As the largest country in Southeast Asia — its 17,000 islands stretch across 735,358 square miles — Indonesia is at the center of potential conflicts between the United States and the region’s rising power, China — especially tensions related to trade or the South China Sea. As a mostly Muslim country and a secular democracy, the country also walks a tightrope between its Western alliances and solidarity with the Islamic world. The explosive first weeks of the Trump administration have made that balance much more tenuous, and a slip could mean a shift away from the United States.
“The Widodo government is not likely to take a very assertive stance on the ‘Muslim ban’ for the time being,” said Christine Susanna Tjhin, a foreign policy researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. Tjhin added that Widodo is typically nonconfrontational and that “a fight with Trump would not be regarded as productive.”
Among other possibilities, a U.S. escalation of tensions with China or a move to protectionism that would throw off the regional balance of power, Tjhin said.
“With Trump, his unpredictability and capacity to do or say anything is no longer a surprise,” she said. “Indonesia is really taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach.”