Indonesia

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Defending Democracy: A Global Survey of Foreign Policy Trends 1992-2002

Democracy Coalition Project

Indonesia
Assessment: Poor
Trend:

Capital: Jakarta
Type of Government: Republic
Head of Government: President Megawati
Sukarnoputri (since 23 July 2001)
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Noer Hasan Wirajuda
Population: 228,437,870
Human Development Index Ranking 2002: 110


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Republic of Indonesia has a poor record of support for democracy abroad during the period 1992
to 2002, as evidenced by the country’s unwillingness to criticize electoral manipulation, entrenched
dictatorships, or the overthrow of democratically-elected governments. From 1992-1998, while President
Soeharto was in office, Indonesia actively opposed international support for democracy, rejecting the idea of
democracy as a universal value. Soeharto’s resignation in 1998 created the opening for political liberalization
within the country, and brought about a partial change in the country’s position toward democracy
internationally. Indonesia has ceased its vocal opposition to international support for democracy, and the
country has taken some small steps toward participation in the community of democracies. These steps include
signing the Warsaw Declaration and accepting democratization-related foreign assistance. In addition, there
have been three isolated and minor instances since 1998 where Indonesia played a role that can be construed as
supporting democracy within a neighboring country. More generally, however, Indonesia remains committed
to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, and focused on the challenges of its own
political transition. For these reasons, the country is not likely to emerge as an active supporter of democracy
on the international scene.

FOREIGN RELATIONS BACKGROUND
Indonesia’s foreign policy objectives derive from the country’s three critical national priorities:
maintaining territorial integrity, preserving social calm, and stimulating economic development. With
colonially-defined borders extending over some 13,000 islands and a diverse though largely Muslim
population of more than 250 ethnic groups, Indonesia faces significant challenges to its basic stability from
secessionist movements and religious and ethnic violence. These stress points are perceived to be highly
vulnerable to outside meddling and there is some justification for this view; the cataclysmic internecine
violence that claimed at least 100,000 lives in 1965 was triggered by an aborted Communist coup supported by
China.
The first priority of Indonesian foreign policy has therefore been to prevent outsiders from
exacerbating the country’s flashpoints. This goal has led Indonesia to support the creation of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization designed to maintain the territorial status quo of all
member nations and build regional stability. More generally, the view that foreigners can exacerbate internal
tensions has increased vocal support for the policy of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states. For
much of the 1990s, Indonesia was a leading opponent of universalism in human rights, arguing that Western
governments and human rights organizations should not make prescriptions for Asia, where, it was argued, a
fundamentally different set of values prevail.
This fear of outside criticism intensified as a result of Indonesia’s disastrous occupation of East
Timor. Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975, claiming that the newly-liberated East
Timorese preferred Indonesian citizenship to independence. International condemnation of the invasion
intensified after the December 1991 massacre of independence protestors in the capital city of Dili. Through

