Japanese emperor's Indonesia trip reaffirms 'strong' ties; bilateral relations has been excellent since after World War II

Japanese Emperor Naruhito (centre) chats to Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) expert on integrated water resources management Tomoya Kikuta (left) during his visit to Pluit water pump station in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, June 18, 2023. The Japanese royals are on a weeklong visit in the country, their first official friendship trip abroad since ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne four years ago. - AP

JAKARTA/TOKYO, June 18 (Agencies): Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako has begun their weeklong trip designed to reaffirm ties between the two Asian countries.

The visit comes as Japan's Asian peers like China and South Korea become more influential and familiar to the younger generations in terms of economics and culture in Indonesia and many other places in South-East Asia, reported Nikkei Asia.

The emperor and empress arrived at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Saturday morning (June 17). Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko saw them off. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also bid them farewell.

"Japan has long enjoyed close and cordial relations with Indonesia. ... I am convinced that the visit will further strengthen the intimate relations of friendship and goodwill with Indonesia," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement.

Japan and Indonesia built a close relationship after Japan committed to economic investment in Indonesia after World War II.

"I think the relationship is especially strong even among other Southeast Asian nations," said Chihiro Fukuda, director of the Japan International Cooperation Agency. "When Indonesia needs cutting-edge infrastructure projects, they tend to ask Japan for assistance first."

According to an opinion poll conducted by Japan's foreign ministry in 2022, 53% of respondents answered "Japan" to a multiple-answer question asking which country will be an important partner for Indonesia in the future.

But whether such favorable sentiment will continue is not guaranteed, especially with the younger generation tending to be more exposed to Chinese businesses or K-pop culture from South Korea.

Against this backdrop, the emperor's itinerary includes multiple occasions of interaction with the younger generation in Indonesia, along with a banquet hosted by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and a visit to the world heritage Buddhist temple Borobudur in Yogyakarta.

He plans to visit a local vocational school in West Java that was set up near an industrial park, which focuses on educating workers for the businesses in the area, with some of the graduates coming to Japan as technical interns. Naruhito will also visit a local university, which is another occasion for the emperor to talk to younger people.

"I would be pleased if this visit will further deepen the exchange and friendship between the two countries," Naruhito told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. "In particular, I hope that the younger generation in Indonesia will gain a variety of experiences and play an active role in their future relationship with Japan, and that they will deepen their exchange with people of their generation in Japan."

During World War II, Japan occupied and ruled the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. On Aug. 17, 1945, immediately after Japan's defeat, Indonesia declared its independence and fought a war of independence against the Netherlands. The remaining Japanese soldiers fought alongside the Indonesian army. Japanese soldiers who lost their lives in the war for independence rest in the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, where the emperor is scheduled to offer a floral tribute during the trip.

People in Indonesia welcomed the announcement of the emperor's visit, expressing their hope to build upon momentum to facilitate further exchanges between the two countries.

"Indonesia and [the] Indonesian public surely value friendship [and a] deep and close relationship between Indonesia and Japan. The visit by the emperor will be seen by the public as an important proof of that close and deep relationship," said Rizal Sukma, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

Teuku Rezasyah, a lecturer at Indonesia's Padjadjaran University, pointed out Japan's "very long tradition from emperor [to] emperor" and said this is "something to be appreciated by Indonesian people." The imperial couple "brings something called traditional values from Japan to Indonesia."

Ananda Ivannanto, 37, a graduate from a Japanese university now working in Jakarta, described the emperor's trip as a significant diplomatic achievement and legacy for President Jokowi, symbolizing the strong relationship between the two leading countries in Asia representing Southeast Asia and East Asia.

"The trip has the potential to pave the way for further growth based on the successful partnership between Indonesia and Japan and expand it to other countries in Asean, South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, driving sustainable development," Ivannanto said.

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