The United States purposely included Indonesia in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathering it organized in California last month to serve as a counterpoint to China in Asia.
Indonesia is a vigorous democracy, with the fourth-largest population in the world. It is also the most populous Muslim country and remains a moderate society.
Its economy is relatively healthy. Gross domestic product growth slipped in 2015, but to a very respectable 4.8 percent. The country does relatively well with exports of palm oil, rubber, tin and oil.
Compared with Asian rivals China, India, Japan and South Korea, though, it punches beneath its weight. One problem is geography. Indonesia is an archipelago of 13,466 islands, which makes infrastructure – as well as national governance – expensive and complicated.
President Joko Widodo was elected in 2014 on a platform of change and honesty. He is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, which controls only 105 of 560 seats in the parliament, thus requiring him to govern through an unwieldy coalition. His party is led, not by him, but by Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former president and, worse, the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, a dictator who ruled from 1945, when it gained independence from Holland, to 1967.
Indonesia’s major challenges come from its size, potential vulnerability to Islamic extremism, widespread corruption and China’s sagging fortunes as a customer.
All of that said, Indonesia remains a promising partner for the United States in Asia, particularly as a moderate Muslim state with economic promise. President Barack Obama, who spent part of his youth there, is right to court the country.