Stability 'critical to ensuring region's growth'

The Straits Times interview with the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo at Istana Bogor in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 26, 2015.
The Straits Times interview with the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo at Istana Bogor in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 26, 2015. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Stability is critical to the success of the region, said President Joko Widodo, noting that it was needed to ensure growth and investments in infrastructure - his top priority.

Nine months into the job, the former businessman who rose to become a mayor and then a governor before going on to win the presidency, appears to have consolidated his power and stabilised domestic politics.

But it is not enough that Indonesia is politically stable, he said, as it takes a regional effort in order for economic prosperity to come to all. Without political stability and security, it would not be possible for the region to keep developing, he said.

Describing his relationship with regional leaders as "good", he said he had stressed to his counterparts in the region the importance of protecting its stability.

"Without it, it would be difficult to have economic growth, then infrastructure development, then connectivity," he told The Straits Times during a tour of the grounds of Bogor Palace, where he has his main office.

After decades of peace, the region is facing rising tensions in the South China Sea as four Asean nations contest China's territorial claims over one of the world's busiest and resource-rich waterways.

Though not a claimant, Indonesia, South-east Asia's largest nation, has pledged to play a role as an "honest broker" in managing any dialogue over the claims. It has much at stake as it is also seeing power games playing out within its shores between China, India and Japan in the form of investments.

The country with the world's largest Muslim population is also grappling with the threat posed by Middle East militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Though the nation of 250 million people has eradicated major terrorist networks such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah in the last decade, it is now grappling with a small radical fringe, some members of which have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Speaking candidly, the President described fighting ISIS and terrorism as his main security priority. "We must work inclusively to improve our stability in the region and also work together with all countries to solve this terrorism problem because we have zero tolerance for it," he said.

"With cooperation, combating terrorism needs to be strengthened," he added.

But he also wants others to know that the majority of Indonesian Muslims are not radical. "Indonesia is tolerant, we love peace and 99.9 per cent of Indonesians are moderate Muslims," he said.

While seeking to boost security and stability to help draw investments, Indonesia has also appeared to have sent mixed signals when it implemented measures that seemed protectionist, such as raising import tariffs or calling for a ban on importing ships.

The President's economic adviser, Mr Tom Lembong, said such measures are not about shutting out competition. "Import substitution should not be a dirty word... we must at least be able to compete at home," he said.

Agreeing, the President said: "I do not think this is contradictory, we must work to balance the two. It is very important to have foreign investment, but (spurring) local industry is also very important, and I am sure foreign investment can and must strengthen the local industry as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'Stability 'critical to ensuring region's growth''. Print Edition | Subscribe