As Indonesia's general election looms, some Western media outlets have made an issue of Chinese investments. Bloomberg said, "Indonesia may be the next Asian country to spurn China in elections," citing concerns over transparency of a China-invested infrastructure project as well as promises made by Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in January to review the project and also to get a fairer trade deal with Beijing.
The project in question is the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway that Indonesia signed up for in 2015 as part of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Despite controversies, the project, part of President Joko Widodo's ambition to upgrade Indonesia's lagging infrastructure, will cut travel time between the two cities in western Java from more than four hours to about 40 minutes, if completed.
Rabble-rousing rhetoric that fuels suspicion about the prospect of the project is irresponsible and is aimed at driving a wedge in China-Indonesia relations. Subianto pledged to review the BRI project. But it's too early to say whether he could be elected or whether he would really dump it if elected.
China's growing economic clout has increasingly become a key election topic in Asia and around the world. The past few years have witnessed a brouhaha over some Chinese investment projects in an election year in some countries, including Pakistan, Malaysia and the Maldives. This is not an abnormal phenomenon but an indication of their close ties with China.
Many Southeast Asian countries were influenced by major powers such as Japan, the US and some European countries, both economically and politically. However, with these countries deepening economic engagement with China, Beijing now is wielding a greater influence on them. They cannot afford shunning China as they have benefited greatly from economic and trade cooperation with China. Their development has been closely tied with that of China.
Influenced by the so-called China threat theory and debt trap hyped by Western countries and media outlets, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries might have misgivings over Chinese influence on them. Some of them have also suffered bouts of anti-Chinese sentiment in their history. Their perception of China has been negatively influenced. This is a challenge China must face up to in order to advance the Belt and Road Initiative and build a community of common destiny.
We should not passively respond to rabble-rousing rhetoric directed at China-invested projects or Chinese influence, but work more proactively to influence public opinion in Southeast Asian countries. One way is to promote all-round people-to-people exchanges.
No matter how Western media outlets attempt to drive wedges, China's confidence in promoting cooperation with surrounding countries won't be affected.
China's continued stable development will inevitably benefit more neighboring countries. The deepening economic engagement between China and relevant countries and the reconstruction of the Asian order are irreversible.