Jokowi, Putin to skip Apec leaders' meeting in Manila

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend next week's Apec leaders' meeting in Manila.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend next week's Apec leaders' meeting in Manila.PHOTO: AFP

They will instead send their deputies - Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo will skip next week's Apec leaders' meeting in Manila, as will Russia's Mr Vladimir Putin.

Both leaders will send their deputies - Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev - in their place.

Mr Hussain Abdullah, a spokesman for Mr Kalla, yesterday confirmed that Mr Joko will not be in Manila and has asked Mr Kalla to go in his place. The Straits Times understands that Mr Joko decided on this so he could see to more urgent matters at home.

Philippine Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Laura del Rosario said that while Mr Joko will be "missed", his absence "will not really affect" a world leaders' "declaration" to be issued at the end of the event.

"Of course, we will miss him in the sense that he will not be able to deliver his interventions himself… during the retreat," Ms del Rosario, chair of the senior officials meeting, told reporters.

"But I think the Indonesian delegation will make sure their national positions will be reflected in all the outcome documents that will come out of the senior officials' and the ministerial meetings, and of course, from the leaders' statement."

While the reason for Mr Putin's absence is not clear, a Kremlin spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying "the decision was taken because Mr Medvedev had a series of meetings planned in the region anyway".

Mr Joko is still expected to head to Paris for the climate change conference later this month. Sources, however, say there is a chance he may skip next week's Group of 20 leaders summit in Antalya, Turkey, which is followed by the Asean and East Asia summits in Kuala Lumpur.

Last month, he cut short his maiden visit to the United States so he could rush home to deal with the transboundary haze crisis caused by forest fires in Indonesia.

His latest decision to pull out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meet attracted mixed reactions from observers.

Mr Musni Umar, vice-rector at Ibnu Chaldun University in Jakarta, agreed that Mr Joko was needed at home to deal with a range of domestic issues, including a rice shortage.

"Jokowi does not need to be overseas too often," he said, using Mr Joko's popular moniker. "Jusuf Kalla can handle the economic issues... and the delegation going with him (to Apec) would allow Jokowi to focus on pressing issues back home."

But Associate Professor Leonard Sebastian of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said Mr Joko could be buying time by not going to Manila.

"The problem may be one of managing rising expectations now that President Joko has expressed Indonesia's ambition to join the TPP," he explained, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Prof Sebastian, who coordinates RSIS' Indonesia programme, said the TPP move has raised many tough questions that Mr Joko will have to face from the media and other interested parties at Apec if he were there.

"I don't think he has the answers to these questions. I think he jumped the gun a little by trying to please US President (Barack) Obama.

"The better option for Indonesia is to obtain TPP observer status. It may take two plus years for the agreement to be ratified by the legislatures of TPP member countries. This will give ample time to prepare for membership," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Jokowi, Putin to skip Apec leaders' meeting in Manila'. Print Edition | Subscribe