Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | 00:01 WIB

75 YEARS OF INDONESIAN INDEPENDENCE: A time for celebration and reflection


IO – August 17, 2020 Indo­nesia celebrates its 75th Independence Day. Since proclaiming its independence on August 17, 1945, the Republic has been constantly buffeted by major headwinds, on multiple fronts. The Dutch, its former colonial master, refused to recognize the newly-proclaimed independent nation and immedi­ately launched military offensives, which lasted until 1949. The battle to defend Indonesia’s independence ended with the holding of a Round Table Conference Agreement in The Hague, Netherlands, which resulted in federalism, with the formation of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RIS).

Soon afterward, coup attempts, underground resistance move­ments and rebellions were carried out by the Dutch and its Indone­sians agents. Armed conflict also emerged among Indonesian inde­pendence fighters themselves.

It can be said the first 20 years (1945-1965) were the most difficult and most crucial periods for the newly-established nation, both in terms of its integrity as a state and a unitary state, as well as its defense, internal and external politics, econ­omy and social stability.

The Asia Pacific War

The Indonesian independence movement, struggling to break itself from the grip of Dutch co­lonialism, gained momentum with the outbreak of World War II in Europe, which was soon followed by the Pacific War. World War II was sparked by Germany’s invasion to Poland on September 1, 1939. In East Asia, Japan became an ally of Germany and Italy. Initiated by Adolf Hitler, a Tripartite Pact was signed between Germany, Italy and Japan on September 27, 1940, then to be popularly known as the Ber­lin-Rome-Tokyo Axis.

Japan’s victories in the war against Russia in 1904-1905 and in World War I encouraged its ex­pansionist politics, moving into new territory on mainland Asia, espe­cially in China. Japanese ambition triggered the Second Sino-Jap­anese War, which began with the Japanese’s attack on China on July 7, 1937.

Naked Japanese aggression un­settled the United States of America and European countries which had colonies in the East and Southeast Asia. The conflict escalated after Japanese troops occupied French Indo-China in April 1941. The United States and Great Britain launched a punitive fuel embargo on Japan. The move prompted Ja­pan to bring forward its plan to take control of Southeast Asia, which is rich in natural resources needed by Japanese industry, especially for its armed forces. After negotiations with the United States broke down, Japan decided to launch a military action against the United States, beginning with an attack on the US military base at Pearl Harbor, Ha­waii on December 7, 1941.

Simultaneously, Japan mobi­lized its military forces to attack the East and Southeast Asian countries. In January 1942, during the Pacific War, the Allied forces in South East Asia formed a joint American-Brit­ish-Dutch-Australian Command or ABDACOM, was a short-lived supreme command under the leader­ship of General Sir Archibald Wavell. Wavell arrived in Singapore, where The British Far East Command was based, in January 7,1942. ABDA­COM later took over this command. On January 18, Wavell moved the Headquarters to Lembang, Band­ung. The joint command was only in existence for a few weeks and presided over one defeat after another, unable to slow down the invasion of the Jap­anese army. One by one, European colonies in the region were occupied by Japanese troops. The last target was Java, which began with the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942. Within about 7 hours, the Allied fleet, under the command of Admiral Karel Doorman was destroyed by the Japa­nese Navy.

On March 1, 1942, Japanese troops began landing on Java. In just one week, Allied forces in Java were driven back by the Japanese. On March 9, 1942, Lieutenant Gen­eral Hein ter Poorten, Commander of the KNIL (Koninklijke Neder­landsch Indische Leger) troops in the Netherlands Indie represented the Netherlands Indie government in negotiations with the Commander of the XVI Division of the Japanese Army, Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura. Hein ter Poorten signed a document for Dutch uncondition­al surrender to the Japanese army. March 9, 1942 marked the end of the Netherlands Indie state, as well as the end of Dutch colonialism in what was now Indonesia.

