China wants closer ties with Indonesia, says Premier Li Keqiang

(From left) Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hold a meeting at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, China, on Feb 9, 2018.
(From left) Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hold a meeting at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, China, on Feb 9, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

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

At his meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in Beijing on Friday (Feb 9), 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.

Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Li 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".

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.

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 Premier 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 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 on Friday that Indonesia wants balanced trade with China.

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

Its 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 visit to China comes after US Defence Secretary James Mattis' recent visit to Jakarta that was seen as a bid to reinforce defence relations between the US and Indonesia to counter China's growing military presence and influence in the region.