Under The Three Presidents in Reformation Era (1999-2014)
Indonesia democratization after the 1998 contributes to improvement of her relations with China. In this sense, it has lent support to eliminate restrictions that previously hampering relation between citizens of two countries. Exchange of visits between Indonesia and China occurred not only between state officials and a group of entrepreneurs, but also to involve ordinary citizens. In result of that, Indonesian began to realize a positive image of China. China with her communism, which became threat propaganda during Soeharto’s regime (Storey 2000: 152), did not seem threatening anymore. From Chinese side, her concrete charm diplomacy had successfully gain Indonesian respect when Chinese government fully support the regional country that affected by financial crisis 1997. China involvement in regional institution like ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) also created sense of regional security especially in after the Cold War ended (Sukma 2009b: 148). In early of the twenty first century, it could be said that China not only increase it regional influence and power, but also in addition to that success, Beijing have successfully exercised her ability to support regional stability and thus lessened the fears of her neighbors. As a result, China has an image of a status quo power in the region (Shambaugh 2005: 24).
At early year of Reformation Era, President Abdurahman Wahid laid a solid foundation for diplomatic relations that includes closer culture relations between Indonesia and China (Amrullah 2010). In his presidency, Wahid granted more rights for Indonesian Chinese to preserve their culture (Calleja 2010). President Wahid allowed back celebration of the Lunar New Year (Imlek) and even recognized Confucianism as a religion in Indonesia. During his short presidency, Wahid made Imlek as official holiday and Chinese culture was allowed to be displayed in public. President Wahid also selected China as his first official visit in December 1999. In terms of foreign policy strategy, President Wahid even proposed the creation of Jakarta-Beijing-New Delhi as an axis (Utami and Saragih 2015; Lalisang 2014) as his policy of “Look towards Asia” (Smith 2003: 4).
Although his foreign policy was “relatively zigzagging”, President Wahid’s strategy to strengthen the relations with China was driven by several solid reasons. At first, his enthusiasm was perceived as his distrust and dissatisfaction with the role of West towards Indonesia on some important issues. Second, Wahid’s approach towards China was part of his solution for Indonesian economic recovery by asking the Indonesian Chinese to jointly hand in hand to solve the problem. Here we could see that President Wahid perceived Indonesian Chinese not as a threat but as a bridge that could support Indonesian economy and also strengthen diplomatic ties with China. The third factor was related to the looming challenge of preserving Indonesia’s territorial integrity. During his visit to China, President Wahid successfully gained China’s support for Indonesian territorial integrity and national unity (Sukma 2009b: 147; He 2008: 64). At the invitation of Vice President Megawati in July 2000 (Chinese Embassy in Indonesia 2011), Vice-President Hu Jintao reiterated China’s support to Indonesian territorial integrity especially in the face of large power’s intervention. China was also become the joining parties of the ASEAN Plus Three Joint statement on supporting Indonesia national integrity (Sukma 2009b: 147).
As a follow up of President Wahid visits, in May 2000, Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab and Foreign Ministry Tang Jiaxuan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enhance bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the fields of politics, economics, science and technology, and tourism. Both ministers also agreed to establish a mechanism in solving emerging future problems between two countries (The Jakarta Post, 9 May 2000). In this occasion, Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab expressed his gratitude to China for supporting Indonesian on international affairs (Smith 2003: 7). Wahid’s presidency was not only indicated by highly exchange visits between leaders of the two countries, Indonesia and China relation experienced increasing trade value and also characterized by a great deal of cultural interaction. In addition to that success, Ignatius Wibowo, a Chinese expert from the University of Indonesia, opined that, “there are good relations between the people of both countries. Many Indonesians go to university in China. And many Chinese have discovered Indonesia as a holiday destination" (Amrulah 2010).
Following Wahid impeachment by the Parliament, Megawati succeeded Wahid as president from in July 2001 until 2004. In her Asian tour, President Megawati chose China as her first stop in March 2002. During a state dinner, Megawati perform a six-minutes dance with President Jiang Zemin. The “dancing diplomacy” symbolically means that Indonesia warmly embrace China (Lalisang 2014; Amrullah 2010) and also part of her diplomacy to sell Tangguh LNG to China (Badaruddin 2013: 28). In this occasion, the two states successfully signed agreement to expand bilateral cooperation in all sectors, especially in energy and agriculture. Under Megawati administration, energy cooperation between Indonesia and China grew significantly. China’s company was granted oil exploration in Indonesia, like PertroChina that obtained six oil fields from Devon Energy, and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) had secured assets in Indonesia’s oil and gas sector. Trade value reached to US $8 billion in 2002, and China’s cumulative investment in Indonesia reached number of $8.8 billion by the end of 2003 (Sukma 2009a: 597; Sukma 2009b: 147). Indonesia initially wants to persuade China to grant her a Guangdong LNG contract. After failed to secure the Guangdong contract, China finally granted Indonesia another LNG contract in Fujian (Badaruddin 2013: 29).
