China’s 2050 Vision and the (Possible) Implications for Indonesia’s National Security

China’s 19th Communist Party Congress concluded Xi Jinping as China’s ruler for the next term. The 2,300 congress participants also witnessed the ambition of Xi to place China as world’s leader when he delivered a 3.5-hour-long speech. What attracts global attention was Xi’s vision of the “New Era of China,” with the ultimate dream to turn China into a “developed nation” in the 100th anniversary of the country (2049). To reach that goal, China will first try to wipe poverty by 2021 and realize “socialist modernization” by 2035 before becoming leading global power for the period of 2035—2050. This vision was adopted into China’s constitution, which marks Xi Jinping equals two China’s great leaders, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Xi’s speech is certainly serious matter to concern considering how powerful China would be.

What does it mean for Indonesia’s national security, then? This article argues that at least two points should be anticipated by Indonesia, namely the promotion of the ideology and China’s military build-up.

First, Xi Jinping said that China’s political system is the best and can be promoted for developing countries. Political system that President Xi called as “socialism with Chinese characteristics” could be a “threat” for developing countries’ current political system, including Indonesia. Xi said that Chinese political system is an option for those who seek economic growth without a risk of losing their independence. Although the statement made does not explicitly mean that the Xi administration will ask other countries to follow China’s political model, a bigger China would certainly do more in pushing its own ideology to other nations since ideology bond would strengthen China’s influence and protect its national interest. The Cold War showed that the US- Russia competition demonstrated the clash of ideology between democracy and communist and divided the world into two blocs. In China’s case, ideology promotion has been done through economic cooperation. China’s success story could attract other nations to adopt the political system offered. A report published by the Diplomat reveals that 71 countries support China in the South China Sea issue, in which 39 among them are African nations, places where most Chinese investments go. Furthermore, China’s supporters are also MENA countries that share economic interest with China. Coincidently, most of them are ranked low in the Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Indonesia should be seriously cautious with “socialism with Chinese characteristics” as it is one of countries that benefits Chinese investment. Indonesia as a democratic nation should be wary of Chinese ideology behind its promoted political system, considering that an authoritarian model is a threat for democracy. Furthermore, China’s communist ideology could possibly harm Indonesia’s Pancasila.

The next point is that China’s dream to become world’s great nation would certainly need back up from a great and modern military. China is currently transforming its armed forces into a modern and strong military power. They established PLA Rocket Force (PLA-RF) in 2016, a separate force equal to the army, navy and air force, which is responsible to China ballistic missile inventory. China is also expanding its naval fleet by adding more aircraft carriers. Chinese Navy has been succeeded to conduct take-off-landing operation of J-15 fighter jets onboard its first aircraft carrier Liaoning in January 2017. This marks an important step for China that targets to become a great power by 2050.

This military advancement could mean a risk for Indonesia, for China keeps claiming its sovereignty over the whole of the South China Sea, which some parts of the claim are intersected with the Indonesia’s economic exclusive zone (IEEZ). Some incidents occurred in the IEEZ north of Indonesia’s Natuna between Indonesian Navy and Chinese Coast Guard ships that were trying to protect Chinese fishing vessels illegally operating in the IEEZ. As noted, there are three incidents in the area that involved Indonesian Navy vessels and Chinese Coast Guard boats for period 2010-2013 and three more encounters in 2016 alone. Despite diplomatic solution chosen by both countries, those confrontation might come to pass in the future.

China’s stance on the South China Sea issue is clear. They declared sovereignty over the East and South China Sea within the nine-dash line drawn based on historical argument. Indonesia, on the other side, persists in stating that the archipelagic state is in neutral position by not claiming the South China Sea. However, considering that the overlapping of the nine-dash line with the IEEZ, Indonesia will always assert its sovereign rights over the EEZ. This could cause problem in the future along with the growth China wants to pursue. A great power tends to protect own national interest even though it conflicts with international norms. China has demonstrated this tendency by ignoring the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) when the international tribunal support the Philippine’s submission over South China case in 2016. Instead of obeying the international law, Chinese government argued that China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights in the sea would not be affected” by the judgment.6 This could be a warning for Indonesia to protect the resource- rich Natuna. A stronger Chinese Navy and Coast Guard would be more aggressive to exercise their version of sovereignty.

These two points should be anticipated by the Indonesian government to prevent unwanted consequence in the future by thinking inward and outwardly. For the ideology matter, the government should strengthen Pancasila domestically. On the other side, the Indonesian government via the military (TNI) should look outward by starting to build military outpost in outer islands, and by seriously modernizing military force through the fulfillment of the minimum essential force (MEF) program.

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