China’s Panda Diplomacy in Indonesia

Beijing utilizes panda diplomacy in its neighborhood to increase its influence in the region.

This strategy isn’t new. China has been using panda diplomacy since the 7th century.

However, in recent years this diplomatic strategy has become more prominent.

Approximately three years ago, two Chinese pandas, Hu Chun and Cai Tao arrived in Indonesia. This gesture by China was seen as a way to strengthen Beijing’s political and economic ties with Indonesia.

Analysts suggested that the arrival of these two pandas indicates that China seeks to bring Indonesia into its Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI), although Sun Weide, who served as Charge D’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia, denied this.

Notwithstanding Sun Weide’s statement, it’s apparent that China has an interest in expanding its economic relations with Indonesia given that the Archipelago serves as a crucial strategic location in the BRI route.

Another indicator suggesting that China’s panda diplomacy is part of its efforts to strengthen investments and trade in recipient countries is the lack of panda diplomacy in countries that aren’t part of the BRI route. Particularly in Canada, France, and Australia— where pandas are only sent after a cooperation agreement.

Further, China took back two of its pandas from the San Diego zoo in California due to trade tensions with the United States.

These are all indications that China only sends its pandas as a gift to partner countries that are important to China, either politically or economically.

China has the second-largest economy in the world. To further strengthen its economy, China is pursuing various economic avenues in developing countries. Indonesia is one of those countries of interest for China.

In Indonesia, China is the third-largest investor. Cooperation between China and Indonesia has increased during Jokow’s presidency.

Jokowi’s and Xi Jinping’s shared economic interests have been the basis of their bilateral relationship. Xi Jinping noted in 2014 at the APEC Summit that Indonesia is an integral part of the BRI route. Their economic ties were further strengthened in April of 2019 when they signed 23 MoUs regarding BRI cooperation.

Therefore, it’s unsurprising that Indonesia’s foreign policy in the Jokowi era was more inclined towards China.

Indonesia is also China’s ASEAN partner. The Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Bali stated on February 2nd that, “China sees Indonesia as a very important country in cooperation because from one side the area of China is very large and Indonesia is also the largest in ASEAN.”

Given Indonesia’s large economy, China is keen to invest there. However, this will be a challenge as there is a widespread anti-China sentiment in Indonesia.

The Indonesians’ sentiments will likely pose a challenge to China’s outreach to their markets.

This is why panda diplomacy is a useful strategy to win the hearts and minds of Indonesians.