04/02/2024, 14.24
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President-elect Prabowo Subianto goes straight to Beijing to meet Xi Jinping

by Mathias Hariyadi

Although he is not expected to take office until October, the Indonesian Defence minister has made a stop in China before going to Japan in search of new investments. The visit will be an issue for the United States, which denied the former general an entry visa due to accusations of human rights violations.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Indonesia's Defence Minister and President-elect Prabowo Subianto met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing yesterday, consolidating relations with China even before his inauguration in October.

Xi said the two countries have entered a new phase of their relations. “China views the bilateral relations from a strategic and long-term perspective," the Chinese leader said, adding that Beijing is ready to boost all-round cooperation with Jakarta.

“The main aim of this visit is to strengthen bilateral relations between Indonesia and China and increase cooperation in the defence sector," Indonesian Defence Ministry spokesperson Edwin Adrian Sumantha said.

Prabowo, who landed in China on Sunday, will also meet with Premier Li Qiang and Defence Minister Dong Jun today.

On 20 March, after the confirmation of Prabowo’s election victory, Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to the new president, a former head of Kopassuss,[*] Indonesia’s Special Forces Command.

In the letter, delivered by China's ambassador to Indonesia Lu Kang, Xi spoke of China and Indonesia as two developing countries working together towards common development goals to “deliver more benefits to our two peoples and inject strong impetus to regional and global prosperity and stability.”

Given that President Xi usually welcomes foreign heads of government after their inauguration, the invitation extended to Prabowo seems to signal a desire to resolve several urgent issues.

The Chinese newspaper Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, reported the visit noting that Beijing hopes that Prabowo will maintain the “non-align” policy of his predecessor, outgoing President Joko Widodo, rather than side with any major power.

The meeting between Xi and Prabowo comes before the trilateral summit between US President Joe Biden, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who will meet in Washington in an anti-China perspective.

For the United States, Prabowo's visit to China is a headache because in the past Washington denied an entry visa to the then major general and Kopassus commander because of accusations against him of human rights violations and the use of irregular troops during the violent crackdown in Timor Leste (East Timor) during the latter’s fight for independence.

Indonesia, which with a population of 270 million, is the largest economy in Southeast Asia, and has boosted its relations with China in recent years, especially economic ties.

China has become Indonesia’s largest trading partner and largest foreign investor, financing a range of projects, from nickel processing (Indonesia is the world's largest nickel producer) and the construction of a high-speed railway connecting Jakarta with Bandung to a series of infrastructural projects in the country’s new capital, Nusantara, on the island of Borneo.

The timeliness of the visit could ensure that Indonesia will benefit from a series of investments in the coming years.

However, like other countries in the region, Indonesia is not seeking exclusive ties with Beijing. Today, Prabowo will be in Japan, where he will meet with government officials, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

With respect to relations with Indonesia, Japan’s statements echo China’s. “We hope that this visit to Japan will provide an opportunity to further strengthen bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas and to form closer ties in regional and international affairs," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters.

Japan, a key US ally in the Asia-Pacific, is Indonesia's second-largest trading partner. Even before he has officially taken office, the priority of the new Indonesian president seems to be striking a diplomatic balance among the region’s great regional powers.

[*] Komando Pasukan Khusus.

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