Indonesia’s Nonalignment Problem

Indonesia’s Nonalignment Problem

Neutrality Won’t Protect Jakarta From Beijing’s Aggression

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and its seventh-largest economy. Yet the Southeast Asian country has historically played an undersized role in global affairs. Its traditional policy of neutrality in international relations has made it a bit player in Asia and rendered it mostly invisible in international forums such as the United Nations. But China’s ascent, and its escalating incursions into waters that Indonesia claims, has inflamed anti-China sentiment in the archipelago and called into question the wisdom of nonalignment. Now, after decades of punching below its weight, Jakarta may be about to assert itself on the international stage.

In recent years, Indonesian leaders have sought to chart a middle path toward China, at once pandering to popular distrust of China while seeking Chinese investment. But that balancing act has done little to dissuade Beijing from harassing Indonesia as it does its other Southeast Asian and Pacific neighbors. President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, largely eschews opportunities to speak on the international stage. His ambiguous messaging on China is becoming increasingly unsustainable as the regional security landscape changes.