During the Japanese occupa­tion of the former Dutch colony, the Japanese military carried out various acts of cruelty through, among oth­ers, the implementation of the forced labor system (Romusha) where hun­dreds of thousands of natives were sent to Burma to build railroads. Most of them perished. Tens of thousands of indigenous women were also forced to become comfort women (Jugun Ianfu) to satisfy Japanese soldiers’ sexual ap­petites. Thousands of local intellectuals who opposed the Japanese government were taken to Mandor, West Kaliman­tan, and slaughtered there. What has yet to become widely known was the medical experiments carried out by Unit 731, where thousands of natives died from being used as guinea pigs.

To beef up its defense, Japan trained native youth to become auxil­iary troops, PETA is the abbriviaton of Pembela Tanah Air (Defenders of the Homeland), Heiho in Java , Giyugun in Sumatra), a Police force and various semi-military units. The formations of these paramilitary forces would prove to be of great use later in the war to de­fend Indonesia’s independence against the Dutch military aggression after In­donesia declared its independence.

The war in Europe ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender to Allied command on May 8, 1945. Allied Forces and their USSR allies shifted their military power to Asia to counter Imperial Japan; when that ambitious Empire was teetering on the brink of defeat, the Japanese government came through to fulfill its promise to grant independence to Indonesia. In April 1945, a body called the Agency for the Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence (BPUPK or Doku­ritsu Zyunbi Tyoosakai) was formed. BPUPK was tasked with preparing a draft of a Constitution for the soon to be declared country. After completing its mandate, BPUPK was dissolved and on August 7 a new body was formed, named the Indonesian Independence Preparatory Committee (PPKI or Do­kuritsu Zyunbi Inkai).

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, and on August 9 the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. America gave Japan an ultimatum, stating that if it did not surrender unconditionally, a third atomic bomb would be detonated over Tokyo, the capital. On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender, and ordered the Japanese army to cease all activities in the territories it occupied.

The document of unconditional surrender was signed by the Japanese government on September 2, 1945, on board the battleship USS Missouri. This immediately resulted in a power vacuum in all territories occupied by the Japanese army, including in the former Dutch colony, between August 15-September 2, 1945.

August 17, 1945: Indonesian independence is proclaimed

On that fateful morning at 10:00 a.m. Friday, 17 August 1945, the Proc­lamation of Indonesian Independence was read.

Previously, the Commander of the XVI Japanese Army, and Head of the Japanese Military Administration (Gunseikan) on Java, Lieutenant Gen­eral Moichiro Yamamoto, declared that he did not approve of the planned Indonesian independence proclama­tion. However, no action was taken to prevent it from taking place.

On August 18, Ir. Sukarno was ap­pointed President, with Mohammad Hatta as Vice President. On Septem­ber 2, 1945 the first Cabinet of the Re­public of Indonesia was formed. Thus, three conditions for the establishment of a nation had been fulfilled, accord­ing to the Montevideo Convention, namely, a permanent population, a defined territory, and a central gov­ernment. The Arab League was the first to recognize the independence of the Republic of Indonesia, and on June 10, 1947, the Republic of Indonesia and Egypt officially established diplomatic relations.

The Netherlands, on the other hand, refused to recognize Indonesia’s independence and was determined to retake its former colony. Its military forces had suffered great losses, both during World War II in Europe and in the Pacific War; the Netherlands was severely weakened. It attempted to compensate for this by forming an al­liance with Great Britain. On August 24, 1945 in Checkers, England, a Civ­il Affairs Agreement was signed, the terms of which stipulated that Britain was willing to support the Netherlands with military force in the effort to re­cover its former colony.

The Dutch and the British formed the “Allied Forces in the Netherlands East Indie” (AFNEI). In fact, the stip­ulated mission of AFNEI was to dis­arm Japanese soldiers and send them back to Japan, to free prisoners of war held in Japanese internment camps and to establish law and maintain general order. However, based on the Check­ers agreement, AFNEI troops had a secret agenda, namely, to wipe out paramilitary forces that supported the Republic of Indonesia, and then hand over Indonesian territory to NICA (Netherlands Indies Civil Administra­tion).

