Inherent Weakness and Increasing Leverage
With Indonesia, the Chinese are doubly vulnerable. Racial and religious prejudice against Indonesians of Chinese descent threatens both government and private business deals. At the same time, Jakarta is determined to project maritime power and to lead the creation of a broader Pacific community—ambitions that openly contradict China’s desire for preeminence in East Asia. Indonesian politicians can use the threat of Islamic militancy to great advantage, seeming to restrain it when Beijing is pliable and quietly encouraging it when China becomes overbearing. President Joko Widodo skillfully challenges China on maritime disputes while enlisting its economic support to fend off hard-line Muslims and nationalists. But in the capital city of Jakarta, the incumbent governor—a Chinese Indonesian—was ousted by an openly racist campaign that many mainstream Muslim leaders failed to denounce.
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