By Gov. Bob Holden
Each new presidential administration has the opportunity to define its strategic and security interests and priorities. Though focus is high on challenges the U.S. faces in the Middle East, Europe, Russia, and Asia, there is one nation we must see as critically important to American security and economic interests: Indonesia.
Indonesia is the world’s third -largest democracy and has a bilateral exchange of goods and services with the United States totaling $30 million. Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia, and its steady growth continues at about 5 or 6 percent per year. The U.S. has invested billions of dollars directly in Indonesia, and sells hundreds of millions of dollars worth of machinery, animal feed, dairy, eggs and other important Midwestern exports to the country on an annual basis.
Such an essential trading partner to the United States should be foremost in the minds of those shaping U.S. foreign policy. Indonesia’s bilateral trade agreement with the United States has been in place for more than 20 years, and in 2010, the two countries adopted the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership, which further enhanced our cooperation. However, forces in the South China Sea region and across the globe are conspiring to challenge this deep and productive economic alliance, and the U.S. must be vigilant in protecting our ally.
As China continues to build islands in the South China Sea, this waterway remains a significant concern for its strategic position. China recently finished constructing buildings on this island that, by all appearances, are for military purposes. As one of the United States’ strongest allies in the region, we will need to rely on Indonesia to help us resolve any maritime issues in this region.
Another area in which Indonesia is an essential partner to the U.S. is in the fight against terrorism. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Despite a long and respected history of religious tolerance and peace, Indonesia now has become a center for ISIS recruitment. Moreover, continuing a global trend, Jakarta’s gubernatorial runoff election is now rife with accusations on both sides of religious intolerance and smear tactics related to religious practice.
Once heralded as a model of a moderate and tolerant Muslim nation, Indonesia now runs the risk of becoming a less tolerant state, which could begin to foment anti-Western ideology if left unchecked. The United States cannot take for granted its alliance with Indonesia, and must continue to commit resources and attention to strengthening our relationship with this Asian economic and social leader.
These factors will significantly influence Indonesia’s domestic policies and the nation’s trajectory of global allies, unless the United States remains committed to prioritizing this economic partner and bolstering the American influence against potential oppressive forces. The Untied States must take seriously our relationship with Indonesia to further our own aims of countering terrorism, addressing Chinese expansion, and strengthening our own economy.
Bob Holden is the former governor of the State of Missouri and is the chairman of the Midwest US-China Association