Britain deployed three divisions, under the command of Lieutenant General Philip Christison, with two Australian divisions under Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead. The three divisions of the British army assigned to Sumatra and Java encountered fierce resistance from Republic of Indonesia troops. However, the two divisions of the Australian army assigned to eastern Indonesia did not receive as strong re­sistance as in Java and Sumatra. After concluding that the armed forces that supported the Republic of Indo­nesia in east Indonesia had been defeated, Australia handed over all of east Indonesia to NICA on July 15, 1946. The Netherlands immedi­ately organized the Malino Confer­ence in South Sulawesi to form the “State of East Indonesia”. After­ward, the Netherlands established 15 autonomous states and territories in succession.

The leadership of the British army had privately come to the con­clusion that the Indonesian-Dutch conflict could never be resolved through armed conflict, and thus facilitated the Linggajati negotia­tions in November 15, 1946 (in the village of Linggajati, Kuningan), which stated that the Dutch would be willing to accept de facto con­trol of the Republic of Indonesia in the territories of Sumatra, Java and Madura. Ignoring this, the Dutch failed to honor the Lingga­jati Agreement by launching their first military aggression, on July 21, 1947. This campaign was concluded with negotiations aboard the USS Renville in December 1947, over­seen by the United Nations. One consensus point was to uphold the terms of the Linggajati Agreement. However, once again, the Dutch violated international treaties, by launching a second attack on De­cember 18, 1948. The globally-con­demned Dutch military aggression ended with the Round Table Con­ference, held in The Hague, Neth­erlands, from August 23-Novem­ber 2, 1949.

The Round Table Conference resulted in the agreement to form a Republic to be known as the Unit­ed States of Indonesia (Republik Indonesia Serikat “RIS”) dividing the archipelago into 16 States and Autonomous Territories. The Re­public of Indonesia was only one of the RIS States. The President of RIS was Ir. Sukarno. The cap­ital city was Jakarta. RIS took the form of a Parliamentary Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister. The first RIS Prime Minister was Drs. Mohammad Hatta, popularly know as Bung Hatta. Asaat Datuk Mudo was appointed Acting President of the Republic of Indonesia, based in Yogyakarta, before it became part of the United States of Indonesia, and served in office from December 1949 until August 1950.

A young country beset by internal conflicts

Soon after the establishment of RIS, several states and rebel­lious autonomous regions were dissolved by their own people or dissolved themselves and joined the Republic of Indonesia. Finally, the three remaining states agreed to dissolve RIS and join the Republic of Indonesia. On 16 August 1950 the President of RIS, Ir. Sukarno officially declared its dissolution. The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia was officially reestab­lished on August 17, 1950 based on the independence proclamation of August 17, 1945. The Indonesian government adopted an Interim Constitution (UUDS), in the form of a Parliamentary Cabinet, led by a Prime Minister.

On the political and security front, the Republic of Indonesia found itself in an unstable and insecure situa­tion. Starting in 1950, rebellious Dutch and their Indonesian collaborators con­tinued to sow chaos. On January 23, 1950, a former KNIL captain named Raymond Westerling, together with pro-Dutch militia from Bandung, led a group of troops calling themselves The Legion of Ratu Adil, also known as APRA (Angkatan Perang Ratu Adil or the Prince Justice Legion) in a coup attempt against the RIS government. The coup, which lasted just one day, failed. On April 5, 1950 Andi Azis, a former KNIL lieutenant, launched an uprising in Sulawesi. The rebellion only lasted 10 days, and he was arrested on April 15, 1950. On April 25, 1950, for­mer high-ranking officials of the State of East Indonesia, formed by the Neth­erlands and supported by former KNIL members, declared the establishment of the Republic of South Maluku (RMS). The RMS rebellion was masterminded by “black hands from the Netherlands” (Zwarte hand uit Nederland). The RMS rebellion was finally crushed by Indonesian Armed Forces in December 1963.

