November 8, 2023
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is scheduled to fly to the United States over the weekend to attend the 30th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, California, on Nov. 15-17, and a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House. For Jokowi, the US trip is an opportunity to pause his domestic agenda and recharge his battery.
The date for the bilateral meeting remains unannounced, but this will be Jokowi’s second visit to the White House after the US-ASEAN summit in Washington, DC, in May last year.
“President Biden looks forward to welcoming President Widodo to Washington for a bilateral meeting at the White House this November and also looks forward to welcoming President Widodo to San Francisco for APEC Economic Leaders’ Week,” the White House said in its press release.
Jokowi and Biden respect and like each other, although traditionally Indonesia prefers to deal with Republican presidents because the Democrats are too demanding, especially on the issues of human rights, labor protection, freedom of speech and religious freedom.
It is almost certain that Jokowi will table the ongoing war in Gaza in his conversation with his host, who is likely to persuade Jokowi to soften Indonesia’s stance on Israel’s genocidal acts in Gaza. Jokowi should stay tough on Israel as a matter of constitutional principle and to calm the public anger at the continuing violence against the Palestinians.
Palestine’s independence has long topped the agenda of Indonesian foreign policy, although former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid tried a different approach by proposing a more open and formal relationship with Israel during his 21-month rule from 1999 to 2001.
During the summit with Biden, Jokowi also needs to express his disappointment with Hamas, who killed more than 1,400 people and kidnapped over 200 others, Israelis and other nationalities, during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
The US has chosen the theme Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All for APEC 2023. It says it aims for an “interconnected, innovative and inclusive” region and “to advance a free, fair and open economic policy agenda that benefits US workers, businesses and families”.
During the APEC meeting, media attention will likely focus on two key issues: the possible summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping and the war in Gaza. Both Biden and Xi are not likely to make agreements, but their meeting will help reduce tension between the two economic and military superpowers.
Established in 1989, APEC is a non-binding regional economic forum among Asia-Pacific countries “to leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific and create greater prosperity for the people of the region by promoting balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative and secure growth and by accelerating regional economic integration”.
APEC member states are home to 38 percent of the global population, nearly 3 billion people, contribute 62 percent to the world gross domestic product (GDP) and control almost half of global trade.
When it was established in 1989, membership was based on economic strength, rather than sovereignty, which is why Hong Kong and Taiwan joined the club.
Today APEC has 21 members: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.
For President Jokowi, this will be his last APEC summit, and the last multilateral forum to woo foreign investment into his flagship new capital city, Nusantara. Jokowi will end his second and final term in October next year.
Sure, he will be tempted to lure APEC members to invest in Indonesia. However, as elections that will determine Jokowi’s successor are only a few months away, investors will logically prefer to wait until the outcome of the presidential and legislative elections are announced in March.
It will be everybody’s hope that during his US trip Jokowi can upgrade bilateral ties between the two largest democracies to the next level as part of his long-lasting legacy to the country.