Defending Democracy: A Global Survey of Foreign Policy Trends 1992-2002

Democracy Coalition Project

the 1990s, Indonesia found itself increasingly on
May 1998, in the face of social upheaval and
the defensive over its repressive occupation of East
widespread political protests, set in place a
Timor and its refusal to allow a referendum on
transition to multiparty democracy that has
self-determination. This criticism reinforced the
surprised most observers by its speed and intensity.
belief within the Soeharto administration that
By August 2002, Indonesia had relaxed controls on
outsiders were out to discredit and undermine the
political parties, conducted democratic elections,
Indonesian state.
and amended the constitution to institute direct
Offsetting this isolationist tendency has
presidential elections and curtail the military-
been Indonesia’s intense focus on economic
allocated seats in parliament. Indonesia also
development, which has led the country to engage
survived three leadership transitions: Soeharto was
with the world in order to gain access to
replaced by his Vice President, B.J. Habibe, who
technology, investment capital and export markets.
administered transitional elections. These were
These goals have turned Indonesia’s attention to
won by moderate Islamic leader Abdurrahman
the financial centers of Europe and the U.S.
Wahid, who was then impeached two years into
Indonesia has also sought to anchor its economic
his term and replaced by Vice President Megawati
growth within Asia. Japan has been a major
Sukarnoputri.
investor in Indonesia, and the country has close
The democratic transition has affected
economic ties with Malaysia, Singapore, Hong
Indonesia’s foreign policy in complicated ways.
Kong, and increasingly with China.
First, and most positively, democracy in Indonesia
These two impulses of Indonesia foreign
has brought an end to the country’s rejection of
policy --self-protective isolationism, on the one
universal norms in human rights. Foreign Minister
hand, and economic engagement, on the other--
Hassan Wirajuda noted this in a briefing to foreign
reflect the “independent and active” (bebas dan
journalists in October 2001: “For a long time, the
aktif) policy that has guided the country’s foreign
Indonesian public did not quite see human rights in
relations since independence in 1945. On balance,
the same way that the international public did. This
Indonesia has tended to favor the “independent,”
discrepancy in perception became a constraint in
or isolationist, side of this equation, which helps
the development of our foreign relations. We will
explain why Indonesia’s influence externally has
do our best to remove that perception gap.”1
been inconsistent with the country’s size and
At the same time, democratization in
strategic significance. It bears reminding that
Indonesia has coincided with, and to some extent
Indonesia has the world’s fourth largest
contributed to, an intensification of the country’s
population, significant military capability, oil
key stress points. Challenges from secessionist
reserves, and a strategic position astride major
movements, particularly in Aceh, and from
international shipping lanes. Yet from 1992 to
religious and ethnic rioting have intensified since
2002, the country made little use of its potential to
1997. These problems affect foreign policy in two
influence others, aside from its effort to build
ways. First, they deepen the fear that the unity and
ASEAN as a kind of solidarity group in support of
social stability of the country are at risk, which
“Asian values” and the doctrine of non-
intensifies the country’s self-protective
interference.
isolationism. Second, they focus all attention
The domestic political context for this
inward, keeping on hold the question of how a
foreign policy framework has shifted with
newly democratic Indonesia will conduct its
Indonesia’s own democratic transition, which in a
foreign policy. President Megawati, in her August
few short years has transformed the nation’s
2002 State of the Union Address to Parliament,
constitutional structure and political dynamic.
had almost nothing to say about foreign policy
Until 1997, Indonesia was essentially a one-party
except to restate a commitment to ASEAN and to
dictatorship. Regular elections for parliament did
an “independent and active foreign policy.”
take place, but government officials vetted all
Part of Indonesia’s challenge in
candidates and controlled the three approved
formulating a post-transition foreign policy vision
political parties, and a significant percentage of
stems from a new factor that has entered the scene:
seats were reserved for the military. This carefully
Islamic politics. The Soeharto years were marked
structured political edifice began to crumble with
by a strict separation between mosque and state,
the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which devastated
which imparted a degree of religious neutrality to
Indonesia’s economy. Soeharto’s resignation in
the country with the world’s largest Muslim

Defending Democracy: A Global Survey of Foreign Policy Trends 1992-2002

Democracy Coalition Project

population. In the new electoral dynamic, Islamic
her after the January 2001 extra-constitutional
groups in Indonesia are beginning to recognize and
impeachment of President Joseph Estrada. Finally,
exercise the strength of their numbers. At the same
there is no record of any response from Indonesia
time, the emergence, since the attacks on the
to the May 2000 military coup in the Fiji.
World Trade Center, of a global Islamic terrorist

threat has suddenly rendered Indonesia a critical
RESPONSE TO MANIPULATION OF
player in global anti-terrorist efforts. Indeed, the
ELECTORAL PROCESSES
United States now appears to be much more
There is no record of the Indonesian
interested in Indonesia’s ability and willingness to
government taking any action to condemn or
combat terrorism, than in the country’s
respond to manipulation of electoral processes in
democratization process. Megawati’s vague
other countries during the period 1992 to 2002.
generalities on foreign policy may reflect her
The two seminal cases of the Malaysian election of
unwillingness to choose between alienating
1999 and the Cambodian election of 1998 were
domestic Islamic groups and losing the support of
reviewed, and in neither case is there a record of
the United States.
any public reaction on the part of the Indonesian
Another new political force that has
government. The Cambodian election drew
recently become a factor in the country’s policy
extensive criticism from international and local
debate is the NGO community, which has been a
observers and from the United States Government,
key catalyst of the country’s political reform. In
but ASEAN declared the elections free and fair
general, this community tends to be less
and a reflection of the will of the Cambodian
isolationist than other actors in the country, in part
people. Whether Indonesia was the instrumental
because of their connections with peer groups such
force shaping ASEAN’s response is difficult to
as NAMFREL in the Philippines. NGOs, therefore,
discern, but there can be little doubt that Indonesia
have the potential to nudge the government toward
supported this view. A few months later Indonesia
a more active and involved foreign policy -- one
sided with Vietnam against Thailand in an ASEAN
more in keeping with growing international norms.
vote on Cambodian membership.
This potential has yet to be realized, however,
Regarding the Malaysian elections,
because at present, NGO leaders, like everyone
President B.J. Habibe did express concern about
else in the country, are single-mindedly focused on
the conditions of Malaysia’s well-known prisoner
how Indonesia will navigate its difficult transition
Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister,
to an open but harmonious democracy.
and Habibe cancelled a planned visit to Kuala
Given the intense preoccupation with
Lumpur. The Economist described these gestures
domestic crises and internal stability, and the
as “a breach of South-East Asia's hallowed
difficult balancing act around Islamic issues, it is
principle of "non-interference."2 Ibrahim’s arrest
likely that in foreign policy Indonesia will default
occurred several months before the election and
to the familiar position of emphasizing non-
may have been intended to dampen enthusiasm for
interference in the affairs of sovereign states.
political rivals as the polls approached. Habibe’s

comments could be taken as an indirect criticism
RESPONSE TO OVERTHROWS OF
of the pre-election environment in the country, but
DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED
there was no direct reaction to the election itself.
GOVERNMENTS

