Raising Awareness: Could Indonesia-China Reach The Top? – OpEd


A few years back, the European Union (EU) agreed that palm oil, mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia, should not be allowed to enter Europe’s market, which was detected as having environmental effects, ranging from pollution to illegal logging. EU enacted its regulation by signing the European Union Deforestation-Free Regulations (EUDR). In addition, some statements also said that Indonesia is a ‘killer.’ 

Despite the controversy, the EU has pushed Indonesia to switch its palm oil to sustainable palm oil. Besides, Indonesia has fully committed to gradually catering to the Paris Agreement in 2015, which Indonesia has supported to reduce gas emissions. China has been one of Indonesia’s most prominent partners and potentially could help Indonesia. 

Some Legacies

Indonesia and China have a strong historical relationship in trade. In 2022, the trading sector reached its peak and almost had a massive total value in two decades. Recently, OEC released a report showing that Indonesia has a significant amount of palm oil production. Indonesia could export US$27.3 billion in 2021 and make China as a top importer. 

In this context, China has been akin to Indonesia, having a ton of indictments by other countries in reducing gas emissions. As Indonesia’s purchaser, according to Statista, in 2019, China could import 8.15 million tons. But, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend of China’s imports gradually slowed. The Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) has predicted that China’s imports will likely gradually grow to around 8 million tons in 2024. 

Some Chinese ventures have operated in Indonesia. The Julong Group could be an example. Since it was established in 1993, Julong was pointed out by the Chinese government as a ‘going-out’ company. In Indonesia, Julong has 11 palm oil plantations, most of them in Kalimantan, with a total area of nearly 200.00 hectares. Julong’s existence has been recognized by the Indonesian and Chinese governments, including making Julong one of the Belt and Road Initiative programs signed by both countries in 2015.

Increasing Awareness?

Regarding spreading vast emissions, Indonesia and China have been cognizant of switching their policy to sustainability. In 2022, the World Wide Fund (WWF) fully supported Indonesia-China sustainable palm oil. The WWF’s director Aditya Bayunanda said that the countries should realise climate change, and WWF, in this stand, could bolster the switch to a greeny lifestyle and promote sustainability. 

In China, in December, at COP15 biodiversity talks, WildBould unleashed a game called Forest Life, which consisted of orangutans and palm oil. The company knew that palm oil had not been an issue in China. Hence, WilldBound’s chief, Mingyi Lu, said it is a long-term job. Although challenging, it could be prominent for the Chinese to face or support the Chinese government’s goal in 2030 and 2060 for zero net emissions. In addition, The 2023 China Sustainable Palm Oil Forum was recently held at Crowne Plaza Kunming Ancient Dian Town. The forum focused on policies and trends to support sustainable palm oil development in China and abroad, intending to build a green value chain. Darrel Weber, RSPO’s CEO, said, “China’s attitude towards sustainable palm oil will have a significant impact on the global supply chain.” Several brands use RSPO, such as WFF China, Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) China, and others launched the China Sustainable Palm Oil Alliance (CSPOA), followed by AAK, Cargill China, HSBC, L’Oréal China, Mars, and MingFai Group.

In Indonesia, there have been some efforts to transform palm oil into sustainable palm oil by creating green certification or Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) since 2011. The Indonesian Coordinator in Economic Sector Airlangga said this effort has encountered a problem, impacting the certification’s retardment. In 2023, released by infosawit, only 0.2% received ISPO. 

Both countries have a potency to increase the sustainable palm oil. 

M Habib Pashya

M Habib Pashya is a Master's student at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). His research focuses on China's foreign policy, Indonesia's foreign policy, and US-Taiwan-China relations.

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