INDONESIA, rich in natural resources and having 84,000,000 inhabitants, comes automatically as an important factor onto the chessboard of world politics. It is not surprising, then, that the Western press has been asking questions recently about the direction of Indonesian foreign policy. Will she turn her back on the West and move closer to the Communist countries whose center of attraction is Moscow? None of the politicians, diplomats, journalists or businessmen who have occasion to visit Indonesia can keep from speculating on this subject.

Anyone who remembers my article on Indonesian foreign policy in this review in April 1953 will not lightly jump to any such conclusion. Our policy is independent and active--independent because Indonesia does not wish to align herself with either of the opposition blocs, the Western bloc or the Communist bloc;[i] active because it actively carries out a peaceful policy as a loyal member of the United Nations. In view of her origins and her aims as a member of the United Nations, the Republic of Indonesia will rally to every effort within the framework of the United Nations to do away with the controversy between the two blocs, or at least to grind off its sharpness, and in this manner to help ward off large-scale conflicts that might set off a third world war. This policy of peace took shape in the well-known Resolution passed by the Asian-African Conference at Bandung in 1955.

The Republic of Indonesia has no desire to set up a third bloc in partnership with the states of Asia and Africa. She wishes to see a meeting from time to time among the Asian and African states, like that of 1955, as a "moral union" which can influence, in the interest of peace, those states which are banded into blocs.

By practising her independent and active policy Indonesia endeavors to seek friendship with all nations--whatever their ideology or form of government--upon a basis of mutual respect. She is prepared to accept technical, material and moral help from any country whatsoever, provided only that the donor government does not interfere in our domestic affairs or weaken or threaten our independence and sovereignty. Her policy will not easily undergo change because it stems from certain fundamental causes. Among these are certain natural factors, such as our country's geopolitical position, its national history, and the state ideology known as panchasila: Divine Omnipotence, humanism, nationalism, democracy and social justice.

During the freedom movement, Indonesian leaders asked the people to strive for the attainment of an independent, sovereign, united, just and prosperous nation. Since the struggle succeeded in the achievement of a free and sovereign Indonesia, the Government's primary task has been to make it united, just and prosperous. It will easily be understood that, in order to carry out this task, Indonesia needs peace and friendship with other nations. She is rich in natural resources, but she is still young as a nation and is handicapped in nearly everything; she must have material and intellectual help from the outside world. This is one more reason which makes it incumbent upon her to practise a policy of being a friend of all, an enemy of none. Her own ideology --the panchasila, which gradually assumed shape during the struggle for freedom--and the religious feeling which is present in nearly the whole population, prepare her to coöperate with the states of the West without being reluctant to be on terms of friendship with the Communist states. She well understands the policy of coexistence and non-interference. Thus, states with a different ideology from ours can readily exist peacefully side by side with us provided one absolute condition is met--abstinence of each from interference in the internal affairs of the other.

We realize that difficulties are involved in carrying out this proviso of non-interference. A democratic country has no possibility of interfering in the internal affairs of a Communist state, since everything there is under government supervision and no freedom of expression exists. Things are different in a democratic state. For example, even if Soviet Russia makes an agreement of coexistence and non-intervention and undertakes not to intervene in another country's internal affairs, the Communist Party there will nevertheless follow a policy in accordance with the directives emanating from Moscow. This is a risk which a democratic state which holds to the three freedoms of expression, movement and assembly must be prepared to accept. A democratic state should have sufficient confidence in the strength of its citizens' spirit of freedom and sense of responsibility. When a democratic state is able to provide a prosperous life for its citizens, the influence of Communism will not be great. Conditions and experience in the Western world prove this truth.

In his treatise on "Historical Materialism," Marx's collaborator Friedrich Engels propounded as the very kernel of his theory that "it is not the awareness of man which determines his condition but, on the contrary, it is his social condition which determines his awareness." This statement, previously chiefly used to analyze the attitude of capitalists and the church, now applies to labor itself. When the laboring classes lived in misery, their attitude was revolutionary, but when their social condition improved their revolutionary spirit evaporated and their outlook became evolutionary. For this reason Communist infiltration could be withstood and eliminated by a sound economic policy. Whenever a non-Communist government can provide increasing economic benefits for its people it will offset the demands put forward by Communism and progressively lessen its chances of expansion.

