While we have no intention to blow President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's "hate foreign products" remark out of proportion, we gently remind him to choose words carefully when speaking in public, so as not to send a wrong message to not only the outside world but also his supporters, who, when he asks them to jump, will ask “how high?"
President Jokowi’s latest statement on foreign products smacks of a sense of xenophobia and may incite hatred, if not violence. It's already an open secret that one of Jokowi's weaknesses is his poor public-speaking skills, but his integrity, as far as corruption is concerned, remains intact and constitutes his basic asset in winning people's trust. But we can also suspect that, as indicated by his "hate foreign products" remark, deep down Jokowi believes his own rhetoric, for which the author and journalist Ben Bland calls him "a man of contradictions".
In the globalized world, trade is a two-way affair. In the globalized economy, importing is not sinning; the government only needs to come up with creative measures of preferential treatment for local products without having to breach the World Trade Organization rules. The President's rhetoric does not mean anything if his government does little to ensure domestic products are competitive in the world market.
The President sparked yet another controversy when addressing a national Trade Ministry meeting on Thursday, where trade attaches of foreign embassies were also present. “Calls to love Indonesian products must continuously be echoed,” said the President, who added: “Echo calls for hating foreign products as well.”
The President seems to believe there is nothing wrong with his "hate foreign products" rhetoric, as he insisted one day later that his statement was not a big deal.
Jokowi was expressing his concern about domestic products that could not compete with imported ones sold online at much lower prices. It is not difficult to find out that most of the products come from China.
Jokowi did not name any country, but Reuters quoted Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi as saying that the government would issue a regulation to prevent predatory pricing on e-commerce platforms, including those that sell Chinese goods. "We will regulate electronic trading," the minister said.
The President's dismay about the flood of imported products is understandable. He wants to defend and protect Indonesia's micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and to boost the country's domestic market. After all, MSMEs contribute 60 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and account for 90 percent of the workforce.
However, the President's remark may incite xenophobic sentiment among Indonesians. He may be popular with his nationalist, antiforeign take products, but nothing will change if his government does not take any measures to boost the competitiveness of Indonesian products.
We support plans to develop a healthier e-commerce environment as well as improvements in the ease of doing business, but imposing restrictions will not work.
While scapegoating other nations is always easy to do, the President needs to be aware of its repercussions at home and on the international stage. Whatever the justification for such a sensitive remark, it will only worsen the situation.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.
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