[Exclusive] Jokowi: Aim is to make Asean region stable [NSTTV]

President Joko Widodo tells Media Prima that Asean does not want conflict, and adherence to international law is crucial

Q: Asean is facing an internal struggle following a military coup in Myanmar in February 2021, which has yet to be resolved via consensus within Asean. Some members, apart from a diplomatic approach, are asking for sterner action against Myanmar, including a boycott of the country. As Asean chair, what are Indonesia's plans to face this challenge, especially in ensuring that the Five-Point Consensus plan is a success?

Answer: The reference point and our principle is the Five-Point Consensus. We know that Myanmar's situation has been in the making for seven decades. This is not an easy problem to solve.

This is a complex problem and can only be resolved if there is a strong will from Myanmar itself. It has to come from there.

To me, what is most important is, firstly, all violence must end swiftly. Secondly is starting a dialogue between Asean and Myanmar, and Asean with countries neighbouring Myanmar.

We have an Office of Asean Special Envoy, which will move and conduct on-ground engagements.

We hope that representatives from Myanmar will also play an active role until the conclusion. This has to come from two fronts, not just one.

Q: The maritime disputes involving the United States and China over large swathes of the South China Sea, which affect almost all Asean countries, are on the rise, with the Code of Conduct negotiations between China and Asean remaining largely unchanged in 2022. What is Indonesia's strategy to ensure that Asean's rights and interests are upheld?

Answer: Asean's position is clear in that we want the South China Sea to be an area that is stable, peaceful and prosperous. This is what all of Asean wants.

The key to this is adherence to international law, to the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) 1982. This is the key.

All claims that have no basis should not take place. As such, we have the key. Obey the international law. Asean will continue to push towards stability in the area.

Q: Asean's position as a power in between major forces in the Indo-Pacific region is being tested following the emergence of the Quad (regional force involving Japan, India, the US and Australia) and Aukus (defence pact comprising the US, Britain and Australia), which did not involve Asean despite the objective to boost regional security. How does Indonesia, as the chair, plan to strengthen Asean's role and ensure its relevance in regional and global security?

Answer: Asean is the only regional organisation that offers various forms of diplomacy. Asean's principle is collaboration, cooperation and active involvement. We do not want any conflict. We do not want isolation.

To me, we should view the Quad and Aukus as partners, and not competitors. With regard to anything that happens in this region, Asean's aim is to make the region a stable and peaceful one.

Without these two elements, it is unlikely for the people of Asean to achieve prosperity.

Q: Of late, there has been no shortage of accusations that China is controlling Asean by proxy as the majority of countries' economies here depend on China, which is Asean's largest trading partner, accounting for a quarter of all trade in 2020. At the same time, China is claiming more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea. How does Indonesia plan to tackle this on Asean's behalf?

Answer: For Indonesia in its leadership of Asean, we do not want Asean to be anyone's proxy. It cannot be a proxy to another nation. Asean by nature is open and inclusive.

"What we want is to ensure economic cooperation with all quarters based on the foundations of equality, mutual respect as well as mutual benefit. This is something we will continue to stress.

"As such, what we want to strengthen isn't just government-to-government relations, but also society-to-society. This is also what we will continue to emphasise.

Q: As a bangsa serumpun (brotherly nation) and close ally of Indonesia, what do you hope for in terms of strengthening bilateral relations with Malaysia? Which sectors need to be improved? What is your assessment of the relationship at this point?

Answer: Indonesia and Malaysia are saudara serumpun. Our historical ties are very strong, and this has to be understood. Indonesia was among the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with Malaysia when the latter gained independence in 1957.

Relationships such as this cannot be forgotten. We are a family that shares strong historical bonds.

Right now, our relationship, in particular economic trade and investments, continues to soar. This is something we have to continue to strengthen. Even if trade or investments drop, we cannot neglect this (relationship) and must continue to work on it.

We are, after all, saudara serum-pun. Our ties have to remain strong to reflect our status as family and neighbours.

Q: Indonesia and Malaysia are two of the world's largest palm oil producers. How can these two nations overcome the tension and deadlock with the European Union (EU)? What can Indonesia and Malaysia do to strengthen cooperation over palm oil in the future?

Answer: I believe that we have to do this together. We have to team up. Indonesia is open to partnering with Malaysia on how to face the market situation, especially in the EU market.

If the cooperation isn't strong, we will face difficulties in dealing with discriminatory practices in the EU.

A total of 16 million people in Indonesia work in the oil palm industry. Indonesia will continue to champion this, we don't want to see any discriminatory practices.

If we were to partner with Malaysia, this would see us emerging as the largest crude palm oil (CPO) and palm oil producers in the world. Market penetration would also be easier, as well as price management.

Let's not see Indonesia and Malaysia compete with each other, we will both lose in the end. We need to stand united. I am confident that we can face and resolve this if we stand together.

Q: The number of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia has reached 1.6 million. What can both countries do to boost cooperation in protecting these workers?

Answer: The protection of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia has to be continuously improved and upgraded.

We agree with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on the need to develop a One Channel System (OCS). This will make it easier to address matters should any questions arise on the ground. Once the OCS is up and running, any issues related to Indonesian migrant workers can be resolved.