In carrying out foreign affairs objectives, President Megawati appointed Hassan Wirayuda, an experience diplomat and protégée of former Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, to head foreign ministry in her cabinet. In his capacity as foreign ministry, Hassan Wirayuda had an ample room to supervised substantive foreign policy reform (Nabbs-Keller 2013: 64). Under the spirit of reformation spurred in post-1998, Indonesia built her diplomatic concept based her identity as third largest democratic states and biggest Muslim yet ethnically diverse nation. Those newly acquired diplomatic assets – democracy, Islam, and pluralism become Indonesian diplomatic credentials and identity in supporting foreign policy objectives (Nabbs-Keller 2013: 68).
These three assets also become the center of promotion of Indonesia’s new soft power attributes. Simultaneously public diplomacy becomes crucial aspect for promoting a positive domestic and international image of Indonesia. In implementing this idea, a new Directorate-General for Information and Public Diplomacy was installed in order to achieve that objective in 2001. In accordance with that objective, appointed ambassadors were instructed to promote the three diplomatic assets before stationed in their office (Nabbs-Keller 2013: 69). Coincided with spirit of Reformation Era, Wirayuda proposed a concept of total diplomacy (diplomasi total), which defined as “Total diplomacy is an instrument and means utilized in diplomacy through the involvement of all stakeholders components and adoption of all means of influence or multi-track diplomacy” (Kementerian Luar Negeri Republik Indonesia 2009). Compare to Soeharto era, this new approach characterized by inclusive and pluralistic and also multi-layered diplomacy could be seen changing respond towards previous regime’s approach characterized by domination of elite and military personnel in foreign policy formulation. As part of implementation of this strategy, civil society is included in policy consultation and deliberation in weekly foreign policy breakfast. In addition to that, Indonesia actively promote international forum that support interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue and democracy. Based on this strategy, Indonesia diplomacy does not rely solely on Indonesian diplomat but also widely involve think-tank and academician, civil society and other components of society (Nabbs-Keller 2013: 70)
Under Megawati presidency, Indonesia increased her consulate general in two more provinces: Guangzhou and Shanghai. Before this Indonesia has already established her consulate general in Hong Kong (Chinese Embassy in Indonesia 2011). In education sector, Indonesian student in China during 2003 to 2004 was part of top five of overseas student in China (Shambaugh 2005: 25; China Scholarship Council (CSC) cited in www.iie.org). In 2003 alone Indonesian student granted visa for studying in China reached 2,563 students. As state by Chinese Embassy in Jakarta, this number was a 51 percent increase from the previous year (Perlez 2004). which spread across various secondary school and university in Beijing, Shanghai, Naning, Chongqing and others (Antara 29 October 2012).
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono replaced President Megawati in October 2004 as Indonesia’s sixth president. The former minister under Megawati’s cabinet, Yudhoyono won in direct presidential election with Jusuf Kala as Vice President. At the commencement of his presidency in late 2004, China had already become the fifth-largest trading partner for Indonesia. Area of cooperation have been widened include not only primary area such as energy, security and defense (Sukma2009c: 93). President Yudhoyono who serves second term have established a solid basis for Indonesia and China by signing two important agreement in April 2005 and October 2013 (Utami and Saragih 2015).
During his first period of administration, President Yudhoyono have successfully signed “strategic partnership” with President Hu Jintao in April 2005. The agreement was signed in Jakarta, after President Hu Jintao attended the commemoration of fifty years of the Bandung Conference (Hakim and Simamora 2005; Qin 2005). After the signing of joint declaration of “strategic partnership” at Presidential Palace, the two leaders also witnessed the signing of eight accords in accordance of the spirit of Sino-Indonesia partnership. The accords encompass, “visa exemption for diplomatic and service visits, maritime co-operation, infrastructure and natural resources, economic and technological assistance, finance, preferential buyer's credit, and earthquake and tsunami-relief” (Qin 2005). In his reciprocal visit to Beijing in July 2005, President Yudhoyono and President Hu Jintao witnessed several major agreements that included defence technology cooperation (Sukma 2009c: 94).