Generally speaking, the Indonesian people place their faith in religion, and religion is basically a dike against the spread of Communism. In spite of this, the bad economic situation in the country and its unrealized ideals open the door to the spread of Communism and have allowed it to make progress in two successive elections, one for parliament and the other for the regional councils. Communism has not spread in Indonesia because of the appeal of its ideology, but because it has promised the people prosperity. It has promised the allocation of land to the landless farming class. Moreover, the Communist Party of Indonesia has been in the vanguard of the struggle for the return of West Irian to the territory of the Republic of Indonesia. When a proper economic policy has begun to benefit visibly the daily livelihood of the people, and when West Irian is incorporated within the Indonesian Republic, the Indonesian Communist Party will lose its main weapons; and by that time the curbing effect of religion can have made its influence felt.

Even though an agreement regarding coexistence and nonintervention would have one result in a country which is Communist and totalitarian and another in a country which is democratic, it nevertheless can reduce tension in international politics in general. It could also be used to determine whether a Communist state would or would not live up to its obligations. As for the subversive activities which might be carried on by a Communist Party in the domestic affairs of any country, the government has means of checking them. It can protest to the Soviet Union, if it feels that it has a hand in those activities, or it can deal with them directly. When the Communists attempted a coup d'état in what has come to be known as the Madiun Incident of September 1948, the Indonesian Government showed the proper firmness and took the swift action which a democratic government should take. In a situation based on coexistence and non-intervention, Moscow loses the right to interfere with a democratic government's action against the Communist movement within its borders. Through the establishment of such a relationship, Indonesia hopes to be able to carry forward constructive activities for the development of its resources in peace.

I am fully aware that the independent and active foreign policy practised by the Indonesian Government, and its shift, in consequence, in the direction of coexistence and non-intervention, is not acceptable to the Government of the United States, which is able to see the world only in its division into two blocs which have no contact between them--namely, what is called the "free world" and the "totalitarian Communist world." But I think the American people, with their high democratic ideals, will agree with me that other peoples can hold different views and still be democratic. A democracy which is intolerant of other viewpoints is no longer democracy but strays into totalitarian ways of thinking.

I think that an atmosphere of peace might speedily be secured if the two greatest world states, the United States and Soviet Russia, would simply make an agreement not to be at war with each other for the next 25 years. Such an agreement would fall short of the ideal by not condemning war for all time, but it would be sufficient to lessen international tensions for the present. In a world filled with psychological enmities, it is difficult to realize hopes and desires which are too idealistic; but a purely realistic decision can produce a climate of peace which in the long run may make hopes and desires which seem too idealistic today become the realities of tomorrow.

The United States and Soviet Russia have demonstrated their skill and recorded their great progress in various fields of knowledge and technology; each in turn overtakes the other in presenting a new invention. It would be good if they would compete with each other, and each try to excel the other, in creating an atmosphere of peace in the world. Indonesia would be one of the beneficiaries.

Indonesia believes that peaceful coexistence among states with opposed ideologies will in time come to pass. Intense rivalries have in the past lost their asperity. Consider, for example, the terrific conflict between capitalism and socialism in the last century. Capitalism, guided by laissez faire and free competition, ruthlessly oppressed labor; it rejected out of hand labor's demand for social welfare. Labor, for its part, thought of class struggle without wanting conciliation. Gradually, the conflict has become less sharp; it is still there but is being carried on in a spirit of conciliation. A good many socialist ideals formerly unceremoniously rejected by capitalists are now defended by them in order to secure social peace in their enterprises. Article 55 of the Charter of the United Nations lays down the foundation for bringing into effect social justice--an ideal which has its roots in the socialistic movement of the nineteenth century. Democratic groupings and social philosophies which previously were at odds are drawing close to each other. The social democratic movement which originated in Europe as a destructive trend now reveals itself as a constructive force aiming to set up the welfare state.

