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Lionel Lim

Elon Musk travels to Bali to launch Starlink in Indonesia, his first trip after years of wooing from the Southeast Asian country

(Credit: Sonny Tumbelaka—AFP via Getty Images)

Indonesian president Joko Widodo's years-long wooing on Elon Musk may have finally paid off. The Southeast Asian leader, commonly known as Jokowi, openly courted the Tesla CEO for investment in the country's fledgling EV sector, even making a personal visit to see the billionaire in Texas in 2022.

Musk has now made his first visit to Indonesia after Jokowi's charm offensive. The billionaire traveled to the resort island of Bali over the weekend—not for Tesla, but for one of his other companies: SpaceX. On Sunday, Musk inaugurated SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service in Indonesia, saying he was "excited to bring connectivity to places that have low connectivity."

Starlink received a license to operate in Indonesia earlier this month. It's the third Southeast Asian country to approve the satellite internet service, following the Philippines in 2022 and Malaysia last year.

Establishing internet connectivity in remote areas of Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago with around 17,000 islands, is a challenge. More than 20% of Indonesians still lack internet access, according to Indonesia's minister of communication and informatics Budi Arie Setiadi.

Going beyond Starlink?

On Sunday, Musk said it was "very likely" that his other companies would invest in Indonesia, without providing further details.

Jokowi has tried for years to get Musk and Tesla to invest in Indonesia, touting the country's nickel industry. Indonesia has the world's largest reserves of nickel, a key material for both stainless steel and some kinds of EV batteries.

The Indonesian government banned the export of nickel ore in order to encourage investment in local nickel processing and refining, but so far most of the foreign investment is from Chinese and South Korean companies.

Yet Indonesia's nickel bet is risky. EV manufacturers are starting to pivot to batteries that don't use nickel, and electric car sales are slowing down after recent years of booming growth.

Jokowi, who will leave office in October, has tried to court foreign investment and move Indonesia up the global value chain since taking office in October 2014. EV makers like China's BYD and Vietnam's VinFast have pledged to build manufacturing facilities in the country.

It's not just EV companies thinking about the Southeast Asian country. Microsoft is pledging $1.7 billion in investment towards AI and cloud computing services, as well as provide AI skills training for up to 840,000 Indonesians. Apple CEO Tim Cook also said he will "look at" Indonesian manufacturing after a meeting with Jokowi earlier this year.

Jokowi has had less success in trying to attract foreign investment for his ambitious plans to move Indonesia's capital from Jakarta to Nusantara, a still-under-construction city on the island of Borneo. Starlink will also test its internet services in Nusantara, according to state media outlet Antara.

Musk is expected to meet Jokowi, who skipped the Starlink launch, on Monday, at the 10th World Water Forum in Bali.

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