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Looking east

Jakarta Post Editorial - April 3, 2024

Jakarta – No one should underestimate the importance of president-elect Prabowo Subianto's visit to China and Japan this week.

His meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida demonstrate his intent to maintain an economic-heavy foreign policy but also to infuse global security and defense perspectives amid the growing tension between China and the United States.

Like many other countries, including even some in the developed world, Indonesia cannot avoid a heavy dependence on China for trade, investment and government-to-government economic cooperation. Prabowo knows this and he has chosen to piggyback on Jokowi and Xi's personal relationship.

Prabowo achieved a major diplomatic coup by securing a bilateral meeting with Xi, the supreme leader of the world's second-largest economy and Indonesia's most important economic partner.

The meeting with Kishida should also be seen as a victory for Prabowo, considering Japan's position as the fourth-largest economy and as a country that has invested in Indonesia for decades.

The feeling was mutual. Xi is certainly enthusiastic about Prabowo because he can expect a continuation of President Jokowi's policies.

One major subject that came up during the meeting was the Whoosh high-speed railway (HSR) from Jakarta to Bandung which Xi saw as an example of "high-quality bilateral cooperation" and that the project marked "a new stage of building a community with a shared future."

Xi also told Prabowo, a former military general who was once considered a Washington protege, that "the key to successful China-Indonesia relations is to adhere to strategic independence, mutual trust and mutual assistance, win-win cooperation and fairness and justice."

After meeting Xi on Monday, in his capacity as defense minister, Prabowo held talks with several Chinese senior officials including his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun and Prime Minister Li Qiang.

In these meetings, Prabowo again reiterated his support for a closer relationship with China and pledged to continue Indonesia's friendly policies toward China.

The ties between Indonesia and China are not without problems.

There is a growing concern over the imbalanced economic ties between the two countries. But before blaming Beijing, the Indonesian government should make an honest assessment of its shortcomings on closing the gap. Too often we complain about unfair treatment from other countries without trying to fix our internal problems.

And then, of course the issue of the Natuna islands, where China claims its fishermen have navigated for centuries. The United Nations has recognized Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) rights on the resources-rich body of water, but the two countries must ensure the difference will not adversely impact their bilateral relationship.

From the Beijing visit, we can also see that as the de-facto leader of ASEAN, Prabowo wants to maintain Indonesia's regional leadership while maximizing its position as a middle power in the Indo-Pacific. Indonesia is too important on the world stage to simply stick to one regional bloc.

Prabowo is cognizant that US President Joe Biden has paid a special attention to him. We can see this from how he congratulated Prabowo soon after the General Elections Commission (KPU) announced the final tally last month.

We can also expect that Prabowo will go to Washington, DC before October to reaffirm Indonesia's free and active foreign policy and send a clear message that Indonesia and the region still needs a US presence.

His meeting with Kishida, a staunch ally of Biden in the region, and his Japanese counterpart Minoru Kihara should be seen as a precursor to that balancing act.

This is also a diplomatic coup for Prabowo, simply because of Japan's position as the world's fourth largest economy and one of Indonesia's most important trade and investment partners.

The Japanese government has welcomed Prabowo warmly. "Indonesia is a comprehensive strategic partner [of Japan] that shares fundamental principles and values, "chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Monday.

Prabowo's two-country trip this week is a very positive step in laying the groundwork for the larger diplomatic arena that he will navigate once he takes office in October.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/04/03/looking-east.htm