Indonesia upbeat on prospect of Trump’s presidency

Deputy House Speaker Fadli Zon gave his insights during a TV interview on Trump presidency. Photo: Twitter @fadlizon

Donald Trump’s triumph in the US presidential election is expected to have both positive and negative impacts on Asia, and Indonesia in particular  and it leads to calls for greater understanding of political populism, which Trump championed in his campaign rhetoric.

“I expect a lot of positive impacts and some negative impacts,” Thomas Lembong, chairman of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, said during a discussion at the annual Indonesia Economic Forum in Jakarta earlier this month.

The positive impacts, Thomas said, would come from fiscal stimulus, noting that stock markets were rallying sharply and the bond market collapsing, reflecting expectations that President-elect Trump, combined with Republican-controlled Congress, would embark on deficit spending and fiscal stimulus.

The former trade minister said it would be good for the US economy, and what’s good for US economy would be good for East Asia because Asian countries export a lot to the US.

“The negative would be most likely there will be less movement of people, less free movement of capital, of goods and services,” he said. “On the whole, I remain optimistic.”

But Thomas said Trump’s victory also sheds light on a significant fundamental change, namely the rise of populism.

“A lot of us still have not fully grasped its magnitude and perhaps, very dangerously, the elite, technocrats like me are the furthest behind in admitting, that we may have started the era of populism,” Thomas said, adding that there are many who still refused to admit that it is happening.

“Populism doesn’t have to be all bad, I would argue that [Canadian Prime Minister] Trudeau and [President] Jokowi are every bit as populist as Donald Trump or [British foreign secretary] Boris Johnson, what have you… So there are different ways to be populist, I do think we should have seen it coming, with the huge increase in income inequality, with staggering fortunes being created at the same time when 70-80 percent of us suffered stagnation,” Thomas said.

The impact of Trump presidency, he said, would be “sizeable but manageable.”

Thomas also said that Trump’s victory showed a devastating criticism of the liberal class, especially liberal multiculturalism and a rejection to what Americans call “political correctness”.

“When you are not allowed to be too religious, to say certain things, use certain names, I think what I see is even among our young, people still want to be religious, want to have a strong identity and they want people to respect the right to have the identity,” he said.

“I don’t think it means less tolerant, they want to have the freedom to have a strong identity,” Thomas said.

When it comes to trade and jobs, Thomas argued the perception that people are closing their market marked by Trump’s victory and the Brexit vote, is just superficial.

“Beneath the surface, it’s becoming more open and more connected, first and foremost because of e-commerce, social media, digital communication. The reality is, there’s more trade than ever before,” he said.

As for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Thomas said that it would be one trade agreement, which Trump “will be killing off in a speculator fashion” in his initial days in office.

But Thomas, who is a proponent of free trade agreements, said it would only make sense for emerging economies such as Indonesia to pursue trade agreements since it opens access to market, free movement of people and standards.

“If we can harmonize standards, then we can sell more with one another more efficiently,” Thomas said.

Former Indonesian ambassador to the US, Dr Dino Patti Djalal, said regardless of who won the US election, bilateral relations between Indonesia and the US remained one of the most important for Indonesia.

“Strategically, our goal towards the US remain unchanged, that is to make US pro-Indonesia,” Dino said, adding that President George W. Bush and outgoing President Barack Obama have been the most pro-Indonesia US presidents and that such position needs to continue under incoming Trump administration.

“I don’t think it would be a difficult challenge because throughout his campaign, Trump didn’t mention Indonesia among the countries that irked him and Trump never said anything bad about Indonesia,” Dino said.

Nevertheless, Dino believes that it is important for President Joko Widodo to call the president-elect by phone and congratulate him.

“The phone call maybe just protocols but the president can send political messages such as conveying hopes that the US can maintain good relations with the Islamic world and continue to cooperate with Asean,” Dino said.

International relations expert at University of Indonesia’s School of Social Sciences, Beginda Pakpahan, said that based on his campaign promises, a Trump presidency would feature an isolationist foreign policy and focus more on domestic issues such as immigration, healthcare reform and bringing jobs back to the US.

“But he would also need to adapt the global reality and balance his act given that Asia Pacific is now the center of growth. He can’t deny this reality and should take this into his consideration. There should be some sort of compromise,” he said.

As for citizens of Muslim-majority Indonesia who may want to visit the US, he said that there should be no reason to worry though he acknowledged that visa screening could be more rigorous given Trump’s controversial vow to bar Muslims out of terrorism concerns.

Yahya Cholil Staquf, the secretary-general of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, said in a statement that Trump’s victory would bring fundamental changes in the international politics’ balancing, regarding two main issues, namely issue regarding solution to the conflict in the Middle East and how Islamic countries should position themselves in the international stage.

“This is not just about Trump winning the election in the US but it is manifestation of a new wave of far right politics victory in the western world, not just in the US but also in Europe,” Yahya said, adding that this development could spur further tension if efforts are not made to maintain peace.

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