Indonesia and People Republic of China (PRC) has been developed their relations for 65 years. The relation between both countries has been growing significantly since 1998. Nevertheless the two countries since the first opening of formal diplomatic relation have experienced turbulence relations. Several factors could be raised concerning the issue of up and down relations of two big nations, and especially the bright development of the countries in latest two decades (Sukma 2009a: 592). Recent development of Indonesia and China find something to cherish. It is related to Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum and China’s 21st Maritime Silk Road. Former Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda comments, “the two concepts could redirect the tense environment resulted from the claims and counter claims in the South China Sea.” In similar tone, Rizal Sukma, advisor for Indonesia’s foreign policy issue, pointed to overlapping aspect between the two policy concepts. Sukma also commented that “both ideas or doctrines are about connectivity, safety and diplomacy. They are not about power supremacy” (The Jakarta Globe 2014). After meeting with Presiden Joko Widodo in Beijing, President Xi Jinping comments that both countries “have common interests and responsibilities in key global and regional issues” (Xinhua 2014). 65 years of clearly has brought the two countries into more prospective bilateral relationship.
This would pay similar focus as the constructivist perspective in international relations studies. In regard to the assumption built by this perspective, this article would focus on how state could learn to communicate and build a their interest and identities in the self help international anarchy (Wendt 1992: 412). Indonesia and PRC have commenced their relationship in the increasing tension between the West and the East during the Cold War and also during high spirits of decolonization. Suddenly in a decade latter the two countries “shocked” by the freezing of diplomatic relations due to Indonesian domestic political upheaval. However PRC and Indonesia in early of 1990s had resumed their relations and since then begin to learn more of each other identities and interests and play important role in building regional institutions (Sukma 2009a). Concerning that conditions, this article would argue that bilateral relations between Indonesia and PRC have to focus on building more excellent communication between the two nation by improving diplomatic channels, especially that focus on soft power and public diplomacy (d’Hooghe 2015: 28; Hartig 2015: 49).[iv] President Soekarno paid a reciprocal visit to Beijing in October 1955. In this visit, President Soekarno met with Chairman Mao and invited him to come to Indonesia (Williams 1962: 188). The Bandung Conference 1955 was a special corner stone since it would become the diplomatic breakthrough and commemorated in bilateral relations between Indonesia and China (Williams 1991: 145).
Domestic politics and leadership factors are marked as crucial factors that affecting Indonesian perspectives towards China in the coming period of their bilateral relations (Hadi 2010: 28). During this decade, Indonesia gained Chinese support towards her national sovereignty over West Papua that was still under the Dutch administration. PRC also supported Indonesian when rebellion movement erupted in Sumatra and Sulawesi at the end of 1950s. The rebellion was actually supported by Nationalist China in Formosa and the US by selling weapon and flying aircraft piloted by Nationalist and the US. In return, Indonesia supported China’s claim on the sovereignty right over water within twelve miles of her coastal area (Williams 1962: 190).
Nevertheless the Sino-Indonesian camaraderie was disturbed by the anti-Chinese policy implemented in the late 1950s. This policy was at first intended to curb the supporting of Indonesian Chinese-descent towards the Kuomintang that supported the rebellion in Sumatra and Sulawesi. In this context, actually there was stark irony since PRC supported Indonesia and condemned Kuomintang involvement in the 1958 rebellion. Though primarily concentrated on the allegedly Kuomintang sympathizers, the policy actually implemented indiscriminately towards all ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. The policy culminated into an anti-Chinese program started in 1957 when some regional military leaders carried out prohibition for Indonesian Chinese-descent to live in district and sub-district level (Williams 1962: 192-194).
In responding to the intense situation, in December of 1959, Foreign Ministry Ch’en Yi sent a letter of protest to his counterpart Minister Subandrio related to the expulsion of 165 ethnic Chinese in West Java and other incidents caused by the policy.[vi] In return to that action, PRC formally declared that her embassy in Jakarta was closed due to diplomatic suspension (Sukma 2009a: 593). Due to domestic concern and Cold War, bilateral relation between the two countries takes 23 years of suspension before it was finally resumed (Wu 2011: 122).
