By Saiful Bahri Kamaruddin
BANGI, 11 April 2012 - Asean countries have to tread a fine balance in relations with China and the United States considering that one is a fast rising economic power while the other still has military might and technological clout.
A researcher in international affairs at the School of History and Politics, Metropolitan University in Prague, Czech Republic, Dr Daniel Novotny speaking at a seminar on international relations “Torn Between America and China” here yesterday said relations with both the superpowers depended on the personalities of the leaders and the elites of those involved.
Dr Novotny, who had studied Indonesian foreign affairs, said every Asean country had some ambivalance towards either superpower but only mentioned that relationship in the context of Indonesia in particular rather than the various countries making up Asean.
Dr Novotny was of the view that Indonesia has a more complex view of the United States than what was generally thought describing it as a “love-hate” relationship which depended on who was in power in Washington DC.
He said while being cautious towards the US, Jakarta at the same time had greater suspicion of China because of the Chinese navy’s intentions in the South China Sea.
Ties with Washington was a problem only during George W. Bush’s presidency and the war on terror, which Indonesia now is a participant.
However, as for China, Dr Novotny stresses that the present Indonesian government sees it as a longer term threat more than the United States, because he said Beijing is more interested in acquiring territory while Washington gives priority to influence.
Despite all that China is still Indonesia’s largest trading partner.
He attributed the current improved ties between Indonesia and Washington to President Barak Obama’s sympathy with the ordinary Indonesians with whom he had lived as a child.
He nonetheless cited a poll on the issue carried out in Indonesia which found that among Indonesia’s muslims, which make up 71 percent of the population, the majority view ties with the USA as more contentious.
In any case, he said, Indonesia does not want to be seen as going all-out to either camp.
In order to balance out the relationship, Indonesia has tacitly agreed to greater American naval presence in the South-China Sea. Dr Novotny talk was in the series of seminars which he will be holding in various malaysian colleges.