Jokowi’s Indonesia presidential challenger hits out at China on trade

By BLOOMBERG

JAKARTA • Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (picture) vowed to “seek a better deal” in trade with China, making relations with Beijing a key issue ahead of an April election in South-East Asia’s biggest economy.

Using a strategy that helped Donald Trump win the US presidency and brought Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad back to power in neighbouring Malaysia, the former Indonesian general pledged to investigate trade with China and then push for bilateral talks.

In the wake of Indonesia posting its worst-ever trade deficit, Prabowo also sharpened his attack on President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) economic performance.

“Indonesia should review China trade policy with Indonesia and see where unfair trading policies are being used, such as producer subsidies and dumping,” Irawan Ronodipuro, director of foreign affairs for the Prabowo campaign, said in a text message. “We must seek a better deal.”

Over the past several years, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Malaysia have all seen pro- China administrations booted from office. China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner, with two-way trade jumping 25% to US$66 billion (RM271.55 billion) in the first 11 months of last year, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Trade.

China also enjoys a significant trade surplus with Indonesia.

The issue of China’s sizeable trade surplus was raised in a meeting between Jokowi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, with the Indonesian leader appealing for Beijing to resist applying quota restrictions on Indonesian goods. Jokowi, however, has courted Chinese investment as well as billions of dollars in financing for infrastructure under the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

For Prabowo, who has already pledged to review BRI projects, including a high-speed railway, boosting exports is a priority.

This would be done through trade deregulation and increasing credit facilities for exporters, while large foreign direct investors in export industries will be given incentives to locate to or expand their operations in Indonesia, Ronodipuro said.

Jokowi continues to lead Prabowo in polls. A survey published by Charta Politika on Wednesday showed the incumbent with a 19-point lead, although another poll has shown the gap has narrowed since September.