President Jokowi To Visit The Philippines, Vietnam And Brunei Darussalam To Boost Trade And Economic Cooperation – OpEd

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has arrived in Manila on Jan.9, as part of his three-nation official tour from Jan. 9-14. Besides the Philippines (from Jan. 9 to 11), Jokowi will also visit Vietnam (from Jan. 11 to 13) and Brunei Darussalam (on Jan. 14) to boost the diplomatic relations with them.

He is scheduled to meet with President President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr. at Malacañang Palace in Manila on Tuesday (Jan. 10).

According to the Malacanang, the visit seeks to review how diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Indonesia. 

The two leaders are expected “to take stock of the progress in Philippines-Indonesia relations” following Marcos’ state visit to Jakarta from Sept. 4 to 6, 2022, The Philippine Star newspaper reported quoting a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

During that trip, the Marcos administration signed four agreements, the most prominent of which was the renewal of a 1997 defense agreement focusing on joint exercises, development of defense technology, and logistical cooperation between the Philippines and Indonesia. 

Since then, tensions have increased dramatically in the South China Sea (SCS), amid provocations – as Marcos previously described them – by China against Philippine ships. 

Marcos has met with Widodo on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit last year, but the Indonesian president’s trip to Manila offers yet another chance for the two to compare notes in terms of addressing the threats posed by Beijing in the maritime region.

“What we want is to ensure that we get to secure what is rightfully ours based on international law, while working with our like-minded partners, our neighbors especially,” geopolitical analyst Don McLain Gill told Rappler news website iin a phone interview. 

“President Marcos Jr. floated the idea of a new code of conduct (COC) between and among Southeast Asian states. I think these areas converge with the leadership in Manila and Jakarta. You know, on one hand, trying to ensure that the region builds up its own capabilities, but on the other hand, not falling victim to great power politics,” added Gill, an international studies lecturer at the De La Salle University.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that on Jan. 9 her country is ready to work with other Southeast Asian nations to finalise a long-delayed code of conduct for the SCS, where many of its neighbours have overlapping claims with China.

“On South China Sea, Indonesia is ready to work together with all ASEAN member states including the Philippines to finalise the Code of Conduct as soon as possible,” the Reuters news agency reported quoting Retno as saying at a joint press conference with Filipino counterpart Enrique Manalo on Tuesday in Manila.

The Philippines and Indonesia established their diplomatic relations in 1949.

“The two leaders are also expected to reaffirm their commitment to deepening and expanding Philippines-Indonesia ties, especially as the two countries will celebrate their 75th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations in November 2024,” the DFA said.

Both are maritime neighbours and members of ASEAN, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Both countries enjoy cordial bilateral relationship in spirit of kinship. The two countries are considered allies and it is considered as one of the most important bilateral relationships in the ASEAN.

“Two nations as close neighbors and partners that have enjoyed longstanding and robust cooperation in a wide range of areas in political, economic and people-to-people relations,” the DFA said.

Indonesia, a de facto leader of ASEAN, considers the Philippines a good trading partner as it has been enjoying a huge trade surplus in recent years. In 2022, the bilateral trade reached US$14.39 billion. Indonesia enjoyed the highest trade surplus of $11.41 billion from the Philippines in 2022. 

Both have huge potential to develop further their relationship in the future.

Indonesian President’s Special Staff Coordinator Ari Dwipayana said that the main objective of visit of three countries is to strengthen the bilateral relations, friendship and economic cooperation with them.

From the Philippines, Jokowi will go to Vietnam, a strategic partner, a maritime neighbour and an old friend on a three-day official tour. Vietnam offers many opportunities for Indonesia in trade and investment.

In 2013, both countries established their strategic partnership. Last year, they celebrated the 10th anniversary of their strategic partnership.

Jokowi is very particular to enhance the present strategic partnership. He wants to leave his legacy in strengthening Indonesia’s relations with Vietnam before he leaves his president post. Jokowi will hand over to newly elected president on Oct. 20. The presidential election will be held on Feb. 14.

All the top four leaders have already visited Indonesia to further strengthen bilateral relations. In 2017, the Secretary-General of Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong visited Indonesia. The previous president of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Indonesia in December 2022 to boost the relationship with Indonesia. Vietnamese Prime Minister visited Indonesia three times since 2021. Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue visited Indonesia in 2023.

For Jokowi, it will not be the first visit to Vietnam. He visited Vietnam in September 2018.

Both countries have set a trade target of $15 billion by 2028. Amazingly, in 2022 the bilateral trade reached $14.1 billion.

In an effort to increase people-to-people contacts, Vietnam has recently increased direct daily flights to seven to Indonesia. The aviation links will boost tourism in both countries a lot in the coming years.

It is expected that Jokowi will reach an agreement with Vietnamese leaders to enhance the existing strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

On Jan.14, he will visit oil-rich Brunei to boost bilateral relationship. The bilateral trade between Brunei and Indonesia in 2022 reached $897.3 million, a huge jump from $374.3 million in 2021.

Jokowi’s visit to the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei will improve Indonesia’s over all relationship with these ASEAN countries. It will remain as a significant event in the history of Indonesia.