President Joko Widodo vowed Tuesday to develop all of Indonesia’s frontier areas, including the Natuna Islands close to where it is embroiled in a dispute with China, and outlined plans to fund a massive maritime infrastructure program to accelerate growth in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
“We will develop areas such as Entikong, Natuna and Atambua so that the world sees Indonesia as a great nation that pays attention on every inch of its land,” Widodo said in his annual Independence Day speech in Jakarta.
His speech also focused on deregulation, social inequality and poverty eradication, as well as the threat of terrorism.
Indonesia’s navy has been involved in several altercations with Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels off the gas-rich Natuna Islands in recent months. Beijing claims the waters around the islands as part of its traditional fishing grounds. While Indonesia is not a claimant in the broader disputes China has with several other nations over its South China Sea claims, Widodo has sought to underscore Indonesian sovereignty in the area. On Wednesday, the navy will sink 71 impounded foreign vessels there in a show of force.
Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, said in his speech Tuesday that Indonesia was committed to the peaceful resolution of international conflicts, including in the South China Sea. “Indonesia has to be actively involved in promoting the resolution on South China Sea spat through negotiation and peaceful measures,” he said.
Later, in a second speech laying out the 2017 budget, Jokowi forecast a growth rate of 5.3 percent next year, well below the 7 percent he said would be achieved within three years of coming to office in October 2014. The deficit was expected to climb to 332.8 trillion rupiah ($25.4 billion), but at 2.41 percent of GDP, debt will be lower than the revised 2.5 percent figure announced earlier this month.
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