Ten­sions lurk be­hind visit

Wash­ing­ton has billed Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s visit to In­done­sia next week as a booster for the strate­gic part­ner­ship be­tween the world’s sec­ond- and third-largest democ­ra­cies, but a raft of bi­lat­eral ten­sions could sap the good­will from his trip.

Pence’s coun­ter­part in the world’s big­gest Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­try has voiced wor­ries about United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, which crit­ics say is bi­ased against Mus­lims, and about his “Amer­ica First” mantra on trade and in­vest­ment.

“We in In­done­sia never change. The change is there. That’s why we’re ask­ing them now, ‘what is your pol­icy now on the econ­omy, on democ­racy, now that Trump is in power?’,” Vice Pres­i­dent Jusuf Kalla told Reuters on March 31.

“What does it mean, ‘Amer­ica first’? I can say, too, ‘In­done­sia first’ if you say ‘Amer­ica first.’”

In­done­sia is one of 16 coun­tries against which the US runs a trade deficit that will be in­ves­ti­gated by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for pos­si­ble trade abuses.

Trump’s com­bat­ive ap­proach will not sit eas­ily with In­done­sia, where eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism and pro­tec­tion­ist ten­den­cies have flour­ished since a slump in com­mod­ity prices in re­cent years slammed the brakes on eco­nomic growth.

“Un­for­tu­nately I do see a hard­en­ing of at­ti­tudes on our side,” said a se­nior In­done­sian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, who de­clined to be named. “And it’s of par­tic­u­lar con­cern be­cause we’re on that list of 16 coun­tries [...] that are go­ing to be in­ves­ti­gated.”

The of­fi­cial said a tougher stance by In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties had also con­trib­uted to a se­ries of dis­putes with US com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Al­pha­bet Inc.’s Google, miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc. and fi­nan­cial ser­vices gi­ant JP Mor­gan Chase & Co.

In­done­sia has du­eled with Google over back taxes and fines run­ning into hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, and with Freeport in a con­tract row that has crip­pled op­er­a­tions at the world’s sec­ond­largest cop­per mine, Gras­berg.

It also dropped JP Mor­gan as a pri­mary bond dealer af­ter the bank’s re­search an­a­lysts is­sued a neg­a­tive re­port on the coun­try in Novem­ber.

“It’s a very un­for­tu­nate se­ries of is­sues which all hap­pen to be Amer­i­can,” said the of­fi­cial, who ex­pects them to come up in pri­vate dur­ing Pence’s visit. In­done­sia is the third stop on an April 15-25 tour that in­cludes South Korea, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia.

Freeport In­done­sia spokesman Riza Pratama said: “This visit is hap­pen­ing en­tirely in­de­pen­dent of our cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment of In­done­sia.”

How­ever, bil­lion­aire in­vestor Carl Ic­ahn, Freeport’s third­biggest share­holder and now a spe­cial ad­viser to Trump, has de­scribed Jakarta’s tac­tics over the min­ing con­tract as “disin­gen­u­ous and in­sult­ing,” ac­cord­ing to the New York Times.

Another po­ten­tial ir­ri­tant is biodiesel. The US Na­tional Biodiesel Board (NBB), a pro­ducer group, has pe­ti­tioned the US gov­ern­ment to im­pose anti-dump­ing du­ties on biodiesel from In­done­sia and Ar­gentina, claim­ing they have flooded the US mar­ket.

“This is one of the is­sues that we have asked the trade min­istry to bring to the meet­ing [with Pence],” Paulus Tjakrawan, a di­rec­tor at the In­done­sia Bio­fuel Pro­duc­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, told Reuters.

“Our hope is for the gov­ern­ment to be firm [...] Other­wise we will be taken ad­van­tage of,” he said. “Not to act like thugs but, for ex­am­ple, if they put bar­ri­ers to our ex­ports, why not stop im­port­ing some of their goods?”

De­spite the strains, the gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said In­done­sia would be care­ful to start its re­la­tion­ship with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on the right foot.

In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo’s ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy has been led more by eco­nomic in­ter­ests than geopo­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions: he has pur­sued in­creased trade and in­vest­ment from China but keeps a diplo­matic dis­tance from Bei­jing and es­tab­lished a strate­gic part­ner­ship with Wash­ing­ton un­der for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

US am­bas­sador to In­done­sia Joseph R. Dono­van Jr. said in a state­ment last week that Pence’s visit re­flected a con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to that part­ner­ship, would deepen eco­nomic en­gage­ment and boost re­gional se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion.

