China and Indonesia to boost trade as Widodo’s Sinovac shot underlines ‘brotherly relations’
- Foreign ministers Retno Marsudi and Wang Yi signal intent to expand imports and investments in effort to boost and balance trading relationship
- Two-way trade has boomed even amid Covid-19, but there are thorny issues too – such as the poor treatment of Indonesian fishermen on Chinese vessels
Indonesia’s foreign minister on Wednesday urged China to remove trade barriers for some of the country’s main exports so that trade between the countries could grow and become more balanced, a concern his Chinese counterpart responded to positively.
Wang said Beijing looked forward “to expanding imports from Indonesia and Chinese investments in Indonesia so that we can bring about a more healthy and balanced growth in trade between our two countries”.
“We have supported each other with medical supplies and have actively shared medical and diagnostic experience inside China despite the sharp increase in the demand for vaccines. We still overcame our difficulties and did not hesitate to respond to the need to provide vaccines to our friends in Indonesia,” Wang said.
Wang also met Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s minister of maritime and investment affairs who is in charge of boosting Chinese investment, on Tuesday in Lake Toba in North Sumatra, where he expressed China’s commitment to cooperating on areas such as tourism, agriculture, trade and commerce, and marine research.
Before the meeting, Luhut and Wang signed two memorandums of understanding about cybersecurity and industrial parks, according to the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua.
Retno said that during his meeting Wang had also signed a memorandum of understanding about “increased joint activities” and a memorandum of meeting about a pre-feasibility study into the Lambakan Dam in East Borneo.
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Wang also emphasised the importance of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative projects in Indonesia, which include the construction of the US$6.07 billion Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway and some industrial parks.
“We will also focus on technological innovation and accelerate building new growth drivers such as 5G, AI and Big Data, so that we can make our industries more competitive.”
“I am again asking for [China’s] attention about some pending issues, such as the repatriation of Indonesian fishermen who are still stranded [in overseas waters], settlements related to their labour rights, and improvements for safe and conducive working conditions, as well as law enforcement through mutual legal assistance,” Retno said.
At the end of last year, Indonesia repatriated 163 Indonesian fishermen, including the bodies of three who died while working for Chinese employers.
Surviving workers said they had been subjected to harsh treatment and inhumane working conditions, such as being beaten or tortured by their Chinese colleagues for their lack of Chinese language skills and forced to drink filtered seawater or eat fish bait. Their salaries were also lower than Chinese fishermen, they said.
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Indonesia is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea, but it has frequently clashed with China over fishing rights in northern parts of the Natuna Sea, where parts of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone are seen by China as falling within the nine-dash line it uses to demarcate its maritime territorial claims.
Last year, Indonesia drove off Chinese coastguard vessels that entered the Natuna Sea and sent a protest note to Beijing summoning China’s ambassador to Indonesia. In December, Indonesia said it was planning to move a naval combat squad headquarters to the Natuna Islands, to prevent similar intrusions.
To this, Wang responded that Beijing and Jakarta would continue to “abide by the principle of friendly consultation” to solve future stand-offs in the Natuna waters.