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date: 08 December 2019

Summary and Keywords

The US relationship with the Republic of Indonesia has gone through three distinct phases. From 1945 until 1966 Indonesia’s politics and foreign policy were driven by the imperatives of decolonization and nation building, dominated by its founding President Sukarno and cleaved by bitter rivalry between secular political forces, regional movements, Islamic parties and organizations, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and the armed forces. In the aftermath of the September 30th Movement, an alleged coup by the PKI (the Indonesian Communist Party), under the leadership of General Suharto, launched a campaign of mass murder in which hundreds of thousands of alleged Communists were killed and Sukarno ousted. Suharto would rule Indonesia for the next thirty-two years (1966 to 1998). With the Cold War inside Indonesia effectively over and a staunchly anti-Communist and pro-US regime in power, US-Indonesian relations entered a long period of what one might call authoritarian development in which US officials focused on political stability, supported the military’s heavy involvement in politics, encouraged pro-Western investment and development policies, and sought to downplay growing criticism of Suharto’s abysmal record on human rights, democracy, corruption, and the environment. The end of the Cold War reduced the strategic imperative of backing authoritarian rule in Indonesia, and over the course of the 1990s domestic opposition to Suharto steadily built among moderate Islamic forces, human rights and women’s activists, environmental campaigners, and a burgeoning pro-democracy movement. The Asian financial crisis, which began in the summer of 1997, accelerated the forces undermining Suharto’s rule, forcing his resignation in May 1998 and inaugurating a third phase of formally democratic politics, which continues to the 21st century. Since 1998 US policy has focused on regional economic and security cooperation, counterterrorism, trade relations, and countering the growing regional power of China.

Keywords: Indonesia, United States, Southeast Asia, human rights, development, Cold War, foreign policy, authoritarianism

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