Indonesia: Obama’s New Buddy Keeps Bad Company

Indonesia: Obama’s New Buddy Keeps Bad Company

On her recent Asian tour, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Jakarta a key stop. The move signaled a new direction for American foreign policy in the region following that of the Bush administration -- which was accused by critics of having neglected Southeast Asia, and of having alienated Indonesians with its military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While insiders and policy wonks might point out that the U.S. and Indonesia worked well together on counterterrorism issues during the Bush era -- successfully undermining Jemaah Islamiyah, for instance -- the perception lingers that Washington did not regard Indonesia, and Southeast Asia in general, as significant. That opened the way for China to forge intensified trade and diplomatic links in the region -- both with its former enemies, such as Vietnam, as well as with strong U.S. allies, such as the Philippines, with whom China has unresolved territorial disputes.

Now, Obama's apparent spring cleaning will see the United States deploy an ambassador to ASEAN, the regional organization comprising 10 Southeast Asian states. Clinton also deployed Obama's trademark rhetoric on her stopover in Jakarta, saying that the United States will "reach out" to Indonesia as a potential ally and conduit into the wider Muslim world. And Obama himself is thought likely to pay a visit to Indonesia in late 2009, probably after the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Singapore.

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