Apart from coup attempts and up­risings, the Dutch, who still harbored a nostalgic desire to rule over their former colony, founded several un­derground organizations, namely, the Nederlands Indie Guerilla Organisatie (NIGO) and Vrijwillige Ondergrondse Corps (VOC) with SM Kartosuwiryo proclaiming the establishment of the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) on August 7, 1949 in West Java. The Kar­tosuwiryo rebellion inspired similar movements by Tengku Daud Bereuh in Aceh, Ibnu Hajar in South Kalimantan and Kahar Muzakkar in South Sulawe­si. The NII rebellion ended with the arrest of Kartosuwiryo in June 1960.

In 1956 Sukarno conceived an ide­ology he called NASAKOM, an acro­nym for the three Indonesian words denoting “Nationalism, Religion and Communism’; in his opinion, this would form a practical foundation for a strong government. Sukarno eventu­ally decided that centralized command, which he termed “Guided Democra­cy”, would be superior to parliamenta­ry democracy. This would also extend over the economic sector. Sukarno also pronounced other principles of indoc­trination, namely, a Political Mani­festo (Manipol) and the Seven Staples of Indoctrination (TUBAPI) which contained his personal interpretation of the principles of Pancasila – with oth­ers forbidden. Such decrees led, step by step, to the centralization of power in the hands of the President.

Such policies emanating from a central government are considered by certain regions to favor centralis­tic command, at the expense of local development and aspirations, which were ignored. There was also serious opposition to the involvement of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) in government affairs. This dissatis­faction culminated in the formation of the PERMESTA rebel movement in Sulawesi, on March 2, 1957, followed by the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI) in Sumatra, on March 15, 1958. These two movements were successfully crushed by central government forces. In fact, the leaders of the two movements were army officials from the Armed Forced central command, soldiers who fought together during the war to defend In­donesian independence against Dutch military aggression in 1945-1949.

The Masyumi (Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia) Party and the Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI) were accused of supporting the two reb­el movements, because some of their members had been involved in PRRI and PERMESTA. The two parties were thus ordered to voluntarily dis­solve themselves, or would otherwise be designated as forbidden organi­zations. In order to avoid this action, with its members potentially risking arrest and imprisonment, in August 1960 the two parties dissolved them­selves. Thus it became plainly evident that Sukarno would not only suppress a free press, but also political entities.

Internally, the government of the Republic of Indonesia also faced many problems. Since its establishment as the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI) on August 17, 1950, there had been seven cabinets in nine years, up until July 1959. Only two cabinets lasted as long as two years. As a result, no ministers or ministries could plan and execute their duties effective­ly, optimally and sustainably.

Many concluded that the source of the confusion was the Non-perma­nent Constitution, with a Parliamen­tary Cabinet at the core of its system. The constitution was drafted by the RIS Parliament, whose members are mostly representatives from the States and Autonomous Territories formed by the Netherlands. The majority of members in the Dewan Konstituante (Constituent Council) assigned to draft the Constitution actually agreed with President Sukarno’s proposal to return to the 1945 Constitution. However, in all three of the council’s sessions called to discuss his proposal, a quorum was never reached. The Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. AH Nasution, supported President Sukarno in his determination to issue a Presidential Decree to return to the 1945 Consti­tution. Even Prime Minister Juanda supported the idea (Djuanda Kartaw­idjaya, was the last Prime Minister of Indonesia, served in office from April 1957 – 9 July 1959).

On July 5, 1959 President Sukar­no issued a Presidential Decree which stipulated: (1) the dissolution of Dewan Konstituante, (2) that the 1945 docu­ment is once again in force, governing the entire Indonesian population and the Indonesian nation, and (3) the es­tablishment of a Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS), to be composed of members of the House of Representatives, with delegates from the regions and groups; there was also an addendum for the establishment of a Provisional Supreme Advisory Council.

At that time, the Presidential De­cree of July 5, 1959 was considered a critical action in saving the nation from the threat of secession, maintain­ing the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia. Meanwhile, President Sukarno took unconstitu­tional steps by dissolving the Parlia­ment resulting from Indonesia’s first national election in 1955 and form­ing the Gotong Royong Parliament, whose members were to be directly appointed by the President. With this fateful step, the concentration of pow­er in the hands of the President was complete. Through MPRS Decree No.3/1963, Sukarno was appointed president for life.

