China has designated 2010 "The Year of China-Indonesia Friendship" to mark the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations with the world's fourth-largest country. But while both countries are poised to reap major benefits from their improved bilateral ties, Beijing and Jakarta must manage their asymmetric relationship skillfully to mitigate potential tensions in the future.
Relations between China and Indonesia have certainly come a long way since the height of the Cold War. Beijing, then reviled by Jakarta as a fomenter of communist insurrection, is now welcomed as a key investor in Indonesia's economic future. Bilateral trade has mushroomed by an average annual rate of 20 percent since 2001, and China is now Jakarta's largest source of imports and third-largest export destination. The relationship has also matured beyond the economic realm, with more regularized people-to-people exchanges and the inking of a defense cooperation agreement in 2005. Beijing's ambassador to Jakarta, Zhang Qiyue, described Sino-Indonesian relations as having completed "one full cycle in the lifespan of a man," and added that it is now time "to start a new cycle of friendship."
Yet while it is in both nations' interest to continue to increase trade, strengthen cultural ties and even forge closer security ties, the asymmetric nature of the relationship requires that both China and Indonesia be attentive to each others' perceptions and fears. As the scholar Brantly Womack has argued, China's vastly superior size and capabilities make Jakarta more sensitive and vulnerable to the risks of its relationship with Beijing, since it has proportionally more at stake. That may cause Indonesia to hesitate, even in a case where both countries benefit in an absolute sense. "Win-win," to use the Chinese term for mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation, may not be enough.