Jakarta. Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, or FPCI, urged Indonesia to play a more active role in helping the US and China find common ground despite their rivalry.
The think-tank's founder Dino Patti Djalal said he saw the US-China tension would continue in 2021. However, the rivalry is not a contest for global leadership, but to see which country has the larger political and diplomatic influence. The US and China would try to get other countries in their direction using different tools, approaches, and narratives.
"It is very much a zero-sum game. [...] The US-China contest sees who has greater clout, role, and impact in other countries. They will continue to produce alignments that would strengthen their respective positions. This contest will be most intense in continental and maritime areas peripheral or proximate to China, like Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and the Pacific Islands," Dino told an online conference on Friday.
Dino pointed out these areas, except for the Pacific Islands, also happen to be where China is actively promoting the Belt and Road initiative. Inspired by the historical Silk Road, the program connects Asia with Europe and Africa via land and sea routes.
Dino said Indonesia has a unique ability as a strategic partner for both US and China. For this reason, Indonesia can act as a middle-man to help the two countries communicate and narrow their perception gap.
"It would be great for the US and China to work on a project. It may start small, but it may change the texture of their relationship. For example, they can work in North Korea, where China has a lot of influence and added to the US's interest in nuclear issues. Or they can develop a G3 relationship with Europe on climate change because their interests are aligned. Indonesia can be the party that can nudge them in that direction," he said.
To this end, FPCI has been ambitious to hold a trilateral 1.5 track dialogue -- a forum involving the government and think-tanks -- between Indonesia, the US, and China. Dino claimed FPCI had tried offering this opportunity, but nobody showed interest.
Even so, FPCI will remain persistent in making this trilateral discussion a reality. It will also become one of FPCI's main projects in 2021, Dino said.
"Independent and active foreign policy is not enough. It is important to think out of the box. Indonesia can play a role in trying to get some alterations to the US-China relationship. Perhaps not globally, but something related to regional affairs," the former Indonesian ambassador to the US added.
Both US and China are Indonesia's major trading partners.
According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry official website, the US is one of Indonesia's main trading partners. The total bilateral trade value reached $27.1 billion in 2019, with Indonesian exports to the US amounting to $17.8 billion and $9.3 billion for imports. The US has also extended the duty-free treatment for Indonesian goods under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
Separately, Indonesian Ambassador to China Djauhari Oratmangun said, based on China customs data, the trade volume between Indonesia and China reached $48.7 billion within the period of January and August 2020. Indonesian exports to China was around $23.3 billion, a 6.4 percent increase from last year's.