Foreign politics and Sukarno’s downfall

Since being appointed the first president of the Republic of Indonesia on August 18, 1945, Sukarno had em­barked on an ever-changing and un­predictable foreign policy. In the Cold War era, with communist and an­ti-communist states facing off, every other country was pressured to commit itself and pick sides. The United States and its allies were alarmed about the possibility that the newly-established Republic of Indonesia would slip into the socialist bloc of nations. Therefore, to avoid antagonizing Indonesia, the United States exerted heavy pressure on the Netherlands to cease its mili­tary aggression against Indonesia. As a matter of fact, up until the mid-1950s, Indonesia maintained a close relation­ship with the United States. This was marked by the great honor accorded to President Sukarno, to speak before the American Congress on May 17, 1956.

However, in subsequent develop­ments, as he became dissatisfied with the United States’ policies toward In­donesia, Sukarno steered Indonesia closer to the Soviet Union and became an opponent of the United States and its allies. In launching a confrontation against the Dutch in order to reclaim West Papua, Indonesia received enor­mous military assistance from the So­viet Union, making its Armed Forces the strongest in Southeast Asia. Apart from the conflict with the Dutch over West Papua, Indonesia also launched a confrontation with newly-independent Malaysia, which Sukarno accused of being a British puppet state.

Sukarno even brought Indonesia closer to the People’s Republic of Chi­na and other communist countries in Asia, namely, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia. In 1965, when the UN had decided to include Malaysia as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Sukarno strongly opposed this move, accusing the UN of being an extension of Neo-Colonialist and Neo-Imperialist forces, referring to the United States, Britain and their allies. In protest against the UN move, Indonesia formally exited the organiza­tion on January 7, 1965.

In March 1962, as an aspect of realizing his stated ideology of Na­tionalism, Religion and Communism (NASAKOM), President Sukarno appointed DN Aidit, Chairman of the PKI Central Committee, and also Deputy Chair of the MPRS, a minister in his Working Cabinet III. Sukarno’s move to tie Indonesia to the commu­nist camp was marked by the formation of the Jakarta-Hanoi-Peking (Bei­jing)-Pyongyang axis in 1964. This move was also intended to demonstrate to Sukarno’s domestic political rivals that Indonesia was already firmly in the communist camp in opposition to the neo-colonialism/neo-imperialism exhibited by the United States and its allies.

Sukarno’s moves on the interna­tional stage, along with the twists and turns of his domestic maneuvers and policies, made him many enemies. Foreign powers, as well as state forces within Indonesia, directly or indirect­ly worked to remove him from power. The alarming and precipitous econom­ic decline of the nation was an Achilles heel of President Sukarno’s adminis­tration, as inflation peaked at 650%, unemployment soared and basic com­modities became increasingly scarce or unaffordable.

Foreign figures who stood out in manipulating Sukarno’s downfall in­cluded George Frank Norman Red­daway, a propaganda expert from the British Foreign Ministry, who was involved in the British secret service (MI6). In the spring of 1965 he was assigned a special task to do everything he could to overthrow Sukarno. He was provided with 100,000 Pounds Sterling in cash to carry out the operation.

The second figure of note was a Dutchman, Josephus Gerardus Beek, a Jesuit priest and politician. He was known as Pater Beek and was a strong­ly anti-communist and anti-Islam CIA agent. Beek had first visited the Netherlands Indie in 1937. From 1948 to 1959 he lived in Yogyakarta and in 1960 he moved to Jakarta. Pater Beek conducted indoctrination for Catholic youths through month-long program­ming sessions known as Kasbul, with very strict penalties for indisciplinary behavior. He succeeded in creating a militant group that was staunchly an­ti-communist, anti-Islam and loyal to Catholicism. After President Sukarno fell from power, Pater Beek became a very important political consultant to President Suharto. (Josephus Gerar­dus Beek founded the Centre for Stra­tegic and International Studies).

