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Interview

Indonesia's Jokowi calls for cease-fire in Russia-Ukraine war

Sanctions are 'not the answer,' G-20 chair says in exclusive Nikkei interview

Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo granted an exclusive face-to-face interview with Nikkei Asia near Patimban Port in Subang, West Java, on March 8. (Photo by Dimas Ardian)

SUBANG, West Java, Indonesia -- Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo called for a cease-fire in the war between Russia and Ukraine and said continued dialogue rather than economic sanctions on Russia is the way to resolve the crisis.

Speaking in an exclusive face-to-face interview on Tuesday with Nikkei Editor-in-Chief Tetsuya Iguchi, Widodo said sovereignty and territorial integrity "must be respected by all parties."

Widodo this year also holds the presidency of the Group of 20 nations. Western leaders such as U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson have imposed severe economic sanctions on Moscow, but the Indonesian president said such methods "are not the best solution to resolve the problem" as "people and civilians will be the victims."

"It is important for all countries to push for the tension reduction, de-escalation -- intensify negotiation. This is very important. Negotiation, cease-fire, then stop the war," he said. "I believe any difficult problem can be solved if we are willing to talk to each other -- listen to each other."

These are some of Widodo's first observations on the war in Ukraine since Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, and reaffirm his brief comment on Twitter that day: "Stop war, war only causes misery and endangers the world."

Indonesia's reluctance to criticize Russian actions outrightly stems from a decades-old policy of non-alliance. "Ukraine and Russia are friends of Indonesia," he said.

Also in the mix is Jakarta's prioritizing of economic growth. Widodo plans to make Indonesia a developed economy by 2045 -- a goal that requires investment and trade with all possible parties.

This consideration has similarly influenced Jakarta's dealings with Beijing. Tensions have been rising in the South China Sea with overlapping claims between Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone and China's "nine-dash line," but economic ties between the two nations have not faltered. China accounted for 23.4% of Indonesia's visible trade in 2020. It was also Indonesia's third largest source of foreign direct investment last year, followed closely by the U.S.

Russia accounts for less than 1% of Indonesia's visible trade, but it is a major source of arms according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which estimated that 15.7% of Indonesian weaponry is Russian made.

President Joko Widodo inspected vehicles built in West Java aboard a transport vessel during his recent visit to Patimban Port. (Photo by Dimas Ardian)

Some in the West have called for reconsideration of Russia's inclusion in the G-20. Widodo was reticent on the issue, saying only that the G-20 is the "premier [gathering for] economic cooperation" and not a political venue.

Widodo said that on Indonesia's watch, the three main G-20 agendas will be developing global health architecture, energy transition and digital transformation.

Developing nations like Indonesia fully understand the importance of reducing carbon emissions -- Jakarta's net zero target date is 2060 -- but they have been dissatisfied with the broken promise from 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen that rich countries would provide $100 billion per year for climate finance by 2020.

"Only talking, talking, talking -- there is no execution," said Widodo. "$100 billion [pledged], but where is the money?" The president said he wanted to see some level of delivery during the G-20 talks.

Toyota cars parked on the dock at Patimban Port. (Photo by Dimas Ardian)

Widodo has meanwhile taken a much more decisive stance on the crisis in Myanmar. Indonesia has been a staunch critic of Myanmar's military regime and the coup that brought it to power on Feb. 1, 2021. It was a leading advocate of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' five-point consensus that emerged from a special ASEAN summit hosted by Jakarta in April last year. ASEAN's rotating chair has since moved from Brunei to Cambodia.

"The chair of ASEAN now is Prime Minister Hun Sen who already went to Myanmar and talked with the government there," said Widodo. "[After maybe] one, two, three, four times [visiting], we want Myanmar to implement the five-point consensus." He said that if there is still no progress, Indonesia would be receptive to the idea of another ASEAN summit to discuss what can be done next.

The Nikkei interview was conducted near Patimban Port in Subang, West Java, after Widodo's visit to the port. The $3 billion Japan-backed infrastructure project began partial operations three months ago, and will become a major Southeast Asian logistics hub when it is fully operational in 2027. By easing the congestion caused by existing infrastructure, the cost of logistics can be brought down from 20% of gross domestic product -- a major drag on economic growth in the world's largest archipelago nation.

The port will particularly benefit major automakers, including Japan's Toyota Motor and South Korea's Hyundai Motor, which have built plants nearby in West Java.

During his visit, Widodo said 180,000 four-wheel drive vehicles will be exported from Patimban this year to places like Brunei, Japan and the Philippines -- more than the 160,000 previously projected.

As with so many of his interviews, Widodo stressed that building infrastructure is key to Indonesia's economic development and achieving its 2045 targets.

As he enters the last two years of his presidency, Widodo's greatest legacy project will be Nusantara, Indonesia's new capital on the island of Borneo. The capital change is a response to dysfunctional Jakarta, which is overcrowded and environmentally compromised. The president said Indonesia needs a new "magnet" to attract people and economic activity.

Indonesia has a population of 270 million, of which some 156 million (nearly 58%) live on Java Island. "We have 17,000 islands," said Widodo, noting that Java generates nearly 60% of GDP "because there is only one magnet."

He said there needs to be a fairer "split" with all the other islands for more equitable national growth.

"This is a 15 to 20-year project and it is not only about constructing, building and moving," the president told Nikkei. "We want to build a new work ethic -- new mindset -- as the new economic foundation."

The president again poured cold water on speculation among various politicians in the ruling coalition that he might extend his tenure or amend the constitution and run for a third five-year term.

"I am a president that is elected through the democratic system," he said. "The constitution mandates a maximum two presidential terms. I will always uphold the constitution."

Additonal reporting by Erwida Maulia, Bobby Nugroho and Ismi Damayanti.

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