Analysis: Indonesian presidential frontrunner Prabowo strikes China-friendly tone, but knows Jakarta still needs Washington



Mr Prabowo is aware that Jakarta still needs Washington, Dr Lina noted.

In fact, hours following his CSIS speech in Jakarta, President Widodo met with his US counterpart Joe Biden in Washington, where both sides agreed to strengthen defence cooperation. 

They intend to sign a new defence cooperation arrangement in cyber, military medicine, space, and combined exercises, among other areas. 

Indonesia and the US also elevated their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership.  

Given this, Mr Prabowo is unlikely to change Indonesia’s foreign policy significantly even though he may attempt to be friendlier towards China, said international relations expert Asra Virgianita from the University of Indonesia.

“I’m sure Prabowo knows the US is still important. It is… still number one. So, he won’t leave it behind if he gets elected. 

“Many defence cooperations with the US have been established during his time (as defence minister),” said Associate Professor Asra. Both countries held a joint maritime exercise called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) in December last year, for instance.

On Monday, Mr Prabowo also spoke about Indonesia’s long relationship with “the great powers of the world” such as the West, China, India and Russia.

Stressing the need for the “best relations” with all partners and countries, he added: “One thousand friends are too few, one enemy is too many.”

However, he did not mention future cooperation with the US at the event.

This, said Dr Lina from CSIS, could be strategy on the part of candidates as election season looms. 

As the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia supports the Palestinian struggle for an independent state and condemns Israel’s attacks on Gaza. 

Meanwhile, the US is a close ally of Israel.

Mr Prabowo may not want to be associated with the US at the moment, surmised Dr Lina. 

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