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The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the ways in which Vietnam and Indonesia have been major factors in the political evolution of Southeast Asia since the end of World War II. Between them, they account for more than half the subregional population. Both countries trace their origins to revolutionary beginnings, but in Vietnam the struggle was far more protracted and its damaging effects more lasting. In both countries, the military has played a decisive role, but in Indonesia, once the erratic and unsuccessful policies of Sukarno had been ended, that role shifted toward a deep involvement in internal political and economic development. An emphasis on solving pressing economic issues, using market-oriented capitalist principles, continues to preoccupy Indonesia's technocrats.


In Vietnam, the senior leaders held a different perspective through the 1970s. Their economy in shambles, they continued to devote vast resources to a military presence in Cambodia which, in their view, had profoundly threatened their borders through the incursions led by Pol Pot. Yet an undercurrent of change was detectable in the streets and shops of old Saigon (today's Ho Chi Minh city) where free enterprise in various tentative forms was gradually allowed to surface again. But the parallel to the ancient limits of conquest in Indochina remains: As in the case of the ancient Khmer empire that lost its rice production base, so too was Vietnam's wealth in the Mekong Delta lost to the ravages of war, military priorities and, it is argued within parts of the Vietnamese leadership, inappropriate economics. What was once a "breadbasket" of Southeast Asia is still visibly blotched by bomb craters, it was also choked with ideologically-minded managers until a new policy of agricultural reform was firmly instituted in the 1980s, After 1989, Vietnam was once again exporting rice, although the certainty of future export gains remained in doubt.


By 1975, relations between Beijing and Hanoi had deteriorated badly. Vietnam became convinced that the Chinese sought to use the war to leave Vietnam permanently divided while the Chinese were increasingly concerned about Vietnamese reliance on the Soviet Union. The Sino-Vietnamese war that erupted in 1979 encapsulated all the region's rivalries and enmities, past and present. China and, by implication, the United States were aligned against Vietnam and the Soviet Union. This was not a "proxy war" in which surrogates were fighting on behalf of the great powers, but linkages to the cold war were obvious to all the parties involved. Ultimately, however, the roots of the conflict lay in the complex triangle of relationships between Vietnam, Cambodia, and China.


Indonesia, like Vietnam, has become self-sufficient in rice, and until the late 1990s only cautiously permitted some very limited freedoms of expression. Experts will argue over which country, at any given time, was the more restrictive in its attitude toward human rights and independent political expression during the last decades of the twentieth century, but Indonesia’s democratic movement after 1997 left Vietnam as the strongly authoritarian of the two. Indonesia  played an important role in helping move toward a resolution of the future of Cambodia, its close communications with Vietnam having been a critical factor in that progress. That Vietnam found itself tarred by the United States with the brush of an occupying force in Cambodia deeply rankled its leadership. Like the rest of the world, they knew well the genocide that Cambodia's Khmer Rouge visited upon its population.


Today, both countries have large, young populations that are impatient for better jobs and opportunities to engage with the industrial world, but as yet most of them lack the educational skills that are required to compete in the global system.




After reading Chapter 11, you should have a basic understanding of the following concepts.


1.  Indonesia and Vietnam exert considerable political influence in Southeast Asia.

2.  Both Indonesia and Vietnam formed their foreign policies independently, valuing their independence over possible ties to the superpowers during the Cold War.

3.  Military affairs have shaped both domestic and foreign policies of Indonesia and Vietnam.





Doi Moi


Mohammed Hatta

Khmer Rouge

Le Duc Tho


New Order



Phnom Penh

Prince Sihanouk







1.   Look at the list of Key Concepts and Names for this chapter. Find all the place names, then locate each place on the maps in the text.

2.   Characterize Sino-Indonesian relationships past and present. What is the major export commodity for Indonesia? How has this affected its foreign policy? Why has it affected foreign policy?
Confirm through map review and exercises.

3.   What happened in Cambodia in the 1970s? What are the regional implications of such severe unresl?

4.   What were the effects of the increased freedom of the press in Vietnam in the late 1980s? What does "freedom of the press" mean in a totalitarian state? Compare and contrast with the constraints on freedom of the press in other countries (e.g., Indonesia).

5.  What are the problems of reform in a communist country? What specific problems have affected the PRC? Vietnam? What are the dangers of partial reform? Compare Vietnam's situation to events in the USSR in 1991 (e.g., the attempted coup).

6.   Vietnam's communist leaders have found it difficult to allow competing businesses to exist independent of close government control. How do you think this may affect their efforts to build ties to the capitalist world?

7.    Who was Pol Pot? What was he the leader of? What did his power group do?

8.    The modem state of Indonesia is a conglomeration of many different peoples with varied religious backgrounds and languages. How did the idea of one Indonesian nation emerge amid this diversity?


Until the late 1990s, Indonesia was heavily controlled by a network of generals. Examine current news accounts of political developments in Indonesia. Do they indicate a different standing and role for the military concerning the future directions the country should take? How might the interests of the military diverge from those of the President?


Beyond the Revolution:

Indonesia and Vietnam

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