Indonesia’s government wants to get on with China in private

Feb 13, 2020

WHEN CHINA’S president, Xi Jinping, launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, Indonesia was seen as essential to its success. So much so that he went to Jakarta, its capital, to launch the maritime dimension of his world-girdling programme of infrastructure investments. But then a funny thing happened: very little. Nearby Cambodia has been overrun by Chinese involvement in its economy and politics. In Pakistan BRI and its local iteration, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), are held up as proof of a relationship “as close as lips and teeth”—even as CPEC goes off the rails. In contrast, most Indonesians have never heard of China’s signature foreign policy. Banyan’s recent informal poll of residents of Jakarta was nearly unanimous: BRI is a financial institution, Bank Rakyat Indonesia.

China’s involvement in Indonesia is growing, but it got going late. One reason is the long slow process of getting any project off the ground. Public consultations drag on, land is a nightmare to acquire, bureaucrats block licences and sleazier ministers wonder what is in it for them. One minister under President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, admits that the Indonesian way is hardly ideal, but at least the country avoided many of the reckless, grandiose projects and poor financial terms embraced by faster-moving neighbouring countries. The...

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