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Blinken Welcomes Indonesia’s Foreign Minister in ASEAN Push

The two meet after a rocky start to their relationship and as Indonesia reels from a COVID-19 wave.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Indonesian foreign minister speaks.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi speaks during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Russia Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok on July 31, 2019. Romeo GACAD/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Israeli and British leaders condemn suspected Iranian attack on cargo ship, and the International Monetary Fund unveils new liquidity measures.

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Indonesian Foreign Minister Visits Washington

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Israeli and British leaders condemn suspected Iranian attack on cargo ship, and the International Monetary Fund unveils new liquidity measures.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Visits Washington

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi continues her visit to Washington today with a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department. Marsudi’s visit comes as Blinken turns his focus to Southeast Asia, with five virtual meetings scheduled under the umbrella of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) taking place throughout the week.

Blinken’s meeting with Marsudi comes after she met with White House Asia coordinator Kurt Campbell and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday and is a chance for the two diplomats to smooth over relations following a perceived snub back in May.

As my Foreign Policy colleagues reported at the time, Blinken left Marsudi and other ASEAN ministers hanging in their first scheduled video conference after he was unable to secure a video connection while traveling to Israel for emergency meetings. Marsudi was reportedly so incensed she left her video feed off for the duration of the call.

Another snub? That sense of grievance was amplified in an editorial in the English-language Jakarta Post, which took issue with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s Southeast Asia trip in July as well as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s upcoming travel to the region—neither of which included Indonesia on the itinerary. “Two successive snubs by Washington’s top officials are truly an embarrassment for Indonesia, unless Biden has something bigger on his mind, which is almost impossible,” the newspaper wrote, citing the country’s host duties for next year’s G-20 summit.

The position contrasts with China, which is enjoying refreshed bilateral ties with Indonesia, as Derek Grossman wrote in Foreign Policy in June.

Results first. Issues of prestige aside, Marsudi can already point to one concrete outcome of her U.S. visit: On Monday, the White House announced an additional $30 million in assistance for Indonesia that will go toward oxygen and medical supplies as well as vaccine storage.

COVID-19 troubles. As Indonesia deals with a rampant coronavirus epidemic, every bit of aid helps. Although infection numbers are down from highs of 50,000 new cases per day in mid-July, the number of deaths remains stubbornly high, with authorities reporting at least 1,000 new deaths per day since July 16. Indonesia’s observed case-fatality ratio (which measures deaths per 100 confirmed cases) is 2.8 percent—the seventh highest, alongside Brazil, among the 20 countries most affected by COVID-19.

An ambitious target of 1 million vaccinations per day has yet to be met, with only 18 percent of Indonesia’s approximately 276 million people having received at least one dose. Even as he noted “improvements on a national level” in dealing with the virus, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced a weeklong extension to partial lockdowns in major cities, which began on July 3.

What We’re Following Today

Iran pressure. On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called a suspected Iranian attack on a commercial cargo vessel “a stepping-up of the escalation” of Iran’s hostilities and urged an international response. Gantz also used the attack to argue for world powers to include addressing Iran’s “aggression in the region” as part of its negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the attack “outrageous” and told reporters: “Iran should face up to the consequences of what theyve done.

Iran has denied any involvement in the July 29 attack, but it is suspected of similar strikes in recent months as Iran and Israel continue a tit-for-tat maritime conflict.

Tigray violence. Authorities in Sudan’s Kassala state have reported finding dozens of corpses this past week floating down a river that connects Sudan with Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The Associated Press quoted a local doctor who confirmed that many of the dead bore facial markings indicating they were ethnic Tigrayans. An Ethiopian government-run “fact check” Twitter account dismissed the report as “fabricated” and part of propaganda efforts by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power called the report “deeply troubling” as she heads to Ethiopia to push for greater humanitarian access to Tigray.

Poland steps in for Belarus athlete. Poland has granted Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian sprinter, a humanitarian visa after the Olympian refused to board a flight to Minsk on Sunday at a Tokyo airport. “I was put under pressure, and [my team’s officials] are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” Tsimanouskaya, who is now under the protection of authorities in Japan, said in a filmed message asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for help.

The event occurred after the athlete had publicly complained about her team’s management, sparking backlash in Belarus’s state-run media, at a time when Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko continues to violently crack down on dissidents after last year’s contested election.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya tweeted the regime was trying to “kidnap” Tsimanouskaya and called on the IOC to protect all Belarusian athletes.

Keep an Eye On

Global liquidity. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is set to allocate $650 billion of its special drawing rights (SDR) to shore up finances of poorer countries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The assets will be allocated based on the size of a member nations economy, but plans are already in place to encourage richer countries to funnel their SDRs to countries more in need.

“This is a historic decision—the largest SDR allocation in the history of the IMF and a shot in the arm for the global economy at a time of unprecedented crisis,” IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement. Unlike traditional IMF loans, SDRs come without conditions and do not have to be repaid.

Sheikh Jarrah evictions. The Israeli Supreme Court delayed a decision on Monday deciding whether to allow the evictions of four Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, a case that helped spark the 11-day Israel-Gaza conflict last May. Justice Isaac Amit has called for further documentation in an appeal brought by the families and said a decision would be published “later,” without specifying a date.

The families rejected the court’s offer to allow them stay on the properties for three generations as “protected residents”—a deal that would have made the families forfeit their claims to ownership and pay a nominal annual rent to the Jewish settler association that brought the eviction case.

Odds and Ends

The price of shares in Chinese video game companies Tencent and NetEase fell more than 10 percent after state-run outlet Economic Information Daily published an article likening the games to “electronic drugs” and “spiritual opium.” Share prices began recovering once the article was deleted from the Economic Information Daily WeChat account. Perhaps wary of a government crackdown on Chinese tech companies, Tencent then announced reductions in the amount of time people under age 18 can play the company’s online games: 1 hour maximum on regular days and 2 hours maximum on holidays.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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