Where is Indonesia? Is Indonesia in Asia or Oceania? The general consensus among most is that Indonesia is part of Asia. However, parts of the country seem to span into Oceania. So technically, one could consider Indonesia to be transcontinental. Let’s explore this fascinating country a bit more.
Where is Indonesia?
The Republic of Indonesia is archipelagic state located between the Indian and Pacific oceans. Comprised of more than thirteen thousand islands, it is considered the world’s largest island nation. Indonesia is also the world’s 4th most populous country, home to some 261 million people. Java, the world’s most populous island, contains more than half of the country’s population.
Indonesia shares land borders with Malaysia, Timor-Leste, and Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is considered part of Oceania, and makes up half the island of New Guinea. Since part of Indonesia falls on the other half of New Guinea, some have argued that the country should be considered transcontinental – a country that has part of its landmass located on two different continents.
What Continent is Indonesia In?
Geographically speaking, Indonesia should be considered part of Asia. It is almost exclusively considered a Southeast Asian country. The fact that Indonesia does have two provinces on the Island of New Guinea (Papua and West Papua) does complicate the whole continent issue slightly. While most of Indonesia is located on the Eurasian plate, New Guinea actually falls on the Australian plate. Papua New Guinea is in Oceania, so arguments in support of Indonesia’s transcontinental status do seem to have legs.
There is much more to continental status than just geography, however. Politics must also be considered, and politically Indonesia seems to fall much more in line with other countries in Asia. Indonesia is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the East Asia Summit, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Among Indonesia’s largest trading partners are Asian countries like China, Japan, India, and Singapore.
There are other cultural factors that support Indonesia being considered part of Asia as well. Education in Indonesian closely resembles the education systems found elsewhere in Asia. The holidays and calendar in Indonesia are also very similar to other Asian cultures. And in September, the country will even host the 2018 Asian Games, a pan-Asian, multi-sport event.
Furthermore, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. When taking all these geographic, political, and cultural factors into account, it becomes more clear as to why Indonesia is considered part of Asia.
Fossilized remains of Homo erectus and his tools suggest that Indonesia was inhabited as far back as 1.5 million years ago. The majority of Indonesia’s modern population, however, is made up of Austronesian people, who many scientists believe originated in prehistoric Taiwan, arriving in Indonesia around 2,000 BCE. These Austronesian peoples would eventually spread throughout Southeast Asia, Oceania, and East Africa.
Much like the rest of Southeast Asia, Indonesia came under the heavy influence of Indian culture. Spanning from roughly the 2nd century to the 12th century, a successive wave of Indian dynasties ruled the region, bringing Hindu and Buddhist influences with them.
Around the 13th century, Islam began to spread throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Not much is known about how it happened, but evidence suggests that the process was slow and gradual. By the end of the 16th century, Islam was the dominant religion on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra.
It was around this time that Europeans began to arrive in Indonesia. The Portuguese initially came to acquire natural resources and spices, but it was the Dutch who would ultimately come to control the region. In 1800, the Dutch East Indies were formed. By the 20th century, Dutch control extended to the current boundaries of Indonesia.
Japan would occupy Indonesia during World War II, but ultimately the country would gain independence in 1949 with nationalist leader Sukarno serving as president. Under President Suharto, who succeeded Sukarno in 1968, Indonesia began to gain favor with the West. This ushered in a time of economic growth, lasting until the late-1990s, when the East Asian FInancial Crisis hit Indonesia hard.
Today, democratic processes in the country have been strengthened, but Indonesia continues to face some political and economic instability.
Asia vs. Oceania
From a historical perspective, Indonesia seems to have closer ties to Asia, especially given the early Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim influences the region experienced. Together, when other geographic, political, and cultural factors are weighed in, the continental questions seems like less of a debate.
And the end of the day, however, there is no denying that Indonesia does have land that spans into Oceania. So it would be reasonable to assert that the country is transcontinental. This is very similar to Egypt, who by all accounts and standards is located in Africa, but that also does have land stretching into another continent (Asia, in this case).
Clearly, when it comes to geography, you can have it both ways.