Webinar on “Charting Their Own Course: How Indonesian See The World”

In this webinar, Mr Ben Bland and Ms Natasha Kassam shared the key findings of Lowy Institute’s public opinion polls conducted in Indonesia. They revealed how the country’s citizens perceive their neighbouring countries, US-China competition, major global threats, and Indonesia’s position in the increasingly contested world.  


Monday, 25 March 2022 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised the second hybrid seminar of the year. Lowy Institute’s Mr Ben Bland (Director of Southeast Asia Program) and Ms Natasha Kassam (Director of Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Program) visited the ISEAS campus. They shared the key insights of their recent public opinion poll conducted in Indonesia entitled “Charting Their Own Course: How Indonesians See the World.” With Dr Siwage Dharma Negara as moderator, this session is jointly organised by Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS and Lowy Institute.

Ms Kassam began the session by elaborating on the reasoning behind Lowy Institute’s Indonesia Poll 2021, which were to shape more options for governments and provide a baseline for understanding people’s perceptions, especially in comparing public and elite attitudes towards the country’s foreign policy. Indonesia was chosen due to the high global expectation of the country and the attempt to inject more data driven conversations on Indonesians’ views in regards to particular international issues. To answer how Indonesians see the world, Lowy Institute conducted a nationwide, face-to-face survey with 3,000 Indonesians aged 17 and above in December 2021. This poll aims to understand how the Indonesian public sees their region, the wider world, and the main challenges to their security, trade, and global issues. The survey was conducted across 33 provinces of Indonesia.

Ms Natasha Kasim (left) and Mr Ben Bland (right) elaborated on key findings of Lowy Institute’s Indonesia Poll 2021 – Charting Their Own Course. Dr Siwage Dharma Negara (centre) moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Sharing the first key finding of the poll, Ms Kassam revealed that 94% of Indonesian respondents felt safe within their own country and believed that the country is going in the right direction despite the state of the world and pandemic. Moreover, this year’s survey showed an increasing optimism in Indonesia’s economic prospects compared to the 2011 survey. Respondents also indicated remarkably high confidence in Indonesian institutions to defend their interests. Ms Kassam noted that a heavy reliance on the Indonesian military as a trusted source of information would be unique to Indonesia under a democratic system.

Mr Blend continued sharing the results of the public opinion poll. In a baseline question on people’s attitudes toward democracy, he shared that Indonesians view democracy as the best way for government ruling, and this attitude had not changed much over the past ten years. However, as the results showed, Indonesians did not use democracy as a yardstick to look at other nations or other global democratic leaders, probably due to their views on shaping their own democratic identity.

Moving onto the issue of trust in major powers, Mr Bland explained that Indonesia experienced a significant drop in confidence towards international global powers, yet enormous trust towards their ruling president, Joko Widodo and UAE’s Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud (MBS). Mr Bland emphasised that democratic credential is not the main element in judging confidence in other world leaders. Indonesians were more concerned about domestic issues like separatism and the COVID-19 pandemic than the US-China tension. Nevertheless, Mr Bland explained that Indonesia is increasingly worried about threats from China and, to some extent, still sees the US as a threat. Meanwhile, he observed that Indonesian still looked up to Malaysia and Singapore as potential and trusted neighbours.

In the event of a US-China conflict, Mr Bland showed that 84% of Indonesian respondents suggested remaining neutral as Indonesia is committed to the Non-Alignment Movement. Despite having little knowledge of free and active foreign policy (politik bebas aktif), most Indonesians agreed with its idea. Moreover, 6 in 10 Indonesians thought the country should work with others to curb Chinese influence. On the economic front, Saudi Arabia was the most favoured resource of foreign investment source, while China had become the least preferred choice. Interestingly, the public’s view is tilted toward multi interests in the region and this is not precisely in line with the US, Australia, and China’s point of views.

Mr Bland explained how Indonesians feel about multilateralism, particularly towards AUKUS and Quad. The results showed that most respondents had not heard or had limited knowledge about it and preferred to stay out of these conflicts. In the survey, the United Nations became the most important international organisation, and ASEAN went on the second. This result was different from 2011, whereby ASEAN was placed as the most crucial organisation among Indonesians, probably due to the public perceptions generated by Indonesia’s chairmanship in ASEAN in that year. On diplomatic style, Mr Bland noted that Indonesians preferred to have a firm but polite approach, even if this method could causes frictions with other countries. Finally, most people believe that Indonesians belong to Southeast Asia and the democratic world. Democratic attitude is essential toward Indonesian even though it may not be the primary attitude used toward all the other issues.

The webinar drew an in-person audience of 10 participants, and 93 participants joined virtually. The panel discussed various topics, including the survey’s methodology, China-Indonesia relations and people’s attitudes toward China, gaps between Indonesian elites and the general public on global issues such as terrorism and Ukraine conflict, and particular questions on Indonesian Muslims’ vision towards other countries. The hybrid seminar was concluded at 4.00 PM Singapore time.