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49 4 IS INDONESIA RISING? IT DEPENDS Donald K. Emmerson Increasingly since the mid to late 2000s, Indonesia has been chosen for inclusion in creative acronyms that shortlist countries with unusually bright prospects for material growth. In this upbeat genre, Indonesia has been seen both as a cat (a ‘tiger’, or one of the CIVETS) and as a bird (an EAGLE).1 ‘And it’s not just an economic story’, enthused Joshua Keating in Foreign Policy in December 2010. ‘Indonesia stands a good chance of becoming the world’s first Muslim and democratic superpower’ (Keat­ ing 2010). Will Indonesia’s political economy fulfil these high expectations? As a Muslim Indonesian might say, Wallahu’alam – only God knows. This chapter aims merely to explore and characterize the recent ‘rise of Indo­ nesia’ to the extent that it is already taking place. The domestic roots and repercussions of foreign policy are impor­ tant in this context but they are not my focus here. Indonesia’s perceived ascent is largely a product of its interaction with, and its portrayal by, the outside world. The stronger the political economy of Indonesia, other things being equal, the more likely its leaders will be to engage pro­ actively, on Indonesian terms, with that wider world. But because other things are not equal, the argument in this chapter is contingent and pos­ sibilistic. One cannot infer a benign or a malign ‘rise of Indonesia’ from economic growth and political stability alone. The country’s large size, young population and stable democracy have contributed to that per­ ception, but they are not a sufficient condition for its existence. Structure 1 These and other such acronyms are explained later in this chapter. See also Jeremy Grant’s posting on ‘the global game of acronyms’ (Grant 2010). 50  Indonesia Rising: The Repositioning of Asia’s Third Giant without agency is mere potential. Actual outcomes will depend on what both local and foreign decision makers see, say and do – and do not see, say or do – to augment, diminish or reorient Indonesia’s position in for­ eign affairs. Is Indonesia rising? This chapter examines the question from differ­ ent angles. Objectively, how steeply upward are Indonesia’s rates of eco­ nomic growth and military spending compared with the trends in other countries? Subjectively, in global discourse, is Indonesia seen to be rising, again compared with the profiles of other states? On balance, is the acro­ nymic optimism cited above a recognition of Indonesia’s past success – or a prediction of future achievement that is causing what it foretells? To what extent have domestic problems and priorities pre-empted attention to foreign affairs? Has that balance of concern changed over the course of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s tenure as president, and if so, in which direction? What is his vision of Indonesia’s position in the world, and is there an alternative on offer? Are the catchphrases of Indonesian foreign policy first voiced in the late 1940s and early 1950s being repeated – or replaced? Finally, what are some of the qualities – the styles – of Indo­ nesian foreign policy whose illustration might usefully complicate the quantitative notion of a raised or lowered profile? OBJECTIVE INDICATORS Is Indonesia rising? The question cannot be answered without prior specification: ‘rising’ in what sense, by what measure and compared to what?2 To illustrate, consider an obvious possible answer: that Indo­ nesia’s economy has been expanding – or ‘rising’ – faster than the econo­ mies of other countries. 2 The case for specification applies as well to the idea that Indonesia is declin­ ing, as the following two very different examples suggest. First, according to the annual Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders, In­ donesia suffered back-to-back declines in media freedom in 2010 and 2011: its position among the world’s countries and territories fell from the 43rd percen­ tile in 2009 to the 34th in 2010 and then to the 18th in 2011 (based on data at Second, according to the World Bank’s Logistics Perfor­ mance Index, which measures the capacity ‘to efficiently move goods and con­ nect manufacturers and consumers with international markets’, Indonesia’s position worsened from the 71st to the 52nd percentile between 2007 and 2010 (based on data at index-chart.jpg [for 2007] and tradesurvey/mode1b.asp#ranking [for 2010]). The percentiles identify the proportions of countries or territories that ranked...


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