China’s Red Capitalism and Indonesia’s Pancasila Oligarchy

In August 1945, Mao Tse Tung (Mao Zedong) and Zhou Enlai flew from Yan’an to China’s wartime capital, Chongqing, to discuss the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the KMT Party (Kuomintang) after the Sino-Japan War finished. Accompanied by the US ambassador, Patrick J. Hurley, Mao joined Chiang Kai Shek for dinner on August 27 (10 days after the proclamation of Independence of Indonesia), which was the first meeting between the two Chinese political leaders.

After seven weeks of negotiations, the two sides succeeded in agreeing on a common goal of establishing political democracy in China and placing all of China’s armed forces under Chiang Kai Shek’s command. However, throughout the negotiations, armed contact between the two sides did not stop, in fact it escalated as the CCP troops continued to be attacked on both sides,  north and south of the Yangtze river.

Mao finally returned to Yan’an on October 11, 1945, followed by a joint statement issued by the CCP and KMT after that, which is now known as the “Double Tenth Agreement.” In the agreement, the CCP and KMT recognized each other. The two sides planned to form a coalition government. Although the purpose of the collective agreement is actually only to avoid the continuation of the civil war. Unfortunately, the nationalist government under Chiang Kai Shek refused to recognize areas that had been controlled by the CCP.

Over time, Chiang began to be unsure of the merits of the joint statement. According to him, a military solution is the best option. Vice versa. Mao described the joint statement as “a mere scrap of paper.” Mao later told Stalin that civil war was “nearly inevitable.” And by the end of October 1945, it was becoming increasingly clear that the treaty would be short-lived, and that a full-scale civil war would soon resume in 1946.

The failure of the agreement between the CCP and the KMT in late October and early November 1945 made US aware that the communist empire represented by the Stalin regime was no longer an ally like when it defeated Hitler in Europe. Stalin began to spread influence to new countries that US also wanted to control. Throughout the negotiations, it was clear that Stalin was behind Mao, and vice versa, US was behind Chiang, so the deadlock in negotiations would lead to civil war.

US’s belief that the communists would act in the same way in other new countries that in fact wanted to be free from the colonial powers shrunk Uncle Sam’s enthusiasm in supporting the full independence process in new countries, including Indonesia. By November 1945, when it became clear that the communists were on the opposite side of the interests of the allies, US reduced its pressure on the Dutch in Indonesia. US was even very impressed to support the Dutch plan to carry out military aggression to reclaim Indonesia, after Japan declared unconditional surrender and after Soekarno-Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s independence. US did not budge when Britain carried out a brutal attack in Surabaya on November 10, 1945

US has indeed been ambiguous since Roosevelt came to power in 1933. Roosevelt’s antipathy towards British imperial power combined with the anti-war policies inherited by the Widroow Wilson’s administration prompted him to protractedly plunge himself into the war against Hitler in Europe, despite repeated requests from Churchil. Until finally the Pearl Harbor incident gave a clear sign that US had to step down directly to help Britain and France, plus expel Japan from China. Then after Truman replaced Roosevelt, the spirit of kinetic war was replaced with the spirit of cold war. The anti-communist spirit was increasingly evident (the Truman doctrine) on the part of the allies which weakened US’s enthusiasm to liberate the British and Dutch colonies in Asia.

The US ambiguity made the position of British troops (accompanied by troops from India) more flexible to carry out a brutal attack on the military and people of Surabaya on November 10, 1945, shortly after Mao and Chiang’s negotiations failed in Chongking, when the British wanted to disarm the Japanese and free the troops allies in Surabaya. This brutal and unfair attack, which was greeted with courageous struggle by the Indonesian people in Surabaya, is now commemorated as National Hero’s Day by Indonesia. US showed the same position when the Dutch decided  to launch the First and Second Dutch Military Aggressions two years later.

But four years after that, due to the increasingly volatile Indonesian people’s nationalism (anticolonialism), international pressure, and Indonesia’s decision to quell the communist rebellion in Madiun, combined with the increasing threat of Stalin in Europe and Mao’s victory over Chiang Kai Shek in China (Chiang retreat to Taiwan), forcing US to pressure the Netherlands to immediately recognize Indonesia’s independence. On the one hand, US assured Amsterdam that Indonesia would not fall into communist hands. On the other hand, US and its allies did need additional troops to compensate for the additional Soviet troops in East Germany.

Then two months after Mao declared the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Netherlands and Indonesia also reached an agreement at the Round Table Conference on several terms and conditions. The Netherlands recognizes Indonesia’s independence. Meanwhile, the affairs of West Papua will be discussed later. The struggle for independence, the surge of nationalism, and the long geopolitical dialectic did not automatically turn independence into a paradise for the motherland and the people of Indonesia. The dialectic of economics, politics and democracy after the proclamation gave birth to democratic instability and political vulnerability that almost affected all fields. Until finally at the end of the 1950s Soekarno had to declare a presidential decree to end the era of competitive democracy and start the era of guided democracy. This decision finally brought Indonesia into a new chapter a few years later, namely the New Order, after the dark events of 1965 preceded it.

