Seminar on “Threats or Opportunities: Indonesian Elites’ Perception of a Rising China”

In this seminar, Mr Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia Lalisang addresses the Indonesian elite’s perception of rising China and the impact of these perceptions on Indonesia’s policy towards China.

Indonesia Studies Programme

Friday, 21 February 2020 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited a scholar from the University of Indonesia, Mr Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia Lalisang Ph.D. (Cand.), to discuss the findings of his recent doctoral research on Indonesia-China relations. Although most scholarly works on Indonesia-China relations emphasize the important role of perceptions, Mr Lalisang argued that these works did not investigate the Indonesian perceptions of China in a detailed and systematic manner.

Mr Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia Lalisang (right) presented a systematic investigation into how Indonesian diplomats and prominent foreign policy scholars perceive China. Prof Leo Suryadinata moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Using the political psychology approach, Mr Lalisang conducted an elite-group interview with both internal and external foreign policy stakeholders, including 51 diplomats and 30 academics linked to international relations. Amidst the prevailing perceptions of a rising China as a threat as opposed to an opportunity, Mr Lalisang found a substantially and structurally contradicting phenomenon among the Indonesian elites. In his research, he found that the elites perceived economic exploitation by China as a greater danger, compared to its military threat.

Mr Lalisang’s research showed that the Indonesian elites are perceptually sophisticated in viewing China. He also found that the elites were making situational attribution and did not have a particular and skeptical view of China’s foreign policy motives. As a consequence, this perceptual sophistication is arguably less influential in shaping Indonesia’s overall policy responses toward China. It would only provide policymakers with an indefinite indication of the strategic response to be formulated towards China. Nevertheless, he found that there was no uniform perception of China, but these elites were inclined to perceive China as presenting a medium level of threats rather than opportunities. Mr Lalisang admitted that perception is only one of the important factors in foreign policymaking, there are other factors which needed to be taken into account. He mentioned the importance of domestic politics.

There were intensive interactions during the discussion. Questions on whose perceptions should be studied and how Indonesian foreign policy toward China was made were discussed. The perceptions of certain individuals such as the President, business elites, and the military were also addressed. The applicability of Mr Lalisang’s research model to other Southeast Asian countries was also raised.

The seminar was well-attended. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)