On September 30, 1965 six high-ranking officers and a lieutenant of the Indonesian Army were abduct­ed and murdered: Lieutenant Gener­al Ahmad Yani, Major General MT Haryono, Major General R. Suprapto, Major General S. Parman, Brigadier General DI Panjaitan, Brigadier Gen­eral S. Siswomiharjo and Lieutenant P. Tendean.

It did not take long to reveal that the perpetrators of the kidnapping and murders involved Cakrabirawa troops under the command of Lt. Col. Un­tung, Commander of the Presidential Guard. It also revealed the true nature of the PKI and its affiliate organiza­tions. As a result, the people demanded the abolition of the PKI and the orga­nizations under its auspices.

President Sukarno’s dithering in embarking on any decisive action against the PKI eroded his position. On March 11, 1966, TNI leadership sent three high-ranking officers for a face-to-face meeting with President Sukarno at the Bogor Palace: Major General Basuki Rahmad, Brigadier General M. Yusuf and Brigadier General Amir Mahmud. This dele­gation demanded President Sukarno to authorize Major General Suharto to restore security and order across the nation. Following negotiations, Pres­ident Sukarno reluctantly signed an order naming Major General Suharto as Commander for the Restoration of Peace, Security and Order (Pangkop­kamtib). The letter became popularly known as Order of the Eleventh of March, “Supersemar”, the abbrevia­tion for Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret. The order, gave Suharto the authority to take whatever measures he “deemed necessary” to restore order to the cha­otic situation during the mass killings of 1965-1966. The actual stipulations contained in the Order continue to be shrouded in mystery, because the orig­inal document has never come to light.

Armed with the Order, Suharto swiftly took decisive action, by dissolv­ing PKI and arresting PKI-aligned ministers and loyalists of President Su­karno. Suharto also purged PKI mem­bers and supporters of Sukarno from MPRS, replacing them with members of the Armed Forces and anti-commu­nist stalwarts. On October 1, 1966 In­donesia froze diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, citing Chinese Communist Party involve­ment in the PKI movement.

As momentum built up and anger mounted, there were wholesale ar­rests and killings of PKI members or those accused of being linked to PKI. This wave of violence then became an excuse for widespread social conflict, where people killed one another over old grievances. It is estimated that the death toll in this national tragedy ranged from 500,000 to one million citizens.

The strategy that Suharto adapted to corner Sukarno and erode his power, eventually replacing him as President, were referred to by some as a “crawling coup”. The Eleventh of March Order was ratified through MPRS Decree No.9/1966, blocking President Sukar­no himself from any attempt to revoke the Order.

On June 22, 1966 President Sukar­no delivered an “accountability speech” before the fourth session of the MPRS, regarding the events that took place on September 30, 1965. His speech was ti­tled Nawaksara, as it covered nine sub­jects. The response by the MPRS was to reject this attempt at justification, and for good measure to revoke his “President for life” title.

So was the situation in Indonesia until 1965, which came to be known as the “Old Order”. From 1965-1967 there were cautious maneuvers to re­move President Sukarno from the presidency. In March 1967, through MPRS Decree No.23/1967, Suharto was appointed as Acting President, fol­lowing which Suharto told Sukarno to vacate the Presidential Palace in Jakarta by August 17, 1967. After moving out of the Palace, Sukarno initially resided in one of the pavilions at the Bogor Pal­ace, then retiring to a place in Batutulis, Bogor. Sukarno wrote a letter to Presi­dent Suharto, requesting permission to reside in Jakarta. Suharto granted this request, and on December 10, 1967 Su­karno was transferred to Wisma Yaso in Jakarta, and placed under house arrest. The former “Number One Person” in Indonesia was living in total isola­tion, prohibited from meeting anyone, owning a radio or television, reading a newspaper or engaging in many other everyday activities. This of course took a toll on his psychological condition. In the morning of June 21, 1970, the Pro­clamator of Indonesian Independence and the first President of the Republic of Indonesia remained under house ar­rest until his death in 1970.

