The Jakarta Post
Indonesia and China need to patch up any lingering trust issues left by a generation “lost to misunderstanding”, a former top diplomat has said, as the two sides seek to further grow their partnership by leaps and bounds.
Considered an enemy for 23 years under the rule of strongman Soeharto, Indonesia’s longest-serving president, China has taken a great leap to emerge as one of Jakarta’s most important political and trade partners, former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda said in discussions on Tuesday.
However, both sides still need to work on developing strategic trust in the field of defense, which would likely result in a shared understanding on various security issues, including the South China Sea debate, he added.
“We need to build strategic trust. We may question [...] that despite the signing of a comprehensive strategic partnership, [defense] ties have yet led to a good understanding of the South China Sea [conflict],” he said at a seminar commemorating five years of the Indonesia-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, hosted by Tenggara Strategics.
The former diplomat acknowledged that Beijing and Jakarta had developed a new space for military-to-military consultations, joint research and the procurement of military equipment.
However, he said the two countries had yet to enter “the stage of translating the promise for even more effective defense cooperation [agreements]”.
After the event, Hassan conceded that the lack of trust also existed on the people-to-people level.
He pointed out that most Chinese nationals were still unfamiliar with Indonesia’s culture, while many Indonesians still associated China with communism.
“There are very few approaches to introducing China to Indonesians and vice versa. For instance, there are universities teaching the Chinese language, but how about China’s culture and political perspectives?” Hassan told The Jakarta Post.
China and Indonesia established diplomatic relations on April 13, 1950, but they were suspended in 1967 after a fallout over the communist purge in Indonesia in 1965.
The relationship resumed in 1990, leaving a gap in understanding between the nations that lasted decades.
The two sides have since upgraded their ties in political and economic terms, having reached various notable achievements.
China is currently Indonesia’s third-largest foreign investor, Hassan said.
Amid the slowdown of foreign capital inflow into Indonesia, the Coordinating Investment Board (BKPM) recorded US$1.82 billion in investments coming from China through 1,265 projects, more than double from last year at $782.3 million through 602 projects.
At the opening of Tuesday’s event, Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian said in the past five years of the comprehensive strategic partnership, bilateral ties between Indonesia and China experienced significant progress, marked by frequent working visits of high-level officials, including leaders.
“During this period, President Xi Jinping has visited Indonesia twice while President Joko [‘Jokowi’] Widodo has visited China five times. Their strong leadership has become the basis for the continuation of our bilateral partnership,” the envoy said during his keynote speech.
Before the ambassador’s speech, Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan called on Chinese investors to increase their investments in Indonesia.
Luhut reiterated that Indonesia’s economic independence remained even as its bilateral economic relationship with China had developed exponentially over the past several years, adding that Indonesia’s economic partnership would always rely on mutually beneficial relationships.
In a later panel, academic Wei Hong of the Central China Normal University said it was necessary for the two sides to strengthen mutual exchanges in culture and education.
This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post's print edition on Nov. 28, 2018, with the title "China, RI ‘need to build strategic trust’".