New Indonesia leader visits China, promises close ties

Prabowo’s decision to visit China ahead of Indonesia’s neighbours in the region underlines the close partnership built up in the past decade under Jokowi when China became Indonesia’s top trading partner, supplying natural resources including nickel and coal.

Jokowi’s first visit after his inauguration was to China, for an annual summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in 2014. That was followed by six more visits.

China has also ploughed billions into Indonesian infrastructure and industrial projects, including the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway.

It remains to be seen how Prabowo, now Indonesia’s defence minister, will navigate issues including the jostling for influence between China and the United States in Southeast Asia.

Prabowo has previously said Indonesia was committed to its policy of non-alignment and would keep good ties with both China and the United States.

China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea may present a test for his leadership, although the two countries’ overlapping claims there have not become a vociferous dispute as has unfolded in recent months between China and the Philippines.

Indonesia says the southern end of the South China Sea is part of its exclusive economic zone. China says the area is within its own territorial claim, marked by a U-shaped “nine-dash line” rejected by other regional states.

China is willing to continue to deepen maritime cooperation with Indonesia, Xi told Prabowo on Monday.

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