China, Myanmar at the forefront of US-Indonesian meeting
US President Joe Biden met his Indonesian counterpart, Joko Widodo, on Monday on the sidelines of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, continuing their discussions of the US-ASEAN and East Asia summits in October.
âIndonesia is a vital strategic partner for the United States, and your leadership in the Indo-Pacific is essential,â Biden told Widodo, also known by his nickname, Jokowi.
Jokowi thanked Biden for the 13.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, among the largest donations Washington has provided through the COVAX vaccine sharing mechanism.
The meeting is part of Biden’s diplomatic charm offensive to win favor in Southeast Asia’s largest country, a region where China’s economic, diplomatic and military clout has steadily grown.
Climate change, the response to the pandemic, the freedom of the seas, the coup in Myanmar and the strengthening of the “strategic partnership” were among the topics discussed by the two men, according to a statement provided by the White House. This is the first in-person meeting between the two since Biden took office.
During the nearly hour-long meeting, Biden reiterated the United States’ commitment to the centrality of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and its support for the prospects of the ASEAN on the Indo-Pacific – terminology which essentially means that regional processes and commitments are determined and led by the bloc of 10 countries.
Since its inception, Indonesia has proudly adhered to the principle of non-alignment – enshrined in its doctrine of âindependent and activeâ foreign policy – by adopting a balanced approach to avoid angering Washington or Beijing.
But now Washington wants Indonesia to take a stronger stance against Chinese transgressions, especially in the South China Sea, where Jakarta recently took a softer, less confrontational stance in its own dispute with Beijing over the Natuna Islands, a said Lucas Myers, the Southeast Asia Program Coordinator and Associate at the Wilson Center Asia Program.
Hard to sell
It can be a tough sell. Beijing has sought to win over Jokowi with massive investments in infrastructure and vaccine diplomacy, while Washington’s efforts under the previous Obama and Trump administrations were disjointed at best, said Aaron Connelly, a researcher at the International Institute of strategic studies.
“We want to be close to the United States, but it is sometimes difficult,” said Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesian minister responsible for the coordination of maritime affairs and investments, in the Indonesian service of VOA in October following his meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Pandjaitan said he told Sullivan that Jakarta is very welcoming to Chinese investors “because we have to survive.”
Beijing is the biggest investor in Indonesia. According to Indonesian state media, in 2020, Chinese investment in the country reached $ 4.8 billion, and total trade exceeded $ 78.48 billion.
With the Jokowi government prioritizing economic growth, Washington must step up trade and investment with Indonesia to compete with China. âIn the States, I said, ‘Why don’t you come too?’ âPandjaitan said.
The US-ASEAN Business Council business group said the Biden-Jokowi meeting was “another positive step” in expanding economic relations.
“President Jokowi’s reform efforts apparently improve Indonesia’s ability to compete for higher-value foreign direct investment in areas such as mining and electric vehicles,” said Marc Mealy, vice-president. chief policy officer of the board.
âGoing forward, US-Indonesian economic priorities of interest to US businesses will include healthcare, renewable energy resources, and the use of digital technologies and green finance to support economic recovery,â added Mealy.
This is not the first time that a US administration has attempted to remove Jakarta from Beijing’s sphere of influence. Mike Pompeo, secretary of state under the Trump administration, has sought to pit Indonesia against China by highlighting Beijing’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims. The effort turned against him.
âMany influential Indonesians viewed Pompeo with cynicism and feared that heightened tensions between Beijing and Jakarta could lead to racial tensions in Indonesia,â Connelly said. âSo, despite Indonesia’s status as the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, the situation in Xinjiang has been relatively silent.
In November 2020, the Trump administration dangled the promise of a $ 2 billion investment in the Indonesian sovereign wealth fund project. The plan failed because the price – Israel’s recognition under the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords – was too high for Jakarta.
Unified over Myanmar
Biden and Jokowi called on the Burmese military to end all violence and release political prisoners. The White House said the two leaders agreed on Monday that the military must “ensure a swift return to democracy.”
Myanmar has been in turmoil since a military coup seized power in February.
âThe Myanmar crisis is arguably the most pressing issue for ASEAN, and Indonesia stands out by constantly pushing for a stronger response against the military takeover,â Myers said.
In October, Indonesia and other ASEAN ministers excluded Senior General Min Aung Hlaing from the ASEAN summit – the bloc’s biggest rebuke against Myanmar since February 1, when the Myanmar army overthrew a civilian government under the de facto leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Former United States Ambassador and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is traveling to Myanmar on a private humanitarian mission that will focus on supporting the pandemic, his spokesperson said on Sunday.
G-20: Bali 2022
Jakarta is expected to succeed Italy as the G-20 presidency from December. Jokowi pledged “inclusive, people-centered, environmentally friendly and sustainable growth” as a central tenet of his G-20 leadership, adopting the theme “Recovering Together, Recovering Stronger”.
A key element of this theme is the financing of climate action plans of developing countries. At the G-20 summit in Rome this weekend and at COP26, Indonesia, a major emitter of greenhouse gases, pushed rich countries to meet their climate finance pledge to provide $ 100 billion per year to support the efforts of developing countries to reduce emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.
The White House has said that after a four-year absence of US leadership under the previous administration, Biden is committed to meeting international climate finance targets by 2023.
In September, Biden pledged to work with Congress to double US climate finance to $ 11.4 billion per year by 2024. In his remarks at COP26 on Monday, he said he would launch an initiative aiming to provide $ 3 billion per year, as part of a larger climate. financial arrangement. Congress is expected to approve the plan first.
Eva Mazrieva and Virginia Gunawan contributed to this story