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What Prabowo’s presidency in Indonesia will mean for the world

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Prabowo Subianto faces the task of balancing the resource-rich archipelago’s relations with the United States and China, among other challenges

Jakarta – On course to win Indonesia’s presidential election by a wide margin, Prabowo Subianto faces the task of balancing the resource-rich archipelago’s relations with the United States and China, among other challenges.

Here is what his presidency will mean for Indonesia’s allies around the world:

How will Prabowo manage the US-China rivalry?

Prabowo will have to balance relations with two global powers as the United States and China compete for regional influence.

He has committed himself to the long-standing non-aligned foreign policy that has allowed Indonesia to reap large investment from Beijing while maintaining ties with Washington.

But experts say the windfalls have left Jakarta increasingly dependent on Beijing.

“Prabowo must show he can practice free and fair trade,” said Teuku Rezasyah, associate professor at Padjadjaran University.

Prabowo is expected to try to keep both happy while building Indonesia’s military power.

“He sees China as a strategic partner but he is Western-educated. He will lean more to the West,” said Yoes Kenawas, research fellow at Atma Jaya Catholic University.

He was once on a US visa blacklist over alleged rights abuses under dictator Suharto in the late 1990s, but former president Donald Trump invited him to Washington as defence minister.

With Trump running for high office again later this year, the pair could warm ties further.

“If Trump wins, Prabowo would probably be attracted to finding some kind of connection to him,” said Adrian Vickers, professor at the University of Sydney.

Can Jakarta help out in its own backyard?

As chair of ASEAN last year, Indonesia tried and failed to negotiate a breakthrough with Myanmar’s junta leaders, barred from the bloc’s high-level meetings since a coup in 2021.

Prabowo will inherit that failure amid divides within the group over how to deal with the generals, and the contested South China Sea where Beijing is becoming increasingly assertive.

“For ASEAN, I believe it’s going to be business as usual,” said Rezasyah.

But some experts fear his focus on building Indonesia’s military may be viewed negatively in the region.

“I’m afraid it will create some worry to our neighbours about Indonesia’s position towards ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific,” said Kenawas.

Will Indonesia and Australia strengthen ties?

One of Prabowo’s first social media posts after polls closed told Indonesians he had spoken to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and analysts expect him to seek positive relations with Canberra.

Australia has sought to improve ties with Indonesia in a diplomatic charm offensive aimed at countering China and boosting trade.

And Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who has previously called on Canberra to place greater emphasis on its billion-dollar trade relationship with Jakarta, said the government was looking forward to working with whoever wins the election.

But Indonesia is one of several Asian countries to have expressed concerns about the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

What about the EU?

Prabowo has railed against the European Union for restrictions on deforestation-related products, accusing the bloc of double standards, and questioning its relevance to global relations.

“There’s a shift in the world,” he said in a November speech.

“Now we don’t really need Europe any more.”

There is also criticism about his rights record after he was discharged from the army over kidnappings of activists in the late 1990s.

He has denied responsibility, but the negative perceptions in Europe remain, analysts say.

“It will be very hard for Prabowo to convince the world that he is capable of working with principles,” said Rezasyah.

“He needs to have a strong dream team that is friendly towards Europe.”

Will Prabowo offer another Ukraine peace plan?

Prabowo surprised Kyiv in mid-2023 when he proposed a plan to end the Ukraine war, apparently without having consulted President Joko Widodo.

He spoke of demilitarized zones guaranteed by observers and United Nations peacekeeping forces — and a UN-observed referendum in “disputed areas.”

Kyiv called it a “strange proposal” and rejected it outright, calling it a Russian plan. The EU also criticized him.

Jakarta had previously tried to mediate peace but it is unlikely Prabowo will make another attempt. AFP

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