JAKARTA: Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin hailed the long-running relationship of his country with Saudi Arabia during an exclusive interview with Arab News and said he hoped that trade ties could be boosted between the pair.
“Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have very good relations, not just between governments but also between the people . . . even before our independence, our scholars have studied in Saudi Arabia,” the vice president said at his office in Jakarta.
According to official data, there were 44 Saudi projects in Indonesia with an overall investment value of $5.4 million, ranking the Kingdom 42nd among the Southeast Asian nation’s foreign investors. In 2018, Saudi Arabia ranked 40th, having injected $5.36 million through 43 projects. Overall, between 2014 and 2018, there were 160 Saudi investment projects with a total value of $43 million.
The Kingdom ranks 23rd among Indonesia’s export destinations and is among its top 10 import markets, with a total trade value of $4.61 billion between January and November 2019.
Amin said he hoped Saudi Arabia could boost its trade and investment in Indonesia.
“Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country. If Saudi invests in Indonesia, it could (help to) develop Indonesia and empower the people, which also means empowering Muslims.,” Amin said.
The septuagenarian vice president, who completed his first 100 days in office in late January, also expressed hopes that working conditions for Indonesian migrant workers in the Middle East could improve over time.
Indonesia has imposed a moratorium on sending migrant workers to more than 20 Middle Eastern countries since 2015 because of concerns over their welfare.
Millions of Indonesians, most of whom are women, work in the region as domestic workers.
In October 2018, then-Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri and his Saudi counterpart Ahmed Sulaiman Al-Rajhi launched the One Channel System in Jakarta. The initiative is a pilot project which permits only certified workers to be employed in limited professions.
“We need to ensure that our migrant workers ... are well protected, safe and have their rights and dignity respected,” Amin said.
Another major issue is Indonesia’s Hajj quota. Indonesia has been lobbying Saudi Arabia to set last year’s quota of 231,000 as an official count for Indonesia. The official quota provided by the Saudi government is still 221,000 but in 2019 Indonesia had an additional quota of 10,000.
“We are asking for a bigger Hajj quota because we have a very long waiting list. In some regions, the waiting list for someone to get their turn to go on Hajj could stretch to more than 25 years,” Amin said.
“We are really concerned about this and we can reduce it only by having additional quota,” he added.