PRABOWO Subianto has vowed to maintain the country’s neutrality in international relations, stressing that he would not align with any major power blocs or join any military alliances amid rising tensions between the United States and China, in the interests of the nation and its people.
The presidential front-runner repeated that “one thousand friends are too few, one enemy too many” at an event organised by Jakarta-based think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Monday, hinting at the direction of his foreign policy strategy if he is elected as the country’s next president in the February 2024 election.
“We will maintain our independent foreign policy. We will not be part of any military bloc. We will not be part of any geopolitical bloc. We need to have the best relations with all partners, all countries, especially our neighbours, regional neighbours and direct neighbours,” the 72-year-old Defence Minister told international diplomats, researchers and journalists.
Indonesia has no formal military alliances with any country.
A popularity poll conducted between Oct 27 and Nov 1 by research institute Indikator Politik Indonesia placed Prabowo in a comfortable lead against his rivals, former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan in the upcoming presidential race.
Some 39.7% of 1,220 respondents said they would vote for Prabowo, compared with 30% for Ganjar and 24.4% for Anies.
At Monday’s talk, Prabowo said Indonesia has been at the “crossroads of great civilisations” by way of trade routes and strategic waterways for many centuries – and remains so.
Citing Indonesia’s “bebas aktif” – free and active – approach to foreign policy, he stressed that Indonesia respects all great powers in the world, including the United States, China, India and Russia, and wants to maintain good relations by not taking sides.
“This web of strong friendships will actually be our strongest pillar of foreign policy. And in the end, also our defence policy. We need peace and stability for our economy to flourish. And we need our economy to flourish to bring prosperity to our people,” he said.
While the intense competition between the United States and China is a “matter of concern for us”, rivalries have been happening in the long history of mankind, he noted.
Indonesia, he said, has a “debt of honour” to the United States which helped to push for its independence by placing strong pressure on the Netherlands to end its colonial rule.
But Indonesia also recognises that China has contributed significantly to the economy of the country, as well as of South-East Asia.
Prabowo said competition between great powers in the past had ended in war.
However, people now prefer collaboration to conflict, and meetings between Western and Chinese leaders have demonstrated that they “realise the great risk that can erupt if this competition is not calibrated”.
“I am an optimist. I believe that the leaders of these great superpowers are cognisant of their duty to their people and to humanity,” Prabowo said.
“A rational leader will want to avoid open warfare, and I think this is the way of the world now.”
He reiterated that Indonesia’s top priority is improving the welfare of its population of 280 million by creating jobs and eradicating poverty.
This means the country must stay impartial in its foreign policy, he said.
Joining a military bloc might seem an easy choice for a small or weak country, as “there’s somebody to defend you”, while “to be neutral (means) you’re on your own”, he said.
But Prabowo added that “the essence of neutrality is we cannot, and we do not, threaten anybody”.
“It is my conviction that Indonesia must maintain the best relations with all the great powers. And by having these relations, we can be an honest broker, some sort of bridge, because we have no hidden agenda,” he said. — The Straits Times/ANN