Joe Biden

Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the Bilateral Engagement of President Biden and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia

November 12, 2023

Via Teleconference

2:22 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And thank you all for joining today's call this afternoon to preview the bilateral meeting between President Biden and President Widodo of Indonesia.

On today's call, we have [senior administration official] and [senior administration official]. As a reminder, today's call is on background and attributed to "senior administration officials," under embargo until 5:00 a.m. Monday, November 13th. By participating in the call today, you are agreeing to these ground rules.

I will now turn the call over to [senior administration official] and to [senior administration official] to kick us off.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Moderator], thank you. Hi, friends, and thank you so much for joining on Sunday. It's such a lovely day here around Washington. I'm sorry to drag folks from outside indoors, but we've got a very consequential set of events next week.

The President and most of the Cabinet will be out in San Francisco for APEC. The President will be hosting President Xi for a significant bilateral. And the week begins, really, with the visit of President Jokowi -- President Widodo tomorrow, late afternoon.

This is an event that we've been looking forward to for some time. As you all know, the Vice President extended an invitation to the President to come to Washington in advance of APEC when she was visiting for the East Asia Summit in Jakarta.

I think the visit tomorrow will be consequential in many respects. There are a number of issues that we will seek to discuss in terms of foreign policy and national security.

The Indonesians always have important perspectives on critical issues like the South China Sea, what they're seeing in with -- in respect to China's diplomacy and engagement, some of the areas of engagement as part of ASEAN. As you know, Indonesia has played a key role in trying to develop a dialogue with Burma, with Myanmar.

So, there are a number of issues, I think, that the two leaders will want to discuss. I think it will be critical to hear the perspectives from Indonesia about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Indonesia, as you all know, is the largest Islamic country in the world and major democracy. And so, their views and their engagements are critical.

I think the President will look to ask Indonesia to play a larger role and to assist us as we go forward there.

In addition, in the bilateral context, there are a number of things that we've been working on. I want to give full credit to our team, and particularly [senior administration official].

I think you've seen some reports -- we don't really have anything more for you at this juncture around critical minerals, but there have been discussions here on technology with respect to Indonesia's desire to move up the ladder with respect to issues relating to technology and manufacturing and fabing.

We will discuss climate change, some work that we've been able to do together, educational initiatives. There's always so much to be done with respect to advancing educational opportunities for Indonesians, advancing more with respect to American campuses that are engaged in country.

I think you'll also see a number of issues that basically seek to deepen what we view as an absolutely central and critical role that Indonesia plays.

The President has had several interactions with Indonesia over the last three years. Really, today and tomorrow mark the beginning of the presidential campaign in Indonesia, so this is likely one of the last meetings that the two leaders will engage. They enjoy a warm relationship, and we're very much looking forward to welcoming the Indonesians to the White House for an afternoon tea, a private meeting among a small group of aides, and then a larger bilateral in the Cabinet Room.

So this is something we've been preparing for for some time. We all recognize the central convening role that Indonesia plays in ASEAN, and I think the President wants to thank President Widodo for all that he has done to advance greater partnership between the United States and ASEAN and Indonesia. And we will look forward to build on that as we go forward.

[Senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much, [senior administration official], and thanks again to you all for joining today. I'll add just a few quick comments to [senior administration official]'s great opening remarks, and then look forward to questions that you might have.

As [senior administration official] indicated, you know, this visit is going to be really consequential. Not only are we on the cusp of our 75th year of diplomatic relations with Indonesia but, at this visit, we'll be taking our partnership to a truly new level, announcing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which is Indonesia's highest partnership tier.

Of course, that follows, just a few months ago, our announcement of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam and in many ways just builds upon our deep engagement in Southeast Asia and the fact that we're doing new and consequential things with many of that region's leaders.

Of course, Indonesia is also a critical leader inside of ASEAN -- the most recent ASEAN chair -- and always a strong voice within the grouping.

So, amongst many other topics, we'll be talking about how we can continue to bolster ASEAN centrality and work together on projects that are of great interest and concern to ASEAN.

Just to give you a sense of the lay of the land, in terms of our deliverables, as [senior administration official] indicated, we are looking at a future pathway towards cooperation on critical minerals. But we're in the very early stages of that.

We are looking closely on how we can cooperate with Indonesia to help diversify its semiconductor ecosystem. This is something that's of great I importance to President Jokowi, so we're excited to be able to partner on that.

We are going to be announcing a number of initiatives related to our combined efforts to combat the climate crisis, building on our just energy transition partnership.

We'll be layering on top of that some important new initiatives related to carbon capture and storage, supporting Indonesia's electricity grid, improving air quality, and enhancing climate cooperation through ASEAN.

