November 15, 2022
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his United States counterpart Joe Biden agreed on Monday to deepen “concrete” Indo-Pacific cooperation as they unveiled a number of new US investment pledges in Indonesia.
Biden was visiting Bali for the annual Group of 20 Summit hosted by Jokowi this week, part of a broader Southeast Asia trip that seeks to spur US engagement with one of the world’s fastest growing regions, in which its strategic rival China has achieved a firm foothold over the past decade.
In a statement issued by the Presidential Secretariat after their closed-door meeting at The Apurva Kempinski Bali hotel in Nusa Dua, President Jokowi stressed the importance of the Indonesia-US partnership “building prosperity in the Indo-Pacific” – the wider region that extends from the Pacific West Coast to nations on the Indian Ocean’s rim.
He also noted the significance of cooperation under the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), saying that Washington had the full backing of Jakarta.
“For Indonesia, concrete cooperation has always been a point of reference. I will assign the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs to follow up on this collaboration,” Jokowi said.
The IPEF is considered by observers to be in competition with China’s Belt and Road infrastructure drive, but which purports to offer more robust and rules-based cooperation. Both countries are competing for influence in the region.
But with Indonesia due to take on the the ASEAN chair next year, Jokowi was also hopeful the US could participate in the Indo-Pacific Infrastructure Forum as a show of support for the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) – a more inclusive alternative to competition.
Biden, who arrived in Bali on Sunday evening ahead of the G20 Summit, announced several investment pledges for Indonesia after describing the nation as a “critical partner”.
The pledges spanned areas like coast guard capacity building, climate and food security, including a US$2.5 billion agreement between ExxonMobil and state-owned energy company Pertamina on carbon capture.
The partnership “will enable key industry sectors to decarbonize”, the White House said in a statement, citing the refining, chemicals, cement and steel sectors. It said this would lower carbon emissions, ensure economic opportunities for Indonesian workers and help Indonesia achieve its net-zero ambitions by 2060 or sooner.
The two countries also agreed to launch a $698 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact to help support the development of climate-conscious transportation infrastructure in five Indonesian provinces and “other development goals”, the White House said.
The official statement also revealed US support for the Maritime Security Agency’s (Bakamla) surveillance drone program. The arrangement would allow the agency to procure drones, train pilots and provide maintenance that would enhance its capabilities in maritime domain awareness, law enforcement and illegal fishing response.
Object of contention
Jokowi and Biden’s meeting took place just hours before the US leader was due to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time since taking office.
Relations between the two superpowers are at their lowest in decades, marred by disagreements over a host of issues from trade to the question of Taiwan. Even so, Biden told the East Asia Summit in Cambodia on Sunday that US communication lines with China would stay open to prevent conflict, Reuters reported.
Analysts have described US engagement in the region as a neutralizing force for China’s growing clout.
Numerous surveys indicate that ASEAN’s population perceives China as the superior economic partner compared with the US, while also revealing a deeper skepticism toward Beijing when it comes to political and security matters. Meanwhile, after the Biden administration took office, ASEAN’s populace has also been more welcoming to US efforts to assert its presence in the region, one ISEAS study found.
However, the first in-person talks between the two leaders appeared to help thaw the US-China rivalry, although the White House later stated that Washington would continue to “compete vigorously with China”.
With the situation ahead of the G20 Summit already tense due to the impacts of the war in Ukraine, host Indonesia has indicated that it could do without more geopolitical drama.
Jokowi said he hoped the gathering on Tuesday could “deliver concrete partnerships that can help the world in its economic recovery”, and that G20 members could show some flexibility so that the summit would be able to produce concrete cooperation.