March 14, 2023
JAKARTA – While widely expected, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appointment to his third five-year term last week, alongside the 2018 constitutional guarantee that he would be allowed to serve for life, suggests to world leaders that China’s political, economic, foreign and military policies will not change much in the years to come.
The world has to accept the reality that it will deal with the same Chinese leader it has grown accustomed to, like or not. As the world’s second most powerful nation after the United States, China will be a highly strategic trade partner for many nations, particularly those of Southeast Asia.
Xi’s extended mandate comes as China is aspiring to a greater role, and hence responsibility, that may reshape the global landscape. In the process of the major shift, some problems lie with the West, led by the US. Are they ready to acknowledge they are facing a much more assertive and mighty China?
It is just a matter of time before China reaches new heights, and all eyes will be closely watching whether, under Xi and with its greater influence on the global stage, the country will usher in a multipolar dream, where nations work as equal partners in pursuit of global peace and prosperity, or whether less enlightened behavior will prevail.
Indeed, China has unfinished business with its closest neighbors, such as ASEAN, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and India. Overlapping sovereignty claims and border issues remain a barrier to the country’s efforts to win hearts and minds.
Specifically with ASEAN, China has for the last few decades grappled with a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea, the resource-rich waters to which four ASEAN member states and China have competing claims.
Last week, senior officials from ASEAN and China gathered for three days in Jakarta to discuss and draft a much-awaited COC on South China Sea. The negotiation was held behind closed doors, but there is hope that the two parties will eventually reach an agreement. No matter how strong China is or weak ASEAN is, the two will always need each other.
The COC will be nonbinding, but is crucial to set standard operating procedures, if informally, for the settlement of disputes among the parties.
Indonesia is not a claimant to any part of the South China Sea but has been embroiled in a dispute with China over fishing grounds and sovereign rights in the nearby Natuna Sea. Despite the ripples, Indonesia and China have enjoyed robust bilateral ties.
Since assuming power in 2014, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has met more than 10 times with President Xi, and with Jokowi set to leave office in October of next year, we are confident that whoever succeeds him will consider China a top diplomatic priority and that Indonesia’s foreign policy will remain largely constant.
Jokowi’s belief in China as Indonesia’s most important economic partner and the hallmark of his foreign economic policy resulted in the country being brought in to build the Jakarta-Bandung high speed train in September 2015, albeit at the expense of Japan, which had completed all the feasibility studies and the financing scheme for the megaproject.
The railway is scheduled to become fully operational in the middle of this year, almost four years behind schedule and US$6.06 billion past the original budget. As the project is a part of China’s global Belt and Road Initiative, we expect it to teach both countries a lesson as they look toward more infrastructure development cooperation in the years to come.
We congratulate President Xi for his reappointment as China’s leader for another five years. We hope for a continuation and improvement of our bilateral ties and of multilateral relations with the rest of the world.