Written byy Ahmed Rajeev exclusively for SouthFront
Indonesia’s capital suffered bomb attacks. Its president already said that Indonesia is in a terror attack. Multiple blasts along with suicide bombers went off in the center of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. According to the police, at least seven people have been confirmed killed in the attack. Police also said that attackers arrived on motorcycles and threw grenades and committed suicide bomb attacks in front of the Sarinah shopping mall. But the question is how the recent terror attacks in Indonesia could influence the regional security?
Indonesia in brief
Indonesia is the largest country in the Southeast Asian region. It is also the largest Sunni Muslim populated country in the world. It has oil and gas to export. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its predecessors have provided more than 10 billion dollars of development assistance to Indonesia since 1950.Indonesian government is vocal about democracy and moderate Islamic practices which align with the western demand ‘Modernization of Islam’. It is running a steady economic growth which is above 6%. But Indonesia is ambitious about the soft power position in South East Asia and that was shown during the East Timor intervention in 1975. Indonesia is influential in ASEAN since it is one of the founding members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), established in 1967. Indonesia has one of the most important strategic passages of the World- The Strait of Malacca, because it supports the bulk of the maritime trade between Europe and Pacific Asia, which accounts for 50,000 ships per year. About 30% of the world’s trade and 80% of Japan’s, South Korea’s and Taiwan’s imports of petroleum transits through the Malacca strait. Indonesia today exercises its regional influence to promote co-operation, development, democracy, security, peace and stability in the region through its leadership in ASEAN. It is also a member of OPEC, though Indonesia suspended its membership in January 2009, but this was reactivated from 1st January 2016. But it is not in the west backed TPP bloc yet but in October 2015, during his visit to Washington, Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared Indonesia’s intention to join the TPP.
Indonesia maintains good trade relations with its neighbors. Indonesia’s main export partners are Japan (15% of Indonesia’s total export), China 12.5%, Singapore 9.1 % USA 8.7%, India 7.1%, South Korea 6.3%, Malaysia 5.8%. Its main exports are oil and gas, Cement, Food, electrical appliances, Constructions, plywood, textiles, rubber. Indonesia’s import partners are China (16% of the total Indonesian import) , Singapore 13.7%, Japan 10.3%, Malaysia 7.1 % South Korea 6.2, Thailand 5.7%, US 4.9 %. Their imports are mainly machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels, foodstuffs.
The US-Indonesia Relations
According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 36% of Indonesians view U.S. influence positively, with 47% expressing a negative view. But the modern US-Indonesia relationship is more than half a century old. The US has a huge investment more than 10 billion in Indonesian society. Since 1950 the US and their western partners invested in education, democracy and decentralized governance, justice and legislative sector reforms, media development, Infrastructure, employment, business climate and enterprise development, safety and soundness, environmental services, health, food and nutrition sectors in Indonesia.
Indonesia was considered a central theater in the war on terrorism by many policymakers in the Bush administration. Since Indonesia has the largest Sunni Muslim population in the world, poverty and political instability, could fuel the growth of religious instability. The island of Bali was twice the scene of gruesome bombings targeting foreign nationals. The bombing in 2002 killed 202 people, while the October 2005 suicide attacks killed at least 20.
The US has been giving sufficient military support since the east Timor independence. The US has numerous military training programs with Indonesia. From 2002-04, Indonesia received $1.3 million from US-IMET (International Military Education and Training) program. The IMET program was suspended from 1999-2002 due to concerns about human rights abuses in East Timor by the Indonesian Military. Indonesia got 14.3 million dollar for the Bali Bomb attack in 2002 from US for Antiterrorism Assistance program.
In 2002-2004 The US Department of Defense funded 4.2 million dollars for the education in counterterrorism practices and strategies for Indonesian military and intelligence officials for Counterterrorism Fellowship Program. US also gave 6 million dollars in 2005 for the Indonesian navy for Maritime Security as foreign military financing.
From 2001-04, the U.S. government gave Indonesia $23.2 million in general economic assistance, part of which was spent strengthening the country’s police and security forces.
In 25-26 October 2015, the Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) visited Washington for further enrichment of the relationship between the US and Indonesia. It was clear that Obama administration want to know that how aggressively Jokowi can use Indonesia’s power in Southeast Asia to push other countries in the region to embrace democratic transitions; particularly dealing with Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and other nations in the region.
There are speculations that the US has been seeking military-to-military ties forward with Indonesia. The US has its own vision and strategy for Indonesia’s maritime power, it will offer further specific plans to modernize the country’s navy and build a new coast guard, which is supposed to be independent of the navy within a year. The US wants to help Indonesia on its naval and coast guard expansion, with training programs and joint exercises with the U.S. coast guard, and possibly the sale of older U.S. Coast Guard vessels to the new Indonesian force. President Jokowi, along with his foreign and defense ministers, reiterated Indonesia’s commitment to a maritime order based on international law and non-use of force. These commitments were welcomed in the US; particularly those commitments were against the climate of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea region. But the US wants a stronger stand from Indonesia as ASEAN’s cornerstone on the South China Sea disputes.
