Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | 14:24 WIB

Walking a Tightrope Balancing Indonesia’s Course Between the US and China


Jakarta, IO – Beneath the bustling markets and vibrant streets of Southeast Asia, a silent earthquake is reshaping the world’s political bedrock. The tectonic plates of global power are grinding against each other, with the United States, the once-undisputed king of the Pacific, now facing a formidable challenger in the form of a resurgent China. This collision of titans sends tremors through the region, and Indonesia, the sprawling archipelago at its heart, finds itself perched on a precipice. 

Like a mighty Garuda caught in a maelstrom, Indonesia strains to maintain its balance. The allure of China’s economic gravity is undeniable, its Belt and Road Initiative weaving a tapestry of investment and infrastructure across the archipelago. Yet, the enduring ties to the United States, the shared values of democracy and the promise of security in a contested sea, tug at Indonesia’s conscience. 

From the grand halls of Jakarta’s political elite to the humble warung stalls lining its bustling cities, the question hangs heavy in the air: Can Indonesia, a nation forged in the fires of revolution and self-determination, chart its own course amidst these clashing currents? Can it harness the titans’ energy without being crushed beneath their weight? The answer will not only shape Indonesia’s destiny but also echo across the wider canvas of Asia’s future. 

Historically, Indonesia has cultivated a “free and active” foreign policy, eschewing formal alliances while fostering close ties with both Washington and Beijing. This carefully calibrated approach reaped dividends, securing lucrative investments, military partnerships, and diplomatic clout. However, the escalating US-China competition throws a wrench into this finely balanced act. Pressure mounts for Indonesia to pick a side, to choose an orchestra seat in the unfolding geopolitical drama. But Indonesia is no understudy; it demands center stage, not a supporting role. The archipelagic nation seeks to assert itself as a regional powerhouse, leveraging its strategic location, diverse resources, and demographic strength. Balancing on this diplomatic tightrope, Indonesia strives to maintain its sovereignty while actively engaging in international forums to shape the narrative of its role in the evolving global order.


China’s economic influence extends beyond bilateral trade, reaching global markets and shaping the dynamics of international commerce. The scale of its manufacturing prowess and export capabilities has positioned China as a key player in the intricate web of the global supply chain. Countries worldwide find themselves intricately connected to China’s economic engine, making any significant shift in its trajectory a matter of global consequence. As China continues to advance technologically and economically, its impact on the world stage becomes increasingly pronounced, demanding careful consideration and strategic navigation for nations seeking to thrive in the evolving landscape of global economics. 

Yet, dismissing the United States would be equally foolhardy. Washington wields the mantle of democracy and human rights, values deeply cherished by the Indonesian people. Its military presence acts as a bulwark against regional anxieties, particularly regarding China’s assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea. Turning a blind eye to the US would leave Indonesia exposed to the whims of an increasingly assertive Beijing. 

How does Indonesia walk this tightrope? 

By embracing the role of a master diplomat, a regional bridge builder, and a champion of ASEAN centrality. First, Indonesia must leverage its diplomatic finesse to foster communication and cooperation between the US and China. Nestled between the two superpowers, Indonesia’s unique understanding of both nations, coupled with its long history of non-alignment and conflict resolution, positions it as a trusted and credible mediator. It can host dialogues on key issues like trade and maritime security, mediate disputes arising from competing territorial claims, and propose frameworks for peaceful coexistence. 

In the recent third Indonesia’s presidential debate of 2024, Prabowo Subianto articulated a compelling vision for Indonesia’s national defense, emphasizing the crucial elements of geopolitics, global security, and the preservation of national interests. Central to his discourse was a commitment to safeguarding the nation’s wealth, a testament to the historical challenges Indonesia faced in its pursuit of independence. 

Prabowo began by reaffirming the fundamental principles enshrined in Indonesia’s constitution, emphasizing the paramount importance of protecting the entire Indonesian nation and its diverse people. His call to return to these foundational values underscores the need for a strong national defense as a means to ensure the safety and well-being of all citizens. 


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