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Indonesia’s presidential election has high stakes for US and China

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — When Indonesians cast their votes on Wednesday for a new president in one of the world’s biggest elections, the stakes will also be high for the United States and China.

The Southeast Asian nation is a key battleground economically and politically in a region where the rival global powers have long been on a collision course over Taiwan, human rights, U.S. military deployments and Beijing’s aggressive actions in disputed waters, including the South China Sea.

Outgoing President Joko Widodo’s foreign policy avoids criticism of Beijing and Washington but also rejects alignment with either power. The delicate balancing act has won considerable Chinese trade and investment for Indonesia, including a $7.3 billion high-speed railway that was largely funded by China, while Jakarta has also boosted defense ties and intensified military exercises with the U.S.

These policies would likely continue if election frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister whose vice presidential running mate is Widodo’s eldest son, wins, according to analysts.

“None of the major structural features of defense and foreign policy, I think, will change,” said Evan Laksmana, a Southeast Asia security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

Subianto adheres to a policy of neutrality and has publicly praised the U.S. and China. He cited America’s historical role in pressuring the Netherlands to recognize Indonesian sovereignty in the 1940s, during a forum in November at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Jakarta.

“This is part of history and we cannot forget this debt of honor,” said Subianto, who also extolled China’s importance to Southeast Asia. “China