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Ambassador Xie Feng's Interview with the Global Times: Maritime Cooperation is the 'Blue Bond' between China and Indonesia
2014/11/12

Global Times: Global media said that Mr. Joko Widodo won voters' support because he's a 'People's President'. After your arrival in Jakarta, have you had any contact with him and what are your impressions about him?

Ambassador Xie: In less than a decade, Mr. Joko Widodo's journey from being a furniture businessman to president is truly a political miracle in Indonesia and even worldwide. In my first week as ambassador, I had the honor of meeting with him briefly and was deeply impressed by his sincerity, easy-going style and kindness. After that I had two in-depth conversations with him and paid courtesy calls on him on several occasions with visiting Chinese delegations after he won the presidency. I believe President Joko Widodo is a firm, visionary, pro-people and down-to-earth leader, with a clear sense of purpose. His policy agenda has a lot in common with that of Chinese leaders. These include governance in the interest of people, pushing forward reform, developing economy, improving public well-being and fighting corruption. The Indonesian people have quite high expectations for him.

President Joko Widodo told me that he much values the face-to-face communications with the public. He believes such communications should happen day in and day out and this is the only way to understand what people need. That's why he frequently visits traditional markets, rural villages and street food vendors to talk to and eat together with people. In the Javanese language, there is a specific word to describe his work style, 'blusukan'. It means impromptu visit, which is akin to what we call "reach out to the grassroots". In his upcoming trip to China, President Joko Widodo wishes to visit Tianjin to see China's development and interact with the Chinese people.

Global Times: What does President Joko Widodo's trip to China mean to the APEC Summit and China-Indonesia relations?

Ambassador Xie: Indonesia was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with China. In 1950s, China, Indonesia and other Asian and African countries initiated the Bandung Spirit. At the heart of it is peaceful coexistence, seeking common ground and shelving differences. The Bandung Spirit remains a significant norm in state-to-state relations today. China today is Indonesia's largest trading partner, No.1 source of overseas tourists and a major destination for Indonesian students. In October last year, President Xi Jinping paid a successful state visit to Indonesia. He and Indonesian leaders agreed to lift the China-Indonesia relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership. This has laid a solid foundation and mapped out a blueprint for the long-run development of our bilateral relations. In 2014, Indonesia's general elections year, our bilateral relations have had a smooth transition and got off to a good start. President Joko Widodo attaches great importance to China-Indonesia relations. He has chosen China for his first overseas visit after inauguration. He will attend the APEC Summit in Beijing and it will be his debut at a major global forum.

Indonesia was the birth place of APEC Bogor Goals. Last year, Indonesia hosted its second APEC Summit in 20 years, and raised three major topics including achieving the Bogor Goals, promoting sustainable and equitable growth and improving connectivity. China actively echoed and supported these ambitions. We look forward to closer coordination and cooperation with Indonesia for positive outcomes out of this year's APEC Summit, including launching the process of the Asia Pacific Free Trade Area (FTAAP), promoting innovative development, economic reform and growth, and improving connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Global Times: It's almost five months since your arrival in Jakarta. Can you share with us some of your impressions about Indonesia?

