Presidential Visit Underscores Closeness of Indonesia-Japan Ties


During his first visit to Japan on March 22–25, newly elected Indonesia President Joko Widodo provided business and political leaders with a firsthand glimpse of the charisma and geniality that carried the young leader to victory in 2014. Not since the days of President Suharto nearly two decades earlier has an Indonesian head of state displayed such openness toward Japan and its citizenry.

An Approachable Leader

In my career as a journalist I have covered a number of top Japanese and Indonesian leaders. The countries have long enjoyed strong ties, but this was the first occasion to see an Indonesian president so openly willing to interact with others without regard to office or standing.

An example of this affability came during a meeting of Japanese and Indonesian businessmen on March 24. As Widodo waded through the crowd of some 2,000 attendees he was approached by a man asking for his autograph. Though the Paspampres, Indonesia’s presidential security force, was keeping tight guard over who met with the leader, Widodo asked the man to join other well-wishers, warmly greeting him and smiling while autographing the envelope he proffered.

There were other similar instances during the reception where the president actively looked to engage those around him on a personal level, such as when he paused while exiting the event to address a line of Japanese business leaders seated near the door. These efforts were always warmly received and reciprocated.

Japanese executive Hasegawa Kōji described Widodo to me as being a very kind person. I found it curious that he chose to use the Japanese adjective yasashii, which carries a sense of closeness and familiarity. One might expect to hear the word used to describe an acquaintance, but not to sum up the character of the leader of the world’s fourth largest nation. However, it seems to fit the Indonesian president, who, as the stories above illustrate, chooses to openly interact with those around him regardless of their political or business stature.

A Strengthened Relationship

Widodo’s visit provided an auspicious start to relationships with Japan under his new administration. Expectations are high on economic, political, and cultural fronts, and the strong individual relationships forged through the goodwill enjoyed by the citizens of both countries are hoped to provide growth opportunities for Japan and Indonesia in a variety of vital areas.

If the two nations continue fostering robust relations among individuals, businesses, and other frontline partners there will be less need to rely on government effort and resources to maintain a framework of cooperation. Instead, Japan and Indonesia have the ability to move ahead by nurturing existing close ties.

Investment Benefits All

Indonesia to date has greatly benefited from Japanese investment. A 30,000-megawatt power plant will be built with the financial and technical assistance of Japanese companies. Commercial ports have been developed around the country through similar assistance, giving the world’s companies easy access to Indonesian markets.

During his visit Widodo worked to reinforce this cooperation. Japan promised 15 trillion rupiah toward a rail project in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and Toyota Motor Corporation committed to investing 20 trillion rupiah for various projects in the country.

These and other investments aimed at developing Indonesia’s infrastructure will further boost the country’s economy and provide vital opportunities to those companies involved in projects. The result is a win-win situation: Indonesia will benefit from fully functioning infrastructure while Japan, and indeed the rest of the world, will benefit from the resulting economic growth.

According to one US investment company, Indonesia’s GDP is expected to outstrip that of other countries in the region by 2035. Several factors affecting this outlook are Indonesia’s large population, its abundant natural resources, its stable political environment, and its openness to investment from foreign companies.

Indonesia stands poised to become a major player in the global economy. An important aspect of this is inbound investment from stalwart economic partners like Japan, with stronger ties ultimately benefiting economies around the world. 

(Originally written in Indonesian and translated into English. Banner photo: Prime Minister Abe with visiting President Widodo on March 23, 2015, in Tokyo. ©Jiji.)

Indonesia Joko Widodo Suharto