Whereas in the nineteenth century the West was threatened by socialism, today what are termed the "underdeveloped" countries are exposed to the threat of Communist infiltration. Protected from attack from outside by her active and independent policy based on political coexistence and non-interference, Indonesia seeks to secure domestic stability and construction so that her people can be prosperous. To carry this into effect she needs foreign help, both material and intellectual. She is ready to accept the loan of overseas capital from whatever direction it may be offered, and she desires the assistance of technological and educational experts provided only that they come without any political or other strings. She hopes for a climate of international coöperation in which this aid will be possible.

In carrying her project out Indonesia faces numerous difficulties. One is that the policy outlined is not easily acceptable to the Western world which is tied to the concept of a world divided into blocs. Each act of the Republic of Indonesia which can be construed as turning a smiling face towards Soviet Russia and the People's Republic of China is considered wrong; Indonesia has entered the Communist trap, it is said, as though her leaders were not politically mature. And not infrequently the help given to Indonesia is measured by her attitude towards those Communist states. It has happened that orders for goods vital to the daily life of the Indonesian people have not been attended to for months. Perhaps Westerners consider this merely a businesslike attitude. But such an occurrence hurts the feelings of Indonesians, and is put down to pride. They feel that an effort is being made to make them realize that they cannot exist without foreign aid, especially from the Western world. They feel they are being asked to go down on their knees in order to obtain it. This feeling of being humiliated automatically makes the thin-skinned population react in a way which occasionally seems hostile.

It should not be forgotten that Indonesia is a young country, and that like other newly-emancipated nations she is sensitive and quick to take offense, especially in matters affecting her honor and the necessities for national existence. There is nothing which a nation feels to be so derogatory as to be told that its politics are dictated by other states, and this is all the more true in the case of the Indonesians since their freedom did not come as a gift made in the discretion of the colonial rulers but as the result of a great political struggle. Indonesia adheres to an independent policy in the sense that she is free from the influence of either the United States bloc or the Communist bloc, whether the influence be of capital or of ideology. She is anxious to be friends with all nations, whatever their ideology or system of government. She has her own objective and her own ideology, and she does not want to exchange them for those belonging to others.

These psychological factors should receive careful attention in Western capitalist states, especially the United States, because if they are disregarded the relations of these states with the so-called underdeveloped countries cannot improve and possibly will get worse. Because it is stiff and terribly businesslike, the policy of the United States, even if based on friendship, does not awaken a friendly response in the country which receives its help. When it wants to help some country, the United States puts forward too many of its own views and ideas and pays too little attention to the desires and ideals of the nation involved. Everything is measured by American axioms, the American view of life. Consequently the help given by the United States does not produce effective results. Care should be taken to see that American policy towards the newly-emergent states of Asia is not felt to be "dollar diplomacy."

It can be stated as a fact that Soviet Russia has a more dynamic policy and as a result is cleverer in captivating the hearts of the so-called underdeveloped countries. The Soviet political success in the Middle East, in comparison to the failure of Western policy, is due to the fact that the Russians understand better the feelings and national psychology of the Arabs and what they seek. By a policy of strength, by flaunting its wealth, the West will not succeed in getting nearer the minds of the people of the East. However great the material changes among the peoples and states of Asia may be, they make an evaluation in ethical terms, and in their eyes this takes precedence over the economic evaluation. Considerate treatment is more appreciated than a profitable business deal.

Despite what I have said, relations between Indonesia and the United States are fundamentally good and the Indonesian people value the American help which has been given them. The spontaneous reaction of Indonesian public opinion towards tactless or unfriendly treatment does not change the feeling of friendship which is the keynote of the relationship. Nevertheless, there is one vital matter which can obtrude upon those sentiments of friendship, namely the problem of West Irian. This is a national claim by the Republic of Indonesia which cannot be ignored.

