About two in five Indonesians see China as the most influential country in Asia, according to a private poll which relegated the United States to second place for the first time in almost a decade.
The perception among Indonesians of China being the region’s most influential power jumped to 39 percent in 2019 from 19 percent in 2011, when a similar survey was done, according to the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), which released poll results Sunday.
“Usually in a study like this, the United States would come out on top and Japan at number two. But from 2016 to 2019 there has been a shift in people’s perception,” LSI Executive director Djayadi Hanan told a news conference. “China has overtaken the U.S. and Japan.”
The LSI survey asked the respondents from across the country: “According to you, which country is the most influential in Asia?”
The Indonesian perception of U.S. and Japanese influence in Asia fell, respectively, from 29 percent in 2011 to 18 percent, and from 23 percent to 14 percent over the same period, poll results showed.
Djayadi said a different study was needed to explain why the survey participants responded the way they did.
The survey, involving a random sampling of 1,540 respondents, was conducted in July, months before bilateral diplomatic tensions between Indonesia and China over maritime rights erupted two weeks ago.
For the first time since the previous survey was conducted nine years ago, about 66 percent of those polled also responded that Beijing wielded significant or strong influence over Indonesia, compared with 49 percent for the United States.
However, the rising perception of Chinese influence was also accompanied by increasing negative sentiment, which more than doubled compared with the 2011 poll.
“If we look at the trend from 2011, the percentage of those who believe China is favorable to Asia and Indonesia has declined,” Djayadi told BenarNews. “Meanwhile, perceptions of China as harmful increased.”
Negative perceptions for the United States and Japan have not changed significantly, Djayadi said.
LSI conducted the survey with the Asian Barometer, an applied-research program at National Taiwan University.
Djayadi said those who view the Indonesian government’s economic performance negatively tended to see China as more influential.
Anti-China sentiment during last year’s elections, including accusations that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was “too cozy with China,” helped create negative perceptions about Beijing’s influence, Djayadi said.
“These include the hoax that Jokowi was a Chinese lackey,” he said.
Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at Universitas Achmad Yani, said the survey findings needed to be accompanied by an analysis of media reports and public discussion.
“Is China considered to be more influential because it is more influential, or because the media or public discourse dwelled more on China issues,” Yohanes said on Twitter.
Survey released amid tensions
The survey’s findings were released amid tensions between Indonesia and China over maritime rights off the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. The tensions were raised after Chinese fishing boats and Chinese coast guard ships entered waters in Jakarta’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Beijing claims nearly all of the contested South China Sea, a waterway through which about U.S. $5 trillion of shipping trade passes each year. Indonesia is not among the nations with overlapping claims in the sea, but Beijing says the waters off Indonesia’s Natuna islands are part of traditional fishing grounds for Chinese fishermen.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have their own overlapping claims to portions of the sea.
On Monday, Vice Admiral Yudo Morgono, chief of the Joint Regional Defense Command I, told reporters that Indonesian naval forces had repelled dozens of Chinese fishing vessels escorted by China’s coast guard ships over the weekend.
The Indonesian military had earlier said that the Chinese ships had left Indonesia’s EEZ waters after President Joko Widodo visited the Natunas last week.
Yudo warned that stronger action would be taken if the Chinese ships made similar incursions again.
“In line with President Joko Widodo’s order, the boats will be captured and [their crews] will face legal proceedings,” Yudo said.
Tia Asmara in Jakarta and Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.