The Indonesian government took no
PROMOTION OF INTERNATIONAL
actions to condemn or otherwise respond to the
DEMOCRACY
overthrow of any democratically-elected
Indonesia did little to promote democracy
governments during the period 1992 to 2002. In
internationally in general terms between 1992 to
two of three seminal cases involving countries in
2002, but there has been some improvement in this
the region, Indonesia actively demonstrated
area following the country’s own political
support for the new governments. Indonesian
transition. During the Soeharto administration,
President Abdurrahman Wahid visited Pakistani
Indonesia essentially opposed international support
General Pervez Musharraf seven months after he
for democracy. In a 1992 address to the United
overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999.
Nations, for example, President Soeharto issued a
And President Wahid called the new President of
strong rejection of Western pressure for democracy
the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal, to congratulate
and human rights in developing countries, calling

Defending Democracy: A Global Survey of Foreign Policy Trends 1992-2002

Democracy Coalition Project

instead for greater support for economic
dictatorships. For example, Indonesia had been at
development. In 1994, B.J. Habibie, then minister
odds with China, not because of its dictatorship,
of Research and Technology, stated that voting
but rather because China had supported the
created a “conflict prone democracy” suitable only
communist uprising in Indonesia in 1965.
for cultures accustomed to conflict.3 President
Beginning in 1988, Indonesia began to reestablish
Soeharto warned on several occasions of the threat
relations with China, and since then close ties with
of “outside values.” Indonesia also blocked the
Beijing have been an important priority. There is
efforts of Thailand and the Philippines to modify
no record of any criticism of China’s government
ASEAN policy on democracy and human rights
from any Indonesian officials.
from one of strict non-interference to a more
Indonesia also was supportive of Burma
nuanced “flexible engagement.”
and Laos, two other dictatorships in the region. In
Things did change somewhat after
1997, Indonesia helped the two countries gain
Soeharto’s resignation. Starting in 1998, Indonesia
admission into ASEAN. Some saw the move to
began to accept some foreign assistance to support
include these countries as an attempt to
democratization programs. Over the next four
“strengthen the authoritarian pole…within
years the percentage of development aid to support
ASEAN, neutralize the formal democratic regimes
democratization became significant. The United
--the Philippines and Thailand-- and prevent them
States Agency for International Development, for
from following foreign policies that would be
example, devoted roughly 20 percent of its
more sympathetic to democratic movements on the
Indonesia budget to democratization programs in
ground.”4
2000 through 2002. Indonesia has also ratified
After Soeharto, there were isolated
some international agreements relating to
instances during which Indonesia appeared to be
democracy and human rights, and endorsed the
changing its approach toward entrenched
Warsaw Declaration in 2000. Indonesia also voted
dictatorships. In 1999 President Wahid met with
in support of several United Nations General
Burmese democracy leader and political prisoner
Assembly resolutions that pledged to strengthen
Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to Rangoon,
the role of the UN in the promotion of
although there is no record that Wahid made any
democratization. Finally, in 1999, President
statement in support of a more democratic process
Habibe agreed to allow a referendum on self-
in that country.
determination for East Timor, an important step
It is unclear, however, whether President
towards Indonesia’s learning to respect elections as
Megawati Sukarnoputri will continue this general
an expression of the will of the people.
trend. Since her inauguration in July 2001,

Megawati has visited both China and North Korea.
POLICY TOWARD ENTRENCHED
During her visit to China, the President secured a
DICTATORSHIPS
$400 million loan guarantee from the Chinese
Between 1992 and 2002, Indonesia did
government.
nothing to support democracy in entrenched



1 Statement by H.E. Dr. N. Hassan Wirajuda before the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Jakarta, 12 October
2001.
2 “South-East Asia's leaders: Out with the old, in with something much less familiar”, The Economist, London: 10
October 1998.
3 Sukma, Rizal. “Values, Governance and Indonesian Foreign Policy” in Changing Values in Asia: Their Impact on
Governance and Development. Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 1999, p. 139.
4 Bello, Walden. “View and Comment: Democratic Expansion in South East Asia.” Business World 1 August
1997.

Document Outline

  • EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
      • FOREIGN RELATIONS BACKGROUND
      • RESPONSE TO OVERTHROWS OF DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED GOVERNMENTS
      • RESPONSE TO MANIPULATION OF ELECTORAL PROCESSES
      • PROMOTION OF INTERNATIONAL DEMOCRACY
      • POLICY TOWARD ENTRENCHED DICTATORSHIPS