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Home / World / China becomes an election issue in Asia. And that is bad news for Beijing

China becomes an election issue in Asia. And that is bad news for Beijing

But now, as Jokowi seeks re-election, he seems to distance himself from Beijing and downplay the importance of China-funded projects in Indonesia.

It is a pattern that is developing across Southeast Asia and beyond Be worried about Beijing as Chinese investment and relations become an uncomfortable, if not downright toxic, election question.

Growing skepticism about Xi's Signature Belt and Road initiative (BRI) is threatening to exacerbate the tensions that many countries in the region are facing with Beijing over territorial disputes, as both China and the US have come under pressure long-lasting trade war continues to fight for power.

"It is not true that people believe that President Jokowi has a special fondness for China-funded projects," said his spokesman Ace Hasan Syadzily last week.

If Widodo's camp sounds defensive, that is because his alleged ties to Beijing have become an important line of attack for rival Prabowo Subianto. After Jokowi had stressed Prabbow's criticism that he was not Muslim enough when he selected an Islamist cleric as his counterpart, the retired general, after Chinese investments in Indonesia once praised by the president, has gone down hard.

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. In January Prabowo vowed US President Donald Trump Get a "better deal" from Beijing and ask Jakarta to review its trade policy with China.

Anwita Basu, an Economist Intelligence Unit analyst, said "anti-China rhetoric was on the rise throughout the campaign."

"The Chinese community in Indonesia – which was mostly entrepreneurs and traders – has long faced resentment and discrimination because it controlled large amounts of wealth," she told CNN via email. "These issues are touted and popularized during the election periods, and this year (Prabowo) has used them as a means of questioning Jokowi's loyalty to his own nation."

According to the World Bank, China is by far Indonesia's largest trading partner. In the first two months of this year, trade between the two countries was more than $ 10.4 billion.
Under Jokowi, Indonesia joined both China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Xi's BRI. The initiative has been increasingly criticized in recent months. It claims that poorer countries are burdened with unsustainable debts and projects that benefit Beijing more than its host countries.
Beijing has funded major infrastructure projects in Indonesia, notably a high-speed rail link connecting Jakarta with the city of Bandung, the capital of West Java.
This project is expected to be completed next year. However, it is criticized for alleged budget overruns, poor planning and construction delays. Even supporters of major Chinese investments in Indonesia have resisted – Tom Lembong, the country's chief investment officer, told Bloomberg that "everything that's wrong with Belt and Road is being portrayed".

"It's opaque and not transparent – even US Cabinet members have trouble getting data and information," Lembong said.

Running on Anti-China

During the Indonesian elections, Jokowi still seems to be losing, and a Prabowo presidency seems to be a long way off. Recent history shows that Beijing can not afford to be complacent.

Chinese investment and alleged influence played a role in the Malaysian elections last year. And while this was not the driving force behind Mahathir Mohamad's disastrous May victory, the 93-year-old has been making his promise to be Beijing harder since taking office.
These concerns were not limited to the Malaysian elections. Last year's poll in the Maldives polls reiterated and later loser Abdulla Yameen for his close ties with Beijing.

In January 2018, former President Mohamed Nasheed accused Yameen of allowing China to "land grab" in the country. After taking power, its Maldivian Democratic Party pledged to "end China's colonialism" and renegotiate its loans with Beijing.

Other countries, such as Myanmar, have reduced BRI projects due to debt and sustainability.
In addition to the Asian region, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta was confronted with the assertion he dismissed as "pure propaganda" that a major port in Mombasa would be in danger of being seized by Beijing for unpaid debts. The storm of publicity was sparked off by an actual move by China to take over Hambantota's port in Sri Lanka after the country was unable to repay the billions of dollars it owed Beijing.

China has vigorously resisted such criticism, claiming it is being subjected to double standards.

"It is unreasonable that the money coming from Western countries is praised as good and sweet, while scary from China is a trap," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in September.

Loss of Luster

As China prepares for an important belt and road summit this month, there are signs that Beijing is looking to revise the initiative to address some of its most pressing issues and concerns to defuse the criticism of foreign partners.

While outweighing China's repercussions in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia from others like the Philippines, which approached Beijing, EIU analyst Basu said: "Many countries are becoming cautious given the lack of transparency in terms of funding offered stay "for BRI offers.

The backlash against BRI, which seems to have hit the Chinese leaders seemingly unprepared, has shown that Beijing has little to offer its neighbors alongside investment – many of which are either neutral or opposed to important foreign policy issues.

"China's increasingly assertive policies in the South China Sea since 2009 have raised concerns about whether the country's rise will continue to be peaceful, particularly with regard to the role that Beijing plays in undermining Asean unity," he said Dewi Fortuna Anwar's political analyst in Jakarta wrote last month.
Both Indonesia and Malaysia have territorial disputes with China, and in December Jokowi oversaw the opening of a military base in the Natuna Islands at the southern tip of the South China Sea. Malaysia has also expressed its concern over Beijing's far-reaching demands in the disputed waters.
Governments in the two Muslim states are also under increasing pressure to hold their own against the treatment of the Uyghur minority against China. Hundreds of thousands of them are said to have been sent to "reeducation camps" Islam.

In an attempt to balance the increasingly hostile US and ward off the negative effects of a temporarily suspended trade war with Washington, China notes that its traditional methods of acquiring friends in Asia are losing its luster. And the closer it gets to superpower status, the more influence and power can be put into it.

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