EDITORIAL: Jokowi’s early return from US

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - President Joko Widodo's presence is vital to ensure the success of the haze rescue operation and disaster mitigation efforts.

What is the best part of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s five-day visit to the US? Without any hesitation, it must be his decision to cut short his first American tour. The lives and the health of millions of his people in Sumatra and Kalimantan are much more important than anything else.

The president’s presence is deemed important to ensure that the rescue operation and disaster mitigation efforts succeed. Many have to be relocated to safer places and need medical attention after months of exposure to smoke. The government should also honour its promise to bring to justice all those who started the forest and peatland fires.

Jokowi scrapped his scheduled discussions with top businesspeople and big names in Silicon Valley after meeting with President Barack Obama. In terms of urgency, Jokowi’s direct involvement in overseeing firefighting measures is understandable. Going ahead with his scheduled meeting with US investors would not prompt them to come to Indonesia anyway.

Many critics, including several politicians, had criticised Jokowi’s visit as being untimely because the country was facing a devastating crisis. Others insisted that Jokowi, as the leader of the world’s third-largest democracy and the nation with the biggest Muslim population, deserved the honour of making more than a mere working visit to the US.

While such arguments are valid, we should also remember that the president could not postpone his US trip because details of the diplomatic arrangements had been discussed by both governments for a long time.

Jokowi’s meeting with Obama at the White House was certainly strategic, even though the latter will complete his second and final term next year. From a geopolitical point of view, Jokowi should pay careful attention to the next US administration.

As a good guest according to Indonesian custom, President Jokowi arrived with a very pleasant oleh-oleh (gift) for host Obama. After his bilateral talk with Obama, Jokowi announced his government’s intention of joining the mega trade pact the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It was a kind of diplomatic scoop for the American president.

But what did our leader receive in return for his generous present? From what media reports are saying, Obama only pledged a small amount of assistance to Indonesia to combat the protracted forest fires.

Joining the TPP may be a strategic decision. The question is whether the government conducted a thorough study in response to the trade pact, which was agreed upon on October 5. We doubt that the government comprehensively examined the pluses and minuses of joining the trade bloc.

The TPP is said to, among other things, attempt to contain China’s rise as an economic superpower. A hasty decision would only create more difficulties for Indonesia.

The haze disaster, instead of the TPP, now tops the president’s priorities. He has promised to immediately visit the affected people in Sumatra and Kalimantan and provide the much-needed help. The world is watching Indonesia because of this annual environmental disaster, which has spilled over to its neighbours. The president’s leadership is much awaited.

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