The impact of COVID-19 on China-Indonesia Relations
Southeast Asia is opening up its borders after the pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 on international relations in the region is still being felt.
In particular, China’s relationship with the United States and the West continues to deteriorate due to the politicisation of the pandemic and the racial politics of blame associated with it.
This dynamic is also evident in some Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia.
A new study by Truston Jianheng Yu and Enze Han of the University of Hong Kong sheds light on the political status of the Tionghoa community in Indonesia and its relationship with China.
The Tionghoa community, also known as ethnic Chinese Indonesians, has a precarious status in Indonesia due to decades of exclusion and alienation.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided ample ground for the Tionghoa community to be targeted and caused concern among the community due to media hoaxes.
Despite the ethnic tensions, the study finds that the Jokowi government intends to maintain warm relations with China while striking a balance in its overall foreign policy outlook.
However, this calls for further attention to domestic politics in understanding countries’ relationships with China in the Southeast Asian context.
The authors of the study contribute to the long scholarly tradition of analysing the political situation of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and the continued politicisation of their status in some countries, such as Indonesia.
China and the ethnic Chinese remain highly combustible issues in Indonesia, and the study highlights the need for both countries to navigate bilateral relations without jeopardising the position of the ethnic Chinese Indonesians or antagonising the general population with strong anti-Chinese sentiments.
The study also finds that while extremists in Indonesia have stoked ethnic hatred, continued collaboration between China and Indonesia shows that ethnic tensions did not completely hinder the prospects of collaboration on a government level.
However, it remains to be seen how future bilateral relations between these two of the largest countries in the world can overcome domestic ethnic and political hurdles.
This new study provides valuable insights into the complex and delicate relationship between China and Indonesia, particularly in the context of the Tionghoa community in Indonesia.
The authors argue that the continued politicisation of the status of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia requires further attention and highlights the need for both China and Indonesia to navigate bilateral relations in a way that protects the position of the ethnic Chinese Indonesians and avoids strong anti-Chinese sentiments.
The study sheds light on the challenges and opportunities of future bilateral relations between China and Indonesia, two of the largest countries in the world.
Read article: Truston Jianheng Yu and Enze Han, 2023, Indonesia’s Relations With China in the Age of COVID-19, Journal of Current Southeast Affairs – DOI: 10.1177/18681034221149751 journals.sagepub.com/home/saa