Indonesian and Malaysian leaders express concerns over Myanmar coup, seek Asean meeting

Indonesian President Joko Widodo with Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Feb 5, 2021.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo with Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Feb 5, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

Expressing concerns over the military coup in Myanmar, the leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia have called for a special meeting of Asean foreign ministers to discuss the situation in depth.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, on his first official trip abroad since taking office in March last year, met Indonesian President Joko Widodo, at the state palace in Jakarta on Friday (Feb 5).

After the meeting, Mr Joko, in a joint press statement, said: “We hope the political differences (in Myanmar) can be resolved in accordance with applicable laws.

“To demonstrate the vision of the Asean community, it is important for all of us to continue to respect the principles of the Asean Charter, especially the principles of rule of law, good governance, democracy and human rights and constitutional governance,” he added.

Mr Muhyiddin said: “Like Indonesia, Malaysia is also serious about the current political situation in Myanmar which is a step backwards in the country’s democratic process.

"It is feared that political unrest in Myanmar could affect peace and stability in the region."

Mr Muhyiddin, who is in Jakarta at the invitation of the Indonesian leader, arrived on Thursday (Feb 4) under strict Covid-19 health protocols. He was accompanied by a small delegation of senior officials led by Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. 

The Malaysian leader, who received a 19-gun salute at the palace on Friday morning, expressed his gratitude for the “extraordinary welcome” despite the pandemic.

In their statement, the two leaders reaffirmed the excellent relations between their countries, with Mr Joko telling Mr Muhyiddin that they “can phone each other anytime”. 

Mr Joko described the four-eyed meeting with the Malaysian leader as “good, open and comprehensive”. They discussed a broad range of issues, including the South China Sea and anti-palm oil campaigns, particularly in Europe, Australia and Oceania.

Two of the world’s largest producers of palm oil, both countries have vowed to join forces to “fight the discrimination” against the use of the commodity.

Mr Muhyiddin denounced the campaigns as “groundless”, saying they “failed to depict the sustainability of the palm oil industry”, while Mr Joko, or Jokowi as he is better known in Indonesia, said “the fight will be more optimal if it’s carried out together” with Malaysia.

On bilateral issues, the leaders discussed establishing a travel corridor for essential travellers, the protection of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia as well as economic cooperation between the two countries.

Indonesia and Malaysia have been hit hard by the global health crisis that has crippled their economy and strained their healthcare system.

Mr Muhyiddin said preliminary discussions on the travel corridor aimed at reviving trade and investments had begun, and he hoped further negotiations would lead to standard operating procedures.

Mr Joko also called on Asean to complete the travel corridor arrangement framework to facilitate essential business travel within the region.

“In this difficult time, it is in the interest of Asean to show solidarity,” he said.

Both leaders performed their Friday prayers together at the Baiturrahim Mosque within the palace complex and Mr Joko is hosting a state banquet later in the day.

Malaysia is Indonesia’s fifth largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth US$16.5 billion (S$22.1 billion) in 2019, and its sixth largest investor with US$1.35 billion of investments in the same year, figures from the Indonesian foreign ministry showed.

Malaysians also made up the largest group of tourists to Indonesia in 2019, with 2.98 million visitors.

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in a press release that Indonesia has always been the first destination for an official visit by a prime minister after assuming office.

The duration of the visit was cut to less than 24 hours and official programmes shortened because of the pandemic. Mr Muhyiddin and his entourage will have to undergo mandatory quarantine on their return on Friday, it said.


Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin inspecting the line of honor with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on Feb 5, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE/INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE


Key issues for Malaysia and Indonesia

In addition to the coup in Myanmar, the following key issues were also discussed by the leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia:

1. Palm oil

Through the platform of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC), Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to work together to fight anti-palm oil campaigns.

Indonesia has called the campaigns discriminatory, while Malaysia condemned them as contrary to the principle of free-trade practice outlined by the World Trade Organisation.

Malaysia filed a legal action against the European Union over anti-deforestation restrictions on palm biofuel on Jan 15 this year, as did Indonesia in December 2019. Malaysia has vowed to protect the industry as well as the jobs of millions of small, dependent farmers.

2. Travel corridor between Indonesia and Malaysia

The two countries discussed establishing a travel bubble - referred to as a "reciprocal green lane" in Malaysia and "travel corridor arrangement" in Indonesia - to revive trade and investment.

Preliminary discussions at the working level have begun, with the next step being to intensify negotiations on the standard operation procedures to be agreed on.

Malaysia has stressed that the implementation of the travel corridor would be subjected to the assessment of the relevant health authorities of both countries.

3. South China Sea

Malaysia said the South China Sea issue should be resolved based on the principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. All parties must avoid taking actions that would provoke tensions.

The dispute involves Beijing's territorial claim to most of the South China Sea.

Malaysia has expressed its commitment to resolving the issue in a constructive manner through appropriate diplomatic forums and channels while Indonesia urged all countries to respect international law.

4. Migrant workers

Malaysia acknowledged Indonesia's efforts to facilitate the deportation of illegal migrants in the country, and called on Indonesia to step up efforts to ensure that Indonesian job seekers enter Malaysia through legitimate channels.

Indonesia has asked Malaysia to sign a new memorandum of understanding aimed at protecting Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia. It also proposed a one-channel system for the placement of workers to prevent human trafficking.