Monday, 15 April 2019 11:30

Indonesia polls bring battle over Belt and Road push

Indonesia has become the latest election battleground for Beijing’s soaring economic clout, as the opposition warns pro-China policies are saddling the mineral-rich archipelago with bad debt as it is sold off piecemeal to foreign interests.Business links with top trade partner China have been thrust into the spotlight by ex-general Prabowo Subianto who is challenging Indonesian leader Joko Widodo for the presidency of South-East Asia’s largest economy on Wednesday.
Trailing by double digits in the polls, Prabowo has leaned on a fiery nationalist ticket and pledged to re-evaluate Chinese investment, even as Jakarta courts huge contracts from Beijing’s US$1.0 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“All (BRI) initiatives should be reviewed,” Irawan Ronodipuro, foreign affairs director for Prabowo’s campaign, said.
“Blindly embracing these projects can harm national interest.”
“China’s growing economic power has become a key election issue in many Asian countries ... with opposition politicians winning the elections after they criticise incumbents for their ‘pro-China’ policies,” Deasy Simandjuntak, a visiting Indonesian researcher at the Singapore-based Institute of South-East Asian Studies, said.
Since taking office in 2014, Joko has pushed Chinese investment to fulfil his own multi-billion-dollar drive to build much-needed roads, airports and other infrastructure across the sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.
Last year, China and Indonesia signed US$23bil (RM94.5bil) in Belt and Road initiative contracts, including two hydro power plants on Borneo island and a power station on holiday hotspot Bali.
Perceptions about Chinese encroachment have a particular resonance in the country of 260 million, as resentment lingers over the success of some billionaire Chinese Indonesians who control vast swathes of the economy.
“Chinese capital is associated with communism and that is threatening,” said Trissia Wijaya, an East Asian political economy specialist at Australia’s Murdoch University.
“It’s very ingrained in the Indonesian mindset,” she added.


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