‘We’re not foreign stooges’: President Jokowi asks Indonesians to be more accepting towards foreign workers

Indonesian President Joko Widodo talks to reporters during a news conference at the Bogor Palace, West Java, Indonesia January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta
Indonesian President Joko Widodo talks to reporters during a news conference at the Bogor Palace, West Java, Indonesia January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta

President Joko Widodo — who has long faced accusations that he and his government are puppets serving the interests of foreign countries and corporations — today spoke about the virtues of opening up jobs to foreign workers.

During a talk in Jakarta today, Jokowi said that Indonesia, as a pluralist country, should be more accepting towards tourists and foreign workers.

“As we mature as a nation, we must be more mature about [the Indonesian motto] Unity in Diversity. We have to be more open to ways of speeding up our country’s progress, and find ways to manage the differences between us, including managing foreigners who want to work with us as long as they bring this country benefit,” Jokowi said, as quoted by Kumparan.

“Do not just say that we are foreign stooges, aseng stooges.”

Aseng is a derogatory slang word used to describe Chinese foreigners that is often used to demean Indonesians of Chinese descent as well.

Jokowi’s words are likely to go down as unpopular among a public concerned with unemployment and fearful of a deluge of foreign workers, especially from China (there were hoaxes going around social media several years ago about there being 10 million Chinese citizens working in Indonesia, when in fact there were only about 21,000 at the time). 

But having made economic and infrastructure growth the centerpiece of his second term, Jokowi has repeatedly stressed the need to establish a welcoming atmosphere in Indonesia to convince foreigners to invest in the country.

A few weeks ago, Jokowi demanded that his cabinet ministers serve foreign investors better after research by the World Bank showed that Chinese companies choosing to relocate operations to Southeast Asia had bypassed Indonesia in favour of neighbors Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.

Jokowi underlined how Indonesia had been slow to take advantage of the silver linings in the ongoing US-China trade war, which has seen supply chains shift as importers from the world’s two largest economies try to avoid paying increased tariffs.

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