China-Indonesia’s Growing Party-To-Party Cooperation – OpEd

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This month, the bilateral relations between China and Indonesia celebrated its seventieth anniversary. As widely reported, in recent years the relationship has become increasingly close in various sectors including economic, political, defence, health and cultural fields.  

What is not commonly known, is that the ties between China and Indonesia have not only been taking place at G-to-G and B-to-B levels, rather, cooperation has also been forged between several Indonesian political parties and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least three main facts that can be stated in regard to China’s party-to-party relations with Indonesia.

The actors: From secular to Islamic parties

It is reported that there are at least five Indonesian political parties that have established ties with the CCP. These include the country’s major parties, such as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra), Democrats, Golongan Karya (Golkar) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

The involvement of parties like the PKS and Gerindra is quite interesting, given that these parties are often critical of China’s growing influence in Indonesia.

Another Islamic-based party that is reportedly pursuing ties with the CCP is the PPP (United Development Party), although it has rejected such claims. In early November, the Secretary General of the PPP, Arwani Thomafi, denied the claim of the Deputy Director of the International Department of the CCP that PPP is one of the Indonesian parties that has strong ties with the CCP. 

“What happened was that the Chinese Ambassador in Jakarta met with the Minister of National Development Planning, Suharso Mohoarfa (who is a member of PPP) at his official residence a few months ago to introduce himself and then discuss the development of Chinese investments in Indonesia,” he said in a written statement, Saturday (14/8/2021). Thomafi, however, also admitted that during the meeting, members of the CCP conveyed their interest in pursuing ties with the PPP. 

The ties between Indonesian political parties and the CCP have been in place for some time. For example, as early as 2008, a meeting was held by several members of Golkar and CCP officials to discuss possible ways to cooperate. Follow-up meetings between high-ranking officials of the two parties have since been held in Beijing and Jakarta.

Responding to critics, a cadre representative from the Golkar party said the cooperation with the CCP would not change the party’s ideology. A Golkar politician, Ace Hasan Syadzily, further emphasised that many parties in Indonesia, not only Golkar, have established a relationship with the CCP.

The scope

The scope of this party-to-party cooperation ranges from meetings, exchanges on partymanagement and regeneration.

For instance, the meeting between Golkar and the CCP that took place in 2008 resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) covering all aspects related to the regeneration and party management. 

With regards to the PDIP, the cooperation has gone beyond the issue of regeneration. A number of meetings have been organised by the PDIP and the CCP to discuss cooperation to increase human and financial resources. In 2013, for instance, the PDIP sent fifteen of its cadres to visit Shanghai, Guiyang and Beijing. This visit with the CCP, which included conducting observations in children’s health care centres and learning about the development of agricultural sectors in China’s rural areas was called: a Studi Banding (Comparative Study). 

Moreover, in their visits to Guiyang, delegates from the PDIP learned about how local governments fostered the development of Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the health industry. They also attended a number of workshops entitled: “Grassroots Cadres Competitive Selection and Training”, “Experiences on Building Close Party-Masses Relationship” and “Sharing Experiences on Strengthening and Innovating Social Administration”.

The PDIP’s relationship with the CCP was further enhanced by Megawati’s visit to Shenzhen in 2015 to inaugurate the Indonesia-China Cooperation Centre building which was named “Sukarno (the first Indonesian president and Megawati’s father) House ”. This 24 storey building was built to facilitate people to people and business to business interaction between Jakarta and Beijing.

Although details are not available, the PKS together with the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) were invited by the Chinese authorities, in particular to the Hui Muslim Ethnic Autonomous Region in Ningxia, to conduct comparative studies, in an attempt to maintain positive image of China’s Xinjiang policy.

The objectives

As Julia Bader and Christine Hackenesch mention in their book, from the CCP’s perspective, strengthening party-to-party relations with Indonesia could be part of its soft-power to increase the legitimacy of its increasing economic interests in the country.

In the past, supporters of certain parties have been critical and demonstrated a negative attitude towards China. China sees party-to-party cooperation as a way not only to improve its standing, but also as a gateway to expand its foothold.

The harmonious relationship between the CCP and the parties in Indonesia will also create opportunities for the future of Chinese investment in the country. China must finalise a strategy related to its investment projects in accordance with the party coalition regime that will occupy the highest position in Indonesia as the 2024 presidential election approaches. 

From the Indonesian parties’ perspective, this is not only intended to maintain good relations, but the collaboration will also lead to projects in various fields. This also opens up opportunities for these parties to become grant distributors, enabling them to gain political support from boarding schools (Pesantren) and educational institutions.

With the 2024 election looming, collaborating with China may help them to generate funding for their political activities, as well as guaranteeing Chinese investments in Indonesia in the future.

*Dr. Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat, BA (Qatar), MA & PhD (Manchester), Lecturer at Universitas Islam Indonesia and Research Associate at Institute for Development of Economics and Finance. Yeta Purnama is a student majoring International Relations at Universitas Islam Indonesia.

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