On Monday, Nov. 14, Presidents Joe Biden of the United State and Xi Jinping of China met in Bali, Indonesia. This provided an opportunity for direct though informal interchange between the heads of the governments of two very powerful nations.
Tensions between Beijing and Washington have been steadily rising over a range of issues, from human rights to economic and military conflicts. The U.S. is planning to deploy six B-52 strategic bombers to Australia in part to represent opposition to China’s expansionist moves, in particular threats over Taiwan. Not surprisingly, Beijing has reacted with strident outrage.
Just before the encounter with Xi, Biden stopped in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to join meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as the East Asia Summit. His agenda included discussions with leaders from Japan and South Korea, two particularly important U.S. allies.
On Nov. 15 and 16, Indonesia hosted a summit of the Group of 20 (G20), a forum of 19 industrialized nations plus the European Union. The G20 provides a structure for policy discussion and coordination on a wide range of matters, including international security.
The G20 began in 1999, spurred by the Asia financial crisis of 1997. Rapid response led by the United States mobilized public and private capital to relieve nearly disastrous financial pressures on Asian economies. U.S. President Bill Clinton led this effective crisis management.
In 2010, G20 meetings took place in Gyeongju and then Seoul, South Korea. The selection of this nation aptly, and appropriately, symbolized the exceptional economic development of their powerhouse economy – and stable political democracy – during the years following the devastating Korean War of 1950 to 1953.
Japan was a participant in the initial, predecessor G7 organization of economically advanced nations. The successor G20 has developed a wider arena to include China, along with Brazil, India and other rapidly industrializing large economies of the world.
The fact that worldwide very poor people are becoming prosperous is good news for everyone. They represent new competitors, but also potential new consumers of our products, and investment partners. Wars are on balance less likely.
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Washington now has an opportunity to highlight Indonesia, and neighboring nations, as success stories of expanding political stability, modernization and the rule of law. In 1998, opponents forced Indonesia’s long-time autocratic president and former general Muhammad Suharto from power. Since then, the nation has had representative government.
Indonesia’s external conflicts today are largely technical and legal, notably the maritime disputes which generally involve the nations of East and Southeast Asia. Dictatorship has ended, but corruption remains a problem.
The situation used to be quite different. During the height of the Cold War, Indonesia was a pivotal leader among developing nations. Flamboyant nationalist President Sukarno played the Soviet Union and United States against one another. CIA efforts to bring Sukarno down failed, greatly weakening U.S. standing.
In consequence, cooperation between Indonesia and the Soviet Union expanded. This development was extremely important in the decision for large-scale U.S. military intervention in Vietnam in 1965. Today, we largely have forgotten this history.
British forces, with Australian and New Zealand allies, defeated Indonesia attacks on Malaysia. Earlier, Britain defeated a Communist insurgency in Malaya, today part of Malaysia. Their strategy remains highly germane.
Today, the Cold War is over, though the potentially explosive conflicts between China and the United States show utopia has not yet arrived.
Learn More: Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s memoirs, “Resolved”.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of "After the Cold War" (NYU Press and Macmillan). Readers can wrote to him at email@example.com.
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