The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is seeking help from the Saudi Arabian Consultative Assembly, or Majlis Asy-Syura, to improve slowing bilateral trade and economic cooperation between the Middle Eastern country and Indonesia.
Jokowi received the speaker of the Majlis Asy-Syura, Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al Al-Shiekh, and his entourage at the Presidential Palace on Thursday.
Although Indonesia contributes greatly to Saudi’s national income as it has become the largest sender of haj pilgrims — approximately 211,000 per year — to the kingdom, trade and economic relations between the two countries are still weak.
Bilateral trade and economic relations saw a significant drop of up to 36 percent in 2014 and 2015 and Jokowi was aiming to bolster cooperation in those two fields this year as Indonesia was preparing to welcome King Salman for a state visit on March 1 to 9.
Jokowi described Salman’s upcoming visit as historic because the last time a Saudi king came to Jakarta for a state visit was 46 years ago when Salman’s father King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud visited the archipelago in 1971.
“We are sure that the upcoming visit of King Salman will strengthen the Indonesia-Saudi Arabia relationship to reach a state of affairs where both countries mutually benefit,” Jokowi said when welcoming Abdullah.
(Read also: Indonesia waits for Saudi Arabia to meet its pledge over crane accident )
Abdullah is in Jakarta as part of the upcoming state visit of King Salman in March. The Saudi assembly speaker was also scheduled to meet with House of Representatives Speaker Setya Novanto and other House members on Thursday to improve parliamentary cooperation between the two countries.
Abdullah said the House visit also aimed at discussing potential sectors that could be improved by Indonesia and Saudi Arabia in the future.
“Although, there are still several sectors that need to be improved between the two countries, the historic relations between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia will always continue,” Abdullah said.
Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister AM Fachir, who accompanied Jokowi during Thursday’s meeting, said the President had also asked the Majlis Asy-Syura to convince the Saudi government to materialize its investment plans and commitments in Indonesia.
Jokowi also discussed various issues with Abdullah, including the protection of Indonesians in Saudi Arabia.
“The protection is for those who live there and Indonesians on the haj and umrah [minor haj] there,” Fachir said.
Fachir further said Abdullah told Jokowi that Saudi Arabia now felt the impact of decreasing oil prices, which hurt Saudi trade volumes overseas including with Indonesia.
It remains unclear whether Thursday’s meeting also discussed Saudi Arabia’s failure to pay the compensation to dozens of Indonesians who became victims of a deadly crane collapse accident at Al Haram Grand Mosque in Mecca in 2015 that killed hundreds of pilgrims.
Twelve pilgrims from Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, were killed and 49 sustained injuries when the crane collapsed on Sept. 11, 2015.
The kingdom had pledged to the Indonesian government that it would provide 1 million riyals (US$266,607) in compensation for every fatality or permanently disabled victim and 500,000 riyals for the less severely injured, but nothing has materialized until now.
Fachir said Jokowi also urged the Saudi assembly to improve legislative cooperation with the House in the field of counterterrorism.
“The President also calls on the assemblies of the two countries to promote a tolerant Islam that is rahmatan lil alamin [a blessing for the universe],” Fachir said.