to say than it has today, you'll see.
``The region must be more united by the time the Chinese are strong enough to call the shots,'' the general says. Map: An awakening giant in Asia EAST TIMOR: Indonesia still smarts diplomatically from 1976 annexation of ex-Portuguese colony. Government troops reported cracking down on insurgents, who continue resistance. VIETNAM: Indonesia sees Moscow-backed Vietnam as buffer between China and Southeast Asia. It keeps close ties with Hanoi and tries to moderate ASEAN's anti-Vietnamese stance on Kampuchea. In 1984, Indonesian foreign minister visited Moscow. Several Soviet delegations went to Indonesia. But Indonesia aids guerrillas fighting Vietnam's occupation of Kampuchea. And recently the foreign minister postponed trips to Hanoi in protest of Vietnamese attacks on guerrillas. Jakarta keeps close ties with US. CHINA: Indonesia sees China as the major threat in area. Having severed ties with Peking in 1967 after Indonesia accused China of aiding 1965 communist coup attempt, Indonesia remains suspicious of 4 million resident Chinese. However, the two countries have made moves toward direct trade links. INDONESIA: The world's fifth most-populated nation -- and largest Muslim population -- is spread across 13,500 islands. A $560 average per-capita income among its 160 million people ranks Indonesia the 43rd poorest country in the world. As an OPEC member, Indonesia earns 70 percent of foreign exchange from oil exports. A military-dominated government tries to check orthodox Islam by pushing a state ideology (Pancasila).