[INTERVIEW] Korea-Indonesia at 50: From K-pop to geopolitics


Gandi Sulistiyanto, ambassador of Indonesia to Korea. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Gandi Sulistiyanto, ambassador of Indonesia to Korea. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Celebrating a golden jubilee this year, Indonesia-Korea relations are entering a new chapter and exploring new frontiers in music and entertainment, urban development and energy and technology.
“The incorporation of members from Asean member states into K-pop groups contributes to public diplomacy by promoting cultural exchange, building soft power, generating economic benefits and strengthening diplomatic relations between Korea and Asean member states,” Gandi Sulistiyanto, ambassador of Indonesia to Korea, said in a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.
Indonesian stars Dita Karang, a member of Secret Number, and Zayyan, a member of Xodiac, have been part of the K-pop scene in recent years, adding to the growing trend of foreign members coming to be included in K-pop groups. Karang was also appointed this year as the honorary ambassador for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of bilateral ties.
Amid intensifying competition between China and the United States on supply chain resilience, Indonesia’s nickel market, one of the largest in the world, has also come into the global spotlight, drawing major electric vehicle (EV) producers, including those from Korea.
According to Statistics Indonesia data for 2022, Indonesia’s nickel exports were valued at $5.9 billion, the equivalent to 778 thousand tons. Hyundai Motor Group and LG Energy Solution began constructing an EV battery plant in West Java, Indonesia, with commercial production expected to commence by 2024.
“The top five export destinations for Indonesia’s nickel are China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Norway,” Sulistiyanto said. “Thus, Indonesia holds the key to becoming the world’s key player in the EV and EV battery industries in the future.”
The following are edited excerpts of the interview with the top Indonesian envoy in Seoul to hear more on the latest developments between the two countries.
Q. There are more K-pop groups in Korea incorporating members from Asean member states. How do you think these groups are contributing to public diplomacy?
A. I believe the incorporation of members from the Asean member states in K-Pop groups contributes positively to public diplomacy. The incorporation of members from Asean member states into K-pop groups contributes to public diplomacy by promoting cultural exchange, building soft power, generating economic benefits and strengthening diplomatic relations between Korea and Asean member states. It works on both ends; while K-Pop receives a more positive image for being diverse and inclusive, it also gives more exposure to Asean countries all over the globe.
We have two Indonesian youths as members of K-Pop groups. I hope we can have more Indonesian members in K-Pop groups that will foster closer cultural and economic ties between Indonesia and Korea and eventually promote cooperation in other areas.
Trade ties between Indonesia and Korea have come into spotlight, especially with the implementation of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which has a direct impact on Korea’s EV industry closely tied to Indonesian resources, including nickel.
As you may know, Indonesia’s nickel resource represents more than 23 percent of global nickel reserves. Thus, we are the number one world nickel producer, with a nearly 40 percent production share.
Regarding IRA’s challenge, the government of Indonesia is now opening all communication channels with the US government and related private companies, including those in Korea, at the highest level through government-to-government and government-to-business bilateral mechanisms. We are doing this because we believe in the prospects of developing a sustainable economy through diversified collaborations. We also try to establish mutually acceptable solutions in multilateral settings, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.
Indonesia has been increasingly identified as a defense partner by both the United States and China. What are Indonesia’s security concerns when it comes to possible contingencies in the region?
Indonesia’s successful G20 Presidency last year is a testament to the importance of independent and active foreign policy. Our presidency coincided with a very difficult time in history, which is the war in Ukraine. But we managed to navigate the differences between G20 members and convinced them to work together to accelerate global economic recovery and address food, energy and finance crises. It is very important that countries in the region work harder to reestablish trust and confidence between each other, including between the U.S. and China.
There are two important things to achieve this goal. First, maintain an inclusive regional architecture where all countries can develop and thrive together and realize common peace, stability and prosperity in the region. Second, develop a habit of cooperation. That is why Indonesia and Asean urge concrete cooperation through the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
Indonesia is the top market for the Korean construction sector, which has shown great interest in Indonesia’s plan to move its capital. What is the latest on this plan, and any updates on cooperation with Korea?
Indonesia held the most significant number of overseas construction orders by South Korean builders in 2022, valued at $3.67 billion. Indonesia is, therefore, the Korean construction companies’ largest overseas market in the world in 2022. This is because the Korean construction sector has built a trustworthy reputation and because of the mutually beneficial relationship between Indonesia and Korea.
Korean companies are highly interested in Nusantara Capital City’s development. There are many areas in which Korean companies are interested in the Nusantara development project, including smart city development, public facility construction, urban mobility and the application of green energy.
What are the top 3 objectives of the Indonesian chairmanship of Asean in 2023?
This year, Indonesia’s chairmanship on Asean is under the theme “Asean Matters: Epicentrum of Growth.” This theme partly reflects both internal and external challenges faced by Asean. Indonesia came up with three pillars of Asean chairmanship: Asean Matters, Epicentrum of Growth and the implementation of Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.  
As the Chair of Asean this year, Indonesia will organize the Asean Indo-Pacific Infrastructure Forum in Jakarta from Sept. 6 to 7 with the theme “Propelling the Next Wave of Sustainable Infrastructure.” 


BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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