Steinmeier on a visit to Indonesia

Jakarta is far away from Berlin. About 10,000 kilometers as the crow flies. Last week, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier boarded an Air Force A 340 and traveled to Singapore and Indonesia with a delegation from Germany to strengthen relations with these countries. Indonesian President Joko Widodo will also be a guest at the G7 summit in Elmau. And will host the G20 in Bali in November. And Saturday also opens the world exhibition “documenta fifteen”, curated by the artist collective Ruangrupa from Indonesia. So there were plenty of topics, and China’s increasing aggressiveness is not even mentioned.

But because such an Air Force plane is big and many people can fit in it, the war that Russia is waging against Ukraine also flies with it, and which currently interests Europeans more than anything else. The parade of the German President rushes past the traffic jam with a police escort, out of Jakarta to Bogor, to the palace of the Indonesian President, who is a very powerful man with great powers in the fourth most populous country in the world – while the German President mainly uses the power of words and must trust symbols. A marching band plays as the parade arrives at walking pace in the palace garden, the deer flee in panic.

The dashing looking Jokowi greets the taller Steinmeier, then the guard of honor has to be paced. The soldiers carry silver sparkling machine guns and white patent leather boots. Indonesia is a key country in Southeast Asia, the largest in ASEAN, the association of ten countries in the region, based in Jakarta. All of these countries are united by their proximity to China, which they want to maintain at a certain distance. Indonesia will take over the rotating presidency next year. On top of that, the island state is a major economic partner for China, with around 50 percent of trade being conducted with the Asian superpower. China is investing heavily in infrastructure in Indonesia.

State visit to Indonesia: Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (r) is welcomed with military honors by Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, at the Presidential Palace.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (r) is welcomed with military honors by Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, at the Presidential Palace.

(Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa)

So Widodo could be a mediator in the conflicts brewing between China and the western world. But since the Ukraine war is overshadowing everything, the German delegation is asked to broach the subject of Russia and Putin again in the bilateral talks. Unfortunately, journalists are not allowed to ask any questions when the presidents appear together. What if Putin comes to the G20? He’s invited. Would Widodo receive him?

Widodo tells the press that he condemns “any attack on the sovereignty of individual countries”. Steinmeier says, “there can be no normal situation in these times.” What Widodo says can be understood in the context of Steinmeier’s words as a rejection of Russia. But it’s probably not meant that way. In fact, Indonesia is undecided on this issue. It’s not even particularly pressing in this part of the world. Kyiv is also almost 10,000 kilometers from Jakarta. And the Germans want more support in economic development than advice on moral issues. After all, the Germans also trade with China. And Russia.

Indonesia hopes for “cooperation on the energy transition”

Widodo prefers to talk about his ideas for “Industry 4.0”. The Germans are supposed to “manufacture semiconductors and electric cars” here. Widodo points to the resilient supply chains and stability in the democratic country. Widodo is elected by the people, which is not a matter of course in the ASEAN association, which also includes Thailand, Vietnam and actually Myanmar. He hopes for “collaboration on climate change, on the energy transition” – one of the problems they feel much more strongly in this part of the world. A new capital is currently being built because Jakarta is sinking a little bit more every year.

In Elmau, climate change will not be felt much when Widodo arrives, but he will have the issue with him, there is nothing more important for the countries of Southeast Asia. After the press address, the two Presidents retire for lunch. Then it goes on in a tight rhythm, Steinmeier speaks in a German school, he kindly takes away the nervousness of the students. He is interested in the concerns of a group of environmental activists and makes informed inquiries. He also plants a sandalwood tree in the garden of the Presidential Palace, between that of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. It’s good to remind people here that Germany and Europe still exist, and that people there aren’t just interested in themselves.

On Friday evening in Yogyakarta, after a hurdle race at representation appointments, which you have to complete with dignity at 34 degrees, Steinmeier looks at a project by environmental activists, talks to artists before he climbs back into the Air Force A340 to on Saturday to open the “documenta”. The artist collective Ruangrupa, which designed this edition of the world exhibition, brings together performance art from the southern part of the planet. There you will be able to get an idea of ​​the concerns and needs that people in Indonesia and Singapore and in general in the southern part of the world have. Incidentally, the anti-Semitism allegations against Ruangrupa are not one of them, they are not understood in Jakarta because German debates are also taking place very far away.

But before the plane takes off, one more pressing question for the President: Is it possible that the Germans, the Europeans, are currently too fixated on Russia – and not enough on China? “In the whole debate we’re currently having about Russia, China is always a keyword,” says Steinmeier. The question is, “What lessons do we draw from the development between Germany and Russia, Europe and Russia for our future relationship with China?”

Outside it’s raining, inside the microphones of the journalists are stretched out to the President once more. “You can say that politics and business have learned together that we are reducing dependencies, that we are diversifying trade routes, that we are expanding supply chains. But if you say that, then you also need partners with whom you can do it. And partners like Singapore, Indonesia, and possibly others here in the ASEAN Association are among them.” Then the parade drives off to the airport, accompanied by blue lights. It goes back to Germany in the night. On Saturday Steinmeier will speak again after a long return flight, in Kassel, at the Documenta.

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