Tokyo/Beijing/Jakarta. President Joko Widodo’s visits to Japan and China may soon translate into a major revamp of Indonesia’s public transportation systems, starting with at least five big cities where the president has vowed to build rapid transit networks.
In Japan on Wednesday, Joko traveled on the country’s famous Shinkansen bullet train connecting Tokyo and Nagoya, before announcing that work on Java’s own high-speed railway would start later this year.
“We decided that we will start the high-speed railway’s construction this year, but we still need to think about this plan thoroughly,” the president said.
Joko added that the government was still reviewing its plan to construct a high-speed railway to link Jakarta to Bandung, West Java, or Surabaya, East Java, but he indicated that work would be brought forward by a year.
According to plan, the project was to commence in 2016 and it is expected to become operational by 2019 or 2020.
The project will be funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which provides technical assistance to developing countries.
The government is mulling using the Japanese-built Shinkansen bullet train.
Joko finished his state visit to Japan on Wednesday with a train ride and a visit to Toyota Motor’s Motomachi plant in Aichi prefecture.
He arrived in Beijing later in the day, where he also spent time studying China’s integrated mass transport system.
Joko, who tried China’s Airport Express train connecting the Beijing airport with the city center, said he was impressed with the development of rail-based transport in China over the past decade.
While China has built thousands of kilometers of track in a matter of years and outspent Indonesia on infrastructure as a percentage of gross domestic product, Indonesia spent billions of dollars every year to subsidize fuel for private vehicles.
While Bangkok completed its mass rapid transit system in 2004, which now carries more than 80 million passengers a year, a series of inept policies by Jakarta’s administration have condemned millions of commuters to congested journeys to get to work that can take hours.
The president traveled 25 minutes on the train on Thursday, which he said might take more than an hour by car.
“We’ve seen how fast it is to get to the city center from the airport,” the president said. “What is impressing me most is that [China] has successfully built thousands of kilometers of railway networks in a short space of time.”
Joko was accompanied by Indonesia’s Chief Economic Minister Sofyan Djalil, State Enterprise Minister Rini Soemarmo, Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) chief Franky Sibarani, the governor of North Sulawesi, Sinyo Harry Sarundajang, and China Railway general manager Sheng Guangzu.
After disembarking, the president said he wanted mass rapid transit networks to be developed in Medan (North Sumatra), Makassar (South Sulawesi), Bandung and Surabaya, aside from the MRT construction that is already in progress in Jakarta.
Jakarta will be the first city in Indonesia with an MRT network when it commences operations, targeted for 2017.
“We’ve decided [development plans] must begin this year. Indonesia’s big cities — Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan and Makassar — must start thinking toward MRT, LRT [light rail transit] and trains. Development of mass transportation must start immediately,” Joko said.
LRT systems can be built to connect Jakarta with its satellite cities, including Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi, and Indonesia’s state-run railway operator INKA can handle the projects, the president added.
“What’s most important, is [public transport systems] that are efficient, with the best quality, and which are affordable for the public. Which ones we’ll develop is a technical issue. Our state enterprises and the ministers will take care of those. Regardless, we must start this year,” Joko said.
He added that the government would invite Japanese and Chinese investors, aside from domestic ones, to invest in Indonesia’s mass transport projects.
In his speech during a forum attended by 1,200 businesspeople in Tokyo, Joko spoke of his administration’s major plans for infrastructure development, primarily aimed at boosting interconnectivity in Indonesia and powering the nation with electricity projects.
He said the government was planning to boost land transportation through development of high-speed trains, and maritime transport to connect the archipelago’s sprawling islands through the construction of new seaports.
The president also promised to simplify bureaucratic procedures to make it easier for businesses to invest in Indonesia’s development projects.
In his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, the two leaders agreed to establish a senior official bilateral forum to boost partnerships between the two countries in infrastructure development and the maritime industry, citing the need for stronger cooperation in maritime security.
Japan Times reported that Abe told Joko that Japan would provide about 140 billion yen ($1.17 billion) in loans for railway projects, including the MRT under construction in Jakarta.
Meanwhile in Jakarta, Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan unveiled on Wednesday a plan to build West Papua’s first railway network, which will connect the towns of Sorong and Manokwari.
A feasibility study is set to start in June.
The Indonesian government has set out ambitious plans to develop railway networks outside Java, specified in the “five-year strategic plans” of the Transport Ministry’s directorate general for railways.
Java is Indonesia’s only island where passenger trains are in operation. Railway networks on the nation’s most populous island span a total of 6,234 kilometers, although only 3,600 kilometers are actively used.
Sumatra is the only other major island that has railway a network, spanning 1,835 kilometers, of which only 1,369 kilometers are in operation. Only freight trains operate here.
The railway director general, Hermanto Dwiakmoto, told CNN Indonesia earlier this month that the government had set a target of building and reactivating nearly 3,000 kilometers of railway lines in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua over the next five years.
The Trans-Sumatra railway project will see Lampung in the south and Medan in North Sumatra connected with passenger train services.
The railway development projects on the four islands are estimated to cost Rp 105.6 trillion ($8.15 billion), for the railway construction only.
Beijing commitment Joko told Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday that Indonesia was committed to continuing its strategic partnership with China.
“Indonesia is committed to tightening our friendship and partnerships with China, be they on the bilateral, regional or international level,” Joko said.
The president made the statement after he was quoted as saying by several news outlets while in Tokyo, that China had no legal claim over the South China Sea.
He subsequently clarified his statement and reiterated that Indonesia would not side with any country in the ongoing dispute.
“Indonesia has natural resources, while China has knowledge and experience in the infrastructure sector; therefore we will complement each other through a comprehensive strategic partnership,” Joko added during his the meeting with Xi.
Xi, in response, said. “I am satisfied with very positive progress that our two countries have achieved.”
Joko will leave Beijing on Friday for a short visit to Malaysia, where he will attend the wedding reception of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s daughter.
He will also visit Singapore to attend the funeral service of the city-state’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Natasia Christy & Novianti Setuningsih