Suga's Indo-Pacific initiative raises concern for Indonesia and the region: Jakarta Post columnist
Deputy Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar rebuked Japan last Wednesday (Oct 14), just one day after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to explain his two-day visit to Jakarta, which will start tomorrow (Oct 20).
During the telephone conversation, the prime minister, among others, briefed Jokowi about his Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative.
Mahendra complained that Japan, the world's third-largest economy, had done almost nothing in the regional effort to beat the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Japanese Embassy's official statement, during the 10-minute talk, PM Suga promoted his first diplomatic initiative.
He also ensured Jokowi that his government "fully supports the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)".
The Asean Outlook was initiated by Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi and later adopted by the regional trading bloc. There is no further explanation on what Japan will do to make the FOIP and AOIP platforms work in sync.
But as reported by international and Japanese media, the newly elected PM was very eager to accelerate realisation of his FOIP agenda, which he inherits from his successor Shinzo Abe.
It seems that Suga is confident that with the support of the United States and other major countries, it will be easier for him to persuade Asean members to join their front against China.
On Oct 6, Suga opened a foreign ministerial meeting of four Indo-Pacific nations - Australia, India, Japan and the US, known as the Quad - in Tokyo.
The Associated Press quoted Suga as saying that the FOIP security and economic initiative was more important than ever amid challenges from the coronavirus pandemic.
Apart from Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar were in attendance.
The four countries have their own problems with China, with Washington the fiercest in attacking Beijing. Australia, known as the US deputy sheriff in the Pacific, is also ready for a trade war with China, while India is embroiled in border conflicts with China.
However, Japan was very cautious by ending the Quad meeting without any joint statement.
Mahendra, while officiating the "Economic Dashboard: Japan-Indonesia Partnership Lounge" on Wednesday (Oct 14), questioned Japan's commitment to deepening the relationship with Indonesia.
Mahendra is a career diplomat who has held various key posts such as deputy finance minister, deputy trade minister, head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) and Indonesian ambassador to the US.
Knowing his vast experience as a bureaucrat and diplomat, Mahendra must be confident in his criticism and to some extent was representing the government's growing impatience and frustration by the slow pace of Indonesia-Japan bilateral relations, especially during the pandemic.
As quoted by Kompas daily, Mahendra questioned the direction of the long-standing strategic partnership between Indonesia and Japan during the pandemic.