Indonesia’s Widodo Warns ‘Identity Politics’ Is ‘Threat to Democracy’

February 10, 2020 Updated: February 12, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has warned of the dangers of “identity politics,” and called on “closest friend” Australia to work together to defend their democratic values, human rights, and diversity and to stop terrorism.

Widodo made the comments during a speech (pdf) to the Australian Parliament on Feb. 10, when he signed a lucrative trade deal with Australia.

In a rare address to both houses of Parliament, Widodo celebrated “70 years of friendship between Indonesia and Australia” and thanked the country for its continuous support.

“Despite the cultural differences between Indonesia and Australia, we share the same values: heroism; diverse ethnic groups and tolerance; democracy and respect for human rights as well as a commitment to protect the environment and beyond,” Widodo said.

Widodo proposed a number of priorities for the Australia–Indonesia relationship, which include continuing to “advocate the values of democracy, human rights, tolerance, and diversity—stop intolerance, stop xenophobia, stop radicalism, and stop terrorism.”

“Identity politics must be discouraged in our countries and globally, regardless of its religious, ethnicity, or other identity basis. Identity politics is a threat to democracy, a threat to diversity, and a threat to tolerance. These threats will become even more actual when exploited for short-term political interests, resulting in hatred, fear, and even social conflict,” he said.

The Indonesian president added that the two countries must “work hard, side by side, standing together to defend the values of democracy, tolerance, and diversity and to prevent the world having a clash of civilizations.”

He said the two countries must also work together to promote “free and fair “economic policies, stating that he believes an “open and fair economic system will be beneficial for all.”

“Indonesia and Australia must become the anchors for development partners in the Pacific region,” Widodo added, noting that “Indonesia understands the development challenges in the Pacific region,” and “as a fellow island state, Indonesia faces similar challenges with countries in the Pacific region.”

“Indonesia and Australia must become true friends for countries in the Pacific region, collaborating as development partners, addressing the impacts of climate change, alleviating poverty and social inequality, and creating new centers of economic growth in the Pacific region,” he said.

Finally, the two countries must also work together to “protect the environment, to achieve sustainable development and reforestation in forest and river upstream areas, to prevent forest and land fires, to commit to lowering carbon emissions, and to develop renewable energy and other green technologies,” he said.

Elsewhere in his speech, Widodo noted that his country had also provided relief, in the form of Army Corps of Engineers and personnel of the Indonesian National Agency for Disaster Management, to help New South Wales overcome the bushfire crisis and that teams from both countries are “currently discussing possible cooperation for weather modification.”

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also praised the two countries’ close relationship, but noted that there is still “more to be done, especially on the economic front.”

“Together, Australia and Indonesia are motivated by our shared concerns for our region and our shared vision for an open, prosperous Indo-Pacific underpinned by strong institutions, rules, and norms,” he said.

“By continuing to work together, we can build the region’s resilience and make our people safer and our economy stronger. Our ambitious comprehensive strategic partnership, which was finalized 18 months ago, gives us a framework for even closer ties. We now have a plan of action to take the next steps in our relationship.”

The trade agreement, which has been eight years in the making, is aimed to boost multibillion-dollar ties and will provide a major boost for Australian farmers and businesses through lower tariffs and improved access.

Indonesia agreed to import 500,000 tons of grain tariff-free, while a lower tariff has been secured for live cattle, dairy, and vegetables, while Australia agreed to open universities in Indonesia and consider ways to simplify the visa application processes for Indonesians visiting the country.

Australia’s goods trade with Indonesia was worth $11.8 billion in 2018, making Indonesia its 13th-largest trading partner.