Prabowo Pledges Closer Ties With Japan Following China Visit

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Prabowo Pledges Closer Ties With Japan Following China Visit

The Indonesian president-elect’s back-to-back visits to China and Japan point to a continuation of his predecessor’s pragmatic foreign policy.

Prabowo Pledges Closer Ties With Japan Following China Visit

Indonesian President-elect and current Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, left, and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, shake hands at the prime minister’s office Wednesday, April 3, 2024, in Tokyo.

Credit: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool

Indonesia’s president-elect Prabowo Subianto said today that he wants to deepen security and economic cooperation with Japan, just days after stating the same thing with regard to China.

Prabowo, who currently serves as Indonesia’s defense minister, arrived in Japan last night from China, where he made his first foreign trip since winning a significant victory in Indonesia’s presidential election in February. “We have built a cooperative relationship and going forward I would like to strengthen that,” Prabowo told Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a meeting in Tokyo today, according to a Reuters report.

In turn, Kishida congratulated Prabowo on his victory in the presidential election on February 14 and said that his visit to Japan was “very encouraging,” Japanese media reported.

“Japan and Indonesia have been close friends for a long time,” Kishida said, adding that he wanted the two nations “to further promote cooperation as partners sharing basic values and principles.”

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hayashi Yoshimasa told the media that Prabowo’s trip would “be an opportunity to strengthen close cooperation in regional affairs and bilateral cooperation across a wide range of areas.”

The visit to Japan came two days after Prabowo, who will take office in October, met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing, during which he hailed the two nations’ fruitful relationship and pledged that he would do his best to ensure the upward trajectory of relations continues. China’s CCTV quoted Prabowo as saying that he “fully supports the development of closer Indonesia-China relations and wishes to continue President Joko [Widodo]’s policy of friendship with China.”

In response, Xi described Prabowo as an “old friend of the Chinese people” and said that the Chinese government views its relations with Indonesia “from a strategic and long-term perspective, standing ready to deepen all-round strategic cooperation,” in Reuters’ paraphrase.

These various expressions of bilateral amity offer a strong indication, if any were needed, that Prabowo plans to maintain his country’s traditionally non-aligned foreign policy, pursuing good and mutually beneficial relationships with Asia’s various poles of power. Indeed, in this regard, as in others, he is set to fulfill his promise of continuity with the administration of President Joko Widodo, often known as Jokowi, in which he has served as defense minister since 2019.

Since taking office in 2014, Jokowi has presided over a remarkable rise in China’s economic presence in the country. China is now Indonesia’s top trade partner, with two-way trade exceeding $130 billion annually, nearly double the amount when Jokowi entered office in 2014. By 2022, China was also the second-largest investor in the country after Singapore, with large amounts of capital going into the mining sector in particular. For his part, Jokowi has made seven visits to China during his decade in power, most recently for the Belt and Road Forum in October.

Prabowo’s decision to make Beijing the destination of his first visit as president-elect reflects his desire to continue to prioritize economic relations with China, in order to support a domestic agenda focused on continued economic development. The decision to follow it up with a visit to Tokyo, with which Jakarta also saw steady if less marked progress in relations under Jokowi, underscores his desire to continue pursuing a diverse array of economic and security relationships. Prabowo’s visits are also a striking sign that the competition for influence with Indonesia’s next administration is heating up, months before he is scheduled to take office.