Indonesia wants fair gains from trade

Indonesia wants fair gains from trade
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Presidential Palace on November 7, 2014, Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) inspects the country's made drone for surveillance during 2014 Indo Defence exhibition in Jakarta.

Ahead of his first overseas visit since his inauguration three weeks ago, President Joko Widodo has said Indonesia will stay open for business with other countries, but he will be firm that the benefits must be fair to his country.

Mr Joko told a gathering of alumni at his alma mater Gadjah Mada University in Kendari, Sulawesi, on Thursday that he will put this message across when he meets his foreign counterparts in Beijing for the first time.

He noted that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had suggested that his vision of Indonesia as a maritime fulcrum could complement Beijing's proposed new 21st-century Silk Road.

"It cannot be that you benefit and we do not. How much will China gain and how much will Indonesia gain? I'm to the point, but better it's clear," he said.

Mr Joko is slated to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in separate meetings on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders' meeting in Beijing. He said all four leaders had asked to meet him.

He will address the Apec CEO summit on Indonesia's economic vision for greater connectivity in the Asia-Pacific, and attend the ASEAN and related summits in Myanmar from Wednesday, as well as the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane from Saturday.

Mr Joko's remarks come amid concerns raised by many citizens that as Indonesia opens up to the global trading system and prepares to be part of the ASEAN Economic Community from end-2015, its farmers and domestic industries are still not strong enough to face competition.

He also faces much domestic resistance, including from an opposition-dominated Parliament that has already said it would make sure his policies are in Indonesia's interests.

"His key message will be that Indonesia is a confident, developing country and other countries should take Indonesia seriously," international relations observer Achmad Sukarsono of The Habibie Centre think-tank told The Straits Times.

"And that means Indonesia may restrict trade that is not favourable, and will go after predatory foreign companies… Indonesia wants to trade, but it also wants to be treated as an equal partner."

Mr Joko has held back from announcing what many hope will be his first reform, a significant cut in fuel subsidies, until he returns from his trip amid concerns that he should be in Jakarta to manage domestic resistance to the move.

And observers suggest this might have influenced his nationalistic tone ahead of his foreign visit, to allay fears that his pro-business views might disadvantage ordinary Indonesians.

In Kendari, Mr Joko recounted briefly his recent meetings with the foreign ministers of the US, China and Japan as well as the Russian trade minister in Jakarta. "They all asked what our maritime axis was about... My feeling is, they are already nervous," he said to laughter.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi this week told Quran Tempo newspaper that Mr Joko's participation in these summits aim to "strengthen Indonesia's role as a 'middle power' and 'global player'". Foreign ministry spokesman Michael Tene said the meetings are "an opportunity for (Mr Joko) to present his plans for Indonesia's development over the next five years, and put across Indonesia's interests, which include building connectivity, improving maritime facilities and developing infrastructure."

Mr Joko may also announce Indonesia's intention to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank mooted by China, as it will help with its development plans, Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said.

zakirh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 8, 2014.
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