Jokowi talks trade, investments on Papua New Guinea trip

The meeting is part of Indonesia’s ongoing efforts to intensify its engagement with Pacific Island nations, an undertaking increasingly popular among nations seeking to assert their influence in the contested region.

Yvette Tanamal

Yvette Tanamal

The Jakarta Post


President Joko “Jokowi“ Widodo (left) is greeted by Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape at APEC Haus ahead of bilateral meetings in Port Moresby on July 5, 2023. (AFP/Andrew Kutan)

July 7, 2023

JAKARTA – In hopes of bolstering Indonesia’s ties with Papua New Guinea, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Wednesday embarked on a one-day trip to Port Moresby to meet with his PNG counterpart Prime Minister James Marape, where the two discussed further collaboration on trade and higher education.

Jokowi’s brief rendezvous came as the latest development in Indonesia’s ongoing efforts to intensify its engagement with Pacific Island nations, an undertaking also increasingly popular among bigger nations seeking to assert their influence in the contested region.

Accompanied by some of Jakarta’s top economic affairs officials, Jokowi also met with PNG Governor-General Bob Dadae and several entrepreneurs in the first-ever Indonesia-PNG business forum.

Since holding last year’s Group of Twenty (G20) presidency, Jakarta has been adamant about being a voice for the global south, including by inviting representatives from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to convey their interests to other world leaders amid a highly tense geopolitical landscape.

This mission was again reiterated this year during Jakarta’s ASEAN chairmanship, when Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said in her annual speech that “Indonesia [sought] to bring the Pacific closer to the world” through various means, including via economic cooperation, investments and a regional flagship event, the ASEAN-Indo-Pacific Forum.

“Papua New Guinea is a close neighbor of ours, a good friend and Indonesia’s strategic partner in the Pacific,” said Jokowi ahead of his flight on Monday.

Jakarta on Wednesday said that Jokowi and Marape engaged in a 35-minute-long tête-à-tête, before holding a bilateral meeting involving Coordinating Economic Affairs Minister Airlangga Hartarto, Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia and Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan.

Earlier in March, former PNG foreign minister Justin Tkatchenko met with his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta, where the two announced their commitments to start negotiations for a preferential trade agreement (PTA) and investments in the energy, telecommunications and pharmaceutical sectors.

“At the end of [Jokowi and Marape’s] bilateral meeting, President Jokowi and PM Marape witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding pertaining to collaboration on higher education, inked by [Retno] and PNG Higher Education Minister Don Poyle,” the Indonesian government said.

Jokowi’s PNG-bound flight also acted as the launch of Citilink’s new direct service from Denpasar to Port Moresby, which has been hailed as a step toward improving the economic relationship between the two countries.

“The opening of this international route is a historic moment for the two countries, [as] this has been long-awaited by the PNG citizens seeking to travel to Indonesia, especially Bali, [without] having to transit in Manila or Singapore,” said Citilink president director Dewa Kadek Rai in a Sunday statement.

Despite a heavy focus on improving economic relations between the two countries, Jokowi’s visit was not immune to political tensions at domestic and regional levels.

Indonesia’s Papua region, which has for decades been torn by separatist movements due to poor development, shares a border with PNG, where pockets of secessionists’ supporters have stayed faithful to the cause.

This political instability has continued to worsen in recent months, due to the 5-month abduction of a New Zealand pilot, and was apparently felt in PNG as reports of Port Moresby’s officials banning the West Papuan liberation flag in the city have emerged prior to the President’s arrival.

Indonesia has sought to nurture its ties to PNG due to the cultural proximity of its people to the native Papuans, who are allowed to cross the border with greater ease than other residents.

Jokowi is headed to Papua to bookend his trip abroad, as he has done repeatedly over the course of his presidency.

Additionally, Jakarta’s adamance in engaging with the Pacific Island nation was by no means detached from the geopolitical tension between the United States and China now ubiquitous to the Indo-Pacific region. With a strategic geographical position and an abundance of natural resources, Washington has attempted to woo Pacific Island nations with diplomatic and financial incentives, while Beijing’s firms have ramped up infrastructure projects, including mines and ports on select island states.

Prior to Jokowi’s visit to PNG, Port Moresby in May welcomed the historic visits of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the latter of which saw PNG sign a defense pact allowing Washington to gain military access to its ports and airports.

Indonesia, however, has repeatedly warned against seeing the Pacific Islands through a competition-based lens, instead promoting mutually beneficial economic cooperation.

scroll to top