Indonesia, Illiberalism and the South China Sea

Indonesia’s South China Sea Diplomacy: A Foreign Policy Illiberal Turn?” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2019.1601240) by Dave McRae of the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, is the third article for a special issue on post-reformasi Indonesia.

The article’s abstract states:

Key areas of Indonesian foreign policy have remained largely autonomous of the political struggles associated with democratisation and a subsequent illiberal turn, even as they have changed the way foreign policy is formulated. Indonesia’s South China Sea diplomacy has been one such area of autonomy. Although the issue has gained great public salience, as the most prominent foreign policy challenge for the current Joko Widodo administration, the government has maintained a striking continuity in its approach dating to the authoritarian Suharto era. Such continuity persists because the strategic challenge facing Indonesia has endured: throughout Indonesia’s modern history, the government has sought to assert the nation’s rights to territory and resources against more powerful states. The government’s current policy settings have also preserved a status quo that serves a range of Indonesian interests sufficiently well to prevent the emergence of a coherent coalition of interests to push for a new approach, in what is a technical policy area dominated by foreign ministry experts. As such, although the Joko Widodo administration has exhibited greater overt nationalism in its handling of the issue, Indonesia’s broader illiberal turn has not been transformative of the government’s diplomacy.

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