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Subianto’s Win in a Polarized World: Indonesia’s Balancing Act Must Continue


Indonesia’s election commission March 20, 2024 — officially announced the victory of Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia’s presidential poll held on February 14, 2024. Subianto and running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of outgoing President Joko Widodo (referred to as Jokowi), won over 58% (58.6%) of the vote. Subianto’s opponents Anies Baswedan, a former Governor of Jakarta, and former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo have said that they will challenge the verdict (given the huge margin, it is unlikely that they will be able to pose a serious challenge).

Subianto who served as Defence Minister under outgoing President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) has his task cut out regarding domestic economic challenges and Indonesia’s ties with the rest of the world in an increasingly complex geopolitical world order. Subianto’s inauguration will take place in October 2024.

Under the Presidency of Jokowi, Indonesia successfully navigated a complex geopolitical order (this has stood Indonesia in good stead even in the economic sphere). Indonesia’s balanced approach towards foreign policy was evident not only in the case of the Russia-Ukraine conflict but also w.r.t the growing US-China competition in Asia. Jokowi visited Russia and Ukraine in June 2022 and offered to play the role of peacemaker between both countries. While addressing the G20 Summit held at Bali, in November 2022, the outgoing Indonesian President said (Indonesia held the presidency of G20 from December 2021 to November 2022): “If the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward. We should not divide the world into parts. We must not allow the world to fall into another Cold War.” 

It would be pertinent to point out that several other middle powers, like India and Saudi Arabia, have refrained from taking sides on the Russia-Ukraine issue.

As a result of the current geopolitical environment and its economic interests, Indonesia has maintained a robust economic relationship, being part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while also cultivating strong ties with the US – under the comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP) which the two countries signed in November 2023 – and Japan. Indonesia has also been a vocal supporter of the US-led IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework). G7 nations have also been looking to countries like India and Indonesia as important bridges between the West and the Global South. While speaking at the G7 Summit, held in Hiroshima in May 2023, Jokowi remarked: “I want to stress that what the world needs now is not polarization, but rather a collaboration that unites, and G7 countries have a big role in creating concrete and equal collaboration.”

Also Read: A Possible Trump Presidency: Impact On US-ASEAN Ties

Global Reactions

Messages from world leaders provide a major insight into Indonesia’s importance as a result of its geographical location as well as its foreign policy orientation. Chinese President, Xi Jinping in his congratulatory message said that both countries need to work closely and “..create an example of major developing countries sharing a common destiny, unite, cooperate and seek common development, and serve as a model for the two peoples, that will bring more benefits to our people and inject strong impetus into regional and global prosperity and stability,”

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken in his congratulatory message lauded the Indonesian people for the high voter turnout and their commitment to the rule of law and democracy. He also said that the robust relationship between both countries is driven by a commitment to ‘democracy and pluralism’. The emphasis on democratic practices highlights the Biden Administration’s emphasis on strengthening alliances, especially in the Indo-Pacific with democracies. The US is also keen to dispel the notion, that it is ceding space to China in Asia in general and the ASEAN region in particular (this is evident from several high-level visits to ASEAN in recent months). Former US President and Republican candidate in the 2024 election, Donald Trump’s previous tenure did witness some important steps as far as giving a push to the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy was concerned, but his inward-looking economic policies and excessively transactional stance on crucial issues were not re-assuring for several ASEAN nations. Trump’s aggressive stance vis-à-vis China also did not send the correct message to several ASEAN nations who have benefitted from cordial ties with both the US and China.

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Conclusion

While it is an uphill task, Indonesia under Subianto will need to stick to a balanced foreign policy, which is nimble and deft, given the ASEAN nation’s economic and strategic interests. The ability to successfully walk a tightrope between the US and China and on other complex issues will depend upon several factors.

First, the relationship between Washington and Beijing will only increase Indonesia’s challenges in the near future (deterioration of ties between both countries).

Second, the approach of Donald Trump — if he were to win the 2024 election vis-à-vis the Indo-Pacific. Trump has already stated, that if he were to win the 2024 election, the US would pull out of the IPEF, dubbing it as TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership 2).

Third, Indonesia will need to find common ground with developing countries, especially India, on key issues of the Global South and finally, a lot will depend upon the changes which take place in the global geopolitical order.

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About the author

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is faculty member of OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana.


Tridivesh Singh Maini

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is faculty member of OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana.

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