Foreign Policy under Suharto

Indonesia's foreign relations after 1966 can be characterized as generally moderate, inclined toward the West, and regionally focused. As a founding member of the Nonaligned Movement in 1961, Indonesia pursued a foreign policy that in principle kept it equidistant from the contentious Soviet Union and the United States. It was, however, dependent upon Japan, the United States, and West European countries for vital infusions of official development assistance and private investment. Jakarta's perceptions that China had intervened substantially in its internal affairs by supporting the PKI in the mid-1960s made the government far less willing to improve relations with Beijing than were other members of ASEAN. Although Indonesia differed with its ASEAN counterparts over the appropriate response to the Cambodian crisis after the Vietnamese invasion of that country in 1978, its active role in promoting a negotiated end to the Cambodian civil war through the Jakarta Informal Meetings in 1988 and 1989 reflected a new sense of confidence. Policy makers believed that since the country had largely achieved national unity and was making ample progress in economic development, it could afford to devote more of its attention to important regional issues.
Given Indonesia's strategic location at the eastern entrance to the Indian Ocean, including command of the Malacca and Sunda straits, the country has been viewed as vital to the Asian security interests of the United States and its allies. Washington extended generous amounts of military aid and became the principal supplier of equipment to the Indonesian armed forces. Because of its nonaligned foreign policy, Jakarta did not have a formal military alliance with the United States but benefited indirectly from United States security arrangements with other states in the region, such as Australia and the Philippines. The New Order's political repressiveness and its pacification of East Timor, however, were criticized directly and indirectly by some United States officials, who in the late 1980s began calling for greater openness.
In terms of international economics, Indonesia's most important bilateral relationship was with Japan. During the 1970s, it was the largest recipient of Japanese official development assistance and vied with China for that distinction during the 1980s. Tokyo's aid priorities included export promotion, establishment of an infrastructure base for private foreign investment, and the need to secure stable sources of raw materials, especially oil but also aluminum and forest products. Jakarta depended on aid funds from Tokyo to build needed development projects. This symbiotic relationship, however, was not without its tensions. Indonesian policy makers questioned the high percentage of Japanese aid funds in the form of loans rather than grants and the heavy burden of repaying yen-denominated loans in the wake of the appreciation of the Japanese currency in 1985. Although wartime memories of the Japanese occupation were in general not as bitter as in countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, and China, there was some concern about the possibility of Japanese remilitarization should United States forces be withdrawn from the region. In the context of Indonesia's long history, the forces bringing about greater integration with the international community while creating political and economic tensions at home were not unexpected. Historians of the twenty-first century are likely to find remarkably similar parallels with earlier periods in Indonesia history.