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The Strategist Six: Dino Patti Djalal

Posted By on April 29, 2016 @ 06:00

Image courtesy of ASPI 2016

Welcome to The Strategist Six, a feature that provides a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.

1. You served as Indonesia’s Ambassador to the United States from 2010 to 2013. Do you think the US is in a position to maintain primacy in the Western Pacific for the foreseeable future?

Yes, but in a different environment than before. I think that the most important geopolitical development in Southeast Asia is China’s push into the region. China now is the largest trading partner of most of Southeast Asian nations and it has significant diplomatic, economic, political and some strategic capital as well. So while no one will be able to surpass what the US spends on its military and defence budget, China is coming a close second, although there is still distance between the two. But in terms of influence, there is definitely a strong competition or one-upmanship between China and the US.

2. China has recently breached Indonesian sovereignty at the Natuna Islands. How should China’s incursions be dealt with?

Firmly. But we also still want to maintain good relations with China. We have a strong Australia policy and a strong US policy. I think we need an equally strong but clear China policy. It’s been very heavy on the economic side—on trade and investment, on tourism to some extent—but we need to be firm and know when to draw the line when it comes to strategic issues, especially concerning the South China Sea and the Natuna Islands. China has been quiet in terms of responding to our protests, but in my view, if China wants to show good will, they should send the staff from their ship that encroached on Indonesian territorial waters to Indonesia to face the Indonesian courts. That would go a long way towards showing China’s good will as both Indonesia and China have signed a document in our strategic partnership committing both countries to fight illegal fishing; this is one test for that commitment.

3. Given the strong nationalist emotions running through Indonesia on many levels, how is China’s assertiveness being viewed by Indonesian citizens?

The Natuna case made headlines in Indonesia, and people are asking what is going on. There were some issues relating to some statements about the overlapping claims in Natuna which is a claim made by China. That is seriously disturbing to us because in the long history of our relations, we see China as a country that’s very far away, so claiming parts of our waters is simply unacceptable. So, the Indonesian people like China as a market, they like China as a trading partner, but this particular issue is very discomforting to them.

4. China is now the largest trading partner for every ASEAN nation, while the US plays the role of security guarantor. How will ASEAN balance relations with China and the US?

Before balancing between the two elephants, ASEAN first has to be more coherent. There are new forces pulling ASEAN in different directions and any ASEAN member must make sure that its first line of cooperation and solidarity is with fellow ASEAN nations. I think that the competition for peace and prosperity is a good thing, but it’s a bad thing if the competition becomes zero-sum. If China invests $20 billion in ASEAN and the US says ‘Hey, I can beat that, I’m going to put in $30 billion,’ then we’re all happy. If China sends 20 million tourists to ASEAN and then US says ‘Hey, I can beat that,’ then everybody’s happy! So competing for peace and prosperity is good. Only when it’s a zero-sum game and tears ASEAN apart then it isn’t good.

5. What are your views on President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump?

Well, it’s very clear. Obviously, Hillary Clinton! I think a Trump world order would be dangerous because it would be fueled by jingoism and narrow nationalism, and it would lead to anti-Americanism—and that’s not healthy. If Hillary wins the Democratic ticket, then I see her as the candidate who knows Asia best. She’s the author of the ‘pivot’; she knows Indonesia well —she made the point of visiting Indonesia on her first tour and she’s held many discussions with us. I personally think that Hillary is good for Asia and for Indonesia.

6. What do you think is the most significant threat to global security?

In The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington warns readers about a dangerous post-Cold War trend in global order. But unpleasantly, I find that I’m seeing more and more signs of what Huntington warns of in today’s international order. Islamophobia is growing, xenophobia is growing, there are a lot of conflicts that are based on ethnicity and religious differences. A certain kind of authoritarianism is returning to many countries. There is a battle for the hearts and minds of world citizens, especially those who are on the side of freedom, tolerance, moderation, inclusiveness and pluralism, against those who don’t believe in those tenets. And I think that is by far the greatest fight in the 21st century, not just for governments and nations, but for societies and families—and individuals like me.

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