Of greater scope and potential
There is no doubt that we all faced an unprecedented crisis in 2020.The leaders of Indonesia and China firmly believe that the bilateral relationship of the two countries is being further enhanced during these trying times.
The novel coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt markets and economies worldwide, driving us to up our game in vaccine cooperation. It is hoped that by the end of this year, we will have more than enough vaccines to vaccinate the whole Indonesian population through both domestic production and overseas imports, including from China.
The vaccination campaign in Indonesia relies mostly on Chinese vaccines. The first batch of 1.2 million doses of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine arrived on Dec 6. So far, Indonesia has received 68.5 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine and 1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.
The target now is to strengthen this cooperation to increase the production of the vaccines. Given the huge demand, Indonesia is working to ramp up its manufacturing capacity to be able to supply vaccines not only for its own needs, but also other needy countries.
Indonesia will continue to work with China to defeat this virus, and it has pledged to continue vaccine production cooperation with China in order to become a regional vaccine production hub.
Once the COVID-19 crisis ends, we shall focus on cooperation in other sectors. Indonesia is fast becoming a viable destination for foreign investors, with a large domestic middle-class consumer market. According to the World Bank's report titled Aspiring Indonesia－Expanding the Middle Class, which was published in 2020, the country's middle-class population has grown from 7 percent to 20 percent of the population, with at least 52 million Indonesians belonging to that group now. Indonesia also wants its domestic manufacturing sector to sell to China's increasingly affluent consumer society. To that end, Indonesia has been actively participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. There is huge potential for greater synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and Indonesia's Global Maritime Fulcrum strategy.
There are several infrastructure projects that have been proposed in Indonesia, among them the trans-Sumatra toll road, the new capital city in East Kalimantan, the Jakarta-Surabaya trains, the National Fish Barn in Maluku, the national electricity connectivity and distribution program, and wind power plants for renewable energy. The two countries could actively conduct cooperation on the above-mentioned infrastructure projects.
The bilateral economic cooperation could be further strengthened through the formation of a strategic economic agreement, consisting of an investment agreement, mutual recognition of standards, and financing schemes to fund cooperation programs.
Economic ties between Jakarta and Beijing have increased and expanded, with China becoming one of Indonesia's most crucial trading partners and investors. Mutual visits by ministers of both countries throughout 2020 and 2021 shows how both sides view the importance of maintaining their strong cooperation.
It is important for the two countries to maintain balanced trade. Therefore, Indonesia looks forward to expanding its exports to China and inviting more Chinese investments so that we can achieve healthier and more balanced growth of trade between the two countries. To pursue this objective, it is hoped that more of Indonesia's top products, such as palm oil, fisheries, tropical fruits, bird's nest, furniture as well as wood products, and items produced by the creative industry and small and medium-sized enterprises－can enter the Chinese consumer market in the future.
Since the establishment of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries in 2013, Indonesia and China have strengthened people-to-people and cultural exchanges. This can be further deepened by allowing for greater interaction between the two peoples through tourism once the novel coronavirus is fully controlled. In 2019, Chinese tourist arrivals in Indonesia were the second-largest group, reaching 2.07 million, or nearly 13 percent of the 16.1 million total international arrivals.
The number of tourist arrivals from China is expected to grow, as the government in Jakarta has been making efforts to attract more Chinese holidaymakers to the country. Among the most crucial of these efforts is the focus on developing the country's super-priority tourism destinations in five provinces－Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Borobudur in Central Java, Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara, Bunaken in North Sulawesi, and the Bangka Belitung Islands off the coast of Sumatra. Development of these tourism destinations should be accelerated once the pandemic is over.
Despite the pandemic, China was Indonesia's largest trading partner and second-largest investor in 2020, and China's imports from Indonesia have increased. Furthermore, signature cooperation projects such as the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Corridors are making steady progress.
China and Indonesia also launched a "fast lane" arrangement last year and gradually resumed direct flights with necessary control measures in place, all in an effort to facilitate two-way travel and maintain stable industry and supply chains to support each other's economic recovery.
Last year was an important year for Indonesia-China relations, as it showcased that cooperation and exchanges between the two countries are not merely restricted to the economic sphere but are beginning to expand into health, cultural, educational, and people-to-people realms.
As the world today is confronted with profound changes of a kind unseen in a century, China-Indonesia relations have come to a new starting point endowed with new opportunities. At present, relations between China and Indonesia are set to only continue to grow.
The author is the Indonesian ambassador to China. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.