Indonesia espouses diplomacy in South China Sea, Taiwan Strait crisis

As global and regional geopolitical tension persists, diplomacy remains the only viable option to Indonesia in the midst of rising Chinese influence in the region, particularly its militarization of South China Sea, according to an international relations expert. Speaking to Maritime Fairtrade, University of Indonesia’s Broto Wardoyo said the country’s limited military capability played a huge part in its commitment to diplomacy.

“So far, Indonesia still opts for diplomatic options, and this choice is heavily connected to the weakness within our military and security capabilities,” Wardoyo explained when asked about Indonesia’s current strategy in safeguarding its sovereign territory in the South China Sea.

Indonesia, he said, is fully aware about the potential for conflict in the resource-rich waters. The country’s 2015 defense white paper stated that disputes in the South China Sea are ones that need to be treated “wisely” due to its complexity and potential to escalate into an armed conflict.  He added that the white paper highlighted the importance of giving diplomacy a chance. He believed talks with China on code of conduct are still important even though after years, there is still no concrete result.

Major General Bambang Trisnohadi, director general of defense strategy at the Ministry of Defense, confirmed that ASEAN countries are collectively pushing for an agreement on the code of conduct with China, although China insists on dealing with individual countries bilaterally.

“ASEAN already has the Declaration on the Conduct (of Parties in the South China Sea), and we have been working to push for a code of conduct between ASEAN countries and China on how to conduct themselves in the South China Sea. Hopefully, this can be finalized soon so that every country can agree to avoid conflict,” Bambang told Maritime Fairtrade.

Regarding the China-Taiwan conflict, Wardoyo said Indonesia, as the current ASEAN chair, has advocated diffusing tension through diplomacy. Wardoyo remained optimistic that a war happening anytime soon is unlikely. 

“According to survey conducted by the National Chengchi University in Taipei, the majority of people in Taiwan still sees the status quo as the best option in cross-strait relations,” he said. 

Wardoyo said China would take into account the impact on the economy of a full-on invasion. However, he warned that external factors could upset the delicate balance, for example, the visit of former U.S. speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing Wen’s transit at the U.S. and her meeting with current speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Nonetheless, Wardoyo thought Indonesia should also improve military capable to serve as a deterrence effect. 

“Indonesia should start seriously considering steps to modernize the armed forces and weaponry beyond just targeting the Minimum Essential Force (MEF), which by the way has not been achieved,” Wardoyo said.

Established in 2007, the MEF is a defense strategy with a main focus on the modernization of weaponry system. According to the Ministry of Defense’s Regulation No. 19/2012, MEF was initiated “to reflect an optimal utilization of existing national resources” and was created “based on the capabilities of national economic resources.”

Furthermore, in regard to Indonesia’s status as a non-aligned state, Wardoyo said the government may even need to consider reinterpreting its existing policies to allow the flexibility of participating in military exercises with foreign countries. 

Photo credit: iStock/ Tanes Ngamsom

The best maritime news and insights delivered to you.

subscribe maritime fairtrade

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • Event offers and discounts
  • News & key insights of the maritime industry
  • Expert analysis and opinions on corruption and more