DIGITAL ARTICLE | COMMENTARIES by: Maria Margaretha Widhia Putri
China has captured much attention over its Belt and Road Initiative, as a realization of its plan to project power across Asia. In the book, â€œPolitics Among Nationsâ€, Hans Morgenthau writes of the elements of national power: geography, natural resources, industrial capacity, military preparedness, population, national character, national morale, and the quality of diplomacy.
The elements that I would like to focus on in this essay are geography and the quality of diplomacy. When a country wants to pursue its objectives, it needs to build and maintain good relations with other countries, especially ones in the same region or sharing the same border. To make good relations with other countries, the country must have good quality diplomacy. When the nations agree to work together, there will be a synergy between them.Â
I think China possesses the two elements I am emphasizing as a powerful country. This is reflected by how it has decided to work with Indonesia through maritime cooperation. In this essay, I would like to explain the reciprocity between China and Indonesia through Beijingâ€™s Belt and Road Initiative and Jakartaâ€™s Global Maritime Fulcrum.
Bilateral relations: Changes and continuity
China has always been very important for Indonesia in implementing its foreign policy. A bilateral relationship with China since 1949 indicates Indonesiaâ€™s foreign policy method â€“ free and active. Diplomatic relations between the two began to be more meaningful under former President Soekarno. In 1949-1965, China helped a young Indonesia shape the nation â€“ providing guidance on how it should develop in many aspects. Statesmen such as Yeremia Lalisang wrote toÂ Kompas, saying that the two nations were enjoying a â€œhoneymoon.â€
Likewise, China perceived Indonesia as an important partner in implementing its foreign policy during that time, although Indonesia quit the United Nations in 1965. Both countries have cooperated well since then, forming solidarity for Soekarnoâ€™s Conference of New Emerging Forces (Conefo). This reciprocity has continued to evolve mutually. In the 1990s, under then President Suharto, bilateral relations between the two became even more important, and China highly valued its relations with Indonesia due to the Westâ€™s criticism of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. As for Indonesia, which was hit by a robust financial crisis in 1997, bilateral relations became more important for the economy.
Then President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, proposed â€œporos Jakarta-Beijing-New Delhiâ€ (connectivity between Jakarta, Beijing, and New Delhi), whereby Indonesia indicated its perception of the strategic value of China in its diplomatic relations. Gus Durâ€™s successor President Megawati Soekarnoputri followed this up by establishing â€œdiplomasi dansaâ€ (dancing diplomacy). Megawatiâ€™s successor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in his two terms in office, nurtured diplomatic relations by proclaiming the relationship a â€œstrategic partnershipâ€ in 2005. Since then, as the result of China and Indonesiaâ€™s intense reciprocal relationships â€“ in politics, the economy, and culture â€“bilateral relations continued to grow in a way beneficial for both countries.
As for President Joko Widodo, as reported byÂ Kompasin 2015, Indonesia and China have agreed to continue nurturing their bilateral relations in eight sectors. This agreement was signed in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Beijing. Both President Xi Jinping and President Joko said synergy between the two countries needed to be nurtured by concrete action.
Under the MoU, one of the sectors both China and Indonesia want to synergize is the maritime sector. President Jokoâ€™s vision to establish the Global Maritime Fulcrum and President Xiâ€™s plan to develop the Belt and Road Initiative are in line with one another. These mega maritime projects have the same purpose, which is to build connectivity among Southeast Asian nations and enhance their respective national capabilities in maritime security, and so create synergy.
The Belt and Road Initiative, or theÂ to give it its full title, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road,was known as the One Belt, One Road Initiative until 2016.Â
About the Silk Road
The ancient Silk Road:Â The name Silk Road, as written in the book â€œThe Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asiaâ€ by Frances Wood, was given because of Chinaâ€™s main export commodity during the Tang dynasty - silk. It stretched from China in the East to Italy in the West. For over 2,000 years, the Silk Road was a trade route for highly valued silk, cotton, jade, lapis lazuli, gold, silver, spices, and many other commodities. Richard Kurin wrote in â€œThe Silk Road: Connecting People and Cultures,â€ that the road was not only for the exchange of commodities but also culture â€“ musical instruments, and architectural, philosophical, and religious ideas brought by travelers passing along the route.Â
The Silk Road has been an influential trade route through history in Asia and has been acknowledged by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. It was first introduced as a trade route connecting China with Eurasia, Central Asia, India, West Asia, and Europe during ancient times. It was developed to strengthen Chinaâ€™s economic ties with countries in Central Asia and West Asia, and Europe. It also passed over water, as the Maritime Silk Road, encompassing Guangzhou, South China, to the Malacca Strait, and then Sri Lanka, India, and the east coast of Africa.
