‘Do more’: Joko Widodo calls on Joe Biden to help stop Gaza civilian deaths

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San Francisco: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged Joe Biden to “do more” to stop the atrocities in Gaza as the world leaders met at the White House amid growing tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Setting the scene for his crucial talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco this week, Biden on Monday welcomed Widodo to Washington to strengthen trade and defence ties with the world’s biggest Muslim nation and a key ally in the Indo-Pacific.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in the Oval Office of the White House.Credit: AP

But the pair’s differences over the escalating conflict in the Middle East were a sticking point, with Widodo using his opening remarks in the Oval Office to pointedly push back against Biden’s resolute support of Israel.

“Indonesia appeals to the US to do more to stop the atrocities in Gaza. Ceasefire is a must for the sake of humanity,” Widodo told the president.

Earlier, Biden had told reporters that hospitals in the Gaza Strip “must be protected” as Israeli troops moved to seize control of what they say is a Hamas command complex beneath the enclave’s main medical facility, Al Shifa Hospital.

Indonesia has made it clear that it wants a ceasefire and has backed a United Nations commission that is investigating alleged war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas since the brutal terrorist assault on October 7.

President Joe Biden meets with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.Credit: AP

The issue is particularly sensitive for the country because the Indonesia Hospital, located in north Gaza, has been overrun with patients wounded in Israel’s bombardment against Hamas as doctors struggle with depleting medical stock and power blackouts.

“Indonesia will not stay silent while civilian casualties continue to count, witnessing the ongoing injustices against the Palestinian people,” Widodo said in a statement at a summit in Saudi Arabia last week, where he condemned the war and the growing number of civilian casualties.

“Indonesia, together with the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Co-operation), sends a strong message to the world to stop the [conflict] escalation, to stop the act of violence, to focus on humanitarian issues, and to resolve the root of the problems, namely the Israeli occupation of the Palestine.”

Widodo is the first Islamic world leader to visit the White House since the war began and arrived in Washington fresh from the Saudi event.

“President Widodo’s position on the conflict in Gaza is well known, so is President Biden’s,” said National Security Council Advisor Jake Sullivan said ahead of the meeting.

“They’ll both have the opportunity to respectfully exchange views on that issue. They will also have the opportunity to elevate the US-Indonesia bilateral relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership and to make tangible progress on issues like critical minerals, like clean energy cooperation and like investment.”

The meeting between Biden and Widodo also comes two days before the pair attend the APEC summit, alongside Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and other global leaders.

Protests are also expected throughout the week on everything from the Israel-Hamas war, corporate greed, and environmental vandalism.

On Monday, Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers attended a meeting of Asia-Pacific economic ministers alongside US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Amid warnings from the Reserve Bank that Australia faces a bumpy financial ride in coming months, Chalmers urged nations at the summit to throw more resources at improving the supply side of their economies so they can grow faster without lifting inflation.

The most anticipated APEC event, however, will take place on the sidelines of the summit on Wednesday (San Francisco time) when Biden will meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for their first face-to-face meeting in about a year, in a bid to reset the relationship between the two countries.

A range of issues is also likely to be on the agenda, including AI, climate change, fentanyl trafficking, and the South China Sea, an official said.

The US also hopes to resume military communications with Beijing, which were shelved last year after then-speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan to show her support for the democratic nation that China claims as its own.

Biden is also expected to urge Xi to use China’s sway over Iran to make clear that Iran or its proxies should not take action that results in an escalation of the war.

“President Biden will make the point to President Xi that Iran acting in an escalatory, destabilising way that undermines stability across the broader Middle East is not in the interests of the PRC, or of any other responsible country” Sullivan said.

“And the PRC, of course, has a relationship with Iran, and it’s capable, if it chooses, to make those points directly to the Iranian government.”

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