Guarded optimism, caution and sophistication: Indonesian diplomats’ perceptions of the belt and road initiative

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This article investigates Indonesian diplomats’ perceptions of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Personal interviews were conducted with Indonesian diplomats who have dealt either directly or indirectly with China-related issues. The image theory in international relations was then applied to analyse their perceptions of the initiative. The responses reflected a prevailing perception that China presents a moderate level of threat to Indonesia. This view was manifested primarily in concerns that Indonesia could be economically exploited by taking part in the initiative. However, the diplomats in this sample also displayed a sophisticated approach, combining a tendency to portray Chinese intentions negatively with a favourable opinion of the initiative and a belief that Indonesia could still benefit from it. Their comments suggest that if Jakarta maintains its present perceptions, Indonesia is highly likely to maintain its engagement with the BRI. Nevertheless, the diplomats’ mixed feelings could place some constraints on how intensive the Indonesian– Chinese bilateral economic exchanges related to the BRI will become, as well as on how explicitly Indonesia will demonstrate its support for China by promoting the initiative globally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-49
Number of pages29
JournalInternational Journal of China Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Belt and Road Initiative
  • Image theory
  • Indonesian foreign policy
  • Indonesia–China relations
  • Perception


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