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Indonesian President Hopes to Strengthen Ties With Japan; Joko Discusses Economy, Security in Exclusive Interview

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaks during an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Friday.

JAKARTA — Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), emphasized his hopes for strengthening ties with Japan in an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Friday.

This comes against the backdrop of China’s intensifying assertiveness in the region.

Joko stated: “Safe and peaceful oceans are the key to peaceful stability in the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN hopes that all parties, including Japan, [will] participate in maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, ASEAN hopes for Japan’s support in concretely implementing the ASEAN outlook in the Indo-Pacific, with one of the priorities [being] maritime cooperation.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Joko also alluded to the South China Sea, where China unilaterally asserts sovereignty over certain areas that overlap with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). While avoiding direct reference to China, he remarked: “Indonesia cooperates with all parties as long as we respect each other and are mutually beneficial. When it comes to principles, Indonesia’s position is always firm and clear: Respect for international law is important as the key to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Japan’s security involvement welcome

In the vicinity of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, illegal fishing by Chinese vessels is a noticeable phenomenon.

In 2022, Indonesia conducted joint military exercises with the United States on the largest scale to date, with Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force participating for the first time.

In 2021, Indonesia and Japan also concluded the “Agreement concerning the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology,” enabling the export of defense equipment from Japan.

With China in mind, Japan aims to enhance cooperation in maritime and security matters with ASEAN countries.

When asked about welcoming Japan’s involvement, Joko responded, “Why not?”

Regarding the U.S.-China rivalry, he emphasized a neutral stance: “The U.S. and China are important friends and partners of Indonesia. I can have dialogue with President [Joe] Biden; I can also have dialogue with President Xi Jinping. Indonesia and ASEAN refuse to be proxies for any parties.”

Support for 2-state solution in Gaza conflict

Indonesia, with a population of approximately 270 million people, is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Joko expressed concern about the situation in Gaza, stating, “The root of the problem is Israel’s illegal occupation, and Palestine’s right to independence is yet to be fulfilled.” He emphasized support for “realizing a two-state solution” for peaceful coexistence between Palestine and Israel.

Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Joko avoided direct criticism of Russia, stating, “Indonesia stands ready to contribute as a bridge of peace.”

Hopes for foreign investment

Joko also expressed optimism about the expansion of economic cooperation between Japan and Indonesia. In October, Indonesia opened its first high-speed railway with support from China, and there are plans for further expansion.

Regarding China’s support, Joko said: “Indonesia is open to cooperating with all stakeholders, including Japan and China. And Indonesia always welcomes investment that brings a great multiplier effect and added value.”

Joko particularly emphasized cooperation in the energy transition towards decarbonization, electric vehicles (EVs), and the digital sectors.

As the world’s largest producer of nickel, a key material for EV batteries, Indonesia has seen companies from China and South Korea entering the market. However, investments from Japanese companies have made little progress.

Capital relocation as legacy

The proposed relocation of Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan Island, which Joko wishes to leave as his political legacy, also faces challenges in attracting foreign investment. Joko remarked, “There is still a big opportunity for future collaboration,” calling for an expansion of investment.