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Collaboration can be Indonesia's path to prosperity

By Veronika S. Saraswati | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-03-02 09:03
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A man receives his first dose of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during a mass vaccination program for vendors and workers at a shopping mall in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, March 1, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected economic exchanges between China and most Southeast Asian nations, as suspension of air travel has hurt supply chains and logistics networks and caused various other difficulties.

However, there have also been some positive developments. With health issues the top priority during the pandemic, China and Southeast Asia have worked closely together in vaccine discovery and production.

In the new normal, the two sides should seek to maintain the momentum of established bilateral economic relations and also enhance mutual trust through improvements made to neutralize the negative issues that can hamper exchanges. At the same time, it is also necessary to increase health sector cooperation so countries can quickly escape the pandemic's impact.

In Indonesia, the economic downturn caused by pandemic lockdowns and uncertainties over the investment environment has proved challenging. In order to respond to the problems and lift the economy, Indonesian President Joko Widodo is prioritizing the development of a dynamic and hardworking labor force, and upgrading infrastructure to connect production areas with distribution areas, transforming a resources-dependent economy into one that relies on manufacturing and modern services.

To achieve these priorities, the president is simplifying administrative procedures and regulations through the Omnibus Law, which was enacted late last year to spur job creation.

The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative provides a platform for creating more infrastructure, which is crucial for a developing economy. Indonesia is one of the countries that has benefited greatly from the BRI. In the post-pandemic world, the demand for people-to-people connectivity is likely to surge. And for Indonesia, enhancing internal and external connectivity will remain key to improving economic conditions.

China has significant potential to fill this gap for Indonesia through the BRI. We need to bear in mind that China's aim to push BRI-related work in Indonesia and other developing countries has not been diminished by the pandemic.

Given the situation, China and Indonesia should both do their best to build closer collaboration under the BRI platform. The next stage of BRI investment can focus on projects that support the ever-increasing need for connectivity-both physical and virtual. Besides investment and construction, cooperation can provide intelligent solutions for connectivity enhancement in Indonesia based on China's development experience.

Improving the international system at the regional and multilateral levels is a joint task that should be done together by Indonesia and China. Indonesia supports the big ideas that China has come up with, a list that includes the BRI, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

By combining these initiatives with those pertaining specifically to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting and the East Asia Summit-the two sides can implement common ideas and programs to realize great benefits for people on both sides.

China and Indonesia will be able to overcome the problems that hinder bilateral exchanges. The principle of mutual respect and trust between the two countries and choosing the path of dialogue to solve problems should remain consistent. The long history of 70 years of diplomatic ties is concrete evidence of how the two countries can build relations even through a storm of problems.

In the post-pandemic period, the two countries are expected to further strengthen their relationship in order to contribute to world peace. Indonesia will support and cooperate with China in realizing the noble idea of building a community of shared future for mankind.

As Indonesia seeks to boost its economy, China can play a positive role by taking steps to increase exchanges and invest more in the Southeast Asian nation's manufacturing industries and other sectors such as telecommunications.

Through increasing local employment, transferring technologies and knowledge, and helping in the development of quality supply chains, Chinese investors can generate more economic prosperity for Indonesia.

In return, Chinese companies can gain deeper links to the Indonesian market and obtain more business opportunities, since Indonesia still lacks quality, reliable infrastructure in telecommunications and other sectors.

Indonesia also has to make an effort to improve its business environment to attract more Chinese investment in manufacturing and infrastructure.

More important, the Indonesian government must strengthen its role in facilitating interactions between local communities and potential Chinese investors. If the right efforts are made, the pandemic could prove a valuable opportunity for the two countries to propel their economic relationship into a new orbit.

The author is convener of the China unit at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Jakarta-based think tank. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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