Premier’s Indonesia visit to boost overall relations with Southeast Asia

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/7 21:43:39 Last Updated: 2018/5/8 8:24:09

Jakarta’s nonalignment policy creates friendly atmosphere

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Indonesia, his first overseas trip since the new cabinet took office in March, will enhance economic cooperation between the two countries under the Belt and Road initiative, and is expected to give a boost to China's overall relations with Southeast Asian countries, analysts said.

Li arrived in Jakarta on Sunday and is expected to hold talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, and attend a China-Indonesia business summit, the Xinhua News Agency reported. His schedule also includes witnessing the signing of cooperation documents.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the China-Indonesia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the 15th anniversary of the strategic partnership between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Li will also visit the ASEAN Secretariat to underscore China's commitment to its relations with the 10-nation community.

"Indonesia is the third largest developing country in the world and the largest economy in ASEAN, which holds considerable sway in the region … Premier Li's visit to Indonesia is significant for both bilateral relations and China's relations with the region," Xu Liping, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed the Maritime Silk Road initiative in a speech to the Indonesia Parliament in October 2013.

"China and Indonesia have enjoyed friendly relations in recent years and Indonesia's leader has maintained close interactions with Chinese leadership since taking office. If a major country like Indonesia attaches great importance to developing ties with China, smaller ASEAN countries will follow suit," Shen Shi-shun, an Asia-Pacific expert at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Monday.

"Indonesia's nonaligned foreign policy makes the country unlikely to join a US-led coalition to contain China. Its nonalignment also helps create a favorable atmosphere for the Chinese premier's visit," Shen said.

China has been Indonesia's largest trade partner for seven straight years.

Business opportunities

Analysts said the Belt and Road initiative and Indonesia's Global Maritime Fulcrum complement each other in many ways, and Li's visit could create business opportunities.

In April, China and Indonesia signed five contracts worth $23.3 billion including a hydropower plant, facilities to convert coal to dimethyl-ether and a steel smelter.

Xu said Li's visit may lead to strategic agreements in areas such as industrial parks, production capacity cooperation, agriculture and maritime logistics. The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway project could also be discussed during the visit.

The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesia hopes to further narrow its trade deficit with China and plans to promote its agricultural products, including palm oil, coffee and cocoa as well as various tropical fruits.

Xu said it is also possible for the two countries to cooperate in e-commerce to broaden import channels.

Clearing the air

Aside from the cooperation, analysts said the Indonesia government should work to defuse deep-rooted misunderstandings toward Chinese  working in the country and not to politicize frictions.

In 2016, rumors over "the influx of 10 million illegal Chinese workers in Indonesia" had spread across the country. Some Indonesians are concerned that Chinese companies may be bringing their own workers instead of hiring Indonesians.

"A majority of the Chinese working in Indonesia are technicians, engineers and management staff, people who possess special skills and cannot be sourced in the local market. Many Chinese companies are willing to hire locals as labor costs are much cheaper than hiring Chinese workers.  But as the project moves forward, the number of Chinese hires will diminish," Shen noted.

Wang Liping, commercial counselor of the Chinese embassy in Indonesia, said in 2017 that major Chinese-invested projects can help create tens of thousands of jobs in Indonesia and, in general, one Chinese working in Indonesia can help create 10 local jobs.

Newspaper headline: Li’s Indonesia visit to boost overall ties

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