Suga’s diplomatic chops land well in Jakarta . . .
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga completed a successful visit to Indonesia this week following his successful Vietnam trip. The first foreign leader from a major economic power to visit Southeast Asia’s most populous country since the pandemic’s onset, Suga was welcomed by President Joko Widodo. Both leaders discussed easing self-quarantine requirements to facilitate short business trips and agreed on holding ‘2+2’ meetings between their respective foreign and defence ministers in the near future. Suga also pledged a C$600-million, low-interest loan to assist Indonesia in disaster mitigation, leaving more domestic funds to fuel the fight against COVID-19 throughout the archipelago.
Competing for ASEAN’s big fish . . .
Suga's visit highlights ASEAN's continued importance to Japan's foreign policy. Indonesia's massive market is ripe with opportunities for Japanese enterprises. In particular, Tokyo has been an effective development partner for addressing Indonesia's infrastructure challenges. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is a major infrastructure investment player in Indonesia, most notably in the construction and expansion of Jakarta's metro lines. Suga's visit came when Indonesia is growing increasingly close to China, with Beijing unseating Japan as Indonesia's second-largest source of foreign direct investment in the first half of 2020. Nonetheless, Japan lends to partners in ASEAN more than all U.S. or European banks combined. And with C$5.7 trillion in portfolio investment overseas, Japan dwarfs China's approximate C$850 billion, making Tokyo a strong contender for financial influence in Southeast Asia.
In “the spirit of inclusive co-operation” . . .
While welcoming PM Suga and reciprocating the desire to strengthen investment and defence ties, Widodo still stuck to his long-standing commitment to neutrality in foreign policy. The president reiterated the need to foster "the spirit of co-operation" in the Indo-Pacific and reasserted the hope that the South China Sea will continue "to be a sea of peace and stability." Despite the muted tone of discussion around the South China Sea dispute, Suga still needed to dispel Beijing's accusations that Japan is lobbying to build a Pacific version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in direct opposition to China. Suga's visit to Vietnam and Indonesia highlights Southeast Asia's key role in geopolitics and transpacific connectivity, demonstrating space remains for middle-power diplomacy and influence in the region.
- Jakarta Post: Japan’s Suga dismisses concern over ‘Asian NATO’ in Indo-Pacific
- Nikkei Asia Review: Japan and Indonesia to hold 2+2 talks as security concerns mount
- The Wall Street Journal: Finance and foreign policy mix when China and Japan lock horns