China’s Military Modernisation Policy: What Does It Mean For Indonesia?


In early 2021, China’s position in the South China Sea is getting bigger. This has been proven for several reasons, China still has extremely relations with Indonesia and the Philippines. This fact cannot be separated from the policy of the Beijing government which continues to add members of its military in the area. In fact, according to several reports in 2020 and 2021, China’s military in the South China Sea is more than that of the United States, which is responsible for ‘maintaining’ free navigation.

According to a March 2021 National People’s Congress report, Beijing will increase its military budget to 1.35 trillion RMB or about US $ 210 million. This figure has indeed increased which in the previous year, 2019, the Minister of Finance of the People’s Republic of China said that China’s military budget was only at US $ 177 million.

The increase in the amount of the military budget is in line with Beijing’s plans in the Belt and Road Initiative program. The Beijing government expressed the argument that the increase in the budget was indeed part of economic and military development, which had begun since the reforms in the Deng Xiaoping era.

Dhruva Jaishankar, Fellow of Lowy Institute argued,“what is without doubt today is that China today has the second-most potent military today after the United States, and this represents the degree to which Beijing has become a peer competitor to Washington as a global power.  Its ability to play an offensive role in future conflicts has increased.”

The increase of China’s military budget will impact to Indonesia.

Aggressive but Closed.

Apart from China having a large budget in the global orders, the relationship between Indonesia and China has indeed increased and this is dangerous. The economic sector, the last 2020 report, which was released based on a report from Chinese Customs, estimated the total value of Indonesia’s trade with this country in 2020 was at US $ 78.5 billion. The value of Indonesia’s exports to China reached US $ 37.4 billion, an increase of 10.10 percent from 2019.

In the middle term of the Covid-19 pandemic. Chinese investment in Indonesia also increased 9 percent in semester I/2020, namely to US $ 2.4 billion from US $ 2.2 billion in semester I / 2019.

At the late of 2020, Researcher of the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) M. Zulfikar Rakhmat also argued that “Evaluation of Indonesia’s Foreign Policy and Changes in the Global Economy of Indonesia is currently very dependent on China”

This investment is indeed the biggest reason for Beijing to approach Jakarta through BRI and the Global Maritime Fulcrum or GMF. As a result, Beijing can indeed be more flexible in expanding the discourse or expansion of its power in Indonesia, especially through military channels.

In 2020, the famous United States military, the Pentagon, issued an annual report entitled “Military and Security Development Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020” which stated that China even planned to open a military base in Indonesia.

Furthermore, the Pentagon emphasized that China views Indonesia’s territory as the gateway to the BRI project. This was none other than through the South China Sea and controlling the Strait of Malacca, which was once traversed by China’s predecessors as a silk or trade route.

This fact is in line with what happened in Djibouti in 2017. Some analysts even state that this discourse has also existed in Pakistan and the Nordic to Antarctica.

The faking news was rejected by the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, who responded officially by saying that,”I want to emphasize that, in accordance with the lines and principles of Indonesian foreign policy, Indonesian territory cannot and will not be used as a military facility base. for any country […] I repeat, Indonesian territory cannot and will not be used as a military facility base for any country. “

However, China is unlikely to stop.

The entry of coast guard China’s in twice (2019-2020) is a strong warning for the Indonesian government to be firm. It also saw China’s confrontation with the Philippines getting hotter. The increase in China’s military in the domestic aspect is indeed a warning to the central government in Indonesia and can have implications for several things.

Implications – what to do?

Although Indonesia already has an alliance with the United States and Japan in a joint military training program in the South China Sea through the confirmation of the Indonesian Minister of Defense, Prabowo Subianto, Indonesia will not feel free from Chinese pressure if it is not handled seriously and continues.

First, the main implication is that Indonesia may lack its sovereign rights in Natuna. China’s military modernization will make it in a stronger position to claim Natuna as part of the nine dash line even though Indonesia will reject the nine dash line. In other words, China’s military will be strong and free to operate in Natuna. So, Indonesia only has status over islands and China can have sovereignty over water.

Second, China has the potential to freely operate its military up to the Strait of Malacca. The increase in the military budget, which is part of the BRI, could turn the Malacca Strait into a trade route that would pass through the Indian Ocean and then to Africa. Not only that, if China can periodically open maritime routes through Natuna and Malacca, Indonesia can become a pivot for China in Southeast Asia, just as its ambition has made the program the pivot of the vaccine program.

For this reason, Jakarta must give a firm response so that it cannot be controlled indirectly by Beijing.

The Indonesian government must uphold the principles of ZOPFAN and free-active politics as always emphasized by Retno Marsudi who argued that, “Indonesia proposes to ASEAN foreign ministers that ASEAN can issue a joint statement so that its commitment to the principles included in ZOPFAN is emphasized. Back. ASEAN’s commitment to ZOPFAN must be strengthened again and so that the commitment of the parties to the Treaty of Amity Cooperation or TAC is also important to be reaffirmed. “

Early in 2020, the Fishermen’s Association gathered and demonstrated at the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta to call on the Indonesian government to repel the Chinese vessel from Natuna. This was done solely so that fishermen could enjoy their own seafood without foreign interference.

Finally, the Jakarta government must negotiate firmly or if necessary call the Indonesian Ambassador to China as a form of strong protest. In the end, the Chinese military modernization will increasingly be controlled by the Indonesian government by itself.

Habib Pashya
Habib Pashya
Research Assistant, Universitas Islam Indonesia