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Indonesia’s President-Elect Meets Xi in China Before Visiting Japan Amid Regional Tensions

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Updated: | Originally published:

Indonesian President-elect Prabowo Subianto met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday before heading to Japan for similar top-level talks amid rising tensions over the South China Sea.

Xi told Prabowo that China is willing to boost “all-round strategic cooperation” with Indonesia and make positive contributions to regional and world peace, China Central Television reported. Xi also said China is willing to deepen maritime cooperation with Indonesia, and help the Asean nation in poverty relief, according to CCTV.

Read More: What to Know About Prabowo Subianto as Uncertainty Looms for Indonesia’s Democracy

Prabowo, who will succeed Joko Widodo in October, will have an audience with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on April 2 and 3. His plan to visit Japan was announced Monday, just days after China’s foreign ministry said Prabowo’s first international visit since winning the election in February would be to Beijing, describing the journey as an event that “fully demonstrates the robustness of China-Indonesia ties.”

The visit to Japan—a key U.S. ally—suggests that Prabowo will continue his predecessor’s middle-of-the-road strategy in navigating the U.S.-China rivalry. China is Indonesia’s biggest economic partner and is pouring more than $7 billion into the nation’s commodity processing capacity.

Read More: Why the U.S. Faces a Delicate Balancing Act on Countering China in the South China Sea

Confrontations between China and the Philippines have ratcheted up over the past year as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. shifted his foreign policy back to the nation’s longtime ally, the U.S. Since Marcos took office in 2022, he has boosted security ties with Washington and its allies. He has also asserted the Philippines’ territorial claims, which overlap with China and other neighbors.

Jokowi has maintained a non-confrontational approach over the sea dispute—though Beijing’s claims cut into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone—and Xi would prefer Indonesia continue that approach. Prabowo said during his campaign that he wouldn’t pick sides in the dispute.

China claims almost all of the waterway that’s vital for global trade and is estimated to contain vast energy reserves. Beijing has ignored a 2016 international court ruling that said its efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law.

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