EDITORIAL: Japan's Patimban certainty
The Jakarta Post
Both the Indonesian and Japanese governments need to explain to the public the true reasons behind the apparent delay of the Patimban Port construction project in Subang, West Java. The project is not only strategic in terms of the economy, but also crucial for the continuation of bilateral relations between the two long-time friends.
It is simply hard to accept the four-month postponement, from the original schedule of January 2018, as stemming from technical matters, knowing Japan’s strict management discipline. As reported by this newspaper on Monday’s front page, Indonesian officials insisted that the new port would commence operations as scheduled in March 2019 despite a delay in the start of the construction.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are committed to completion of the project as planned. Jokowi knows very well that Patimban has a very special meaning for PM Abe after Japan’s defeat to China in the tender for the Jakarta-Surabaya highspeed railway project in September 2015.
The port, as well as an offer to revitalize the 725-kilometer railway between Jakarta and Surabaya, is widely regarded as a consolation prize for Japan. Japanese investors, especially automotive business, urgently need a new port as an alternative to the congested Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta.
On the sidelines of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines, Abe will naturally demand Jokowi’s clarification on what is really hampering the project and how to clear the hurdles together. As a businessman, Jokowi must understand Japan’s eagerness to remain a leading partner for Indonesian development in the wake of China’s amazing rise. Although Japan is ready to accept whatever Indonesia decides concerning the seaport project, such patience should have a limit.
According to the original plan, the port was to be built in Cilamaya in Karawang, about 80 km east of Jakarta. However, the government cancelled the project in April 2015 despite completion of its feasibility study. Vice President Jusuf Kalla then demanded Japan find a new location in West Java. Japan agreed to move farther to the east to Subang, perhaps because PM Abe kept hoping that Japan would win the Jakarta-Surabaya high-speed railway project.
Japan has been playing a pivotal role in the country’s development for decades, especially by pouring in loans and investments. Japan’s role is declining as investment from China and South Korea steadily grows.
Japan has become and will continue to be a strategic partner for Indonesia in a mutually beneficial relationship. Indonesia should not have to be dependent on China, and therefore it needs to maintain a strong and stable relation with Japan, the world’s third-largest economy.
For Tokyo, Jakarta is geopolitically important because of its traditionally extra-cautious stance against China. Likewise, Indonesia needs a strong Japan.
When meeting PM Abe this weekend, President Jokowi needs to brief the Japanese leader honestly about the port issue. Jokowi cannot repeat the same tactic he adopted when offering the high-speed train project two years ago.
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