Indonesia Crisis as an Example

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  • Topic: People's Liberation Army, Military, Army
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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Indonesia's Crisis: The Lesson for China
introductionIndonesia, as we have long predicted, is coming apart. This process has a great deal of relevance to China, whose army, like Indonesia's, was accustomed to making lots of money and now resents the fact that the good times are over. In both countries, making money became the basis for military loyalty to the regime, which in turn needed the army as guarantor. But in China, as in Indonesia, the military is no longer making money, and China has banned its officers from business. Now Beijing is creating international tension to soak up the military's energy and resentment. But in the end, the guarantor of the regime can bring its death, leaving warlords poised to take power. ANALYSIS

We have long argued that the Asian economic meltdown, as its ultimate legacy, would politically reconfigure Asia. We meant this in both the international and domestic sense: Nations would behave differently after the meltdown than they did during the past generation of extraordinary prosperity. The reconfiguration of Sino-American relations is an obvious manifestation of this. But it is the domestic political changes that are the most profound and will have the most impact on international relations. It should be obvious that an economic transformation of the magnitude we have seen cannot help but have equally dramatic political consequences. Asia is obviously a diverse region. It goes without saying that the economic meltdown will affect Japan's politics dramatically differently than Malaysia's. However, events during the last week have drawn our attention to one area of commonality: the effect of the economic crisis on the military in China and in Indonesia. These two countries are not usually lumped together; they differ in profound ways. But they share this: they have both used their military forces for three missions – protection against foreign enemies, enforcement of internal security and development of the economy. During the previous generation, the latter role became more and more important for both the Chinese and Indonesian militaries. But Asia's recent economic crisis, the states and circumstance have forced both militaries to de-emphasize their economic roles. Not only are the militaries not happy about this, but their unhappiness could destabilize their respective regimes. Quite apart from the truly disturbing prospect of an Asia dealing simultaneously with both Chinese and Indonesian instability, there are important lessons to be learned from the way in which each country used the military and the consequences of that use. The fundamental roles of both the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) were originally the same, to serve as the foundation of a regime governing a restive, multi-ethnic populace engaged in building a cohesive nation-state. Although circumstances were different in China and Indonesia, there was great commonality of purpose. On the one hand, the armies in both countries were designed to guarantee internal security so that the state could construct its control mechanisms in safety. On the other hand, the army -- as one of the few genuinely national institutions -- was an instrument of nation-building. By recruiting members throughout society, these armies served as a means for upward mobility and as a tool for integrating diverse elements into a cohesive whole. As was the case in many new societies, the military served not only as a means for stability, but also as a tool of modernity. The Chinese and Indonesian armies played similar roles in controlling the social instability created by their charismatic leaders. Beginning with the October, 1965, backlash against the communists, the Indonesian military steadily asserted itself, and under the leadership of then-Gen. Suharto, the legacy of Indonesia's founder Sukarno steadily diminished. The PLA intervened to crush the Mao-inspired Great Proletarian Cultural...
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