Relations between China and Indonesia
The relations between imperial China and ancient Indonesia inaugurated during the 7th century, possibly earlier. Indonesia was part of the maritime Silk Road connecting China with India and the Arab world. Numerous Chinese ceramics were discovered throughout Indonesia, suggesting ancient trade links between both countries. But at present time, trade between China and Indonesia is on the rise, especially after the implementation of ACFTA since early 2010. Indeed, while in 2003 trade between Indonesia and China reached only USD 3.8 billion, in 2010 it multiplied almost 10 times reached USD 36.1 billion. China has also been one of Indonesia’s key major trading partners in recent years, serving as the country’s largest export and import market. China had managed to overtake the United States as Indonesia’s second-largest export destination after Japan. China is also becoming Indonesia’s most important source of imports.
On the other hand, China wants deepening economic ties with Indonesia. —China Railway was recently awarded the on-again-off-again contract to build a $5.5 billion high-speed rail between Jakarta and Bandung—which prevents Jakarta from taking a strong stand against Chinese policy in the region. But Washington is looking to regional partners to also step up pressure on the Chinese.
So, we saw many times that Indonesia was indecisive on the south china sea disputes because of its dependence on both the US and China. There are many contradictory statements from Jakarta have added further confusion to Indonesia’s position on the South China Sea. Whereas Indonesia’s Western Fleet chief (Panglima Armada Barat), Rear Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrochman, recently claimed Indonesian warships were on standby in the South China Sea in anticipation of heightened tension, Luhut Pandjaitan (Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs) has responded that there will be no Indonesian military presence in the South China Sea. Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu also suggested on the sidelines of the recent ASEAN-China defense ministers’ meeting that there was no need for non-claimants to be involved in the South China Sea if claimant states can de-escalate tensions.
The Regional matrix
The US investment expects tougher stand from Indonesia for its role in the regional disputes with the neighboring countries like china. But Indonesia failed to meet such western expectation by considering that it could unleash a permanent domestic and regional instability. When a country has more than 6% annual growth rate, it will tend to avoid military engagements. But, as the largest country in Southeast Asia, and the largest Muslim-majority democracy in the world, Indonesia is of great strategic importance to the United States—particularly given the challenges posed by the rise of China in Asia. The US has paid special attention in the South East Asia to contain Chinese assertions. As a result it has also paid special attention to the Indonesia. Already Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Japan enrolled themselves in TPP. There is a clear western bloc visible in that region to contain China. But the US needs the full control over the water of the Malacca Strait to control the water navigation in and around South China Sea. It is clear that those TPP enlisted countries in that region will give full support to any western initiative of contain Chinese assertions. Since Indonesia wants to be in the western TPP club, it will also cooperate with the west depending on mutual benefits. There are other comparatively small South East Asian countries who also want to be in the western TPP bloc. Those countries are South Korea, Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan. They will also support western activities in the region silently to get the TPP membership.
The western move with the New Year
Considering the sensitivity of geopolitics in the South East Asia region, the west wants to empower some countries militarily to create some sort of check and balance in favor of the west. If the US interferes directly into the conflict, it will create a negative effect on the global public opinion. So, the west-led by the US, took a policy to interfere into the South East Asian conflict by the second means. And that second means is terrorism. It is well documented that security and political instability can make paths for western Intervention. An Unstable and terrorized Indonesia is easier to negotiate, a western luxury to handle. The Unstable Indonesia will suffer with its economy and social harmony. The growing religious extremism in and around Indonesia can pave the ways for western military presence in that region. And a strong western military presence in Indonesia can put sufficient pressure on Chinese Trade and Military activities in South China Sea region since there is another American military base situated in Philippines.
From the above discussion we can summarize that the attack on Indonesia was just a beginning to open a new chapter of the wests war on terror in that region to exert western power influence in the South East Asia to halt Chinese activities in South China Sea when the west is retreating from the Middle east. The retreating West in the Middle East has updated a policy of Chaos and Rule which is being executed from a position behind the curtain. Since the world is more connected physically and through technological advancements, a power full economic system like the West can control and use regional and International clashes and disputes in favor of their interests. If West can create disruption, chaos and divisions into far away civilization or a society, the West will be the most beneficiary from every aspect for its long practice of imperialism. More divisions into a society will bring more chaos into the region. More regional chaos will lead the regional leaders towards the dependency on the West. More dependency on the West means more opportunity to exploit South East Asia from a position of behind the curtain. And very safely, an indirect but full control over South East Asia and its sea will not bring domestic rebellion into the Western world.