As Indonesia president-elect Prabowo wraps up rare visits to China and Japan, is his foreign policy becoming clearer?

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SINGAPORE: No Indonesian president-elect is known to have formally visited any foreign country before assuming office at Merdeka Palace. That is, till now.

Mr Prabowo Subianto's visits to China and Japan before his likely October inauguration have garnered extensive coverage. Chinese media in particular have hyped up Mr Prabowo’s Beijing check-in, focusing on the fact that Indonesia’s next leader decided to visit China first.

While analysts are cautioning against reading too much into the visits, some say the developments - especially the choice of destination - provide further hints into the likely direction and conduct of Indonesia’s foreign policy under Mr Prabowo’s charge. 

At the same time, they believe that even as Indonesia navigates diplomacy with major powers, engagement with Southeast Asian states will also remain firmly on the radar under a Prabowo presidency, mirroring the stances taken by past Indonesian leaders.

“I expect the first official visit after Mr Prabowo takes office would be to neighbouring ASEAN countries,” said Mr Radityo Dharmaputra, a lecturer at the Department of International Relations in Surabaya’s Airlangga University.

BREAKING WITH TRADITION

China’s foreign ministry announced last week that Mr Prabowo would be visiting China from Mar 31 at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, less than two months after winning the race to lead Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. 

The three-day visit saw Mr Prabowo meeting with Mr Xi in Beijing, where they reaffirmed bilateral ties and pledged support for closer relations. Mr Prabowo also met Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

Midway through Mr Prabowo’s China stop, Japan announced that the former general would be swinging by thereafter for two days from Apr 2. While there, Mr Prabowo met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“Under the comprehensive strategic partnership, as excellent partners, we would like to advance our bilateral relationship and cooperation in regional and international affairs,” said Mr Kishida after their Wednes...

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