Indonesia has a Korea fan as its new president

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Indonesia has a Korea fan as its new president

JAKARTA - Joko Widodo, who was sworn in as president of Indonesia yesterday, is a fan of Korean culture and even saw K-pop group Super Junior perform twice in concert with his daughter.

In an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo in Jakarta ahead of his inauguration, Widodo said he goes by the motto “unity within diversity,” emphasizing the need to listen to the people and cooperate with opposition parties.

The new president of the world’s third-most populous democracy (after India and the United States), also known by the nickname Jokowi, is considered a “man of the people” and the country’s first leader without deep roots in the era of dictator Suharto.

Widodo took over from outgoing leader Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who served the maximum 10-year term. He was elected president on July 22, beating Prabowo Subianto, a former general once married to the daughter of Suharto.

Widodo may face obstruction for his ambitious reform plans, as Indonesia’s parliament is currently dominated by rival political groups.

Widodo, who was the governor of Jakarta from 2012 until last week, was sworn in at the national parliament at a ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries such as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore. Widodo was born in Surakarta as the son of a wood seller. He began his political career serving as mayor of Surakarta from 2005 to 2012 and has ran a furniture export business.

Q. What do you think of your nickname as Jakarta’s Obama?

A. U.S. President Barack Obama is one of the figures that I respect. Many people compare me to him, however, I am better looking [with a chuckle]. I think listening to public sentiments and visiting markets and other places to know of their difficulties has cast such an image. However, the situation in Indonesia is very different from the United States.

Your three-finger salute, signifying unity of Indonesia, has become your trademark. Are you confident that you will be able to achieve such unity?

Invoking the number “three” is a proposal to uphold my motto “unity within diversity,” to become one in order to build the nation. That is my objective and also a value absolutely necessary for national development. As I was in office as mayor of Surakarta and governor of Jakarta, I always felt that even though political parties were different and what they pursued was different, the shared objective was to build a better nation.

Back in July, you received recommendations for cabinet candidates from the public in an Internet survey called the “People’s choices for an alternative Cabinet.” Some called this a groundbreaking idea while others called it naive. What was the result?

In the past, the relationship between the government and the people was vertical and top-down. Changing this to horizontal, left to right, is my basic goal. Through this, the people will have to learn about the government. That is why we provided an opportunity [for the people] to participate. The final decision is made by the president.

Indonesia is a country with a lot of potential. How will you redeem your pledge of 6 to 7 percent economic growth in the next five years?

We will leave doors to foreign investors wide open. Because we are lacking in airports, ports, roads and other social overhead capital, I know very well that foreign investors are reluctant to invest in Indonesia. But we are going to be active in expanding infrastructure, especially prioritizing developing rural areas such as Sumatra. Development of human capital is important as well. I will aim to widen education opportunities for youths to improve productivity and work toward enhancing the welfare of the lower income bracket.

This happened in Korea as well, but there is a backlash against reforms expected from the privileged classes. You have also pledged to cut fuel subsidies, which is already causing some resistance.

I faced the same situation both as a mayor and governor. Aren’t all reforms followed by resistance? But after two to three months of dialogue and persuasion, even opposition forces followed my will and eventually the problem was resolved. I think it will be like this in the future.

Korean companies in Indonesia say that factors that deter foreign investors include sudden hikes in minimum wages, strict regulations against the employment of foreigners, the tax system and a general lack of incentives.

Those are helpful words to me. I will search for reasonable measures. The minimum wage increase of 40 percent recently followed sudden demand and collective action after a long period of low wages. This will be different in the future. A basic survey into the minimum cost of living and other factors will be conducted in order to establish a reasonable increase in the rate of wages. While the regulation for hiring foreigners doesn’t seem that stringent in my opinion, we will look into it to see if we are adhering to too strict practices for [foreign] workers and respond accordingly.

What areas would you like Korean companies to invest in?

I know very well that Posco [invested $3 billion] to build Southeast Asia’s first integrated steel mill [in Indonesia]. We welcome Korean companies investing in the field of infrastructure. We also look forward to Korea’s strong point, its high-tech enterprises, to increase investments here.

The construction of Jakarta’s metro line No. 1 has been led by a consortium of Japanese and Indonesian companies. Will there be opportunities for Korean companies to successfully bid on such contracts?

We plan to continue building such city railways in Jakarta and other satellite cities. Many railways on islands other than Java will also be constructed. Chinese companies have also shown movement to win such contracts.

The Hallyu fever in Indonesia is quite impressive.

I watched Super Junior’s concert twice because my daughter likes them. I stuck to my seat until the end. My son likes Korean food so much that he makes his own kimchi. I, too, like Korea. When I went to Korea, I got the impression that the cities were clean and organized. I don’t think it’s impossible for Indonesia to be like that, but we will need some time.


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