JAKARTA/TOKYO – Japan has lost to China in bidding to build Indonesia’s first high-speed railway. It is seen as a heavy blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of pursuing economic growth through infrastructure projects overseas.
Sofyan Djalil, head of the Indonesian National Development Planning Agency, told Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo on Tuesday that Indonesia planned to welcome the Chinese proposal, Suga said at a news conference.
Suga termed the Indonesian move “difficult to understand” and “extremely regrettable.”
Jakarta dropped both Chinese and Japanese high-speed railway construction proposals early this month, citing the high cost of each, and offered to consider instead a cheaper medium-speed railway.
But Sofyan told Suga that China recently submitted a new proposal to build the high-speed rail link between Jakarta and the West Java provincial capital of Bandung without requiring Indonesian fiscal spending or government debt guarantees.
Sofyan was visiting Japan as a special envoy of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
In Jakarta, Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki told a small group of reporters that Japan failed to win Indonesia’s heart because its proposal was more about government-to-government cooperation, while Jakarta preferred business-to-business cooperation.
Suga doubted the feasibility of the Chinese proposal to build the railway without Indonesian funding. It is estimated to cost 78 trillion rupiah ($5.3 billion).
“It defies common wisdom. I doubt if it would be successful,” Suga said.
In an apparent effort to soften the disappointment, Teten said there were still many opportunities for Japan to invest in Indonesia’s infrastructure sector.
“There are a lot of infrastructure projects that we have been offering, not only the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway project, but also the one connecting Jakarta and Surabaya,” he said, referring to the capital of East Java.
The rail project is a key part of Widodo’s drive to build more infrastructure. He pledged upon taking office in October to overhaul Indonesia’s aging roads, railways and ports but has struggled to get his agenda moving.
Japan, with its reputation as a world-class train-maker, seemed destined to win the contract until Jakarta announced in April that China had entered the race with a counter-offer.
The country is famous for its legendary shinkansen bullet trains which for decades have whizzed between cities without a single fatal accident.
China has countered this by arguing it has built thousands of kilometers of high-speed railway in the 12 years since it began constructing bullet trains. However, its safety standards have come under scrutiny: A 2011 crash killed at least 40 people and injured about 200.