- The Trump Presidency and Indonesia: Challenges and Opportunities
Donald Trump’s electoral victory on 8 November 2016 came as something of a shock to the people of Indonesia. Once the news had sunk in, predictions on what Trump’s victory meant for Indonesia could be divided into three scenarios: Trump could carry out his campaign promises; he could abandon those promises; or he could adjust his alarming rhetoric and adopt a more reassuring tone. Within a couple of weeks of being inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States on 20 January 2017, the international community, including Indonesians discovered that the new US President not only continued to speak in an alarming manner, but also that he intended to make good on his campaign promise to “Make America Great Again”.
Among the new president’s policies, two are likely to have a substantial impact on Indonesia and Southeast Asian countries: the first is America’s withdrawal from the multilateral trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); and the second, restricting travel into the United States to citizens from seven Muslim majority countries in what has been described as a Muslim ban. The latter [End Page 58] has created opposition in the United States and other countries. In Indonesia, the ban has been discussed vigorously in the mass and social media. In addition, there has been at least one demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Jakarta by Indonesian youths who protested Trump’s policy as it would affect around 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently residing in Indonesia.1
Since achieving independence on 17 August 1945, Indonesia has always followed closely the US presidential election cycle, largely because, of course, the United States is the world’s largest economy and strongest military power. As with most other countries, successive Indonesian governments have attempted to adjust their expectations with every new US administration. Trump’s presidency is particularly important because its inauguration comes at a time when Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries are being buffeted by growing competition between the United States and China, and a rise in domestic political, if not (overly) nationalistic, sentiments. Amid this uncertainty, this article discusses some of the salient implications of the Trump presidency for Southeast Asia’s largest country, Indonesia. Based on cues and assumptions, it puts forward the proposition that Trump’s presidency has generated not only challenges, but also important opportunities for Indonesia. This proposition is developed in two stages: Indonesians’ responses to Trump’s rise; and the potential impacts of his presidency on Indonesian society, economy and foreign policy.
Divided Elites’ Responses
Trump’s astonishing victory over Hillary Clinton generated anxieties in Indonesia because of the former’s virulent campaign rhetoric. A survey conducted in Indonesia in early November 2016 revealed that only 10 per cent of 500 respondents welcomed Trump’s victory because of his hostile campaign, especially against Muslims.2 Upon Trump’s triumph, discussions on the possible implications of his presidency often ended with worrying and alarming conclusions. Nevertheless, the country’s political leaders expressed cautious optimism, opining that US–Indonesia relations could grow, so long as both sides aimed to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.3 Indeed, a senior minister in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s cabinet, Luhut Pandjaitan, appeared to be quite optimistic about a Trump presidency, remarking in an opinion piece a couple of days prior to Trump’s inauguration that “Indonesia may have a Trump card in the new America”.4 [End Page 59]
A small group from Indonesia’s elite actually celebrated Trump’s victory. They were predominantly from the business community, and had links to President Trump through his business dealings in Indonesia. Some of these businessmen are also active in politics, and have the financial resources to own media outlets — both are indispensable to acquiring influence in national politics. For them, Trumps’ victory meant privileged access to the leader of the world’s only remaining superpower, and the prestige and additional power and wealth a Trump presidency might generate for them in the context of Indonesian politics. One of Trump’s Indonesian business partners even told the press that Trump’s victory had inspired him...