Cover image via AFP

Friday (5/8/2016) was the first time in 20 years for a Ukrainian president to visit Indonesia after the last visit in 1996 when then president Leonid Kuchma toured the country.

This time, visiting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko got a chance to experience Jakarta’s new welcoming procedure for heads of state at the State Palace on Friday at noon.

The ceremony involved more than 100 elementary school students dressed in colorful traditional costumes while waving the flags of both countries, just before Poroshenko proceeded with his bilateral meeting with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Poroshenko smiled to the students before he shook the hands of at least three children in the procession — which appeared to be an effort by the Palace to promote Indonesia’s cultural diversity.

It was the second time for the Palace to throw such an additional ceremony, which also involved a parade of mounted soldiers. The first such honor went to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Indonesia and Ukraine actually have a long history despite the great distance between the two countries, located as they are on different continents.

Indonesia, Jokowi said, will never forget the move by Ukraine in 1946 when Jacob Malik, a Ukrainian representing the then Soviet Union, became the first man to raise the so-called “Indonesia Question” at the UN just after Indonesia’s declaration of independence in 1945.

It was the first initiative to bring the issue of Indonesia’s independence to the UN.

In the meeting, which Jokowi described as “very productive”, the two countries agreed to improve bilateral ties, particularly in economics and trade.

“We discussed efforts to strengthen trade and investment, [opening more] market access for Indonesia’s products such as CPO [crude palm oil], coconut oil and paper, to expand the distribution of medical equipment from Indonesia to Ukraine, as well as the possibility of cooperation in turbine construction for power plants and matters related to investment in cocoa powder processing in Indonesia,” Jokowi told reporters.

Ukraine is Indonesia’s second-largest trade partner in Eastern and Central Europe. Indonesia exports coconut oil and paper to Ukraine; while Ukrainian imports to Indonesia include wheat and flat-iron steel.

According to 2015 data from the Trade Ministry, the two countries posted a total trade value of US$526.9 million, all of which came from the non-oil and gas sector.

The balance of trade tips in favor of Indonesia, which, with exports reaching $328.47 million last year, has found in Ukraine a substantial market for CPO and palm kernel oil, as local oil palm plantation firms hope for a rebound in CPO production amid bad weather and fluctuating prices.

Poroshenko, who recognized Indonesia as a friendly Southeast Asian country with “extraordinary power and strength”, said “it was hard to believe that for 20 years there was no visit by a Ukrainian president to Indonesia; and now we agree to deepen and extend our cooperation”.

According to Poroshenko, the two countries would conduct more meetings in the coming years to open more opportunities for the business sector to play a part in agriculture and electricity — Poroshenko said Ukrainian products in the electricity sector were widely used in many countries.

He later also expressed Ukraine’s intention to help build Jokowi’s ambitious 35,000-megawatt electricity generation project and to participate in other infrastructure projects such as seaports.

In his speech, Poroshenko thanked Indonesia for supporting the resolution of UN on the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine in 2014 following the annexation of the Crimea by Russia. While Jokowi expressed a hope for political and economic stability in Ukraine.

In the meeting, Poroshenko also told Jokowi about Ukraine’s intention to join the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) forum, said Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi.

After the bilateral meeting, the two countries signed four memorandums of understanding on agriculture, defense, diplomatic training, as well as expanding the visa-free policy for diplomatic and service passport holders.

In his three-day visit to Indonesia, Poroshenko is also slated to meet with Yogyakarta Governor Hamengkubuwono in Yogyakarta before heading to Bali for a business match-up.