Australian Outlook

In this section

Presidential Candidate Ganjar Pranowo Promises a Strong Lean Toward China

14 Jul 2023
By Dr. Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Yeta Purnama
Police Chief Cup Fire Football, Opening by Governor Ganjar Pranowo and Signing of the Inauguration Inscription of the Nur Lintang Kedu High School Building. Source: Fath Ayah Yudhis/

The prior political experience of 2024 Indonesian presidential election candidate Ganjar Pranowo illustrates a strong pro-China lean for Indonesia if he is elected. Leading the largest party, his chances of success are considerable. 

On 21 April 2023, Ganjar Pranowo was officially promoted as one of the three presidential candidates for the upcoming 2024 Indonesian presidential election. This was conveyed directly by the Chairperson of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Megawati Soekarnoputri, at the Batutulis Palace, Bogor.

As a presidential candidate from a large party, and having the highest chances of electability, many people question Pranowo’s possible engagement with China as an influential external power in Indonesia if he is elected. Serving as Governor of Central Java from 2013 to 2023, Pranowo is known to have maintained close ties with Beijing.

With these connections, the likelihood that Indonesia’s foreign policy remains wedded to the current approach, or perhaps becomes even closer to China, is strong.

Ganjar’s activities with China

Compared with fellow candidate Anies Baswedan, Pranowo appears to have been more active in his engagement with China. In 2019, for instance, Xiao Qian, the then Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia, who was accompanied by Gu Jingqi, the Chinese Consul General for Surabaya, made a working visit to several areas in Central Java and the Special Region of Yogyakarta. This visit covered the cities of Solo, Semarang, Pemalang, and Pekalongan Regencies. On this occasion, Xiao and his entourage met with Pranowo and Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, the governor of Yogyakarta. They visited several places such as the China (Guangxi)-Indonesia Crops Fine Varieties Experiment Station, Central Java Grand Mosque, and the Chunshen Comprehensive Fishery Base, while also meeting with Chinese student organisations in Yogyakarta.

Following Pranowo’s relection in 2018, Xiao also expressed his appreciation for the governor’s supportive relationships with Chinese organisations. Pranowo led the province of Central Java for two periods from 2013-2018 and 2018-2023.

According to Xiao, China-Indonesia relations have entered a new era, evident in their rapid and comprehensive development of cooperation. Xiao even emphasises that for China, Central Java is an essential economic region due to its fairly large population. Located in the middle of Java Island, the geography of Central Java facilitates great potential for the development of land and sea transportation in the region.

During the visit, China also expressed its interest in strengthening regional exchange cooperation with the province, especially in the fields of tourism, infrastructure, and agriculture. In addition to achieving joint development, China and Central Java committed to enhancing humanitarian exchange cooperation.

In response, Pranowo expressed his welcoming of China’s interest in the province. He asserted that for Indonesia, especially Central Java, China is a strategic partner. The two agreed to strengthen exchange and cooperation between provinces and cities to support strengthening the fields of industry, tourism, fisheries, and agriculture.

This commitment was witnessed in the presence of dozens of Chinese investors in the wood and furniture sector, which across the year invested US$2 billion in the provincial economy. As many as 59 Chinese companies were reported to be relocating to Central Java – as conveyed by Bahlil Lahadalia, the Head of the Investment and Coordinating Board (BKPM) at the 15th Central Java Investment Business Forum (CJIBF) in 2019.

Previously, in 2015, Pranowo visited China and appealed to mainland Chinese entrepreneurs to invest in Indonesia, especially in the management of rubbish and industrial waste. In 2018, China Hebei Bishi Steel Group, a Chinese steel company, invested US$2.54 billion in Central Java. This investment also helped to boost local development, with the Central Jarvan company, PT Seafer Kawasan Industri, benefitting from the investment.

Recently, in May 2023, Pranowo held another meeting with a Chinese delegation and representative from Fujian Province, Zhou Zuyi. In this meeting, they celebrated the 20th anniversary of provincial cooperation between China and Indonesia, signing further investment agreements, one of which was the construction of an energy factory in the Batang Industrial Area. This project is expected to employ around ten thousand local workers, including experts in the required fields. On the same occasion, China and Central Java signed a cooperation agreement for investment in the education sector, and specifically the vocational field, to produce competent human resources.

Pranowo’s statements regarding China

While other candidates such as Baswedan have made fewer statements concerning China, Pranowo has been found to praise the country on several occasions, most recently during the Balinese Javanese Cultural Meeting in Sanur in June 2023.

According to Pranowo’s narrative, in which he quoted French President Emmanuel Macron, there were three large countries that were superior in culture and able to build systems independently from Western states, those being India, China, and Russia. Pranowo further stated that the current global challenges are increasingly multipolar, in which the United States and the West are no longer the center of economic power. The future of economic growth, he stated, can be found in Asian countries such as China and India. Therefore, he asserted, Indonesia needs to follow in the footsteps of, or imitate, these countries to pursue Indonesia’s economic development.

In other areas, Pranowo has sought to highlight complementarity between the nations through domestic Chinese groups. In 2020, Pranowo welcomed Boen Hian Tong’s (a social community among Chinese-Indonesians) invitation for lunch. On the occasion he lauded the Chinese for sharing the same principle of community as the Javanese. A year later, at a webinar on the “Ups and Downs of Chinese Indonesians,” hosted by Gadjah Mada University alumni association for the Lunar New Year, Pranowo gave the keynote address. He emphasised the value of maintaining national harmony, of which ethnic Chinese are an integral component. He was particularly happy to learn that Indonesia had declared the Lunar New Year a national holiday so that Chinese and non-Chinese people may enjoy it together.

The reasons

There are two reasons for Pranowo’s close ties with China. First, there is a history of closeness and cooperation between the PDIP party and the Chinese Communist Party. This contact has rapidly increased since 2011, when a CCP delegate visited the PDIP office in South Jakarta. In 2013, the PDIP sent 15 cadres to China to repay the CCP’s visit. In 2015, the chairperson of the PDIP, Megawati Soekarnoputri, also visited China to inaugurate the Indonesia-China Cooperation Center Building, accompanied directly by CCP officials. It is undeniable that the closeness of the PDIP and the CCP also influences Pranowo’s strong ties with China.

The second reason is also related to the party. We know that Jokowi and Pranowo are the patrons of the PDIP. Jokowi himself has a close relationship with China, as seen by the direction of Indonesia’s foreign policy during Jokowi’s leadership, especially in the development and infrastructure sectors. If Pranowo succeeds in winning the election next year, it is very likely that his foreign policy direction will not be much different from Jokowi’s. To be sure, he has already declared that he will continue many of Jokowi’s programs. These include continuing or even strengthening the strong ties between Indonesia and China established under Jokowi.

Dr Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a researcher at the Center of Economic and Law Studies, Jakarta. His research focuses on China-Indonesia-Middle East relations.

Yeta Purnama is also a researcher at the Center of Economic and Law Studies.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.