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Capitalizing on moderate Islam at Osaka’s G20 summit

Indonesia has a unique position among G20 countries.

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Updated: June 13, 2019

In an exclusive interview with The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo yet again demonstrated his disinterest in foreign affairs issues.

This goes against the expectations of many Indonesian and foreign diplomats, who would like to see him build his own legacy in international diplomacy in his second term in office after focusing on domestic issues in his first term.

Jokowi is slated to attend two summits this month, the biannual ASEAN Summit in Bangkok next week and the annual G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28 and 29.

When asked about his likely presence and personal involvement at international fora in his second term, Jokowi said he would be more focused on domestic issues. He said he only felt obliged to attend several unilateral meetings, such as the summits of G20 and ASEAN.

“I think domestic issues need more concentration. For external affairs, such as investment, trade and economic affairs, we often send teams,” the President told the Post. “We must seize opportunities from all big world problems.”

President Jokowi, who defeated Prabowo Subianto for the second time in April 17’s presidential election, could gain significant economic benefits from the upcoming G20 summit, which will take place after the Constitutional Court decides whether to accept Prabowo’s challenge to the election result.

However, it seems the President does not fully realize the strategic importance of the Osaka summit, not just for Indonesia, but also for Islam. The G20 generates roughly 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is home to around 60 percent of the world’s population.

No doubt, as the host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will give Jokowi an opportunity to introduce his vision for promoting moderate Islam, for which Indonesia is known.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi still has time to propose some “out of the box” ideas for the President to present at the prestigious summit, but it is important that he share his views on his long-held interests, such as his concept for the Indo-Pacific.

The unpredictable and temperamental United States President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will listen to Jokowi intently, as his reelection is evidence of the dominance of moderate Islam in Indonesia. The leaders of the two big world powers need to provide economic concessions to Indonesia, a role model for Islam.

Indonesia is the one of few Muslim majority nations that have consistently embraced universal democratic values, such as individual freedoms and human rights.

However, Indonesia is not perfect, and is still grappling with the problems of terrorism, radicalism and intolerance.

The G20 Summit will also give Jokowi a stage to challenge the European Union’s plan to phase out the use of crude palm oil in biofuel by 2030 under the pretext of preventing deforestation. Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, has argued the EU’s move is discriminatory because other vegetable oils such as soybean and sunflower oils, which are produced by EU members and the US, require more land to produce than palm oil. In addition to the EU as a whole, the UK, France, Germany and Italy are also G20 members.

In 2018, the EU accounted for 15 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil exports, valued at around US$19 billion, according to Indonesian Palm Oil Association data.

Jokowi needs to convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May of the benefits of assisting Indonesia. If the EU policy takes effect, it will affect the lives of around 20 million farmers involved in the palm oil industry, either directly or indirectly.

The President needs to “steal” the multilateral show by convincing the world leaders that Islam in Indonesia is not just moderate, but also compatible with democracy.

By assisting Indonesia to modernize its economy, the club of the world’s 20 largest economies will also help themselves in the global war on terrorism. Like it or not, right or wrong, terrorism is often related to Islam. Islamophobia has spread all over the world partly because of terrorism.

There is an international perception, especially among western nations, that Islam condones violence and is opposed to democracy. But look at Indonesia. This nation needed fewer than 20 years to establish itself as the world’s third largest democracy after India and the US.

Jokowi’s reelection is confirmation that Indonesia is not only the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but also a country where Islam is compatible with a sophisticated form of democracy.

Jokowi’s win should convince the G20 members that the majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderate, inclusive and tolerant. The fact that dozens of foreign leaders have congratulated Jokowi on his reelection is a testament to this.

Hopefully, President Jokowi will return home from Osaka having secured firm commitments from Indonesia’s fellow G20 members. Helping Indonesia also means helping the G20.

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The Jakarta Post
About the Author: The Jakarta Post is one of Indonesia's leading English-language daily newspapers.

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