While Indonesia under Jokowi can be expected to continue to take unilateral action to reinforce the Indonesian position around the Natuna Islands, Jokowi has not played an active diplomatic role on the broader South China Sea issue. In the longer term, Indonesia is better off investing in diplomatic leadership.

Key findings:

  • Under President Jokowi, Indonesia’s approach to the South China Sea disputes has moved from that of an active diplomatic actor seeking a peaceful resolution to the broader disputes, to one primarily focused on protecting its own interests around the Natuna Islands while not antagonising China.
  • The shift in the Indonesian position has been driven by an increase in Chinese incursions around the Natunas, Jokowi’s lack of interest in a major diplomatic role, as well as Jokowi’s goal of attracting Chinese investment for his signature infrastructure projects.
  • Jokowi’s approach to the South China Sea and interest in better relations with Beijing could sour, however, if China does not deliver on its investment pledges, becomes overly assertive around the Natuna Islands, or takes an interventionist stance on the protection of ethnic Chinese Indonesians from communal violence.
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