The political positioning for next year’s presidential election in Indonesia is already well underway and opponents of President Joko Widodo, such as his likely challenger Prabowo Subianto, are focusing on fears about an alleged influx of foreign workers from China as a line of attack against the incumbent. Despite the argument that Jokowi’s administration has somehow opened up the floodgates to foreign workers having little basis in reality, high unemployment levels and xenophobia towards the Chinese have made the issue seem politically persuasive too many of Jokowi’s enemies (who may be taking their cues from US President Donald Trump’s playbook).
So it’s probably not a coincidence that Li Keqiang, the current Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, happened to address the issue today during his state visit after meeting with Jokowi.
“I also emphasize that Chinese companies investing in Indonesia should use mostly Indonesian labor or prioritize their employment,” Li said during a press conference with President Joko Widodo at the Bogor Presidential Palace on Monday as quoted by state-run news agency Antara.
Li said Chinese companies creating new employment opportunities in Indonesia is beneficial to both parties. He also asked the Indonesian government to continue to improve the ease of investment management of Chinese companies in the country.
It seems likely that Li’s remarks were meant primarily to help battle perceptions that Jokowi was allowing too many foreign workers, specifically Chinese workers, into the country as part of his efforts increase foreign direct investment in Indonesia, much of which is coming from China.
Last month, Jokowi signed a new presidential regulation (Perpres) on the use of foreign workers, signed by Jokowi last month, that aims to ease some of the challenges faced by companies looking to use workers from outside Indonesia.
Jokowi and his administration have argued that the Perpres is necessary to help stimulate foreign direct investment in the country and that its overall effect on the number of foreign workers would be minimal as it was mainly aimed at easing existing processes and did not loosen the already tight regulations on what jobs foreigners can hold in Indonesia (regulations which keep the number of foreign workers in the country incredibly low at just around .04% of the entire population).
But the technicalities of the bill or its impact matter little to politicians such as Prabowo. In a speech last week accepting the endorsement of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI), the Gerindra chairman invoked Trump’s long-promised wall between US and Mexico as an example of how other countries were wisely refusing to allow in too many foreign workers (seemingly fulfilling predictions he might try to play nationalist economic populism as his campaign’s Trump card).