Before the signing of the Strategic Partnership, Indonesia and China cordial relationship had already begun when China showed her fully support when Tsunami disaster hit Indonesia and surrounding states in Indian Ocean in December 2004. Premier Wen Jiabao came in 5 January 2005 in Jakarta to send the relief material and another material donated by people of China. China delivered additional US $ 60.46 million in humanitarian after an initial help of goods worth $ 21.62 million. Relief team from China arrived in Aceh at 31 December 2004 which consist of 100 medical workers from Shanghai and soon followed by another team from Guangdong. Premier Wen Jiabao said “we have made promises, and we mean what we say” in showing his willingness to deliver proposal in international conference to mitigate the disaster. The decision to send emergency relief was made in 26 December 2004 by the Ministry of Commerce. The relief would be send to five countries that hit by the tsunami. According to ministry official the relief, “expressing the friendliness of the Chinese government and people towards the governments and people of the disaster-hit countries” (People Daily Online 5 January 2005).
Indonesian official showed a great gratitude to the solidarity shown by the PRC government and the Chinese people. Yuri Thamrin as Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman commented in deeply gratitude, “a friend in need is a friend in deed”. Similar comment came from Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Alwi Shihab when he considered the relief and the immediate help from China would strengthen the future relations between the two countries (Sukma 2009c: 98). Indonesia would like to pay her solidarity when massive earthquake hit Wenchuan in Sichuan province on May 12 2008. The massive earthquake hit about three months before the Beijing Olympic Games was on schedule. Indonesia was among the 13 countries that sent relief team to the disaster area (d’Hooghe 2015: 320-321).
The second wave deepening cooperation between Indonesia and China successfully comes with the signing of “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” in October 2013. The signing was held in Jakarta during the official visit of President Xi Jinping. On the signing ceremony of the agreement President Yudhoyono stated, "We have once again made history by agreeing to forge a comprehensive strategic partnership. I believe that under the leadership of President Xi Jinping we will be able to improve our bilateral cooperation in the future" (Antara 7 October 2013).
During the first day of President Xi visit, about six accords were signed, among them are the Sino-Indonesian integrated industrial estate, economic and trade cooperation, cooperation over maritime and fisheries, tourism, meteorology and climatology, as well as space exploration for commercial and peaceful purposes. While another sectors that would be enhanced by both countries consisted of industrial sector, infrastructure of the transportation sector, financial services, tourism, education and creative industry. On the same occasion, China decided to open a consulate general in Bali (Antara 7 October 2013). President Yudhoyono and President Xi Jinping agreed on the importance of people-to-people connection in strengthening and broadening the relationship between Indonesia and China. Inbound and outbound travel between private individual should be fostered as part of increasing two-way tourist flow, which targeted to reach 2 million in 2015. Joint research and student exchanges are among the important issues discussed on that occasion (Kementrian Luar Negeri RI 2013: 4-5).
In his ten years administration, President Yudhoyono have succeed in managing a steadily grow up relation with China. The success is considered as by product of stable and maturing process of democratization in Indonesia. During his presidency, public diplomacy with element of soft power based on “democracy, Islam and pluralism” initiated by Presidency Megawati has gained its foothold in Indonesia’ foreign policy (Jiang 2012; Nabbs-Keller 2013: 71). Indonesia’s perception towards China has changed in more opportunity and also a challenge for Indonesia (Sukma 2009c: 99).
President Yudhoyono maintains his cordial and yet assertive statement when he was asked about his perception on the rising China, “There is no source of conflict between China and Indonesia. There is a dispute over South China Sea [islands] between China and several ASEAN member countries, but not with Indonesia. The fact is Chinese military power and economic power is increasing very, very significantly in the last two decades. It is the right of China to build its military might and its economic power. [We are concerned with] maintaining order in the region and implementing the so-called peaceful way in solving problems in this region. I had a talk with other ASEAN leaders and they share the same view as me that China must be a part of preserving the security and order in the region” (Bajoria 2011).
[ii] Researcher on Foreign Policy and International Security Issues at Center for Political Studies Indonesian Institute of Science (P2P LIPI) Jakarta.