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Jakarta Post

Jokowi's coronavirus diplomacy works well to convince desperate China

  • Kornelius Purba

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, February 4, 2020   /   07:58 am
Jokowi's coronavirus diplomacy works well to convince desperate China Indonesian health officials conduct an exercise drill in transporting a patient requiring isolation at the Belawan port in Medan on February 3, 2020. - Indonesia has evacuated 237 citizens and one foreign national, married to an Indonesian, from Wuhan, as China on February 3 said it urgently needed medical equipment and surgical masks as the death toll jumped above 360, making it more deadly than the SARS crisis nearly two decades ago. (AFP/Ivan Damanik)

Thank you Ambassador Xiao Qian! Also thank you Batik Air, a member of the frequently complained about Lion Group! No less important, gratitude should go to Indonesian diplomats in Beijing and across China because their hard work has helped Indonesian nationals trapped in coronavirus-hit Wuhan and other cities return home.

The Chinese ambassador to Indonesia deserves plaudits because he certainly played a key role in convincing his government to approve the repatriation of 238 Indonesian nationals from Wuhan and other cities in China on Sunday. Diplomatic sources indicated that President Xi Jinping, who is now facing his most sensitive challenge and leadership test, was fully informed about the Indonesia’s plan. He was clearly satisfied with Indonesia’s silent diplomacy.

Against the basic sense of humanity and common standard of diplomacy, United States President Donald Trump and his Cabinet not only showed little empathy toward China, they basically said “Serves you right!” to millions of Chinese people whose Lunar New Year celebration was severely disrupted by this infectious disease. Trump forgot such a tragedy could happen to his country.

The silence of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo about China’s response to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) outbreak reflects his full understanding of the situation in China. Jokowi also knows that the initial reactions of Chinese officials, who tended to play down the contagious disease, if veiling the real facts, are very similar to the typical behavior of Indonesian bureaucrats who tend to want to please their boss.

Bureaucrats will only tell their leaders the truth when a problem has spiraled out of control. Just look at the reports of the proud Chinese media that showed off the one-week or so construction of a huge hospital to treat those contracting the virus. The officials should realize that although financially, scientifically and technologically China is superior, the country cannot fight 2019-nCoV alone. The world must work together to address this calamity.

Now that the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global emergency, the disease has morphed into a global disaster and could spark political upheaval in China, too. In its analysis, CNN questions whether the Chinese leader will pass his ultimate test with the Wuhan coronavirus.

Indonesians and people all over the world share a common interest that China will soon overcome this ordeal. In the current era, when China sneezes, the world will cough immediately.

I am also pretty sure that Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi briefed Ambassador Xiao before Indonesia disclosed its decision to temporarily ban all travel to and from China to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The announcement came on the same day as the arrival of Indonesian nationals to their quarantine site on Natuna Island, Riau Islands, the waters of which have often become a source of tension between Indonesia and China, which claims the maritime area as a traditional fishing ground for its fishermen.

To be honest, I just don’t know whether the choice of Natuna bears a political message. One thing is sure: The people of Natuna were upset by the government’s decision, partly because they had not been informed in advance.

Ambassador Xiao’s response was totally different from that of China’s acting ambassador to Israel, Dai Yuming. When Israel announced its total travel ban to and from China, Dai unveiled the generous treatment China gave to about 30,000 Jews who had fled to Shanghai to escape Nazi persecution during World War II. China has apologized to Israel and retracted the offending statement.

We must also appreciate the brave decision of Batik Air. Some may speculate airlifting Indonesian nationals from China was merely part of the company’s efforts to restore its public image. But let us be honest. When offered, other airlines will likely look for excuses to avoid the risky mission. Using Lion Air’s regular slot to Wuhan, Batik Air volunteered to bring the Indonesians, many of them students, back home. The airline group has often been the target of complaints over the poor handling of passengers and their baggage, as well as flight delays. This time, we must give due credit to them.

Indonesia has rightly issued a temporary travel ban to and from China, although it will be very difficult to realize because Indonesia and China are so vast in terms of territory and the economic relations between the two countries are so deep.

Nevertheless, anti-China sentiment has started to brew in society here, as reflected in the reactions of many Indonesians to the outbreak on social media. Some of them want to block any activities related to China, such as shipping and purchases of Chinese-made products. They seem to forget that China is too big to boycott.

Thanks to President Jokowi’s diplomacy, Indonesian nationals are now at home, albeit having to endure two weeks of quarantine. The coronavirus diplomacy has worked well.

Some may ask: Will the government exercise the same diplomatic efforts to repatriate about 600 Indonesians who fought for the Islamic State? They have torn up their passports and abandoned their citizenship because of their belief in the group.

Should the President send an airplane to bring them home? I have my own view about these people, but let me keep it to myself.