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Putin Bali-bound (March 18-25)
G20 president Indonesia in awkward place amid Russia-Ukraine conflict
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The highlight in Indonesia this week is the confirmation that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is heading to Bali at the end of the year to attend the G20 Summit in Bali. While that may be unsurprising given Indonesia’s neutral stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the news has attracted condemnation all around the world, not least by a certain leader of the free world.
That story, and much more, just below.
As always, stay safe, stay informed, and we’ll see you in another exclusive edition of Indonesia Intelligencer next week!
Business and the economy
Online giants in the crosshairs
Indonesia is reportedly readying tough new rules that will allow it to fine and criminally charge internet and social media platforms. The rules would allow authorities to make platforms remove “unlawful” content quickly.
Executives of online platforms say it would be hard to fully comply with the rules, and that they would raise operational costs in the country. They also threaten to undermine freedom of expression.
Officials told internet companies that "urgent" government requests would include content perceived as sensitive in areas such as "security, terrorism and public order, child protection, and pornography.” The rules would likely take effect in June.
Indonesia is a top-10 market globally by number of users for social media companies, including Alphabet Inc's Youtube, TikTok, Twitter Inc and Meta's Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.
Peel that burn, Tesla
Rumors that Tesla is seeking to invest in Indonesia are once again rolling, with Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan reminding the American EV company that they would have to comply with local rules in order to come here.
Luhut said Tesla recently contacted him about reviving plans to establish a lithium battery plant in Indonesia, which was scrapped two years ago. The senior minister said he warned Tesla that Indonesia is “not a banana republic” and lambasted the company for its excessive demands that led to a breakdown in previous talks.
GoTo demand high
Indonesian tech giant GoTo says it has tallied US$1.1 billion in pre-orders ahead of the firm’s long-awaited IPO (see last week’s newsletter), pointing to huge local demand and dependency on its services.
The country’s biggest tech firm — the result of a merger between ride-hailing app Gojek and e-commerce platform Tokopedia — is looking to raise IDR 17.99 trillion (US$1.26 billion) from 52 billion shares at IDR314-346 (US$0.022-0.024) apiece, which would amount to 4.53 percent of the company’s valuation.
GoTo is keen to focus heavily on its domestic market, the region's largest digital economy, as it hopes to attract new investors and realize what analysts are calling an "aggressive" valuation of close to US$30 billion. GoTo’s shares are set to be openly traded on the Indonesian stock exchange on April 4.
Fraudster hunting season
Police have arrested operators of fraudulent binary option trading schemes, as well as influencers who helped attract victims by playing up their “crazy rich” lifestyles, supposedly funded by trading gains, on social media.
Among those influencers are Indra Kenz and Doni Salmanan, who were affiliated with trading apps Quotex and Binomo. Authorities previously flagged the apps, which may have been developed abroad, as unlicensed and fraudulent.
Amid Indonesia’s cooking oil shortage, state-owned electricity company PLN attracted a great deal of negative buzz over a tweet suggesting that Indonesians should invest in air fryers instead.
The tone-deaf tweet came after former President Megawati Soekarnoputri lamented Indonesians’ dependency on cooking oil, specifically taking aim at women and telling them to explore other cooking methods like boiling, steaming, and making rujak (sweet/spicy fruit salad).
On the one hand, he must please the public, the source of his legitimacy and political power. On the other hand, he also needs to woo investors and businesses who are key to the development and growth of Indonesia's economy. Widodo thinks both are achievable.
The reality, however, is far less regulated. While there are no official figures, cheap, unregistered dental practitioners are practically ubiquitous in Indonesia. Those looking for a winning smile at a bargain need only to look to the thousands of Instagram and Facebook accounts advertising services ranging from basic tooth extractions to cosmetic procedures.
The wealthy Widjaja family’s business empire spans palm oil, mining, property, and financial services. While Sinar Mas has fended off lawsuits and critics for decades, its newfangled digital ventures—including crypto—are trying hard to cultivate a clean, modern image
But now, the war in Ukraine, one of Indonesia’s biggest suppliers of wheat, has raised fears for the supply of the snack, which is made from wheat flour. So far, the impact of the conflict on Indonesia’s wheat supply remains unclear, although anecdotal evidence from local shops and restaurants suggests products made from the staple are becoming harder to find.
Across the archipelago
Indonesia may be doing its best to remain neutral about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the Southeast Asian nation finds itself thrust into the conversation after Russia’s ambassador to Indonesia confirmed that President Vladimir Putin will attend the G20 Summit in Bali at the end of 2022.
Amid criticism and calls for Russia to be excluded from the forum, including from Ukraine, the ambassador argued that talks of global recovery on the G20 agenda has nothing to do with the invasion.
Should Putin actually come to Bali, he would likely share a space with President Joe Biden. The US president, for his part, has called on other G20 members to kick Russia out of the forum and for Ukraine to step in.
Indonesia, which has the G20 presidency this year, has so far resisted calls to exclude Russia. The House of Parliament (DPR) says it’s hopeful that peace between Russia and Ukraine would be reached before the summit.
Fully-vaccinated travelers and those who have received their booster shots are no longer required to quarantine upon arrival in Indonesia, provided that they test negative for COVID-19.
Quarantine-free arrival for foreign travelers had previously been trialed in tourism hotspots Bali, Batam, and Bintan. Officials say they were emboldened to expand the policy nationwide as the aforementioned regions did not note any meaningful spikes in cases and deaths.
While COVID-19 restrictions are easing across the board, the government may impose stricter measures for the mudik homecoming exodus for Eid in early May. Vice President Ma’ruf Amin said only domestic travelers who have received booster shots would be exempt from pre-departure testing requirements.
Under current domestic travel regulations, fully-vaccinated and boosted travelers are exempt from testing. Those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated must present a negative COVID-19 test result prior to departure.
In other news
A couple, their baby, and nanny were all electrocuted to death in Jakarta, with police suspecting a faulty electric water heater to be the cause of the tragedy.
A woman may face a murder charge pending psychiatric evaluation after she slit her children’s throats, killing one. Citing sparing her children from economic hardships, the case sent chills down the spine of Indonesians after the suspect was photographed with a grin following the murder.
Motorcycle racing-obsessed Indonesia hosted its first MotoGP race in 25 years at Lombok Island’s Mandalika Circuit. Aside from the race, a lot of the national (and international) focus went towards a rain shaman and trash left behind at the stands.
Police have arrested a rising Indonesian OnlyFans star for selling adult content on the platform, which violates Indonesia’s draconian anti-pornography laws.
A diminutive female figure carrying joss sticks and a singing bowl became a viral sensation at Indonesia’s MotoGP Grand Prix on Sunday. She was not out for an ordinary afternoon stroll around the Mandalika Street Circuit in Lombok, but instead was requesting that the sky hold the rain. Most of the international reaction to the ritual of 39-year-old rain shaman, Rara Istianti Wulandari was that of bemusement.
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