The Jakarta Post
President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's contemplative nature and his reluctance to attend regular multilateral summits have been demonstrated once again following his decision to skip at least one annual meeting this month.
Although Jokowi might attend the upcoming G20 Leaders Summit in Antalya, Turkey, on Nov. 15-16, he is likely to miss the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Forum in Manila, the Philippines, between Nov. 17'20, where luminaries, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama, are slated to attend.
Jokowi is also hesitating about whether or not to attend the 27th ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Nov. 20'22. Both the Philippines and Malaysia are members of ASEAN and his decision to forgo attendance could prove a diplomatic embarrassment to his two hosts.
Husain Abdullah, spokesman for Vice President Jusuf Kalla, con-firmed to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that Kalla had been a signed to fly to Manila to attend the APEC Summit on behalf of the President.
'Vice President Kalla will be in Manila for the summit from Nov. 17 until Nov. 20,' he said.
Husain refused to specify the reasons behind Jokowi's refusal to attend the prestigious conference and could not confirm whether Kalla would also be assigned to replace Jokowi at the East Asia Summit.
Ari Dwipayana, a member of the presidential communications team, confirmed Kalla's presence at the APEC Summit but assured those concerned that Jokowi would still attend the summit in Malaysia.
APEC is a forum for 21 Pacific-Rim member economies that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The summit in Manila will promote efforts to develop inclusive growth and highlight the role of small and medium enterprises.
According to sources at the State Palace, Jokowi's reluctance to travel overseas is in response to several urgent domestic matters that need to be immediately resolved. The President, it is said, would feel uncomfortable spending more than 10 days abroad to attend the APEC, ASEAN and G20 summits.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir, however, said that Jokowi was still on track to attend the ASEAN and East Asia Summit. 'All of the conferences are important but we'll see what the President will decide,' he said.
In April, Jokowi attended the 26th ASEAN Summit's plenary session held in Kuala Lumpur but skipped the subsequent retreat on the island of Langkawi and later assigned Kalla as his representative at the event.
The next ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur is intended to showcase the 10-member bloc's progress toward economic integration. The regional grouping will officially enter the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in January next year.
The leaders will also meet with their counterparts from major neighboring countries such as China, Japan and South Korea.
The two major events will likely be overshadowed by overlapping territorial claims on the South China Sea. China claims ownership of most of the disputed area. Other claimants include Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam.
International relations expert Hikmahanto Juwana said that the President should carefully consider the gravity and importance of each event and hoped that Jokowi would at least make an appearance at the G20 and the East Asia summits.
Hikmahanto emphasized the importance of attending the summits, noting that there was a requirement in the ASEAN Charter that high-level meetings like the East Asia Summit demanded the full attendance of decision-makers and heads-of-state.
'We hope that the President will attend at the head of state level. The motion [of the forum] would be different if he were to be represented by someone else. The foreign minister is allowed to participate but her presence won't count [in decision-making],' he explained.
The University of Indonesia international law professor said that Jokowi should go to Kuala Lumpur because issues surrounding the South China Sea would not just be discussed at the regional level but would also include China and the US.
'Indonesia is now a regional and international player and so if the President doesn't appear [on the international stage], our stature will suffer. Unless there is an urgent reason for not attending, the public will judge him for the worse,' he said.
'Leadership needs to be reinforced by showing up.'
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