China backs Indonesia as G20 looms

Foreign Affairs

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted Indonesian President Joko Widodo as the first head of state to visit Beijing since the Winter Olympics, as the two sides pledged to strengthen ties.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 26, 2022. Image via Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

China and Indonesia vowed to boost bilateral ties during high-level talks between their top leaders, as Beijing continues to court nations in the Indo-Pacific amid tensions with the United States and its allies.

In a meeting in Beijing, Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 noted that Indonesian President Joko Widodo is the first head of state that China has hosted since the Beijing Winter Olympics, a move that “speaks volumes about the strong commitment of the two sides to growing their bilateral ties,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

  • The meeting was held in the sprawling estate of the Diaoyutai State Guest House, which has previously hosted former U.S. president Richard Nixon, and where Xi hosted dozens of heads of state, including Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Winter Games in February.
  • Prior to his meeting with Xi, Widodo met with China’s No. 2 leader, Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强, who is the chief of China’s economic policy.

Xi pledged China’s support for Indonesia as rotating chair of the ASEAN bloc next year, and for its presidency of the upcoming G20, in which Jakarta has come under increasing pressure to kick Russia out of the November summit over its invasion of Ukraine.

  • Xi also urged the two sides to speed up the completion of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, the 142-kilometer (88-mile) Chinese-backed project under the Belt and Road Initiative, which is one of the largest infrastructure undertakings in Southeast Asia.

Beijing has been Jakarta’s top trading partner since 2013: In 2020, China was Indonesia’s top export destination, with more than 16% of the nation’s total exports and a total value of $78.5 billion.

  • In the first half of 2022, Chinese imports from Indonesia, mostly commodities, surged 34.2% year on year, coming in second after Russia’s.
  • Outside of trade, China and Indonesia have also backed each other in their opposition to AUKUS, the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States: In October, Indonesian foreign minister Marsudi and Chinese state councilor Wáng Yì 王毅 “voiced serious concerns over the risk of nuclear proliferation” in the group’s controversial submarine deal.
  • Chinese officials have also been active in their engagement with the Indonesian public over Twitter, especially since the Southeast Asian nation ranks among the top five countries in the world with the highest number of Twitter users.
  • While Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, its government as well as religious organizations have been mostly silent on China’s treatment of Uyghurs, partly the result of canny “faith diplomacy.”

Meanwhile, U.S. General Mark Milley said just two days prior that the Chinese military has become “significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” ironically while on a stop in Indonesia during his trip to the Indo-Pacific.

Nadya Yeh