We'll also have a number of security initiatives, which presage the announcement of a strengthened defense cooperation arrangement and kicks off new Coast Guard cooperation between our two countries, in addition to closer cybersecurity partnerships.

Finally, I want to point to the fact that we're going to have a couple of consequential initiatives in the people-to-people space.

We are very excited that Indonesia will be working with

Georgetown University School of Foreign Service to announce the first satellite program in Jakarta that will facilitate degree programs for both American and Indonesian current and future policymakers.

This is going to be the first American university that has a campus in Indonesia and only the second international university, so we see this as a critical not only bridge between our peoples but way to ensure that our policymakers of the future are increasingly aligned in their views. And we're really hopeful about this initiative.

I also want to point to the fact that we will be partnering to help restore Indonesia's National Museum, which suffered a devastating fire in September. Now, together, U.S. experts will be working with experts in Jakarta to train and help provide restoration services for this national landmark.

These initiatives really will run the gamut. We think that's really important as President Widodo heads back to Indonesia to kick off their electoral process in earnest and will really be capstones on a strong history of cooperation between our two countries as we look towards the next phase.

Happy to pause there and take any questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [senior administration official]. And, Michael, I think just to point out, you know, obviously, we're foc- -- we're focused on so much in the Middle East and elsewhere, but you -- I think you can sense from the depth of the engagements, the broad-based nature of what we'll be delivering with respect to building a deeper, stronger relationship between the United States and Indonesia going forward.

MODERATOR: Thank you, [senior administration official] and thank you, [senior administration official] for those remarks.

I think we will now enter the Q&A portion.

Q: Thank you. [Senior administration officials], I'm curious just what the upgrade of the relationship will mean in terms of military-to-military cooperation. You know, for example, you had the B-52 flying out of Indonesia over the summer. That didn't get a huge amount of attention, but was quite a big deal. Are we going to see more things like that? And can you give us a sense of what to expect?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. [senior administration official], why don't you lead? I'll provide some framing stuff, but, [senior administration official], why don't you just jump in quickly if you would.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Yeah, happy to. We're not expecting to have a specific defense announcement of that particular (inaudible) tomorrow. What we are expecting is to be able to say that we're making substantial progress towards growing the defense relationship in general. By that, we mean expanded exercises, deeper trainings in areas like cybersecurity cooperation and combating WMD. Of course, we continue to work on lots of very concrete projects.

But what we're looking towards in the immediate term is a broader expansion and extension of the kind of everyday nuts and bolts that make up this defense relationship.

Secretary Austin will have the opportunity to move that forward with his counterpart at ADMM-Plus this week.

[Senior administration official], back to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I was going to mention that. So, we leave some of the deliverables on the security and military side, Dmitri, to Secretary Austin. I think, as you know, the Indonesians are increasingly focused on their ability to project power or to be able to understand and follow developments in their maritime periphery. So much more focused on capabilities that allow them to understand what's going on in their maritime domain, so that means radars, that means patrol visits -- patrol boats, probably more advanced aircraft at some point.

I would just signal, Dmitri, that in almost every one of those domains there are substantial procurement decisions that are looming. And the United States has several defense firms that are actively engaged in that market and in each of those campaigns. So, we won't really talk too much about them, but we will seek to support a variety of dialogues that are essentially about a growing defense relationship between the United States and Indonesia.

I think, as you probably know, in the past there, perhaps, had been some ambivalence in Jakarta. I think some of that ambivalence has faded as they've seen so many practical engagements of the United States with allies and partners around the Indo-Pacific.

It is probably also the case that they are somewhat more uncertain about what to expect with respect to the South China Sea. And a much more robust set of Chinese activities and patrols near Natuna Islands and elsewhere has certainly garnered attention in Jakarta. And I think that's going to be one of the issues that not only Secretary Austin but we will be discussing tomorrow as well.

Q: Hi, yes, thank you. Hi, [senior administration official]. Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks so much for doing this. One quick logistical question. What time is a bilat tomorrow?

And then on the critical minerals, you said that it's very early stages, but can we expect any kind of announcement that negotiations will start and whether it will be -- kind of looking ahead towards what Indonesia wants, which is a limited free trade agreement of sorts or is it going to be something (inaudible) a trade pillar?

And if you could just indulge me on one more. Obviously, the leaders have very different positions on the war in Gaza. I think President Jokowi will be coming from Riyadh after the Islamic Summit, where he will be bringing a message for -- to push for a ceasefire. And so, just wanted to hear your thoughts on how the President would respond. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Well, thank you, Patsy. I think we got most of your questions. Why don't I start, and then I'll ask [senior administration official] to jump in.