Ambassador Xie: I've been deeply impressed by Indonesia in many ways. First, Indonesia is a big country with rich resource endowment. Indonesia has around 250 million population. It is the world's largest archipelagic state, with over 17,000 islands. It takes 9 hours to fly from its east to west. That's roughly the distance between London and Tehran. Indonesia has abundant natural resources and is known as the 'Emerald of the Equator'. My Indonesian friends often say with great pride that 'please don't ask what we have, just ask what we don't have!' Second, diversity and inclusiveness. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, yet it's also known for its ethnic and cultural diversity. We Chinese value 'harmony but not uniformity'. In the same vein, the Indonesian people believe in 'unity in diversity'. Meanwhile, Indonesia has around 20 million Chinese Indonesians, that's the largest ethnic Chinese community outside China. Over the past hundreds of years, generations of Chinese migrants sailed to Indonesia. They settled down and took root in this country. They survived the tribulations yet always worked hard to pursue a better life. Today, many of them have built a successful career and become social elites. They have made major contribution to Indonesia's economic, social development and cultural prosperity, and have acted as a unique bridge in promoting China-Indonesia friendly exchanges and cooperation. Since 1998, successive Indonesian governments have made active efforts to improve the social status of Chinese Indonesians and promote ethnic harmony. In 2000, President Abdurrahman Wahid lifted the ban on Chinese culture and customs. In 2002, President Megawati Sukarnoputri announced the Chinese Spring Festival as a public holiday in Indonesia. In 2006, the Indonesian House of Representatives passed a new law on citizenship, annulling the previous legal distinction between native and non-native Indonesians. It marked an end to many discriminatory policies against Chinese Indonesians. In March this year, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono repealed the discriminatory term for the Chinese Indonesians through legislation and adopted 'Tiongkok' and 'Tionghoa' to refer to China and Chinese Indonesians respectively. This past August, Indonesia's first Museum on Hakka history and culture was completed. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and I attended the opening ceremony. In his remarks, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke highly of the Chinese Indonesians' outstanding contribution to Indonesia's independence, development and progress. Third, goodwill and kindness. The Indonesian people are warm, hospitable and are always ready to help others. Their happy index is quite high. Fourth, great potential. Indonesia's population, landmass and GDP are all over 40% of the 10 ASEAN members combined. It's the only Southeast Asian member of the G20 and is the 16th largest economy around the world.

Global Times: China is Indonesia's largest trading partner. Where is the growth point for the bilateral commercial cooperation in the future?

Ambassador Xie: China and Indonesia are both major emerging markets and developing countries. Our economies are highly complimentary and the cooperation potential is huge. Two-way investment will be a bright spot in our business cooperation in the years ahead. And infrastructure is expected to be a new growth driver in this regard. My Indonesian friends told me that the cargo freight from Papua to Jakarta is three times the cost of shipping the cargo from Shanghai to Jakarta. Nearly 50 million population in Indonesia have no access to electricity. Infrastructure is a major bottleneck holding back Indonesia's economic growth. The Indonesian new government is implementing the 'ocean highway' strategy, and planning to build 2000 kilometers of road, 10 new airports, 10 new sea ports and 10 industrial parks. The purpose is to promote air, land and sea connectivity, and improve energy, telecommunications and transport infrastructure. In my recent meetings with Indonesian leaders, responsible officials of economic departments and entrepreneurs, I could feel their strong desire to enhance cooperation with China.

Global Times: President Joko Widodo vows to develop marine economy and turn Indonesia into a global maritime axis. What's the purpose of this strategy? What does it mean to China-Indonesia relations?

Ambassador Xie: Indonesia sits between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and connects Asia and Oceania. It controls a number of strategic chokepoints, such as the Malacca Straits, the Lombok Strait and the Sunda Strait. In history, Indonesia was a major hub in the maritime silk road, with a rich legacy of friendly exchanges between our two countries. The city of Semarang has been named after the well known Chinese navigator Admiral Zheng He. It retains much heritage of Zheng He's voyages to the Western Seas in the 15th century.

In his inauguration speech, President Joko Widodo called for building Indonesia into a maritime power. This policy agenda focuses on raising maritime awareness, building ocean highways, promoting maritime connectivity, developing marine economy, upholding maritime security and conducting maritime diplomacy. And the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs has been established. In his visit to Indonesia in October last year, President Xi Jinping announced the strategic initiative of building a '21st century maritime silk road'. This is to develop a 'silk road' spirit of peace, friendship, openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation among China, Indonesia and other coastal countries of the maritime silk road. The purpose is to promote policy communication, transport connectivity, trade relations, monetary circulation and understanding between the people, and build a community of common destinies. This shows the strategic visions of Chinese and Indonesian leaders complement each other. Maritime cooperation will become a 'blue bond' connecting our two countries' development strategies. It is expected to be a new highlight and a new driver for strengthening the comprehensive strategic partnership and deepening the practical cooperation between our two countries.

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