The United States stand of neutrality in the feud between Indonesia and the Netherlands over West Irian does, in fact, give support to the Dutch. Because of it, and its adoption by various other states, Indonesia's suggestion in the General Assembly of the United Nations for the opening of discussions with the Netherlands regarding West Irian was never able to muster the necessary two-thirds vote and failed to pass. It has been rejected three times, with the result that relations between Indonesia and the Netherlands are extremely bad.

Indonesians cannot understand why the United States should assume such a halfhearted posture in this matter. The United States has been the moving force in setting up NATO and SEATO to halt the spread of Communist influence and power in Europe and in Asia. Yet to permit West Irian to continue indefinitely as a bone of contention between Indonesia and the Netherlands is to afford Communism an opportunity to spread in Indonesia. The claim to West Irian is a national claim backed by every Indonesian party without exception; but the most demanding voice, apart from that of President Soekarno himself, is that of the Communist Party of Indonesia. By putting itself in the vanguard of those demanding realization of this national ideal, and because it agitates about West Irian as a national claim--in line with President Soekarno's standpoint--and because it backs this up by good organizational work, the Communist Party of Indonesia is able to capture the imagination of an ever-growing section of the population.

The West Irian question thus represents a tragedy. The United States, the Netherlands and Australia, all equally afraid of the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, are carrying out a policy which in fact strengthens Communism. For, so long as West Irian is in Dutch hands, that long will the Communist Party of Indonesia be able to carry on a violent agitation, using nationalism as an excuse, to oppose colonialism and thereby touch the soul of the newly-emancipated Indonesian people whose memories are still fresh with the struggle for freedom against colonialism. The anti-colonialist feeling is so deeply burnt into the hearts of the Indonesian people that it is incorporated in the Preamble to the Indonesian Constitution. The first sentence of the Preamble says that "freedom is the right of all peoples and therefore colonialism should be wiped out from the face of this earth because it is opposed to humanity and justice."

In Indonesian eyes continued Dutch occupation of West Irian is both a remnant of colonialism and an illegal seizure of a portion of Indonesian territory. According to the Linggadjati Agreement of 1947, the term Indonesia embraced the territory of the previous Netherlands East Indies in its entirety. Yet after putting their official signature to the Linggadjati Agreement, the Dutch worked to divorce West Irian from that territory. Doubtless a small section of the Dutch people want it as a reminder of old colonial glory. The 1949 Round Table Conference at The Hague reached no agreement on the question of West Irian. In order that it should not interfere with the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia, the solution of the problem was, at the suggestion of the United Nations Commission for Indonesia, postponed for a period of a year; but negotiation during that year brought no solution. Meanwhile the Netherlands unilaterally incorporated West Irian within its territory through its constitution. This unilateral action of the Netherlands Government did not in any way affect Indonesia's claim based upon the Linggadjati Agreement. Due to the inability of the United Nations to provide machinery for a solution the West Irian dispute continues.

For the Netherlands this is a tragedy. Its continuing occupation of West Irian has involved it in an expenditure of something like 75 million florins a year. It also endangered the position of the Netherlands-Indonesian Union--now dissolved, its economic interest in Indonesia and certain advantageous economic relations with Indonesia. The excuse that the Netherlands has a newly-discovered moral obligation towards the people of the territory has no strong foundation. During the days of the Netherlands East Indies the population of West Irian remained exceedingly backward and even at the time of the Linggadjati Agreement no talk was heard about a "moral obligation" toward them.

For Australia, which supports the Dutch stand, the problem of West Irian is a tragedy also because its policy strengthens the very thing it so strongly opposes--Communism in Indonesia. The thesis that the Netherlands position in West Irian will be a shield for Australia against a Communist attack from the north cannot be proved by any valid argument. The experience of World War II points to the contrary. Actually, an Indonesia that was friendly to Australia would be a much more valuable protection. Although Indonesia is now a young and weak state, the potential energy awaiting development in her rich natural resources, coupled with her large population, will in time make her strong. A strong Indonesia practising an active and independent policy will not be attacked by any country seeking passage in the direction of Australia.

