Hillary Clinton arrived in Indonesia Wednesday for her second of four stops in a weeklong tour of Asia meant to reaffirm America’s ties with key countries. (Click here for reasons she made Asia her first destination as secretary of State.) There’s the US-Japan alliance, which she's called the “cornerstone” of American foreign policy. And US-China ties, which she’s crowned “the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century.”
But the Southeast Asian archipelago has some pretty good cards to play, too – enough to justify Clinton’s two-day, 3,600-mile detour from Tokyo before heading to Seoul and Beijing. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country and a stable democracy. And it’s cooperated with the US to fight Islamic extremists. It’s also a key player in global energy supply.
As initial gestures, she announced that the US would resume sending Peace Corps volunteers to Indonesia for the first time since 1965, and possibly offer more development aid. The two countries would increase cooperation on climate change, trade, education, and regional security, she said. And Clinton is expected to attend the annual security conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – an event that her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, skipped twice in four years.
Indonesia is a smart place to build goodwill with the Muslim world, something President Obama has emphasized from the get-go. (His first prominent effort to do that was through an interview with Al-Arabiya last month, which you can see here.) Already, Indonesians are positively inclined toward the new administration – they are proud that Obama spent part of his boyhood here. Playing up this connection, children from the elementary school that the US commander-in-chief attended sang to Clinton when she arrived at the airport.
US-Indonesian ties were already improving under the Bush administration. America's top diplomat may have missed a few ASEAN conferences, but the two countries also normalized military ties and cooperated on counterterrorism. (See the Monitor’s report from 2006 on the countries’ warming relations.)
The US also helps Indonesia on other fronts, including supporting a powerful anticorruption body that’s nabbing high-profile offenders. (Read the Monitor’s report on that here.)
But there are grievances: Many Indonesians oppose US policies in the Middle East as well as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, Clinton’s arrival prompted a smattering of protests throughout the capital. About 100 students gathered at the presidential palace to express their discontent in the protest style du jour: throwing shoes at her picture.