Indonesian tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo will fly to New York next week for meetings with Trump’s sons on resort projects in the Southeast Asian nation. Days later he will watch in Washington DC as Trump is sworn in as U.S. president.
While their association began long before Trump ran for office, Tanoesoedibjo’s itinerary, with its mix of corporate and political conversations, illustrates the tricky task for Trump in divorcing himself entirely from his sprawling international business empire -- with interests in about 20 countries -- once he’s in office.
Tanoesoedibjo, who is founder of media and real estate conglomerate MNC Group and may harbor political aspirations of his own, will meet Trump’s sons Don Jr. and Eric on Jan. 18 in New York to discuss their deal to upgrade two resorts in Bali and West Java. The following day he will leave for Washington, having been invited by the Trump family to attend the inauguration with his wife.
“I have to underline that it’s a business relationship,” Tanoesoedibjo, 51, said in an interview on Monday at his gated residence in South Jakarta. “I’m sure when he becomes president, Mr. Trump, everything won’t be much different from now.”
Trump’s plan to let his sons run the business empire during his presidential term hasn’t satisfied politicians from both parties, who continue calling for him to divest completely to resolve conflicts of interest. While he has pledged to do no new deals during his administration, ongoing projects still in their early stages are set to test ethical boundaries.
The president-elect said Wednesday in New York he would leave all positions at the Trump Organization, though he won’t be divesting his ownership in the company or placing it in a blind trust.
Tanoesoedibjo is confident in the strength of his partnership with the Trump Organization, which entails the upgrading and then operation of a 700-hectare resort and golf course in Lido, West Java, and a 100-hectare complex in Bali. The meeting in New York will discuss details of the projects, with construction of the resort in Lido set to begin next year, he said.
“I deal with them regularly, with the two children who run the business now,” he said. “The good thing I like about the Trump family, the three children are all good people, very professional and humble.”
“I deal more with the sons,” Tanoesoedibjo added. “Right from the beginning, because Don. Jr covers the whole organization, Eric is more design and Ivanka is something more basically fit-in, fit-out, interior.”
Tanoesoedibjo also said MNC Group is open to more joint ventures given his existing relationship and access. “We’re partners -- we can come to meet them anytime to discuss the business.”
As Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, Indonesia will be a key player in the Trump administration’s security policy in the region as China flexes its military and economic clout. While President Barack Obama boasts a childhood spent in the capital Jakarta and the ability to speak a few local words, Trump remains a less-familiar figure, known more for his anti-Islamic rhetoric in a country that’s home to more than 200 million Muslims.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has downplayed concerns about dealing with Trump. The incoming president “has a strong sense in business and economy” and would do the best for the U.S. and the world, he said in November.
Tanoesoedibjo may yet mirror Trump’s move into politics. He founded the United Indonesia Party, or Perindo, two years ago and said he could run for the Indonesian presidency in the 2019 election if he sees no candidate meeting his criteria of “having integrity and providing solution to Indonesia.”
While he declined to comment on how he viewed Widodo as a leader, Tanoesoedibjo has had prior forays into politics, including an unsuccessful effort to stand for the vice-presidency in the 2014 election. As a businessman and potential candidate, he agrees with comparisons drawn with Trump.
“Our background is similar. Mr. Trump is a businessman, he started also from small and grew big and then all of a sudden he decided to move into politics and then became the president of the U.S.,” he said. “From that perspective, yes, so I hope I can follow his footsteps.”