Indonesian president’s emphasis on development boosts China ties

by Catherine Wong / August 25, 2016 / SouthChinaMorningPost

Boosting economic ties with China will top Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s agenda at the G20 summit in Hangzhou in September rather than wider Southeast Asian concerns about issues such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea, analysts say.

He will be seeking to build on commitments to economic and trade cooperation announced following a meeting with President Xi Jinping at last year’s G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey.

Widodo and Xi have a lot in common as the leaders of populous developing nations with bad reputations for corruption. The Indonesian leader is a former entrepreneur and governor of Jakarta who rose from a humble background to the top office in 2014 on a wave of public support for his promises of reform and reputation as a down-to-earth, clean politician. Xi is also known for his reformist agenda and an unprecedented crackdown on graft.

“Jokowi (Widodo’s nickname) seems to have a lot of respect for Xi as somebody who is a can-do reformer, which is how Jokowi views himself … and they both focus on development,” said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow and Indonesian affairs specialist at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

Indonesia, which sees itself as a rising power in the region, is looking to China for inspiration as it strives to accelerate economic growth.

“Indonesian nationalists within the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the political party serving as the vehicle for Jokowi’s presidential bid, look up to China as an Asian role model that has successfully modernised itself and competed effectively against established Western powers that are clearly more privileged by the current global economic rules and institutions,” said Pierre Marthinus, executive director of the Marthinus Academy, a Jakarta-based international relations think tank.

Their common interest in development is the key link between the two leaders. Xi was the first foreign leader Widodo met on his first overseas trip as Indonesia’s president in November 2014. Widodo was also greeted warmly by Xi in Beijing in March last year, when they pledged to increase maritime cooperation, with Xi promising to support the development of Indonesia’s maritime infrastructure through funding from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund.

Indonesia is the only Southeast Asian member of the G20. But Marthinus said that unlike his predecessor as Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who promised to represent the interests of other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member states at G20 summits, Widodo was not interested in “summit diplomacy”.

“[Indonesia] will be focusing more on its own strategic interest and aspirations as a rising power,” he said. Read more…

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