We also wish to push for the relevant authorities to consider the development of community learning centres so that children of Indonesian migrants in Malaysia can go to school and learn. This is important.

Q: Indonesia took over as Asean chair after its success as the G20 president last year. This saw, among others, the country serving as the mediator in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, as well as coordinator of the Pandemic Fund, which raised US$1.4 billion, to help low- and medium-income countries tackle future health crises. What will Indonesia do for Asean, which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic?

Answer: We have learnt from the experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. A public health emergency fund is extremely important. It is something we must prepare for the future.

We have already established an Asean Response Fund. All Asean member states will contribute to the fund. This is important as during a pandemic, funds would be needed to buy vaccines, medicine and medical supplies.

Asean will also expedite the operation of the Asean Centre for Public Health Emergency and Emerging Disease. Once this is operational, it will prove invaluable for the people of Asean.

This has to be done. We cannot leave anything to chance, such as rushing for vaccines and ventilators. It cannot happen again.

It has to be organised and prepared well, from the funds, equipment, medicine and vaccines. Global cooperation must also be strengthened to educate the people on health.

Cooperation with the medical, pharmaceutical and healthcare industry is also a must among Asean member states so that we do not need to rely on those outside the bloc and we can stand independent.

Q: When Cambodia handed over the Asean chair to Indonesia in Phnom Penh last November, you gave the impression that economic development would be the main thrust under Indonesia's chairmanship. What are among the economic plans set to take place to spur Asean's growth?

Answer: The goal is for an epicentrum of growth. Asean has to be the centre of economic growth in the region and the world. This is because Asean has massive potential, a population of 650 million. This is the first advantage.

Our economic growth has always been among the world's best. This potential has to be further tapped to ensure that Asean's main programme, which is infrastructure development, improves as in infrastructure acceleration, including the ports, airports, roads and electricity.

Second is strengthening food security. Asean food security has to be noted. Let's not be reduced to depending on countries beyond the region.

Third is spurring digital transformation. This is important as we are now in the digital era.

Digital transformation would be good for administrators, trade as well as industries. And this has to start now.

Fourth is expanding the ecosystem for electric vehicles (EV). Apart from reducing carbon emission, we also want Asean to become a centre of expansion for electric vehicles. An EV ecosystem has to be one of our strengths.

Q: The issue of food security has become a major agenda after the global agricultural sector was badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and made worse by the Russia-Ukraine war, which affected fertiliser supply worldwide. How will Indonesia use its position to guarantee food security for the region via multilateralism, after having stressed the importance of the issue as G20 president, especially in the aspect of agricultural investment to boost output and eliminate blockades or tariff discrimination?

Answer: The issue of food security is a crucial one. Asean has massive potential here as Asean is the third largest rice producer in the world.

"However, we also have to be careful as we are still prone to a supply shock. Why? Because our wheat is still 99 per cent imported, so are soybeans at 90 per cent.

What's the solution? To replace with other food or try planting these crops in the region?

This has to be worked on until we achieve food independence without having to rely on other nations.

Food security is crucial. Let's not wait until climate change depletes the food supply in Asean and other countries.

All these have to be prepared as we can grow just about anything in Asean countries. We have to remain optimistic in trying to achieve this.

Q: Indonesia is the fifth largest producer of greenhouse gas, accounting for about four per cent of the world's emissions in 2019. It is also located in an area most susceptible to climate change. What are Indonesia's initiatives and responsibilities on environmental policy domestically, at the Asean level and globally towards green technology?

Answer: Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands, some large and some small. The effects of climate change are becoming apparent, such as rising sea levels.

We have undertaken several concrete actions. The first is to reduce deforestation, which is now at its lowest level in 20 years.

Second is the rehabilitation of mangroves spanning 600,000ha. We hope to complete this by next year.

Third, we have rehabilitated three million hectares of forest land. This will be good in terms of battling climate change.

We have since 2016 also reduced forest burning by 88 per cent. It has been six years since haze from forest fires was reported.

Indonesia is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2060 or earlier. We will also convert our coal-fired power plants into renewable energy sources by 2050. This requires a long transition period.

Q: The issue of human rights violation is becoming rife in the Asean region, especially in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar, which have seen the rise of military regimes. We have also seen mass protests against legislative changes deemed as discriminatory against the people (such as Indonesia's Job Creation Law). What is Indonesia doing to improve Asean's image on the global stage?

Answer: First, there is no need to doubt Indonesia's commitment to democracy and human rights. This is because in Indonesia, freedom of speech, freedom of democracy and freedom of opinion are all guaranteed in the constitution.

Democracy in Indonesia is proceeding smoothly. The selection of village heads, which hears the demands of 74,800 villages, is an example of a democratic forum.

This is followed by the election of regents and mayors every five years, who are elected directly by the people. Then, the election of the president, vice-president and Parliament is also directly by the people.

The issue relating to democracy and human rights is on Myanmar.

This has become the question for Asean. We need to continue to move things along until the issue of Myanmar is resolved.

We need dialogues and this will not be resolved in a short time. This is a complex issue which requires a lengthy period.

We hope to see an end to the Myanmar issue, a more democratic Asean, a greater appreciation of human rights, and a continuation of freedom to organise and opine.

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