Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has a certain fascination with tech tycoons. In 2016, on the sidelines of a two-day US-ASEAN Summit, he made a stopover in Silicon Valley, meeting with then CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey and playing zero-gravity ping pong on a virtual-reality Oculus Rift headset with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
During the visit, Jokowi specifically requested assistance from these tech tycoons who control some of the most powerful digital tools; Google, Facebook and Twitter to support the development of the digital economy in Indonesia.
Things have changed a lot since that 2016 visit.
Indonesia is now one of the most digitally connected countries in the region with tech start-ups like Go-Jek, Tokopedia and Bukalapak becoming major economic players while e-commerce has become part of this society's fabric. In fact, GoTo, a merger between Go-Jek and Tokopedia, as well as Bukalapak have gone public on the local bourse.
With conditions mostly conducive for the digital economy, now President Jokowi has moved on to the next shiny objects.
Once again, he is using the US-ASEAN Summit as a springboard for his overture to court one more, perhaps the biggest, tech tycoon, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
From a public relations standpoint this is a major coup for Jokowi, considering that Musk is now a major newsmaker especially after his move to take over Twitter. We should give President Jokowi's team credit for planning this high-level meeting, if not for the actual deliverables from it, at least for the amount of publicity likely be generated from the event.
After six years in the spotlight, President Jokowi sure knows how to pull off a major publicity stunt.
But publicity is only half of the equation as President Jokowi is in fact aiming for a big-ticket item.
The meeting with Musk takes place as Tesla scouts out sites for its manufacturing base in its effort to have a more global presence and the contest is likely to be between India and Indonesia.
And as the world is mired in global supply-chain chaos things are looking good for Indonesia, because if Tesla chooses this country as its manufacturing base it will have direct access to the materials that matter most in the production of electric vehicles (EVs).
Indonesia is a major producer of nickel and in the past few years several battery and car manufacturers have made commitments to invest here.
LG Energy Solution, together with several other companies, is investing about US$9 billion to set up a supply chain – from mining to manufacturing – in Indonesia already. Also, the world's largest powerpack maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. is investing almost $6 billion in a battery project with two local companies.
India on the other hand has been playing hard to get, with the Narendra Modi government demanding Tesla manufacture and sell locally. Musk wants to sell imported vehicles first.
Recently, representatives of Tesla visited the nickel production hub of Morowali in Central Sulawesi and we can assume that some groundwork has been laid for EV manufacturing here.
So from now on, regularly check your Twitter feeds, in case Musk breaks the news on a new manufacturing site in Indonesia.