Jokowi to have bilateral talks with 15 state leaders

Jokowi to have bilateral talks with 15 state leaders
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo.

At least 15 heads of state have requested to hold bilateral talks with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo later this month on the sidelines of events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Asia-Africa Conference.

Presidential chief of staff Luhut Panjaitan, who is in charge of the organising committee for the events, said on Friday that 17 or 18 heads of state had requested bilateral meetings with President Jokowi, who began his term in October last year.

Luhut, however, said that given the tight schedule, Jokowi might not be able to entertain all proposals. "We will see about it. It will be a very tight schedule," he said on Friday.

Luhut met with Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto and State Secretary Pratikno to discuss preparations for the Asia-Africa event at Retno's office on Friday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir said it was not unusual for heads of state to hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of a major conference.

"Usually, they will use such events to hold bilateral meetings. The goal is to enhance bilateral relations and co-operation," he said on Saturday.

Armanatha confirmed, however, that only 16 heads of state had requested bilateral meetings.

Retno has said Jakarta would utilize the forum to strengthen Asian-African ties as well as to gauge what would be Indonesia's regional policies toward Africa.

The two-day Asia-Africa summit leaders meeting, senior officials meeting and ministerial meeting will take place in Jakarta on April 19-23, while the commemoration event will be held in Bandung, West Java, on April 24.

The summit is expected to produce three outcomes: a document called the Bandung Message, which is aimed at setting a new, more concrete and doable form of co-operation; a strategic partnership; and a declaration in support of Palestinian independence.

As of Saturday, the government has received confirmation of attendance from 25 heads of state, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Armanatha said three deputy heads of state had also confirmed.

Retno said as the host, Indonesia would "share leadership" by imposing a co-chairing mechanism to encourage a sense of ownership among the participating countries given the tensions in world politics today.

"Now, we are drafting the arrangement for co-chairs. The President and leaders of other countries will take turns leading the forum," Luhut said.

The content preparation for the conference is nearing completion in New York as materials are set to arrive in Jakarta on April 14.

"Overall preparations are going well", said Luhut.

Luhut also said the disbursement of the more than Rp 200 billion (S$21 million) in funds earmarked for organising the events went smoothly.

Previously, Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said the Rp 6 billion allocated to the Communications and Information Ministry and Rp 3 billion to the Tourism Ministry had yet to be disbursed because of administrative problems.

During the two-day business summit, a side event aiming to seek investment opportunities will be opened by Jokowi. Indonesia will also seek market expansion in apparel goods, electronic products and footwear.

Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) recently criticised Indonesia for sending an invitation to Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court, to attend the event, saying that such move went against the spirit of the Asia-Africa forum, which is aimed at boosting South-South co-operation to promote world peace and welfare.

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