The fear that Indonesia, after obtaining West Irian, would claim East New Guinea is totally unfounded. The Indonesian people do not feel any links of a common lot or history with the people of that area; hence their national claim, historical and juridical in nature, does not extend that far. Apart from boosting Communism in Indonesia, Australia's policy with regard to West Irian can result in a slackening of the ties of friendship between the two countries. This is to be regretted because the Indonesians have a great appreciation of the moral support given them by the people of Australia in the struggle against Dutch colonialism.

One can understand the difficulties raised for the United States by the Indonesian-Netherlands dispute, for it is a friend of both countries. But its so-called neutral attitude creates a tragedy for the United States too. It wants to eradicate Communism, but its policy merely helps it spread. In addition it leaves Indonesia with a sense of grievance. Communist gains in Indonesia, besides alarming the people, have endangered national unity by sharpening conflicts among different sections of the population. Of course West Irian is not the only cause for these Communist gains; other reasons are the low standard of living in Java and the lack of sufficient land to divide up among the landless farm laborers. Only in the outer islands where the population is scanty is there land to be had for the asking. But this can be put to use only in connection with transmigration on a big scale and this involves expenses which the state cannot afford. Thus the question has not only social but financial aspects. Meanwhile the all-pervasive influence of the West Irian question upon sentiment and politics has no little effect in retarding reconstruction. Anyone who wants to say that this is a tragedy for Indonesia is free to do so. Indeed, till the question of West Irian is settled Indonesian politics will be more irrational than rational.

The above description portrays clearly that the problem of colonialism casts its shadow upon the friendly relations between the Western world and the Asian-African nations in general and Indonesia in particular. This does not mean that Indonesia will turn her back on the West. Her intellectual and cultural relations with the Western world are too many and too deeply rooted in history for that. But because Indonesia is fed up with the policies of the West she will develop relations with the other nations of the East and will culturally enrich herself. Her active and independent foreign policy, based upon the fundamental necessities of existence, forbid her from drawing close to one bloc at the expense of the other. While safeguarding this basis of friendship with all nations, the nature of her relationship in practice will be determined in each case by what is at that time the reigning national interest.

Looked at from afar, Indonesia today seems to be in chaos and confusion. Many of the outer regions appear to be in turbulence and opposed to the Central Government. The foreign press represents this as a revolt of the regions. But alongside this turbulence consultations are going on between the Central Government and regional civil and military authorities on ways to overcome the national difficulties. It is hard for outsiders to understand what is happening. However paradoxical it may sound, none of the dissidents intend to bring about fissuring and separatism. They aim to strengthen the unity of the people based upon the proclamation of independence of August 17, 1945, and to ensure a strong government blessed with authority and supreme over all the regions. Further, all the incidents and turbulence which have occurred in Indonesia, beginning with President Soekarno's breathing life into his National Council and continuing with the military's seizure of authority from civil hands in the outer regions, are a reaction and protest against a wrong turning taken by Indonesian democracy in the direction of party oligarchy, anarchy and corruption. Formally and juridically all these steps are wrong, even though they are meant to speed up reconstruction and to revitalize democracy which, as the Indonesian people understand it, is not political only but also economic and social.

The conflicts in Indonesia are frightful to behold, but if they are carefully examined they are not on the level of the civil war which the United States experienced after freeing itself from British control. If Indonesia can get over this temporary confusion she will carry ahead speedily her constructive work and obtain more time in which to strengthen her bonds of friendship with all nations, those of the Western world not excepted.

[i] People in the West often term the Communist bloc the "Eastern bloc," a term which really is not apt because many Asian countries are accustomed to calling themselves Eastern nations.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • MOHAMMAD HATTA, Vice-President of the Republic of Indonesia, 1945-49, and 1950-56; Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1949-50
  • More By Mohammad Hatta