Well, let me take your last question first. Look, it is undeniable that Indonesia's views, its values, and its approach not just to Gaza but to the Middle East is very important in how we think about our own next steps.

I know that the President is going to want to listen carefully to what President Widodo heard and what his perspectives are with respect to discussions he's just undertaken in Saudi Arabia and with other Arab and Middle East leaders. So, I think that conversation will be important.

I don't want to get ahead of the, you know -- kind of where we, you know, might end up. But I will just underscore that part of what we've tried to do over the course of the last several years is ensure that there is an active Indo-Pacific role not just in the Indo-Pacific but when there are developments elsewhere.

And you've seen that, obviously, with Ukraine -- unprecedented sets of engagement.

And I think what we're likely to hear from the Indonesians is not just about the ceasefire issue -- which, of course, is extremely important in the immediate -- but we'll also be talking about long-term goals -- or medium-term and long-term goals and objectives -- a just peace, a two-state solution, substantial resources that will be necessary to rebuild and give hope to shattered lives. And I think those are areas that we look forward to working closely with Indonesia on given its leading role.

On your first question, let me just say that we are at the very early stages, as [senior administration official] indicated. We know it's important -- and, frankly, Indonesia has a vast supply of critical resources that are going to be essential in the 21st century economies of -- of automobiles, recycla- -- recyclable capabilities, issues associated with long-life batteries. We could go on and on -- semiconductors.

And so, we -- we want very much to begin a process with Indonesia that leads us towards a consequential partnership in this area.

But I think it would be -- I think it's going to be important that the two sides begin a process in which we hear from each other what our expectations are. I think we know clearly some of the things that Indonesia is looking for, but they're going to have to hear from us what some of our hopes and expectations are as well.

So, I think what you'll likely hear is indications that both sides are certainly prepared to take those steps and are ambitious about what they'd like to accomplish as they move forward.

[Senior administration official]?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official]. The only key term that I'll add to your explanation is the term "work plan." What we are expecting to be able to say tomorrow is that we are moving forward together on an agreed pathway that will -- will certainly be a process to understand what will be possible by way of a critical minerals agreement.

That work plan is intended to prepare both of our systems to move forward. And the work plan is also intended to acknowledge that as we move forward with any partner in the critical mineral space, we'll need to do so in accordance with the highest of labor and environmental standards, as is true with everything that this administration does.

So, the next steps we take will be to make sure that both of our systems are prepared to move forward together.

We're excited about this initiative, but as [senior administration official] indicated, we are at the -- the very first phase. And that's what the leaders will be discussing tomorrow.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Also -- I should also say that I think the meeting is -- I -- I don't know the exact time, but it is basically going to be like a high tea, in which the President and President Widodo will meet privately in the Oval Office with a small group of aides. I'm sure we'll talk about some sensitive issues there.

They will then move across the hallway for a high tea in the Cabinet Office with a larger group of key players from both of our administration.

I will say one of the things that was clear from the laydown that -- that [senior administration official] provided is that we have a very strong push from across the government. This is not a simply White House-led initiative. Every government agency -- USAID, the climate czar, State Department, every element -- Commerce, Treasury -- have deep contacts and engagements with Indonesia. And those will be on full display tomorrow as well.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I'll just jump in and say, Patsy, we'll -- we can get you an exact schedule for tomorrow.

And, Moderator, back to you for Q&A.

MODERATOR: All right, we are moving to the next caller in queue. Danny Kemp, your line is unmuted. You may go ahead.

Q: Hi. Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

Q: Great, yes. Thanks for -- thanks for doing this.

You mentioned earlier about a -- a larger role for Indonesia in respect to the Middle East. Could you elaborate on that a bit? I mean, would that particularly be a larger role in -- in resolving the immediate situation? Because I know you were talking about things further down the line, but -- yeah. Can you just elaborate on that a bit, please?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I -- look, I would say, at this juncture, all of that's still aspirational and uncertain.

I -- I think at -- at very least, President Widodo has been outspoken about issues associated with the Middle East. But he's also been very attentive to the ongoing conflict -- for instance, in Ukraine -- seeking to basically ensure that there is both an Indonesian and ASEAN voice for global issues.

So, I think what we would simply say is we welcome that. And we do believe, because of Indonesia's role as the largest Islamic state in the w- -- in -- in the world, that its views are deeply consequential.

And I do think they want to go beyond just simply providing a voice. They are interested in practical engagements. And we're seeing, increasingly, a global Indonesia, and we support that.

And I think the President is looking forward to those conversations tomorrow about how some of that can be actualized.

