Indonesia loves S'pore, growing distant from US & getting closer to China

PM Lee is in a special group of friends.

Sulaiman Daud | August 24, 2019, 08:24 PM

There are a few people whom President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo of Indonesia has publicly expressed having a close relationship with.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is one of them.

Indonesia loves Singapore

On Aug. 23, Dino Patti Djalal, former Indonesian Ambassador and Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, held a talk on Indonesia's foreign policy at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

When asked by an audience member to describe bilateral relations between Singapore and Indonesia, he said it could be summed up in just three words.

"We love you," he said.

Dino, the former special advisor to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, explained that in Indonesia, personal relationships between the heads of government are considered important.

Who is Jokowi close to?

Dino then asked the audience to consider this. "Who are the few leaders President Jokowi feels he has a rapport with?"

Dino named President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, and PM Lee.

U.S.-Indonesia relations cooling off

However, a notable name not on the list was President Donald Trump of the U.S.

Dino pointed out that Jokowi has not made a visit to Washington D.C. since Trump became President, and said that Trump's policies have been largely unpopular in Indonesia.

He cited the Trump Administration's decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which resulted in "one million people" protesting near the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.

For the previous few decades, a survey was conducted that asked Indonesians which country they considered the most important in foreign affairs.

The answer was always "America", but two years ago, this was replaced by China.

Closer ties between Indonesia and China

In addition to the personal rapport Dino said that Jokowi has with Xi, he also pointed to growing trade as evidence of the strong ties between Indonesia and China.

He gave an example from his own personal experience, as Indonesia's Ambassador to the U.S. in 2010.

At the time, bilateral trade between the two countries stood at about US$ 26 billion.

After nine years in 2019, it has only grown to US$29 billion.

In comparison, trade between Indonesia and China has grown from US$25 billion to US$70 billion within the same period.

And Indonesia is targeting trade of US$100 billion in the next few years, which Dino believes could be easily achieved.

However, Dino said that Indonesia was still ready to welcome investors from the U.S., but it would help if the Americans made greater efforts to be closer to Indonesians. He added:

"I told all my American friends, you really got to fight for your space."

Read about the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem here:

Top image from Getty by Suhaimi Abdullah.