Jokowi to make maiden speech at forum

He will deliver keynote address at World Economic Forum hosted by Jakarta, with talks centred on trust

At this year's gathering of some of East Asia's key policymakers, corporate brass and analysts, all eyes will be on Indonesian President Joko Widodo as he delivers his first major speech to the global community on his home ground after six months in office.

Mr Joko is slated to deliver a keynote address tomorrow at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia. The forum kicks off in Jakarta today with discussions centred on a key ingredient necessary to secure East Asia's prosperity - trust.

Trust is critical at a time when this part of the world has seen an outbreak of all manner of disputes - from the South China Sea territorial tensions to the souring of China-Japan ties and the Occupy Central street protests that brought Hong Kong to a standstill - and amid efforts to create a single market, say the organisers of the three-day forum. They have chosen to weave the sessions around the theme of trust and regionalism.

Best known for its annual meeting in Davos, the WEF is a non-profit international institution that engages political, business, academic and other leaders of society to shape global and regional agendas. Apart from East Asia, the WEF holds regional meetings in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

The theme of trust may well apply to Mr Joko himself, a charismatic leader who took office last October and finds himself in an uneasy relationship with his own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle. Less than a fortnight ago, party chief Megawati Sukarnoputri put Mr Joko on notice with speeches during the party's annual congress, in which she called Mr Joko a "servant of the party" who had to toe the party line while framing policies.

Mr Joko is presiding over Indonesia at a defining moment in its history, and the world has high hopes for what the country and the region can become, Mr John Riady, executive director of Indonesia's Lippo Group and a co-chair of the forum, told The Sunday Times.

"It will be interesting to hear his views on the many challenges as well as opportunities that confront the country and the region," said Mr Riady, who is also editor at large with Jakarta Globe daily.

The Indonesian economy has markedly slowed down, although a new projection by IHS think-tank says that by 2017, it will become Asia's next trillion- dollar economy, after China, Japan, India, Australia and South Korea.

Other participants at the forum include Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Vietnamese Deputy Premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed and Admiral Harry Harris, the Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet.

Much optimism surrounds East Asia, the world's fastest-growing region with a projected average growth rate of above 7 per cent this year. The growth can be held hostage, however, to political, social, economic and geopolitical tensions that arise from a lack of trust, two of the forum's five co-chairs told The Sunday Times.

"It is a virtuous circle of growth if there is trust," said Mr Hans-Paul Buerkner, who is chairman of the Boston Consulting Group and also a co-chair of the forum. Trust, he said, is what spurs individuals to contribute to society, whether as entrepreneurs, employees, taxpayers or law-abiding citizens.

"The more people feel that they will benefit from overall development, the more they are willing to contribute," he said.

Mr Riady noted that volatility in today's world has undermined the trust in leadership across institutions.

"In too many countries, citizens are questioning their forms of government, whether democratic or otherwise. Societies find it difficult to trust business to create wealth and markets to fairly allocate opportunities... Universities, too, have come under scrutiny for not producing graduates with the right skills. Our institutions are at risk of paralysis at a time when we need them most," he said.

"This is why the WEF meeting's focus on trust - or rather the crisis of trust - is critical," he added.

For South-east Asia, this is a crucial year when it bands together to launch a common market and production base, the Asean Economic Community (AEC). As the region's largest economy, Indonesia is seen to play a driving role in the initiative that has the potential to create one of the world's largest economic blocs.

The WEF meetings are sometimes described by critics as mere talk-shops, but Mr Buerkner sees the Jakarta meet as a good place for the 700 participants to suss out the commitment of policymakers to realise the AEC.

"It would be great to reinforce the optimism in the region and about the region," he said.

bhagya@sph.com.sg