Thursday, July 25, 2024 | 22:21 WIB

The beauty of a wary foreign policy

Byron Allen Black

The CIA hated him, and did their nastiest to get rid of him, or to break up the Republic into smaller units that would be easier to intimidate. 

The Indonesian economy, never that strong, tottered and sank, with Government ministers admitting their incompetence and helplessness. People were lined up to buy rice in downtown Jakarta in 1964, which goes to show the desperation of the public. Imagine how worse life was in the outer islands. 

The President even spurned foreign assistance. “To hell with your aid!” he told Uncle Sam, creating good headlines but not much else in terms of support. 

To compensate for the economic wreckage (partly self-inflicted, and partly the action of wicked foreign manipulators) Sukarno went on the warpath, primarily against fledgling Malaysia, declaring the smaller Southeast Asian nation a British plot to continue colonialism. He sent thousands of untrained, illequipped young Indonesians into the jungles of Kalimantan to fight the British-trained Gurkhas, with their long knives and history of combat. You can imagine how that turned out. 

1965: The killing of the generals. The PKI, with whom Bung Karno was always close and supportive, overplayed their hand, and after the events of September it was clear that the Proclamator had “put his money on the wrong horse”, as the Communists and their sympathizers failed to create the revolutionary equivalent of a Khmer Rouge. Sukarno was rudely shoved aside, legislators openly expressing their disapproval of his actions, and as the new Government of General Suharto assumed power it quickly became clear that there was to be a clean sweep, with a more-or-less noncommittal, albeit western-leaning, foreign policy, with a handsoff approach to any international events that did not concern Indonesia directly. This worked well, and it was proven by a photo of The Smiling General flying back from Moscow in the 1990s, fresh agreements in hand. Peking was also carefully courted, and a policy of non-interference in others’ affairs became a hallmark of Indonesian foreign policy. 

Indonesia has also notably played the role of peacemaker in Africa and other troubled hotspots in recent years, under the ægis of the United Nations. 

Such a prudent policy toward its neighbors has not been without challenges, and today we see the mammoth confrontation between the People’s Republic of China and other nations bordering the South China Sea, which the Chinese claim as their own territory. 

Indonesia will undoubtedly take a measured if determined stance to this matter, not moving recklessly or threateningly. Ditto for a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict; Indonesia may well play a role as peacemaker, inasmuch as it has no “stake” in “victory” for either side.