Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) shows the way to China's President Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asian Africa Conference in Jakarta on April 22, 2015. Photo: AFP/Pool/Adi Weda
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) shows the way to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting in Jakarta on April 22, 2015. Photo: AFP / Pool / Adi Weda

The war in Ukraine and the annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia in September have triggered questions over Taiwan: If Russia can annex parts of Ukraine without a proper Western response, what will stop China from doing the same to Taiwan?

US-China relations haven’t devolved into a critical situation – yet. China is eyeing the events in Ukraine, and analyzing how similar developments could unfold in their own territorial dispute in East Asia.

But the US, and particularly President Joe Biden’s administration, cannot afford to allow mainland China to take control of Taiwan, but neither can it afford to get into an armed conflict with Beijing. To avoid such conflict, some scholars have argued that Indonesia, which has been handling the Group of Twenty in a highly successful manner, is well positioned to rein in China’s ambitions on Taiwan.

Indonesia, which has long been viewed as a potential regional power thanks to its strategic location in Southeast Asia, does not have the luxury of avoiding the role of stabilizer. Moreover, Indonesia is the perfect broker to deal with China not only because of its economic power and geographic location, but also because of its skilled diplomacy, having achieved good diplomatic relations with both the West and the East.

Indonesia has the responsibility to confront China, as it demonstrated at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in August, where it urged Beijing to avoid any use of force that could lead to open war in the region and other consequences that would involve major powers.

“Indonesia’s business elite enjoy excellent relations with private and institutional investors from both the US and China, and I don’t see this reality changing,” said Ido Muli, the global director of South-East Partners, an investment advisory firm specializing in the region.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo recently visited his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin in hopes of bringing the two leaders together to end the armed conflict and instead discuss its differences in a much more diplomatic manner.

Afterward, Widodo also visited Chinese President Xi Jinping and invited him to attend the G20 summit scheduled to be held in Bali. Though no confirmation was made, the Chinese leader wished the upcoming event a complete success.

It appears that Indonesia is trying to gain a foothold in becoming one of the most influential countries across the globe by maintaining positive relations with adversaries in both the West and the East. Thus Indonesia aims to become a new regional power as a mediator in conflicts between rival countries. The ability to dictate negotiations, establish ties, and find solutions to large-scale conflicts are the challenges of the role of regional power.

The US must realize the potential and the ambition of Indonesia to become a key regional player and mediator. Indonesia has maintained strong relations with all neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, while the American influence in the region according to some observers has declined.

Therefore, the US must look at Indonesia as its new mediator with China. The strong relations of Indonesia with both superpowers are an advantage that currently no other state has.

As a rising economic and regional power, Indonesia has the potential to mediate between Washington and Beijing and play a key role in preventing an escalation in Southeast Asia. Washington ultimately needs to move closer to non-aligned emerging powers like Indonesia and give them a chance at regional diplomacy.

Minho Lee is a Seoul-based political analyst specializing in Southeast Asia.