Editorial: Foreign Policy for Sale?

Editorial Omong-Omong

7 min read

While money can’t buy everything, it surely could buy Indonesia. Well, at least it could buy a few elites in Indonesia who, unfortunately, can dictate the direction of the country’s foreign policies.

After seemingly deviating from its constitution in refusing to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine —  a gross human rights and international law violations that jeopardize global peace  — Indonesia validates allegations that it plays its diplomacy to serve the interests of a few elites back home when the world’s most populous Muslim nation voted Thursday (October 6) against a proposal to hold a discussion before the United Nation Human Rights Council about allegations that China has  committed human rights violation against its Muslim minority groups, especially the Uyghurs.

The investigation conducted and then reported by the Human Rights Council itself has alleged that what China has done to Uyghurs and other minority Muslim groups in the country “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” Uyghur activists and leaders, Western countries and a number of human rights organizations have directly accused China of genocide against its Muslim communities since 2017 when it was revealed that close to 2 million Muslims were held by Chinese regional authorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.

Related Editorial:

China has eventually admitted there were camps in the regions, but denied all the allegation saying they were vocational skills training centers necessary to tackle “extremism” and prevent “terrorism”.

These Human Rights Council’s official investigation and report have become the basis for some countries, mostly Western countries, to propose for a debate before the council’s members. However, such a proposal has been rejected with a vote of close margin: 19-17. Nineteen countries rejected, 17 said yes, with 11 other being abstain. Indonesia is among Muslim majority countries which rejected it. Standing with Indonesia are Somalia, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Qatar while other Muslim majority countries, such as Malaysia, decided to be abstain. Had Indonesia, the biggest Muslim majority country decided to accept the proposal, it would flip the voting result entirely as Indonesia may bring other Muslim majority nation to at least abstain from rejecting, and we will be talking about China’s boycott by now.

The fact that the Human Rights Council could reject its own investigation and report shows not only China’s successful recent efforts to convince or even buy off it way and its ever growing global influence, but also fears by developing country members, who is under pressure for human rights issues, that such a global allegation could turn against them.

Indonesia’s line of defense against criticism of siding with countries alleged of human rights abuses or breaking international laws, like Russia and now China, is always based on the country’s policy of striving to be neutral and refusal to be drawn into conflicts between the West and the rest, or between the former colonial powers versus the former colonized nations, reminiscent of the Cold War mentality.

In China case at the Human Rights council, Indonesian officials have said that the country rejected the proposal out of fear that the Council could be and has been politicized by the West to single out and humiliate China at the global stage and refused to be drawn to the politicization, and thus by rejecting the proposal, it preserves the country’s stance being neutral.

But this line of arguments is not only flawed but also senseless and ridiculous, masking the possible real motives behind such a rejection. After all, neutrality is a tool rather than an end so it’s incomprehensible to achieve neutrality for the sake of neutrality. Also, by rejecting the proposal, Indonesia was not neutral, it’s taking side with China, contradicting the neutrality hype it’s trying to convey to the domestic constituents and the West.

So, why?

First of all, it should be clear by now that Indonesia’s decision to reject the proposal was beyond the control of the Indonesian foreign ministry or its diplomats, one of the smartest, most educated and most dedicated and honest civil servants in the country.

The most important consideration in making a good foreign policy is it must represent or channel the interests of the citizens of the nation – if it is impossible to represent all of them, then the majority of them. The rejection clearly defies the interests of majority of people of Indonesia. As a country with the world’s biggest Muslim population, there is no way that Muslims – account for around 200 million people of some 270 total of the country’s total population – here have any – even the slightest — intention to support China’s inhumane treatment against their fellow Muslims.

It’s shocking that Indonesia’s diplomats have the nerve to take side with China for the reason of neutrality. Have not they thought about the wrath of 200 million Muslim behind them, and risking being accused of China’s guard dog? Also, this is only a proposal to debate or discuss the matter, it’s not like a vote to give sanction to China, which can never happen anyway.

The possible reasons behind such a betrayal to Muslim community are Papua and China’s money.

Papua: Wealth Accumulation for Some Elites and Fear of Repercussion

Just like China being heavily criticized for its treatment against the Uyghurs, Indonesia has been under a lot pressure over its conducts in Papua.

In late April three UN special rapporteurs and experts revealed that shocking abuses against indigenous Papuans have been taking place in Indonesia, citing child killings, disappearances, torture and enforced mass displacement in their joint statement.

“Between April and November 2021, we have received allegations indicating several instances of extrajudicial killings, including of young children, enforced disappearance, torture and inhuman treatment and the forced displacement of at least 5,000 indigenous Papuans by security forces,” said Special Rapporteurs Francisco Cali Tzay, who protects rights of indigenous peoples, Morris Tidball-Binz, who monitors extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, covering human rights of Internally Displaced Persons, said in their statement on the UN official website, calling for urgent humanitarian access to the region and urged the Indonesian Government to conduct full and independent investigations into the abuses.

