Survey: Indonesians’ view of China worsens compared with 11 years ago

Tria Dianti
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Survey: Indonesians’ view of China worsens compared with 11 years ago Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (second from left) and Sheng Guangzu (center), general manager of China Railway Corp., stand next to a model of a train during a ground-breaking ceremony for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway line in Walini, West Java, Indonesia, Jan. 21, 2016.

Indonesians’ views on China have worsened since 2011 but they’re not too fond of the West either, according to the results of a new poll released by an independent Australian think-tank Tuesday.

About 60 percent Indonesians either strongly agreed, or agreed, that Indonesia should join other countries to limit China’s influence – an increase of 10 points since a survey in 2011 – showed the poll conducted by the Lowy Institute.

But should conflict break out between the United States and China, about 84 percent of those polled said Indonesia must remain neutral. Only four percent said Jakarta should support Washington and 1 percent said it should support Beijing.

“The polling results reveal that the citizens of the world’s third most populous democracy are optimistic about the future but wary of the great powers that are seeking to court them,” said the report on the poll’s results.

Indonesia, the largest and most populous nation in Southeast Asia, was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement at the height of the Cold War and still retains a non-aligned foreign policy.

While neither of the superpowers in the early 21st century came out as favorites, China’s position fared worse than that of the U.S., noted Evan Laksmana, one of the report’s authors.

“On U.S.-China, across 16 questions (representing a range of hard to soft power indicators), we can see that the latter’s standing has declined worse compared to the former. Even in areas traditionally seen as China’s forte like foreign investment,” he wrote on Twitter.

For instance, the percentage of those who said China’s growth was good for Indonesia fell to 43 percent of those polled from 54 percent in the 2011, the latest survey showed.  

About 47 percent said the emergence of China as a world power posed a critical threat, a seven-point increase from 2011. And nearly half (49 percent) saw China as a threat to their country in the next decade, compared with 43 percent for the U.S. and 34 percent for Australia.

The Lowy Institute said it interviewed 3,000 respondents in 33 Indonesian provinces during the poll that it conducted between November and December last year.

Less support for Western investment

The survey also revealed that questions on Chinese investment elicited the most negative reaction and Saudi Arabia the most positive. Additionally, confidence in neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore was high.

As many as 57 percent of respondents favored Saudi Arabia buying a controlling stake in a large Indonesian company, while 53 percent of respondents said they support investment from Japan and Singapore.

Support for Western investments was less than for other countries, with four in 10 people favoring investment from the United States (42 percent), Australia (41 percent) and the Netherlands (37 percent).

Three in 10 Indonesians (31 percent) said that the government allowed too much investment and more than half (58 percent) of those felt the government had allowed too much investment from China.

Another 13 percent think the government is allowing too much investment from the U.S.

Only 30 percent of Indonesians said they supported a Chinese company, bank or investment fund to buy a controlling stake in a large Indonesian company, the report said.

Bhima Yudhistira, director of the Center of Economic and Law Studies (CELIOS), said reservations about Chinese investment stemmed from concerns about job opportunities among locals residents and perceptions of preferential treatment for Chinese businesses.

“An example is the various revisions to labor regulations to make it easier for foreign [Chinese] workers to come,” Bhima told BenarNews.

“During the pandemic, even when Indonesia was tightening restrictions, Chinese workers were allowed to come. There is a feeling of injustice resulting from the influx of foreign workers in the name of investment,” he said.

Various facilities have been given to Chinese investors in nickel smelters, ranging from tax breaks to import duties on capital goods, he said.

Eko Listiyanto, deputy director at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef), said that concerns about China’s investments were understandable given their heavy involvement in infrastructure projects.

“China is also trying to expand its investments, especially to developing countries through the Belt and Road Initiative,” he told BenarNews. The $1 trillion-plus BRI is an infrastructure program to build a network of railways, ports and bridges across 70 countries.

“On the other hand, European and U.S. investors are still struggling to recover, and generally their interests are not in infrastructure,” he said.


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