MODERATOR: All right, we are going to move to the next caller in queue. Chris, your line is unmuted. You may go ahead.

Q: Hello. I have a question about how this meeting with the Indonesian President might help President Biden prepare to meet with President Xi at APEC. You know, tell me a little bit more about the -- the connection between those two things and -- and how one might help prepare for the other.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I'll give you some perspectives, but [senior administration official is very good on this stuff.

Look, I would -- I would simply say that I wouldn't look at this one meeting in isolation. I would look at it as part of a substantial set of efforts over years to build stronger partnerships with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and

elsewhere in Europe in which we reaffirm our common approaches to shared challenges and opportunities, deeper commitment across the board on issues of mutual interest.

And so, what I would be looking at is this visit, of course, given Indonesia's leading role in ASEAN, but also, you know, the President's lifting of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in Vietnam, last month his visit to India as part of the G20 and the steps that we've taken in advance of that with respect to technology, the trilateral meeting that was held in in -- in Camp David, all the work that we've done to advance Japan's legitimate security interests.

I think, you know, what we're seeking to do -- the state visit of Australia -- is to make clear that we are going to stand with our partners and allies -- that that is an essential -- probably the essential element of our combined strategy. And we want both those countries to be reassured that we stand with them, but also that -- that we are confident that -- that through these engagements that we are better -- better able to sit down with President Xi and present a kind of common front on matters of mutual interest across the board.

And I would also say -- look, I think you know this. These -- these -- these countries in ASEAN and elsewhere, they want closer communication between the United States and China. They want a situation that is -- that is not risking global conflict. They want communication, they want dialogue, and they want an appropriate level of engagement between Washington and Beijing. And I think that's what President Biden is seeking to do.

But at the same time, none of these countries either want a G2, in which the United States and China are taking decisions about the region or about countries without them in the room. And that's something that I think we're deeply sensitive to as well.

[Senior administration official]?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], just to put a fine point on what you just said: I just emphasize that the President will be headed out to San Francisco and APEC (inaudible) with the U.S. economy in an extraordinarily strong position, historically strong position, and with the U.S. system of alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific also historically strong.

But of course, as you indicated, that builds on all the work we've been doing for three years, our recent diplomacy across the region, and Indonesia is a critical piece of that puzzle, particularly in Southeast Asia.

The way that we're thinking of the visit as preparatory is really about that position of strength that we feel really good about and we think represents a lot of hard work to invest in the region, (inaudible) critical organizations and decisions and partnerships since President Biden came into office.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Moderator], I can take one last question, if that's all right with you. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Yes, we do have a final question in queue. We have Trevor Hunnicutt from Reuters.

Q: Thank you all for doing this call ahead of a very busy week.

Just on the point of a global Indonesia, I was curious if the topic of Myanmar is going to come up between the two leaders, the deteriorating situation there, and what your current assessment is of that situation and what role ASEAN can play there. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, thank you. And you're so right. There's so many issues that are going to come up. We've talked about some of them, and I mentioned at the outset -- I do believe an issue of critical mutual interest is the very worrisome security environment in -- in Myanmar -- in Burma.

I think the United States has been very supportive of the ASEAN effort to engage Burma/Myanmar, the leadership over the last couple of years. I think we're all discouraged and disappointed that that effort has not made more progress and, at the same time, that we see a continuing negative spiral inside the country. And I think it's going to be time soon for us to think about what our next steps are together to deal with a situation that is untenable.

[Senior administration official]?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll just add to that to say that Indonesia plays an incredibly important role in ASEAN's approach to Myanmar. You know, as you know, Trevor, Indonesia -- Indonesia was in the ASEAN Chair this past year. As the ASEAN Chair hands over to Laos, our friends in ASEAN have agreed to basically keep together a little bit of a collective leadership on the Myanmar issue that is going to be represented in an ASEAN troika.

So, our friends in Jakarta will continue to play a leadership role on the Myanmar issue inside of ASEAN for some time to come. And that's part of why we're so focused on the President and President Widodo having a really substantive conversation on the situation.

As you say, it is grinding, it is heartbreaking, it is very discouraging. And we have a strong, strong interest in working together towards a better pathway.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, guys. [Moderator], thank you very much. We really appreciate this opportunity. We'll be debriefing folks next week as well. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, [senior administration official]. Thank you, [senior administration official], for joining today's call. And thank you to everyone who joined.

Just as a reminder, this call is on background, attributed to "senior administration officials," and is under embargo until 5:00 a.m. Monday morning.

Please feel free to reach out to our press team here and myself with any additional questions, and hope everyone has a great afternoon.

2:53 P.M. EST

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the Bilateral Engagement of President Biden and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/367822

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