China and Indonesia pledge deeper ties after rare Beijing summit

The leaders of China and Indonesia have pledged to increase bilateral trade and expand cooperation in areas such as agriculture and food security, following a rare visit to COVID-wary China by a foreign head of state.

China and Indonesia believe their relations have great strategic significance and far-reaching global influence, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said after a meeting of presidents Joko Widodo and Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Tuesday.

“[China and Indonesia] have acted proactively and with a strong sense of responsibility to maintain regional peace and stability,” according to the joint statement.

“They have thus set an example of major developing countries seeking strength through unity and win-win cooperation.”

The last time China hosted foreign leaders was during the Winter Olympics in February, with Russian President Vladimir Putin among those who visited Beijing in a highly guarded bubble.

Widodo China visit
Indonesia has “enormous interests in a close economic relationship with with China”. (Reuters: Laily Rachev/Indonesian Presidential Palace)

Travel by foreign dignitaries to China has been exceedingly rare since the pandemic broke out over two years ago, with Chinese borders largely shut due to domestic COVID concerns.

Indonesia, one of China’s biggest trading partners, is an important source of ferronickel, coal, copper and natural gas for the world’s second-largest economy.

In the first half of 2022, Chinese imports from Indonesia, mostly commodities, surged 34.2 per cent on year, the most after Russia.

China has expressed commitment to import an additional one million tonnes of crude palm oil from Indonesia, said the Indonesian state palace after a meeting between Mr Widodo and Mr Li.

Dr David Engel, Head of Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Indonesia Program said Mr Widodo’s visit was not surprising, as Indonesia has “enormous interests in a close economic relationship with with China”. 

He said Mr Widodo is also visiting other key partners, including Japan and Korea. 

Dr Randy Wirasta Nandyatama, an international relations researcher from Gadjah Mada University, said Mr Widodo’s visit couldn’t be separated from his “pragmatic character” for current interests and needs of Indonesia.

Mr Nandyatama estimated that there were at least two things on Mr Widodo’s table during his visit to Beijing.

“The first is access to food, such as access to wheat, given the current world political tensions that caused hiking in food prices and inflation.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview
International relations researcher, Dr Randy Wirasta Nandyatama said Mr Widodo is a person of “pragmatic character”. (Reuters: Willy Kurniawan)

The second one, according to Mr Nandyatama, was related to the development of the new Indonesian capital city.

“Until now, the one who has interest and at least has concrete evidence to invest in the construction of infrastructure projects for the capital city is China,” he said. 

Mr Widodo met Mr Li and Mr Xi at the historic Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, part of a sprawling complex of villas, lakes and gardens where many foreign leaders, including the late US President Richard Nixon, have been received.

‘Communication bridge’ between Russia and Ukraine

As president of the G20 this year Mr Widodo has sought to mend rifts within the group exposed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last month he travelled to Ukraine to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and also to Moscow to hold talks with President Putin.

Mr Widodo said Indonesia is willing to be a “communication bridge” between the two.

China, while not condemning its strategic partner Russia for the invasion, repeatedly called for a cessation of hostilities and offered to help promote peace talks.

widodo meets putin
President Joko Widodo has travelled to both Kyiv and Moscow and said Indonesia is willing to become a “communication bridge” between the two. (Reuters: Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Kremlin)

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who was part of the travelling delegation, said Mr Xi had appreciated Mr Widodo ‘s peace efforts on the trips to Kyiv and Moscow.

“The visits were deemed by President Xi as Indonesia’s responsibility as a big country,” the Indonesian state palace cited Mr Marsudi as saying.

Both Indonesia and Russia are part of the G20, with the former holding the group’s presidency this year.

Some G20 member states threatened to boycott this year’s leaders summit, on the island of Bali on November 15-16, if Mr Putin attends.

Earlier G20 meetings this year focused on global food security and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow has called a “special military operation”.

The war in Ukraine caused major disruptions to global trade, with prices of grain and wheat soaring amid a blockade of Ukrainian seaports and sanctions on Russian commodities such as oil, gas and fertiliser.

ABC/Reuters