Indonesia is the largest nation in Southeast Asia, but it is still dwarfed by the outsized influence China has in the region. Like many Southeast Asian nations, Indonesia desires strategic autonomy over its foreign policy and statecraft. But as the antagonism between the United States and China grows, there is increasing pressure for Indonesia and the rest of the region to choose sides in the great power competition.
Donald K. Emmerson, director of the Southeast Asia Program, joins Gita Wirjawan on the podcast Endgame to discuss the challenges Indonesia faces as it tries to chart a course of policies that balance its domestic needs and desire for autonomy with the international geopolitical sparrings occurring in its backyard in the South China Sea. The full podcast episode is available below.
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Emmerson draws from his recent book, The Deer and the Dragon: Southeast Asia and China in the 21st Century, to frame the struggle Indonesia faces. Internally, Indonesia faces challenges to its democracy and in managing political and cultural diversity. Externally, there is the challenge of trying to simultaneously work within the often-fractured and disunified structure of ASEAN while still rebutting pressures from China.
In this sense, Indonesia must behave as the mousedeer in local folklore and nimbly navigate around its larger rivals with clever politics and policies. But the realities of the situation are much more complicated. Emmerson and Wirjawan take a deep dive into Indonesia's history, culture, politics, and position in the region and how those factors may affect the country's trajectory towards an endgame. Below is the video version of their conversation.