Asia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo calls for cooperation amid US-China rivalry

SINGAPORE – Indonesia wants relations with China and the United States, both of which are good friends, to be mutually beneficial and contribute towards world peace and stability, President Joko Widodo said in a recent interview.

In challenging times such as during the current Covid-19 pandemic, he said countries should promote “win-win relations” and work together.

“Perhaps we cannot avoid competition. What we can do is to prevent a zero-sum game,” the Indonesian leader said in a Sept 30 interview with veteran diplomat and National University of Singapore Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow Kishore Mahbubani.

“My question is: Given today’s challenging situation, is this the right time for superpower rivalry? This is my message to all countries. For Indonesia, cooperation is the best option. We are ready to be a part of this,” he added.

The broad-ranging interview covered, among other things, the President’s thoughts on US and China relations, challenges for Asean, as well as his push for foreign investments and infrastructure during his presidency.

Mr Widodo, who is better known at home as Jokowi, reiterated that his main priorities for Indonesia remained the development of human resources and infrastructure, and for this to be spread throughout the vast archipelago.

“We have 17,000 islands, so development cannot only be focused on Java. I want to build things for both villages and cities, from the east to the west. I want all Indonesians to have equal access to healthcare and education.” 

Mr Widodo noted that good infrastructure would ensure sustainable economic growth for South-east Asia’s largest economy of 270 million people, and that this went beyond building roads, ports, and airports.

“It is about building the whole nation. Infrastructure to me also means building civilisation and culture. It means increasing national competitiveness. It means equity and social justice, uniting the Indonesian nation from Sabang to Merauke,” he said, referring to two well-known cities at either end of the archipelago.

The President said he was satisfied with the volume of foreign investments, noting that they were key in building industries and factories, and more importantly, in creating jobs.

“But I always tell my ministers: you must bring more investment to Indonesia,” he said, adding that the halal market has “huge global potential”.

As a Muslim-majority country, he noted, Indonesia had the potential to be a supplier for the global halal market such as a bank for funding and capacity-building for halal products.

Indonesia syariah banking services were also making good progress, he added.

Asked about forest fires, the Indonesian leader said that the country had worked hard to tackle them, bringing incidents down by 82 per cent in 2020 compared with the previous year.

Mr Widodo, who is serving his second and constitutionally mandated final five-year term, has made a number of unpopular decisions while in office, such as ending fuel subsidies and implementing a controversial omnibus labour law.

Explaining the rationale for taking those decisions, he said putting people’s interests first “often means making tough decisions” that will improve things in the long run.

Savings from oil subsidies, for instance, were used to support more profitable programmes, such as infrastructure development.

The labour law had helped to make the business and investment process in the country much simpler and faster, he added.

“Without such a breakthrough, Indonesia won’t be able to compete with other countries.”

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