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Jakarta Post

A friend indeed

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, February 4, 2020   /   07:45 am
A friend indeed This handout photo taken and released by the Indonesian Embassy on February 2, 2020, shows officials in full protective gear with Indonesian students as they disembark upon the arrival at Hang Nadim international airport in Batam, following their evacuation from the Chinese city of Wuhan due to the deadly SARS-like virus. - The coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 300 people and infected more than 14,000 in mainland China and beyond, forcing governments around the world to take drastic measures. (AFP/Handout/ Indonesian Embassy)

Indonesia’s decision on Sunday to ban air traffic to and from China comes at the potential high cost of an economic slump, but both China and Indonesia must swallow this bitter pill in spite of Beijing’s best efforts to contain the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and despite Jakarta’s measured response to the global health crisis.

China’s response to the outbreak — from erecting hospitals in 10 days to the back-channel diplomacy it undertook to allay the fears of the World Health Organization — has been nothing short of commendable, despite the increasingly heavy economic impact of shutting down businesses across the mainland, affecting the production lines of resident global brands.

The Shanghai stock market plunged almost 8 percent on the first day of trading since the Lunar New Year holiday, as investors played catch-up with last week's global retreat.

The Indonesian government is also preparing to ban live animal imports from China and is open to imposing an even broader ban in the coming days, likely putting a pin in business with the country’s largest trading partner and third-largest foreign investor.

The virus, cases of which were reported as early as December last year, had already surpassed the national record for deaths and infections caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the result of another strain of coronavirus that originated in China in 2003.

At least 57 new deaths were confirmed on Monday, the single-biggest daily increase since its detection, bringing the death toll to more than 360. The virus has since spread to more than two dozen countries despite unprecedented travel bans, and the first foreign death from the virus was confirmed in the Philippines on Sunday.

Although we must bear the loss of China’s tourists, among others, Indonesia counts itself lucky as of Monday evening for the lack of reported infections among citizens working and residing in China’s Hubei province, particularly in Wuhan, a major industrial hub at the center of the virus outbreak that has since been placed in lockdown.

The government in Jakarta has received some flak for its decision to isolate the 237 repatriated citizens and one other noncitizen on the far-flung island of Natuna in Riau Islands province, the site of recent tensions between Beijing and Jakarta prior to the virus outbreak.

Natuna residents have protested against the use of their island for quarantine, but officials have rallied behind the plan, citing its effectiveness so far.

Although one diplomat said the move to make Natuna a quarantine location was “by design”, the official also rejected the notion that there was an underlying political or geostrategic component to the decision. Overall, anti-Chinese sentiment remains muted despite the potential backlash.

Unlike countries like the United States, which was criticized for actions that had stirred “panic” over the outbreak, Jakarta has struck a fine balance between giving Beijing some courtesy while also standing up for the fate of its citizens.

After all is said and done, "a friend in need is a friend indeed" rings true for both sides, who have supported one another to weather the unfurling storm — no questions asked.