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Business

Cocktails and networks in Jakarta

Indonesia is hosting this year's World Economic Forum on East Asia, the regional version of the WEF in Davos. Manuela Kasper-Claridge reports from Jakarta.

The buses had to be escorted by the police, as it would not be possible to transport delegates from the venue, the Shangri La in Jakarta, to the cocktail reception held by the Indonesian vice president on time. It is 6:30 pm local time and the traffic is at a standstill. The escort, however, has not arrived. Perhaps it may have been stuck in a traffic jam. Respecting traffic rules is only an option and not an obligation, say many Indonesians.

Sitting in the bus are people from different backgrounds, including business executives, consultants, social entrepreneurs and politicians from Asian countries. There are also Americans, Europeans and Africans among the crowd. They are all participants in this year's World Economic Forum on East Asia, taking place in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Last year, the event was held in the Philippines, after it had been held in Myanmar and Thailand in the preceding two years.

Boom in Cambodia

A young Cambodian entrepreneur, Sam Ang Vattanac, who is attending the forum for the second time, told DW that he develops real estate. When asked about what his job actually involves, he explained that he buys land, constructs residential and commercial buildings, and rents them out. "Phnom Penh is booming," Sam Ang noted, underlining that "streets in our city are as clogged as here," pointing to the stream of cars on Jakarta's streets.

Business cards are quickly exchanged. Beneath the address on Sam Ang's card, it's mentioned "Kingdom of Cambodia." He wants the World Economic Forum to take place in Cambodia as well so that his country could showcase its development to the world.

A man of the people

In fact, many of the 700 delegates attend so-called "side events". They are either meetings with representatives of the Indonesian government or with activists and social entrepreneurs. But they also include meetings with representatives of other countries. Spaces for the so-called "bilaterals" are rented every half hour.

Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president, held the opening speech of the forum. The president, who is also known as Jokowi, has been in office since October 20, 2014. He is widely-regarded a man of the people due to his modest background. Jokowi worked as a carpenter and furniture dealer before entering politics.

"We have to reinvent our economies; we have to reinvent our societies," he told the participants. "Indonesia must undergo crucial restructuring," he added.

As part of his mission to rejuvenate Indonesia's economy, the president wants to cut bureaucratic red tape, invest in infrastructure development and reduce the country's over-reliance on raw material exports. "We need to resume production," Jokowi stressed.

Fastest-growing region

Vivian Lau, who lives in Hong Kong, said she was impressed by the speech. Lau works in Hong Kong with young people. "Indonesia is a very important player in the region," she noted. "Whatever happens here, the impact is felt across Southeast Asia."

Southeast Asia is currently the fastest-growing region in the world. The ten countries of the region want to set up their own economic union, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), by the end of this year. A free market for goods and services is planned that would see tariffs and other barriers gradually phased out. The club includes ten ASEAN member states, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, among others.

Many have high hopes on the prospects of this union. "We will have 600 million people, like we have 600 million in Europe and 600 million in Latinamerica," said Hans-Paul Bürkner of Boston Consulting Group. "So I think there is a huge potential, the region is fast growing, there are many talented people, we have good natural resources and an improving infrastructure. South East Asia is the place to be." Bürkner spends a lot of time in Asia and takes part in regional World Economic Forum meetings.

The bus finally was able to move a bit further. It took 40 minutes to drive one kilometer. That's not considered to be too bad in Indonesia. At the roundabout, police are desperately trying to direct traffic. The weather is humid, and in the bus people continue to exchange their business cards. The trip has been worth it even though the destination has not been reached.

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