Over the next 32 years, Indonesia moved from guided democracy to the New Order version of democracy, which tended to be very dictatorial. The diffusion parties became two and one Working Group (Golkar). The Berkeley mafia entered the economic arena, controlling Bappenas (National Planning Agency), the Ministry of Finance, and several other ministries. The economy was finally booming because of the support of a fairly measurable economic planning and because it benefited from the Oil Booming era in the 1970s. Suharto “half-heartedly” tried to follow the “Developmental State” style (to borrow Prof. Chalmers Johnson’s term) applied in Japan.

As a result, the development that was rife with corruption, collusion, and nepotism where the oligarchs (Jeffrey Winter called them sultanic oligarchs) was successfully tamed under the command of the five-star general, Suharto. But compared to Mao (1949-1976), Suharto was considered successful in transforming Indonesia’s economy significantly. When Suharto succeeded in taking power from Sukarno, China was facing a famine due to Mao Tse Tung’s Great Leap Forward policy. It did not stop there, the suffering was getting worse when Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. China only began to turn things around after Mao died and Deng Xiaoping, who succeeded him, launched an open-door policy after 1978.

China had a dark history in 1989, eleven years since Deng came to power, as the transition to economic liberalism stalled politically after Hu Yaobang’s death that coincided with high inflation, peaking at 28 percent. We know it as the Tianamen incident or the “Tianamen Square Massacre,” where the riots ended with the bloodshed of students and demonstrators. Deng unhesitatingly ordered the then mayor of Shanghai, Jiang Zemin, to end the demonstration with tanks belonging to the People’s Liberation Army, April 15, 1989.

This incident became a wake-up call for China to tighten its political belt, prepare a strong political infrastructure before carrying out economic liberalization, so that the Party does not collapse. And two years later, China realized it was right. Because on the other hand, the Soviet Communist Party collapsed in 1991 while trying to push for economic and political liberalization at the same time. China is increasingly convinced that there will be political repercussions if the economy opens immediately. Therefore, China took a middle path, gradual economic liberalization, which was restarted after Deng Xiaoping’s tour of southern China (known as Deng’s southern tour) which finalized the status of Special Economic Zones in Shenzhen, Jhuhai, Goungzhou, and others.

But long before China experienced a political shock over its economic liberalization, Indonesia was first visited by a political shock over its investment liberalization policy, namely the events on January 15, 1974 (Malari), which resulted in riots. Just like the Chinese Communist Party, the New Order tightened political belts, thrashing demonstrators to death. The Chinese Communist Party survived, the New Order did too. Suharto could not be shaken at that time. What happened even seven months later, on August 9, 1974, was the American president who resigned from his post, Richard Nixon, because he was stung by the Watergate case.

However, in 1997-1998, the hegemony of the New Order and “Pak Harto” was no longer able to withstand the turmoil of rejection. The New Order ended and was replaced by an era of reform that continues to this day. From Habibie to Gus Dur. After Gus Dur was subdued, Megawati ascended the throne. Then, the era of competitive electoral democracy began after the election of SBY (Susilo Bambang Yudoyono) as the first president via direct election. But, the replacement of the New Order with the Reformation Order did not necessarily change the character of Indonesia’s political economy. The oligarchs who switched from Suharto’s monolithic power to the era of political free markets have slowly changed the face of the reformed political economy to become very “oligarchic,” as Indonesians feel today.

Indonesia Economic growth that is fairly good is not too evenly distributed. According to Thomas Pikety’s formulation, Indonesia’s “return on investment” is much higher than economic growth (r > g). The annual increase in the JCI (IHSG) is far above the economic growth rate so that the wealth of the owners of capital doubles. As a result, less attention is paid to equality and welfare. Meanwhile, China, which had not yet opened its financial market at that time, was barely affected by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Since 1992 (Deng’s southern tour), China has accelerated with impressive economic growth figures. Indonesia has been shifting from a “Pancasila economy” to a “Pancasila oligarchy” which is not only in the economic sector, but has also penetrated into important seats in Jokowi’s cabinet. While China can still enjoy the delicious Red Capitalism-style economic cake, even though it has been begining to be overshadowed by stagnation

But, China deserves to be proud of being able to lift hundreds of millions of its people above the poverty line. China began to focus on economic liberalization with high growth ambitions several years behind Indonesia. China also moved its capital city. Once in Chongqing, Najing, then to Beiping (Beijing). But that’s not what made China successful as we see it today. None of the studies on China’s economic transformation have cited the relocation of the capital as the trigger. I have never come across such a study. Therefore, to catch up with China, I believe moving the Indonesia capital is not one of the strategies.

Ronny P. Sasmita
Ronny P. Sasmita
Political Economic Observer and Senior Fellow at Economic Action Indonesia Institution/EconAct