Indonesia’s strategic flexibility: something something devil, something something detail

Brad Nelson has a neat overview in today’s Jakarta Globe of Indonesia’s strategic options vis-à-vis China and the US. Enabled by what he calls ‘strategic flexibility’ (which I think is actually an extension of Indonesia’s so-called ‘dynamic equilibrium’ approach), Indonesia can stay neutral, pick China or the US, be a mediator/conduit or play the big kids off against one another.

Nelson rightly identifies Indonesia as attempting to pursue a ‘conduit’-type role. In fact, to be an effective conduit and exert real influence on the US and China, Nelson prescribes Indonesia build goodwill as a conflict mediator and regional problem-solver.

In theory, it’s a sensible option but I have my misgivings about how it’s presented in relatively unproblematic terms. I say this because I’m reminded of comments made at a recent workshop by a participant challenging Indonesia’s image as a neutral party in South China Sea disputes. They asked, how could Indonesia be a legitimate mediator if it refuses mediation itself on issues such as the Natuna Islands?

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