They said that since the escalation of violence in December 2018, the overall number of displaced has grown by 60,000 to 100,000 people.

This is only one of long list of conducts Indonesian military and police have been accused of perpetrating. But Papua has little to do with Indonesian people as whole. It’s not in the interests of Indonesian people and Papuans that Papua was occupied in the first place because we have no ideas what its benefits for the majority of Indonesia and the Papuans themselves are except that we are told about the utmost importance of Indonesia’s territorial integration and “NKRI harga mati” (Republic of Indonesia as a Unitary State is non-negotiable) without knowing what it is for. Also, it’s not the interests of Indonesian people that the military conducts never-ending military operations there, the forest clearance that destroy the environment and drive away native Papuans, and the so-called infrastructure development in the province.

What we do know is that all of the activities in the province greatly benefits some business, military, police and political elites in Papua and Jakarta, allowing them to accumulate unthinkable amount of wealth for themselves.

Then, looking at these aspects – serious human rights violations and power elites’ interests, it now makes every sense that Jakarta reject to even discuss what China has done against the Uyghurs. Proposal to discuss what happens in Papua will ultimately emerge at the UN Human Rights Council sooner or later. What if similar demand emerges?? Does Indonesia have similar might as China to stave off such a proposal? By rejecting the proposal Indonesia not only shows its resoluteness against any attempt of discussing human rights abuses inside a particular country, but also it now has powerful allies in China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council just like the US, France and UK, to turn to when the issue emerges.

At home, Indonesia’s siding with China will also appease the business people, officials and powerful political ruling elites who enjoy benefits from Papua’s exploitations. Talking about these economic benefits brings us to discussion of some elites enjoying many things from China.

China’s Money

Since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo came to office, Indonesia’s foreign policy drastically has changed its course, especially compared to his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

While Yudhoyono liked to be seen as world leaders caring about democratic principles, human rights and environmental issues, beside bilateral economic relations, pushing the Foreign Ministry to actively engage in various regional and global forum and giving his diplomats freedom to do so, Jokowi, who is a businessman, narrows diplomats’ work to become marketer, selling the country to investors in order to achieve his goal of maximizing economic benefits from diplomacy to cover foreign relations costs the state has spent.

It’s in this regard, China through its Belt and Road Initiative and companies has been taking advantage, pouring Indonesia with investments and loans with practices and conditions that is often harmful to Indonesia.

While China spreads it money globally, especially to developing countries, it specifically concentrates in Indonesia, the Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, as it is challenging the United States’ hegemony in Asia, with more than one thousand China’s companies already operating across the archipelago doing various big projects and contracts from infrastructure, mining to energy, worth hundreds of billions dollars.

The problems with economic-based policies is that – as it wants to get quick tangible results – it regards number of projects as indicators of success, creating a personalization of policies: owner of the projects becomes powerful and can dictate state’s policies at the expense of the public as a whole.

So, China’s businesspeople and executives – who actually also government representatives – supported by their local Indonesian partners, plus politicians, lawmakers and officials who already profit from the deals, are too formidable to ignore in decision, translated in why, for instance, the government and diplomats, disregards the interests of millions of Indonesian Muslims in the voting at the UN Human Rights Council.

China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner in the last several, with bilateral trade in 2021 grew by 58.6 standing at US$124.4 billion, while the mainland China is also among the biggest investors, according to official data.

And we also have no idea how much China has promised Jokowi to help him build his new capital dream in East Kalimantan, and how much it has influenced

Beside in business sector, China also concentrate in appeasing Indonesia’s influential figures from clerics, intellectuals, students and journalists to give China a good name. Specifically, in Uyghur issue, China have facilitated many people for a pre-arranged and tightly controlled visits, showing China’s kind policy and training to the Uyghurs.

According a report from the Wall Street Journal, some leaders and clerics from Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, for instance, have joined the visits, and returned with favorable view on China’s policy on the Uyghurs. These positive views from clerics of NU and Muhammadiyah, the two Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organizations, have apparently contributed to Indonesia’s rejection of debating China’s alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghurs at the UN Human Rights Council.

Indonesian diplomats at the UN are the country’s brightest officials and are able to make decisions that maximize the nation’s interests. But by the end of the day they are only pawn to be sacrificed anytime at will. If some elites close to the President call them and want them to protect their interests, what can they do but obey?

So, gone is the image of Indonesia as a champion of democracy and human rights it has been trying so hard to achieve after disposing Soeharto and his New Order Regime, as well as much of its independence in making its own decision as a free country. Indonesia practically now has lost its idealism and moral compass.

Editorial Omong-Omong

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Dapatkan tulisan-tulisan menarik setiap saat dengan berlangganan melalalui email