Indonesia’s China strategy: ‘flexible hedging’

(From the National Interest)

By Tiola Havadi

A recent incident near the Natuna Islands, involving the China Coast Guard and an Indonesian anti-illegal-fishing task force, has intensified debates over the type of strategy employed by Jakarta vis-à-vis Beijing’s growing assertiveness. The incident was not unprecedented; long before the incident, scholars used the term “hedging” or, as Rizal Sukma suggests, “diplomatic hedging” to label Indonesia’s strategy in responding to China’s rise.

Indonesian Coast Guard vessel

Indonesian Coast Guard vessel

In the existing literature, hedging is defined as a set of strategies employed by secondary states when they cannot resort to more straightforward options, such as internal balancing (boosting self-reliance by enhancing military and other material capabilities), external balancing (engaging the status-quo power to provide security guarantees) or bandwagoning (aligning national interests with the emerging power to avoid any future conflict). As an alternative, the strategy of hedging prescribes a middle position that keeps states from having to choose one side at the obvious expense of another. While such characterization has its merit, under this definition all secondary states in Southeast Asia would fall into the category of hedging states (except for, to a certain extent, the Philippines and Vietnam), since none of them adopts a pure strategy of either balancing or bandwagoning. Read more

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