China keen to work with Indonesia on BRI

Beijing also seeks to boost ties with Jakarta and other Asean members: Chinese Premier

At a meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China wants to work with Indonesia and other Asean members to take its relationship with the grouping to a new level. PHOTO: AFP

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has said his country wants to work closely with Indonesia to better link its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to the South-east Asian nation's development strategy.

At his meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in Beijing yesterday, Mr Li also said China wants to work with Indonesia and other Asean members to take its relationship with the grouping to a new level and contribute to the peace, stability, development and prosperity of the region.

Ms Retno, for her part, said China remained an important partner of Indonesia and that economic cooperation was beneficial to both sides.

Mr Li was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying: "The economies of the two countries are highly complementary and the potential for economic and trade cooperation is huge."

He added that China attaches great importance to developing ties with Indonesia.

It would like to "work closely with Indonesia on high-level exchanges, make the Belt and Road Initiative link better with Indonesia's development strategy, promote more cooperation in key areas such as infrastructure and inject new force into the development of China's relations with Indonesia", he said.

Indonesia has an ambitious infrastructure building plan, and President Joko Widodo in May last year attended an international forum in Beijing to promote the Belt and Road Initiative, a huge plan to build transport and other infrastructure in countries and regions along land and sea routes from China to Europe.

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China's investments and aid to Indonesia have increased significantly, particularly in infrastructure projects ranging from bridges and roads to power plants and high-speed rail.

Last year, China was the third-largest foreign investor in Indonesia, with investments amounting to US$3.4 billion (S$4.5 billion).

Ms Retno told Mr Li that Indonesia was ready, among other things, to promote the construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail, a project that Jakarta awarded to the Chinese in 2015 but which has met with some problems.

The Indonesian top diplomat also met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and co-hosted with him the third meeting of the joint committee for bilateral cooperation that was established between the two governments.

The two countries have strong economic ties, with China being Indonesia's largest trading partner. Two-way trade in 2016 exceeded US$52 billion and hit US$63.4 billion last year, an increase of 17 per cent.

However, Indonesia has a deficit with China and Ms Retno told the media yesterday that Indonesia wants balanced trade with China.

Indonesia's central bank, Bank Indonesia, last month opened a representative office in Beijing, becoming the ninth foreign central bank to start an office in China.

Bank Indonesia governor Agus Martowardojo said this was "to further optimise the economic and financial relations between the two countries and improve understanding of economic and financial developments and policies in China and the implications for Indonesia".

Apart from economics and bilateral ties, Ms Retno also discussed with Chinese leaders Asean and the regional architecture.

She told the media after her meetings that negotiations between Asean and China on a Code of Conduct to manage South China Sea disputes would begin next month.

"I hope it will be resolved soon," she said.

Ms Retno's trip to China comes after US Defence Secretary James Mattis' recent visit to Jakarta, which was seen as an attempt to reinforce defence relations between the United States and Indonesia to counter China's increasing military presence and influence in the region.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2018, with the headline China keen to work with Indonesia on BRI. Subscribe