During the suspension or freezing, Indonesia and China keep maintaining their trade through third party. However, coincide with domestic economic interest and changing international economic environment, after Indonesia’s announcement in November 1984 about her interest on opening direct trade with China, in July1985 gave formal approval to Indonesian Chamber of Commerce to open direct trade link with Chinese by signing trade memorandum with Chinese delegation in Singapore. This signing was followed by intensifying of reciprocal visit between business delegation of the two countries (Wu 2011: 122; Suryadinata 1990: 688)). In the same year, Indonesia hosted commemoration of the 30th Bandung Conference. During that occasion, Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian became the first Chinese official who visits Indonesia after the suspension of the diplomatic relation when he attended the conference (Williams 1991: 145). The Bandung conference was quite momentum for both countries to improve the relations. On another conference in March 1987, two prominent Indonesian Foreign Ministry Officials, Ali Alatas (Indonesian Ambassador for The UN) and Nana Sutresna (political director of Indonesian Foreign Ministry), attended the UN disarmament conference in Beijing (Suryadinata 1990: 689).
A breakthrough for resuming diplomatic relations was gained during the funeral of Japanese Emperor Hirohito. During the occasion, on the evening of 23rd February 1989, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen initially met with Minister of State Secretariat Moerdiono for an hour meeting concerning normalization of diplomatic relations. the meeting continued by another one with President Soeharto for 25 minutes. Soon after that Minister Qian Qichen and Minister Moerdiono jointly announce the decision of normalization Indonesia-China diplomatic relations (Suryadinata 1990: 682). The diplomatic relation was officially restored in August 1990 (Sukma 2009b: 142).
After the normalization, relation between Indonesia and China was not instantly developed smoothly. In most case, the relations dominated by trade and economic issues, which grows significantly in terms of total bilateral trade value. From 1990 to 1997, total Indonesia’s export to China grew dramatically from US$ 834 million to $ 1.27 billion. From the total export, almost half of it was non-oil and gas commodities (Sukma 2009b: 143). Yet despite the prosperity brought by economic relations, suspicion remains high between the two countries. After labor protest march in Medan broke out into anti-Chinese riot in 1994, Chinese Foreign Ministry sent a statement of “concern” and requested Indonesia to soothe the situation. Indonesia replied the statement with accusation that Chinese government intervened her domestic politics (Sukma 2009a: 142; Storey 2000: 154). This brought back the Indonesian concern on ethnic Chinese minorities in Indonesia before resumption her relation with China. Though the number of ethnic Chinese who still hold PRC citizen was considered small (250,000 in 1986 and slightly increased in 1987 by 273,000), this was remained concern for the opposing group of normalization (Suryadinata 1990: 690).
On the other hand, despite remaining reluctance in deepening political relations with China, normalization had supported Indonesian mission to be more active in international politics. Government of Indonesia under President Soeharto in the early 1990s revealed a willingness to regain her prominence in several international affairs. Indonesia had been more willing to become a host in Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and to actively solve the Cambodian issues. The restoration of diplomatic relations had diminished the hindrance of political image of Indonesian as impartial parties in both issues (Suryadinata 1990: 691). In the end of Soeharto’s presidency, Indonesia-China relations confronted by a critical challenge. Three days riots before Soeharto stepped down in May 1998; ethnic Chinese became the main target of attack by the mobs. Many saw it as the culmination of anti-Chinese in Indonesia (Sukma 2009b: 145), though other demand investigation of “mastermind” or suggest imminent factors behind the tragedy
[ii] Researcher on Foreign Policy and International Security Issues at Center for Political Studies Indonesian Institute of Science (P2P LIPI) Jakarta.
[iv] Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, “Zhou Enlai’s Remarks at the Signing Ceremony,” April 22, 1955, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, PRC FMA 207-00017-03, 29-30. Translated by Jeffrey Wang. Accessed at http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/ document/114676 18 August 2015
[vi] Adam Malik as Indonesian Foreign Minister selected the term “frozen” at the time. He coinage the term due to an absent of diplomatic term that could be used to characterized diplomatic tension between the two countries (Williams 1991: 146)
[vii] Habibie, who took control as president after Soeharto resigned, set up a joint fact finding team (TGPF). The team in its report went beyond merely describing and presenting the fact but also analyzing. The team suggests there were elites competition that becomes imminent factors behind the May Tragedy (Darusman 2009). In more detail and in-depth journal article, Panggabean and Smith (2010) admitted that anti-Chinese prejudice was played a crucial factor, nevertheless the immediate factor precipitated the tragedy was the in-ability of the army to hold mass demonstration. In their analysis, Panggabean and Smith indicate the in-ability to control the mass was diverted to anti-Chinese to delegitimize the widespread student protest (2010: 240). Soeharto’s regime plays major role in identifying four major others in Indonesian society. This major others are excluded and scrutinized due to their identity or ideological beliefs. Those are Communism, Islamic fundamentalism, the West and the ethnic Chinese (Heryanto 1998 cited in Lim 2004).