“The US em­bassy here cer­tainly is go­ing to great lengths to make the visit a suc­cess,” said the In­done­sian of­fi­cial. “My im­pres­sion is he’s [Pence] not go­ing to ruf­fle feath­ers in pub­lic, he’s not go­ing to cause a ruckus.”

United States Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence will travel to South Korea on Sun­day in what his aides said was a sign of the US com­mit­ment to its ally in the face of ris­ing ten­sions over North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram.

Pence’s Seoul stop kicks off a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia — his first as vice pres­i­dent — and comes amid con­cerns that Py­ongyang could soon con­duct its sixth nu­clear test. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has warned against fur­ther provo­ca­tions, send­ing an air­craft car­rier group to the re­gion as a show of force. His of­fi­cials have been as­sess­ing tougher eco­nomic sanc­tions as well as mil­i­tary op­tions to curb North Korea’s nu­clear am­bi­tions.

Pence plans to cel­e­brate Easter with US and Korean troops on Sun­day be­fore talks on Mon­day with act­ing Pres­i­dent Hwang Kyo-ahn.

“We’re go­ing to con­sult with the Repub­lic of Korea on North Korea’s ef­forts to ad­vance its bal­lis­tic mis­sile and its nu­clear pro­gram,” a White House for­eign pol­icy ad­viser told re­porters, pre­view­ing Pence’s trip.

Pence will land in Seoul the day af­ter North Korea’s big­gest na­tional day, the “Day of the Sun.” The White House has con­tin­gency plans for Pence’s trip should it co­in­cide with a an­other North Korean nu­clear test by its leader Kim Jong-un, the ad­viser said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it’s not a new sur­prise for us. He con­tin­ues to de­velop this pro­gram, he con­tin­ues to launch mis­siles into the Sea of Ja­pan,” the ad­viser said.

“With the regime it’s not a mat­ter of if — it’s when. We are well pre­pared to counter that,” the ad­viser said.

Pence ex­pects to talk about the “bel­liger­ence” of North Korea at stops in Tokyo, Jakarta and Syd­ney, the White House ad­viser said. But the need for “free and fair trade” will also be a theme, the ad­viser said.

Trump cam­paigned on an “Amer­ica First” trade pol­icy, com­plain­ing that trade part­ners in Asia and else­where had taken ad­van­tage of the US.

One of his first acts in of­fice was to re­move the US from the 12-na­tion Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) trade deal ne­go­ti­ated by for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“With­draw­ing from the TPP shouldn’t be seen as a re­treat from the re­gion. On the con­trary, our eco­nomic pres­ence in the re­gion is en­dur­ing,” the ad­viser said.

On Tues­day, Pence will kick off eco­nomic talks with Ja­pan re­quested by Trump and Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe. The dis­cus­sions will fo­cus more on set­ting a “frame­work” for fu­ture talks rather than on spe­cific in­dus­try is­sues, a White House of­fi­cial said.

Pence will meet with busi­ness lead­ers at each stop, in­clud­ing in Jakarta, though he was not ex­pected to wade into the weedy de­tails of dis­putes be­tween the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment and US com­pa­nies like min­ing gi­ant Freeport-McMoRan Inc .

“We’re go­ing to dis­cuss the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment in In­done­sia in a gen­eral sense,” a White House of­fi­cial said.

Mean­while, Ja­pan’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dis­cussed how to evac­u­ate its nearly 60,000 cit­i­zens from South Korea in the event of a cri­sis, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said on Fri­day.

Be­sides com­mer­cial ships and planes, Ja­pan would want to send mil­i­tary air­craft and ships to as­sist in the evac­u­a­tion if the South Korean gov­ern­ment agreed, the of­fi­cial, fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sion, said. He de­clined to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the topic.

The NSC, in a meet­ing on Thurs­day, also dis­cussed how to cope with a pos­si­ble flood of North Korean refugees into Ja­pan, among whom might be North Korean spies and agents, Ja­panese me­dia re­ported.


By The Jakarta Post, Indonesia