The ancient Maritime Silk Road was formed during the Song dynasty, based on artifacts found in Somalia, as written in Song China (960-1279)by Robert Hymes in the journalÂ Asia in Western and World History. Two thousand years ago, the Silk Road was a pivotal route for economic and cultural exchange, but has not been utilized since the division of the Mongol kingdom.
The 21stCentury Silk Road:Â In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced that he was to re-open the Silk Road, calling it the â€œ21stCentury New Silk Roadâ€. In 2015, he announced two mega projects, with the aim of creating economic corridors connecting more than 60 countries around the world. The project will be divided into land and sea. The land-based trade routes, known as the Silk Road Economic Belt, span from Europe to Central and East Asia. The sea routes, known as the Maritime Silk Road, link China with a number of ports along the route from the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.
To realize Belt and Road, the Chinese government has invested US$124 million to support the programs, disbursed to build huge infrastructure to develop connectivity with the countries along the Silk Road. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi said, it was a â€œproduct of inclusive cooperation, not a geopolitical tool, and should not be viewed using a Cold War mentality that is obsolete.â€
Synergy with Global Maritime Fulcrum
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries hold an important position in the Maritime Silk Road, especially Indonesia which was chosen as the first place to operate it. This initiative is in line with President Joko Widodoâ€™s plan to build a Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF).Â Â Part of President Xiâ€™s plan was to visit Indonesia first to reveal his intent to establish the Maritime Silk Road. Indonesia is the biggest country in Southeast Asia with a very strategic position in geopolitics and the geo-economy. The Strait of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok have become Chinaâ€™s main concern for trade. It is aware of the bigger connectivity between it and other bordering countries, and because of that, Indonesia is seen as the â€œwheelâ€ to Chinaâ€™s economic integration in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia also sought cooperation with Belt and Road, as part of President Jokoâ€™s vision of making Indonesia a global maritime fulcrum. The nation is concerned about infrastructure and maritime connectivity by building sea highways, deep-sea ports, logistics, ships or vessels industries and maritime tourism. Thus, Indonesia needs China to help build its infrastructure because it has abundant financial resources.
China has committed to help fund Indonesiaâ€™s infrastructure. As Dani Prabowo reported in Kompas, it has funded US$14.7 million for infrastructure work in Bali, including building an airport in the north, the Buleleng tourism sites, highways, railways, and Ngurah Rai International Stadium and the setting of the Besakih Temple. China has also helped to build infrastructure in West Java (Jatigede reservoir) and East Java (Surabaya-Madura bridge).
President Joko visited Beijing to attend a Belt and Road forum held by President Xi regarding the provision of Chinaâ€™s Silk Road, especially in maritime matters, and considered it to be in line with Indonesiaâ€™s plan to establish the GMF. Belt and Road is seen as Chinaâ€™s part of the strategy to lead the global economy through deepening its ties with Asian countries, especially with its closest and most strategic partner, Indonesia.
President Jokoâ€™s visit to Beijing was more than just seeking a deeper economic relationship with China. It was to underline the salience of relations between the two in the future. This indicates the seriousness of both countries to continue working together, especially in maritime diplomacy and infrastructure.
The synergy between China and Indonesia in developing their respective grand maritime projects in Southeast Asia has been cooperative. China is aware of its surroundings and has maintained the quality of diplomacy through, for example, bilateral relations with Indonesia and other countries crossed by the Silk Road. With its huge financial resources, China has helped to fund Indonesiaâ€™s infrastructure, especially in the maritime sector. With the Indonesian government welcoming China in developing deeper economic ties and maritime cooperation, continued bilateral relations with Indonesia can be very beneficial for both countries.Â