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China, The United States, and the Future of Southeast AsiaU.S.-China Relations, Volume II$
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David B.H. Denoon

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781479866304

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479866304.001.0001

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Pragmatic Equidistance

Pragmatic Equidistance

How Indonesia Manages Its Great Power Relations

(p.113) 4 Pragmatic Equidistance
China, The United States, and the Future of Southeast Asia

Evan A. Laksmana

NYU Press

This chapter describes the rationale and nature of Indonesia’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States and China. It places Indonesia’s foreign policy pertaining to these two countries within the broader context of Jakarta’s management of great power relations. The author argues that Indonesia’s approach can be described as “pragmatic equidistance.” This approach captures the idea of fully engaging one great power in various forms of cooperation—from economic to defense—while simultaneously both maintaining strategic autonomy and keeping equal balance with other great powers. Put differently, it is about how a developing country with a rising regional and global profile like Indonesia can fully exploit the benefits of strategic partnerships with different great powers while maintaining autonomy and not being pegged as too close to one great power at the expense of another. The author further argues that Indonesia’s pragmatic equidistance with the United States and China is a function of (1) the historical legacies of bilateral relations, (2) the end of authoritarian rule in 1998 and the ensuing democratization process, and (3) the changing strategic environment in the broader Indo-Pacific. These conditions overlap and help explain the persistent ambiguity in the triangular Indonesia-U.S.-China relations.

Keywords:   limited alignment, pragmatic equidistance, omni-enmeshment, South China Sea, democratization, autonomy, multilateralism, maritime axis

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