Sino-Indonesian ties receive a boost
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Indonesia last week revealed the dramatic upsurge in bilateral relations since Jakarta froze its ties with Beijing following the abortive Indonesian communist coup in 1965. Even in 1990, when relations were restored at the end of the Cold War, their direction was uncertain. But today, there is a marked confluence of material interests between the two nations.
Xi’s proposal of a bank to invest in the region’s infrastructural development suggested a larger framework in which bilateral ties could thrive. Chinese funds could help answer the demand for road, rail, port and power infrastructure not only in Indonesia, but also in the rest of Asean. The signing of six cooperation agreements in sectors such as maritime and fisheries, tourism and space exploration was a visible aspect of bilateral relations that Xi and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have upgraded to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership.
What was no less significant was the degree of political comfort apparent in Xi making a speech to the Indonesian Parliament ~ unprecedented for a visiting foreign leader. From the Chinese point of view, a strong partnership with Indonesia could help mitigate the consequences of the American pivot to the region, which some Chinese see as an attempt to encircle and contain China militarily. But it is here that Beijing’s own strategic intentions, as manifested in its approach to territorial disputes, will make a great deal of difference to eventual regional outcomes. Xi was reassuring when he said that his country wanted its disputes in the South China Sea to be handled peacefully with talks. Asean, several of whose members are embroiled in those disputes, will watch to see how Beijing matches its words with action. Asean needs to stay united and speak with one voice in its dealings with China, as with the USA.

The Straits Times