Asean countries must maintain their solidarity amid US-China tensions: Indonesian minister Luhut at ST Global Outlook Forum

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SINGAPORE - Asean countries must maintain their solidarity and ensure stability in the region even as trade tensions between the US and China continue to persist, Indonesia's Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said on Friday (Nov 22).

As the bloc's largest member country, Indonesia is also prepared to become a bridge between the powerful nations, he said in his special address at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum, where he was a guest speaker.

"This country is too big to lean towards any superpower. We can play a role as a mediator if I may say so, and nobody can say Indonesia is leaning towards China or leaning towards America," he told the forum, titled 2020: Navigating A World In Conflict, held at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia Hotel on Friday.

Indonesia's stand on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea pitting China against several Asean nations was also "very clear", he said, adding: "We would like to see in the South China Sea a no-power projection, and we don't recognise any superpower."

Mr Luhut, 72, returned to President Joko Widodo's Cabinet for a second term with an expanded portfolio as Investment Minister, bigger responsibilities and more authority.

Besides having to look after the energy and mineral resources, fisheries, tourism and transport ministries, he now oversees the public works and housing ministry, the environment and forestry ministry, as well as the Investment Coordinating Board.

At Friday's forum, for which OCBC Premier Banking was presenting sponsor, he spared no effort in trying to woo potential investors. He showed 32 data-packed slides on potential areas of growth such as in hydropower development and biodiesel implementation, the challenges facing the country and how the government is making efforts to streamline business processes and improve the quality of its human capital, among other things.

Indonesia is moving away from a government-to-government (G2G) investment strategy in favour of a more commercial business-to-business (B2B) partnership, Mr Luhut said.

Listing "rules of thumb" to potential investors, he said they must comply with the country's environmental laws, use local labour, transfer technology, and help Indonesia boost the production of value-added products rather than just relying on raw material exports.

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Singapore, he noted, has been Indonesia's top contributor of foreign direct investments, and remains "a very close partner of Indonesia".

He acknowledged that Singapore's strategic location and role in Indonesia's economy will continue to be very important, and hoped for continued support.

"Don't hesitate to invest in Indonesia. Come to Indonesia. If you have any problems, come to us, talk to me," he said.

In a candid and light-hearted dialogue moderated by Straits Times foreign editor Jeremy Au Yong, Mr Luhut also tackled a wide range of questions from the audience, from rising religious conservatism and Indonesia's relations with China to the planned move of the country's administrative capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, and Cabinet appointments.

Mr Luhut said a solid leadership will help to maintain the unity of Indonesia, and the state ideology of Pancasila promoting pluralism must be reintroduced in the school curriculum.

Mr Luhut described the relationship between Indonesia and China as "very beautiful" and respectful, and that he and his Chinese counterpart hold regular meetings which are very frank, with space to "agree to disagree".

The good personal relationship between President Joko and Chinese President Xi Jinping also "makes it easy for us to move".

On the new administrative capital, Mr Luhut said the government envisioned it to be a "smart, green city" fuelled by hydropower, and is targeting to relocate there in 2024.

Not missing his opportunity for a hard sell to investors, he said: "We are very welcome, we make it a very clean city, very green city... we like to see electric cars in that city. This has become maybe a very exotic, very sexy city, a capital in the years to come."

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