Indonesia, a Hub of Asia and Islam

Initial thoughts on the new administration’s policy towards Indonesia, Asia, and Islam.

Fault lines are becoming visible the world over, places – geographic, political and cultural places – through which tides of global power have to flow and fulcrums on which balances will tilt. While the US has focused so much of its attention on the Middle East, certainly a consequential fault line, the country of Indonesia now sits at the crux of at least two axes, one linking the Islamic world to the United States as the country exists in the cultures of both, and one linking a hungry China to a key position in its bid for ever increasing global influence. On both axes, Indonesia could indeed be the tipping point at which the international balances of power will be defined for the next era.

The redundancy of the statement by today’s pundits does not make it pablum – the new Obama administration is presented with unprecedented opportunities as well as risks.

Indonesia is critical not because it is a source for America’s natural resources or because of high tech manufacturing – it is precisely the yet undefined yet massive potential of its huge demographic that makes it absolutely crucial for the US to refocus its priorities and retune its strategy. It is a vibrancy and somewhat unstable country partly because it resides in so many worlds, yet is owned by none of them. It the largest Islamic country in the world, yet its people relish free speech and contraversy, modern music and modern democracy. It is part of the Asian world, yet many parts of its national personality reside solidly in the world of the West, notably its form of democratic pluralism and its international engagement.

Indonesia is, for the United States, a portal to both the Islamic world and the rest of Asia. Seeing one another as competitors in a game where the balance could tip in any direction, they all know that the fourth largest population in the most islanded nation on earth can give them a crucial edge over the rest. Perhaps most critical in light of the “war on terror” is the very real danger of radical Islam’s influence in Indonesia. Awash in poverty and inequality, the country is ripe for an a strong force to take control of the national narrative, in many ways precluding a mutually beneficial relationship with America.

Helping Indoenesia develop and improve upon the strength of its democratic institutions, as well as lessen the impact of economic and social inequalities, may be the most effective strategy for building a relationship and capitalizing on the countries position as a global turning point.

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