The Jakarta Post
As Australian officials hailed the unanimous support for the adoption of a resolution at Tuesday’s World Health Assembly (WHA), Indonesia insisted that its backing had nothing to do with the neighbor’s contentious agenda, steering clear of the “politicization” of the global health crisis.
At least 135 countries backed the COVID-19 resolution on Tuesday, which, among other things, highlights the importance of strengthening global cooperation and universal, timely and equitable access to affordable health technologies.
Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said that Indonesia had thrown its support behind the resolution based on the points that were highlighted, as well as others such as assistance for low and middle income countries and the participation of women.
"Indonesia has been very consistent in reminding all members of the importance of cooperation among countries, to set aside differences and not to politicize the meeting and its issues," Retno said during a virtual briefing in Jakarta on Wednesday.
The resolution was first introduced by the European Union and had been negotiated since early April. It was coopted by critics of China later on, particularly by the United States and Australia, that sought to campaign for an independent inquiry that would hold Beijing accountable for the spread of the virus.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has spread around the world, infecting nearly 5 million people and killing more than 323,000, is believed to have emerged at a local market selling wild animal meat in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
The move has prompted strong opposition from China and had led nations to distance themselves from the resolution, including Indonesia, according to people familiar with the situation.
In late April, Minister Retno said she had spoken with her Australian counterpart Marise Payne about the matter, but said that Indonesia was more concerned about mitigating the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
Acting ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah also insisted it was wrong to mistake Indonesia’s support for the resolution as an indication that it was party to a “coalition” led by Australia that was calling for an independent investigation into the pandemic, as reported by Australian media.
“Indonesia was actually a cosponsor of the resolution [...] from the beginning. If we look at the resolution as a whole, there is no specific call for an independent investigation or inquiry, but a global effort to foster cooperation to respond to COVID-19,” he told the media in a separate briefing on Wednesday.
Faizasyah said Indonesia did not want to politicize a resolution made with good intentions for international cooperation.
He also pointed out that because China had also cosponsored the resolution, there were no longer any “contentious matters that could cause debate and politicization”.
Leading up to the annual meeting of the WHA on Monday and Tuesday, member countries were knee-deep in negotiations to come up with a draft resolution acceptable to all.
Along with dozens of other countries, Indonesia agreed over the weekend to endorse a version of the draft that proposed that an independent “evaluation” be carried out “at the earliest appropriate moment”, and “in consultation with member states” and “using existing mechanisms”.
The text does not mention China by name.
“This obviously is good enough for China,” said Anggia Valerisha, who teaches international relations at Parahyangan Catholic University.
In a speech at the assembly on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country supported a comprehensive evaluation of the global response to the pandemic, Reuters reports.
The seven-page document was finally adopted by consensus on Tuesday.
Hasan Kleib, Indonesia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, said Indonesia appreciated the fact that some of its own views, such as ensuring equitable and affordable access to medical supplies, were accommodated in the resolution.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Payne said the resolution was “an important part of the conversation we started,” and expressed her gratitude to all the drafters involved in the past few weeks.
But Reuters also reported that the Chinese Embassy in Canberra called out Australia’s vindication at the WHA as “a joke”, with a spokesman saying that the global resolution was different from what Australia had proposed. The WHA is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization.
Anggia argued that Indonesia showed the most reluctance in echoing Australia's earlier call because it put the blame on China, which in turn sent a strong message to Canberra.
“I think Indonesia’s response at the time was reasonable because it was facing extraordinary COVID-19 problems and had no energy to get dragged into a 'drama' with China,” she said.
“Indonesia is not equipped to be treated harshly by China, especially in the economic field, at a time when the domestic economy is sluggish.”
The pandemic has proven detrimental to the global economy, with countries teetering at the edge of recession. Some have been emboldened enough to look for a scapegoat, experts say.
“On whether Indonesia will openly criticize China, I don’t think [it will],” Anggia said.
“Surely Indonesia will try to be very constructive when dealing with China, bearing in mind the two countries have strong economic ties and interests.”