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The Key Takeaways From Chinese FM Wang Yi’s Visit to Indonesia

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The Key Takeaways From Chinese FM Wang Yi’s Visit to Indonesia

Wang’s visit is another sign that Beijing wants to get off on the right foot with the incoming Indonesian administration.

The Key Takeaways From Chinese FM Wang Yi’s Visit to Indonesia

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (right) and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi following their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 18, 2024.

Credit: X/Menteri Luar Negeri Republik Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, yesterday hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. The meeting followed a recent trip by Defense Minister and President-elect Prabowo Subianto to Beijing, during which Chinese President Xi Jinping praised the strong ties between Indonesia and China and outlined a vision for regional peace at a time of escalating tensions in Southeast Asia.

If Prabowo’s recent visit to China underscored the significance of China to Indonesia, Wang’s visit highlights Indonesia’s reciprocal importance as a key partner for Beijing in Southeast Asia.

Wang’s discussions with Indonesian officials, including Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, focused mostly on economic partnership between the two nations. The leaders mentioned potential cooperation on industrial downstreaming, infrastructure development, manufacturing, energy transition, and food security.

Specifically, Jokowi focused on market access for Indonesian products in China, along with strategic projects like the extension of the China-backed Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway and developments in the new capital city, Nusantara.

During a High-Level Dialogue Cooperation Mechanism meeting in Labuan Bajo, both sides engaged in detailed discussions on enhancing economic cooperation, particularly in vital sectors such as transportation, petrochemicals, and agriculture. Marsudi and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan led the Indonesian delegation.

In his meeting with Luhut, Wang discussed plans for rice cultivation in the Food Estate area of Central Kalimantan and the plans for the expansion of the Kuala Tanjung Port in North Sumatra, among other issues.

The focus of discussion on economic issues is not surprising given that today China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner and a significant investor, surpassing $127 billion in two-way trade volume and $7.4 billion in investments last year alone. In addition to economic collaboration, the two countries also discussed addressing transnational crimes such as online fraud operations, which have affected people in Indonesia.

Alongside discussions of economic cooperation, the two sides also addressed a number of pressing international issues, including the Israel-Hamas war. Wang and Marsudi expressed their support for an immediate and enduring ceasefire in Gaza, as expressed in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2728. Wang also took the opportunity to blame the United States for holding up ceasefire resolutions at the United Nations.

“The conflict in Gaza has lasted for half a year and caused a rare humanitarian tragedy in the 21st century,” Wang told reporters after the meeting. “The United Nations Security Council responded to the call of the international community and continued to review the resolution draft on the cease-fire in Gaza, but it was repeatedly vetoed by the United States.”

As a longstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause, Indonesia has also been critical of the U.S. position. Retno emphasized Indonesia’s stance that the Palestinian problem could be fairly resolved by implementing the two-state solution.

While the commendable endeavors of Indonesia and China in advocating for peace in Palestine merit recognition and sustained commitment, it is imperative for these nations to divert attention toward mitigating tensions in a neighboring, more immediate context – the ongoing conflict in the South China Sea region.

The South China Sea remains a focus of tension. Recent developments, including China’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Philippine vessels around Second Thomas Shoal and the Philippines’ strategic discussions with Japan and the U.S. to fortify its stance in contested waters, have only served to heighten these tensions.

While Indonesia itself is not directly involved in the dispute between the Philippines and China, the situation around the Natuna Islands, which lie within China’s “nine-dash line” claim, poses a significant threat to national stability. Chinese vessels frequently patrol and encroach upon this area, raising concerns of potential disruptions.

On this issue, Wang and Retno both expressed their desire for peace and stability in the region. Retno told the press that she believes this can only be achieved if “all parties respect international law,” while Wang also said that China is ready to agree on a Code of Conduct with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to minimize confrontation in disputed waters.

While the focus on economics was unsurprising, given that this was the main focus of the Jokowi administration in its dealings with China, the discussion of the South China Sea was notable. The issue has been overlooked in some previous bilateral meetings. The key, however, is ensuring that these commitments go beyond rhetoric. The two sides need to acknowledge that without a concerted effort to tackle the South China Sea issue, the full potential of bilateral defense cooperation, which they also discussed during Wang’s visit, will remain unrealized. A peaceful and cooperative resolution to outstanding territorial disputes between China and ASEAN member states would not only enhance regional stability but also lay the foundation for deeper trust and collaboration between China, Indonesia, and the wider region.

In conclusion, Wang Yi’s visit to Indonesia offers another sign that relations between the two nations are set to deepen under the incoming Prabowo administration. It also serves as a reminder that China values this partnership as much as Indonesia does.