By Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders from the United States and the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia will meet on Monday for talks that will set the stage for U.S. President Joe Biden‘s first face-to-face meeting in a year with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Biden will host Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the White House as the two leaders prepare for a Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, where Washington hopes to ease tensions with Beijing.
Biden and Widodo are expected to agree to new cooperation in defense areas including cybersecurity, space, combined exercises and nuclear threats, according to a senior Biden administration official who declined to be named.
On climate, the United States will announce steps with Indonesia on carbon capture and storage, supporting the electrical grid and improving air quality.
Reuters reported on Sunday that the two countries are working to advance a potential minerals partnership focused on the electric vehicle (EV) battery metal nickel, citing three people with direct knowledge of the conversations.
But the Biden administration is still concerned about environmental, social and governance standards in Indonesia and is examining how such a deal might work. The two sides will unveil a plan that will prepare the countries for negotiations on the issue, said one of the U.S. officials.
Jokowi, as the president is known, is also expected to press Biden on steps to end Israel’s war with Hamas.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, is the largest Muslim-majority nation. Many Muslims have been outraged by Biden’s support for Israel after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostages on Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials. Palestinian officials have said Israeli strikes have killed more than 11,000 Gaza residents.
“The president will look to ask Indonesia to a play a larger role and to assist us,” in the Middle East, the U.S. official said, without elaborating on what such an expanded role might entail.
Like several of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is economically intertwined with China as it navigates territorial disputes with its larger neighbor and wants to avoid getting caught in the middle by hostile Washington-Beijing relations. Biden is due to meet Xi on Wednesday.
At the meeting, Jakarta is expected to formally upgrade relations with Washington to the highest diplomatic tier. Biden will also announce new funding for Indonesia’s semiconductor industry, the people said.
The two leaders will also discuss Indonesia’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in neighboring Myanmar, where the military took control in a 2021 coup and has been engaged in clashes with rebel alliances, one of the officials said.
“It’s going to be time soon for us to think about what our next steps are together to deal with a situation that is untenable,” the person said.
Jokowi, first elected in 2014, is constitutionally required to leave office next year after serving the maximum two terms.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Michael Perry)
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