Earlier on 28 June, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali arrived in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his wife Iriana greeted them upon arrival at the Halim Perdanakusuma international airport.
This visit marks Dr Mahathir’s first ASEAN visit since his inauguration as Prime Minister on May 10.
Dr Mahathir said in his joint press conference with the President on Jun 29 that this is due to Indonesia’s position as Malaysia’s closest neighbour, and Malaysia sharing strong familial ties with the Republic.
“Many Malaysians have Indonesian roots or origins, including my father-in-law,” he remarked, which was well-received by Jokowi and the press.
Jokowi emphasised the need to protect the basic rights of TKI (tenaga kerja Indonesia) or Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, among which includes the establishment of schools for children of TKI in Malaysia.
Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi said that the memorandum of understanding regarding TKI rights in Malaysia has expired in 2016.
She added that there should be further negotiations regarding the matter, instead of a mere extension of the previous memorandum of understanding.
Dr Mahathir echoed Jokowi’s sentiment during their joint press conference, highlighting the need for the children of TKI in Malaysia to “receive [formal] education, to go to school”.
Elaborating on the subject matter, he said that schools and educational provisions for the children of TKI have been set up in Peninsular Malaysia, although the number of schools remains insufficient in comparison to the size of the TKI population in Malaysia.
“However, in Sabah and Sarawak there aren’t such schools yet, and this is an issue that will be rectified by the Malaysian government,” he stated.
In addition to Dr Mahathir’s statement, Retno stated that Indonesia has opened many Community Learning Centres (CLC) in Malaysia, and that as many as 50 of such CLCs have been established in the past six months.
Dr Mahathir also touched on the issue of the South China Sea and aims to achieve a resolution via dialogue with Indonesia in line with international law.
The Prime Minister also raised the importance of countering the European Union’s allegations that palm oil agriculture is a major contributor to global warming and climate change, due to the mass deforestation often involved in the process.
“We need to allocate vast plots of land for the people and for agricultural purposes […] Indonesia has more land than Malaysia does,” he said.
Dr Mahathir postulated that the EU’s objection against the export of palm oil is largely rooted in economic factors than in environmental factors per se.
“They are aware of the competition that palm oil could bring against their produce, for example their rapeseed oil and so on,” he illustrated.
Executive Secretary of the Labour Institute of Indonesia, Andy William Sinaga proposed a joint strategy between Malaysia and Indonesia, as almost 80 per cent of the international palm oil market is dominated by Malaysia and Indonesia.
“The palm oil industry is a lucrative one for Indonesians, as many Indonesian migrant workers have found employment in palm oil plantations in Malaysia, many of who would have entered Malaysia illegally otherwise,” he said.
The concept of a joint development area as a solution to cross-border issues and overlapping territories, such as that which has already been done in agreement with Thailand, was also one of the issues raised by Dr Mahathir in the joint press statement.
Sinaga reiterated that illegal movement through Malaysia-Indonesia borders is still a significant issue to this date.
“Many Indonesian workers in the fishing industry are held in custody or arrested in Malaysia due to illegal fishing,” he cites as an example.
He highlights the fishermen’s ignorance of maritime laws regarding international borders as the primary factor for this phenomenon.
Another significant issue raised by Dr Mahathir in the joint press conference is the possible revival of a proposed project of a Malaysia-Indonesia car for the ASEAN market.
He said the idea was brought up while test-driving a Proton car in Malaysia in February 2015, with visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo in the front passenger seat.
“I was no longer the Prime Minister then,” he said. “I was only the test-driver,” he said in jest.
“The President (Joko Widodo) did not complain at all, even though I drove the car at a speed of 180 km per hour on the Sepang race circuit,” Dr Mahathir recalled.
Jokowi, who opened the joint press statement beforehand, said warmly in his account that he had no reason to worry about the speed, as Dr Mahathir was behind the steering wheel.
“I was not afraid, because Mahathir was the driver,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said Jokowi was receptive towards the proposal of manufacturing a Malaysia-Indonesia car, according to BERNAMA.
Jokowi visited the Proton factory in Shah Alam in 2015, and observed the technological workings, as well as research and development within the factory.
A joint agreement was signed between Proton and PT Adiperkasa Lestari in an effort to materialise the Republic’s vision of manufacturing its own national car, according to Astro Awani.
Dr Mahathir said that although private companies in both countries have shown interest in such a project, the idea was opposed by the previous Malaysian government and was generally ignored.
Tun [Mahathir] touched sensitive issues [such as] forest fires and illegal immigrants with praises and positive notes. Subliminally and diplomatically conveying what he actually supposed to say.
User Jojo Rigby lauded the proposal to boost palm oil agriculture in both nations:
“Great idea. Can also tap into 200 million market.”
However, user Pamela Abideen has expressed concern over the matter, as palm oil production is typically linked to mass deforestation:
“Oh no, Tun [Mahathir]… Our environment is just as important… Must we [really tap into greater palm oil production]?”
User Hellen Tan aired her grievances regarding Indonesian domestic workers:
“Why [do] Indo[nesian] maids run away though they are treated well. Spent so much to get one and she ran away after 7 months. [Is she] Now an “illegal” as her work permit [is] cancelled?”
However, user Rosalind Lourdes made a counter-argument in defense of the aforementioned domestic workers:
“They won’t run away if [they are] well treated by the employers.”