On March 23, 1968, Suharto was appointed President of the Republic of Indonesia. After successfully sidelining and disgracing Sukarno, Suharto, as the leader of the New Order, began to behave as Sukarno had done before, namely, gradually accumulating pow­er and ensuring policies would tend to centralize power in the hands of the President. President Suharto subse­quently arrested, jailed or sidelined his political opponents and critics, employ­ing various laws and regulations, muf­fling the press, rigging elections and so on. His success in concentrating power in the hands of one man enabled him to rule for 32 years.

Apart from successfully concen­trating power in his own person, Suhar­to also arranged a clique that dominat­ed and exploited most of the Indonesian economy. The titanic Asian Economic Crisis of 1997/1998 signified drastic changes; in March 1998, amid political and security chaos, resulting in massive social conflicts which cost thousands of lives, history echoed, as yet another President of the Republic of Indonesia was brought down by events beyond his control. On May 22, 1998 Presi­dent Suharto responded to the popular uprising, along with declining support from the military and those around him, by voluntarily stepping down from the Presidency.

The era of “Reformasi”

At the beginning of the Reforma­tion era, the situation was similar to that at the beginning of the New Order, with freedom of the press, freedom to express one’s opinion, commitment to fair enforcement of the law, eradication of corruption and so on. The direction of Indonesia’s foreign policy was deter­mined by the sitting president. During the ten years of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) presidency, Indone­sia was very close to the United States. This was also admitted by SBY himself, who once said that America is his sec­ond country.

After Joko Widodo was elected President of Indonesia in 2014, the direction of Indonesia’s foreign pol­icy began a tectonic shift. The new Chief Executive moved Indonesia closer to the People’s Republic of China. In April 2015, six months after Joko Widodo was inaugurated as President, on the sidelines of the 50th anniversary of the Asian-Af­rican Conference, news broke in various media with the title “Chi­na’s clean sweep of infrastructure projects in Indonesia.” Since then, Indonesia’s foreign policy has grad­ually tilted toward the PRC, and no longer to the West and Japan. It can be said that during the admin­istration of President Joko Wido­do, nearly all major projects were awarded to the PRC. Not only has the PRC invested money and tech­nology in Indonesia: even the on-the-ground workers were brought in from China.

Indonesia’s close relations with the PRC have aroused concerns. Although the PRC has embraced a capitalist economic system since the 1980s under its peculiar blend of State Monopoly Capitalism, its political system is still fundamen­tally communist. Many parties in Indonesia are of the opinion that the massive loans freely provided by the PRC government to Indonesia constitute a debt trap, as has been suffered by several other developing countries.

The conflict in the South Chi­na Sea is also intensifying, because the PRC rejects UNCLOS inter­national agreement on territorial waters. The PRC claims that its national territory extends all the way to Indonesian (Natura waters) and Philippines maritime borders. The United States has manifested a strong navalpresence in the South China Sea. In the event of an armed conflict in the South China Sea, In­donesia will be faced with a decision as to whether it will side with the PRC or defend its territorial sover­eignty in waters claimed by the PRC as their own.

In early 2020, at a time when Indonesia’s economy was already weakening, a pandemic triggered by Covid-19, originating in Wu­han, China, swept across the world, including Indonesia. Econom­ic growth in many countries has plunged into negative territory. In­donesia is no exception. With severe economic downturn in areas affect­ed by the virus, the unemployment rate has soared.

Many senior figures, both civilian and retired TNI and Police personnel, are of the opinion that the current situation is analogous to that of 1964/1965 and 1997/1998. History will bear witness as to whether history will again repeat itself, with social conflicts raising their ugly heads again. If history repeats itself, it will only reinforce the saying that humanity never learns from history. (BATARA RICHARD HUTAGALUNG)

BATARA RICHARD HUTAGALUNG (born in Surabaya, 4 December 1944), is a Historical Re­searcher and International Political commentator. After graduating from highschool in Denpasar, he left for Hamburg, West Germany attending the University of Hamburg, where he studied sociology, philosophy and psychology.


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