Thomas Daniel was quoted in Nikkei Asian Review 4 April 2024

Neighbors’ relations continue to be close and strengthened, Malaysian PM says

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, left, welcomes Indonesian President-elect Prabowo Subianto at his office in Putrajaya on April 4. (Photo courtesy of Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Office)

by NORMAN GOH and NANA SHIBATA, Nikkei staff writer

KUALA LUMPUR/JAKARTA — Prabowo Subianto, Indonesia’s president-elect and defense minister, met Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Thursday in Putrajaya, his first stop in Southeast Asia since winning the presidential election in February.

Prabowo met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday, following bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.

“Our political career journeys were quite similar, tested by various challenges before being appointed,” Anwar said in his statement on social media, adding that the two men shared stories from their past.

Anwar also wished the countries’ friendship to “continue to be close and strengthened for our mutual benefit in the future.”

As for Prabowo, his stop in Malaysia demonstrated how he plans to balance Indonesian diplomacy between major East Asian economies and ASEAN.

Prabowo’s office released a statement saying the meeting was to “strengthen diplomatic relations and optimism that the defense cooperation between Indonesia and Malaysia will become increasingly significant in the future.”

Experts told Nikkei Asia that in visiting Anwar, Prabowo was showcasing the importance of Indonesia-Malaysia ties and his confidence that growth in the two large emerging economies can benefit Southeast Asia as a whole.

It also shows that once Prabowo becomes president, Malaysia ties will be a priority. “Malaysia is a close Indonesian neighbor, and when it comes to making decisions within ASEAN, Indonesia tends to make consensus with Malaysia first,” said Teuku Rezasyah, an associate professor in international relations at Padjadjaran University.

Incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo cemented Indonesia’s ties with Malaysia during his decade in office. In recent years, Widodo worked with Anwar to fight the European Union’s new anti-deforestation regulation, which would affect the countries’ palm oil farmers.

Rezasyah noted that Widodo “collaborated with Malaysia to tackle the [EU anti-deforestation rules], and I think Prabowo would follow and continue Jokowi’s efforts.”

Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate with the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute in Malaysia, said Prabowo’s Malaysia visit reflects the “importance of [the bilateral] relationship.” She added that she expected Prabowo to be “active in international affairs.”

The neighbors are aligned on a number of issues, including their support for Palestine, their stance on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar and the future of palm oil exports, said Thomas Daniel, senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, a government-linked think tank.

“But I do not say that we are completely aligned on every single page,” Daniel said. “I’m sure each country has their own sets of differences.”

Prabowo is set to become Indonesia’s eighth president on Oct. 20, serving a five-year term with Jokowi’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming, as his vice president.

This article first published in Nikkei Asian Review, 4 April 2024

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