Indonesian President Joko Widodo gets hero’s welcome from compatriots in Hong Kong
Supporters at event during two-day visit call on president to boost country’s economy
Indonesian President Joko Widodo began a visit to Hong Kong on Sunday with a pledge to ramp up economic progress so his country would one day overtake China and India in terms of growth.
Widodo was in for rock star treatment from the city’s Indonesian community, thousands of whom packed a hall at the AsiaWorld Expo on Lantau to listen to him speak.
He called for unity, with “Indonesia is one” being the message for the many ethnic groups from the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
“The global economic situation is not in a good shape today,” he said. “But Indonesia’s economic growth is the third in the world, after India and China. If we work really hard, Indonesia’s economic growth could grow faster than India and China.”
Indonesia’s economy grew 5.02 per cent last year, compared with 6.7 per cent for China. Provisional estimates show that India’s economy grew 7.9 per cent.
The reassurance is an important matter for Indonesians working abroad, especially the 149,000 employed as domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Many are forced to seek menial work overseas because of unemployment or low wages back home. As of the end of last year, about 7 million Indonesians were jobless, representing a rate of 5.61 per cent.
“We are now building infrastructure in Indonesia, such as highways, ports, airports and power plants,” he said, as videos of those projects were played on big screens at the venue.
Ahead of his two-day visit, Widodo told the Post in an exclusive interview in Jakarta of his vision to boost economic progress so that one day, no Indonesians would have to leave home for domestic worker’s jobs overseas.
Security was tight at the AsiaWorld Expo, with heavily armed police officers patrolling the sites. Personnel from the elite VIP Protection, Counter Terrorism Response and Special Duties units were deployed to handle security as the threat level was categorised as high, given concerns about global terrorism.
The heavy weaponry on display was an unusual sight for Hongkongers.
While Widodo arrived at the venue at around 2.30pm, many of his fans turned up hours ahead, some as early as 6am to secure good seats.
As their leader entered the hall, the crowd became ecstatic, with many trying to get close to him for souvenir photographs and selfies. Surrounded by security personnel, Widodo walked around the hall to accept picture requests.
The event was briefly interrupted when a handful of unionists wanted to approach him to hand him a petition letter on issues concerning domestic workers.
Siti Marfuah, who has been working in the city for 13 years as a domestic helper, said she hoped Widodo would deliver his promises so that all Indonesians could find decent jobs in their own country.
“In Hong Kong, I work from 7am to 10pm every day. I have to take care of three children. That is very tiring,” she said.
Susanti Siri, a domestic helper for more than a decade, expressed similar aspirations.
Widodo was to meet Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, as well as business leaders, as he wrapped up his visit on Monday.