Change in leadership in the USA has some long-ranging effects. And from the looks of it, South East Asia is also getting ready for the transition. With the Biden policy not clear about the Indo-Pacific and there being legitimate concerns of change in the US approach to its foreign policy, countries are trying to balance their options and be ready for any abrupt and turnaround changes in the China-US relations. In line with this, is the latest decision of Indonesia.
Indonesia gave Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine its first emergency use approval outside China on Monday as the world’s fourth most populous country launches nationwide inoculations to stem surging infections and deaths as reported by Reuters. Although the interim data from a late-stage human test of CoronaVac showed it is 65.3% effective, Indonesia’s food and drugs authority BPOM said – lower than figures in Brazil and Turkey which have yet to launch mass vaccinations.
These statements would have made sense if either it was the only available vaccine, or even if the data would have been consistent. However, a Brazil-based study last week showed Sinovac’s vaccine is 78% effective and Turkish researchers said in December it showed 91.25% efficacy based on the interim analysis. These conflicting claims, lay bare how compromising this vaccine is, and even in the face of vaccines available with 95% efficacy, choosing the Chinese vaccine, has more geopolitical reasons than medical ones.
Indonesia is not sure about the foreign policy shift that will take place in the United States and because of which it is willing to placate China by buying its vaccines en-mass, so that any change in US foreign policy may not leave the Indonesians in a fix vis-a-vis its neighbourhood, the South China Sea, as well as, China.
This step is in extreme contrast to the choices Indonesia was making just a few days ago. As reported by TFI, Indonesia wanted to expand its Continental Shelf to the Southwest of the Sumatra Island. Its submission before the UN covers an area of 211,397.7 square km. This is a crucial development as it can choke the Chinese trade with Europe, and also block hydrocarbons supply to the Communist nation from the energy-rich Middle East. Also, Sumatra’s South-western coastline is the entry point into the Indian Ocean Region.
Indonesia has also shown its great interest in working with the QUAD countries in their individual capacities. The fact that the country is interested in the purchase of military tech and is doing bilateral with the Japanese means that the country understands the threat of China. Japan is capitalising upon the growing anti-China sentiment in Indonesia as it is growing wary of China over the latter’s aggressive manoeuvres in Indonesian waters.
Thus, when Indonesia’s vaccine trade with China is seen through the above lens, then it becomes clear that the change in the policy decision is mostly because of the possibility of the USA abandoning the current foreign policy, thus sending the ASEAN countries into a very grave and serious situation.