Indonesia Election 2024: The stakes are high for the US and China

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — When Indonesians cast their votes On Wednesday to choose a new president in one of the world's biggest elections, the stakes will also be high for the United States, China and their escalating rivalry in the region.

The Southeast Asian country is a major battleground economically and politically in a region where global powers have long been at stake A collision course around TaiwanHuman rights, US military deployment, and Beijing's aggressive actions in disputed waters, including South China Sea.

Outgoing President Joko Widodo's foreign policy has avoided criticizing Beijing or Washington, but has also refused to ally with either power. This delicate balance has paved the way for significant Chinese trade and investment to Indonesia, including a High-speed rail worth $7.3 billion Which was largely funded by China, while Jakarta also strengthened defense ties and intensified military exercises with the United States.

These policies are likely to continue if the election front-runner, Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister who counts Widodo's eldest son as his running mate, wins, according to analysts.

“The problem for the great powers is that Jakarta is committed to non-alignment and will almost certainly remain so no matter who wins,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation think tank.

Subianto adheres to a policy of neutrality and has publicly praised the United States and China. He cited America's historic role in pressuring the Netherlands to recognize Indonesian sovereignty in the 1940s, during a forum held in November at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

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“This is part of history and we cannot forget this debt of honor,” said Subianto, who also praised China's importance to Southeast Asia. “China is a great civilization. It has contributed a lot and is now very active and contributing a lot to our economy.”

Former Education Minister and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, a presidential candidate trailing Subianto in most independent polls, said he would transform what he called Widodo's “commercial” foreign policy into a principled one if he wins the election.

When one country invades another, we can say that this goes against our core values. “Even though we are friends, if rights are violated, we can rebuke them,” Baswedan told The Associated Press in an interview last month, without saying which country he was referring to.

Baswedan said human rights and environmental protection should underpin Indonesia's foreign policy. “If we don’t have values, there will be a cost-benefit relationship, where we will only support countries that make us profit,” he said.

Marty Natalegawa, a respected former Indonesian foreign minister, expressed his hope that the new leaders to be elected will not only say “we are not taking sides” but “actually contribute to helping create more stable relations between the United States and China.”

The United States and China have realized how the emergence of a new leader in the region may threaten their interests.

Rodrigo Duterte, after assuming the Philippine presidency on an anti-crime agenda in 2016, has become one of Asia's most outspoken critics of US security policy while forging close ties with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Duterte threatened to expel American military personnel who are in the Philippines for combat training. He later moved to end a defense agreement with Washington that allowed thousands of Americans into the country for large-scale combat training, but ended that effort when he appealed to the United States to provide vaccines at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Duterte's stormy term ended in 2016 and he was succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who agreed to expand the state. US military presence in Philippine military bases Under the 2014 Defense Agreement. Marcus said his decision It was aimed at strengthening his country's territorial defenses at a time of increasing aggression by the Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militia forces in maritime areas claimed by the Philippines.

China protested the decisionSaying that it would provide US forces with staging points in the northern Philippines across the maritime border from the Taiwan Strait, which could undermine Chinese national security.

Indonesia and other ASEAN member states belong to the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War-era bloc of mostly developing countries that aspires not to be formally associated with or against any major world power.

However, the rivalry between Washington and Beijing has permeated the region.

Criticism of China's increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea has been ever-present It has been eased in ASEANa 10-member regional bloc.

Member states allied with Beijing, particularly Cambodia and Laos, have opposed any such rebuke or attempt to name China as a subject of criticism in joint statements after their annual summits, several regional diplomats have told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity over the years. Because they lacked the authority to speak publicly.

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Last year, the Philippine government accused the Chinese Coast Guard and suspected militia forces of using it Water gunsa Military grade laser And Dangerous maneuvers against Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels that caused minor collisions in a series of encounters on the high seas in disputed waters.

Under Indonesia's presidency, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) did not specifically mention China, but only issued general expressions of concern about aggressive behavior in the disputed waterway after summit meetings.

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Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez in Jakarta, Indonesia, and David Rising in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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