Fri, Apr 20, 2007 - Page 8 News List

China factor in India-Indonesia ties

By Sushil Seth

The first thing to say about the security agreement between Indonesia and India being implemented is that it is indicative of the amount of work that has gone into it. In the process, the two countries have developed a close relationship that borders on a security pact, without the formal trappings.

The agreement comes soon after the "New Strategic Partnership" declaration signed by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The scope of the security agreement is comprehensive.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Jakarta said: "besides raising security cooperation between Indonesia and India, the agreement will also help enhance security in the region."

In other words, it is not just a bilateral development; it has a regional context as well. There has been no elaboration on how the Delhi-Jakarta security agreement will enhance regional security. One could speculate that China's emergence as a major, if not pre-eminent, regional power might have something to do with it.

In the last decade or so, China has come to loom so large in the region that Asia's existing structures like ASEAN seem to have lost their countervailing role. Indeed, countries in the region are adjusting and adapting to China's "great power" role.

It is not so much the display of China's military power -- there for all to see with its growing defense budget, nuclear weapons and anti-missile technology with space war potential -- but its creeping soft power by way of its economic strength. The regional perception of China's power is preceding its reality.

It is even more disconcerting when individuals in high places not only buy China's claim of a "peaceful rise," but take it upon themselves to promote it. Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating, now a business consultant, recently said during a speech in Jakarta that China, which "is already the motor of the world economy ? will adopt a quite considerate approach to the countries around it."

He advised the US to accommodate China in the new world order. Keating said: "A US with some vision and sense of history should be trying to construct a world order where the US is first among equals, readying for the day when its unipolar moment expires, in the context of a safe and co-operative multi-polar world."

But Alan Dupont, director of the Center for International Security Studies at Sydney University, was not so sanguine.

"Not all China's neighbors share his [Keating's] confidence. There is a general view in the region that China's rise will provide opportunities, but there are concerns that it will use its power coercively," Dupont said.

While Keating and others like him might be comfortable with a China at the center of the world, its neighbors might not be as delighted about it.

Even David Shambaugh's, director of the China policy program at George Washington University, charitable assessment of China's rise is not all that comforting.

Shambaugh said: "As a result of China's regional rise, countries all around China's periphery are adjusting their relations with Beijing, as well as with each other. Consequently, a new regional order is taking shape."

"While the North Korea and Taiwan situations could always erupt in conflict and puncture the peace," he adds, "the predominant trend in the region is the creation of an extensive web of mutual interdependence among states and non-state actors with China increasingly at the center of the web."

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