KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia and Indonesia are too close to be distant, said Indonesia's state-owned enterprises (SOE) minister Erick Thohir who is determined to strengthen relations between both countries through various industries.

On his recent trip to Malaysia, Erick had met with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Investment Trade and Industry Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz as well as Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

The conversation they had revolved around possible collaboration in the fields of renewable energy, plantation mainly on palm oil, tourism as well as football.

Erick noted individually, both countries have great potential to boost economic growth in respective countries but together, Malaysia and Indonesia's alliance would benefit the region and contribute to global growth.

"We have a lot of potential that we can explore together and it is about time Indonesia has stronger relations," Erick told Business Times.

One of the potential partnerships that Erick talked about is on sustainability.

The minister said Indonesia is rich with natural resources that could be downstreamed for industrial purposes such as nickel and bauxite.

"Indonesia can also provide green energy and it is one of the largest carbon solids. This is why among the discussion I had with Anwar and Tengku Zafrul was to create a win-win collaboration with Malaysia, especially with the current uncertainty in the global economy.

"For example, if  we can have the same policy regarding palm oil since we are the largest producers combined. The same goes with carbon storage if we combine, we are the largest as well as and it is something that many countries need at the moment.

"So as neighbours, we have to think of it as the regional platform," said Erick.

The politician became a government official when he entered politics five years ago.

Primarily known as an entrepreneur, Erick was appointed to Joko Widodo (Jokowi)-led cabinet in October 2019.

He was the head of the organising committee of the well-received 2018 Asian Games and National Campaign Chair of Jokowi's  successful 2019 re-election campaign.

As Indonesia's SOE minister, Erick has worked to streamline the number of Indonesian state-owned enterprises from 108 entities to 41 as well as group them into 12 clusters.

In 10 years, Erick aims to further reduce the number to 30.

As of 2022, his ministry had total assets of US$657.8 billion, accounting for more than 50 per cent of Indonesia's growth domestic product.

Erick is also a football enthusiast.

He was a one-time owner of the Inter Milan football club in 2013 and was a shareholder in the DC United football club in 2012. He had since relinquished stakes in them.

He also owned the Satria Muda basketball club, the Persib Bandung football club and the Oxford United Division III football club, alongside fellow entrepreneur Anindya Bakrie.

Erick assumed the chair of Football Association of Indonesia from February 2023.

On football, Erick said Malaysia, Indonesia and other regional neighbours could work together to create a bigger industry while enhancing the performance of respective national teams.

"I have discussed this with the Yang-Dipertuan Agong, maybe Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and even Brunei can create a strong collaboration, build our league together.

"I do not want to go into details because this would need approvals from Asian Football Confederation, FIFA and so on but like I said, we are too close to be distant.

"We can create a bigger industry for our region and at the same time strengthen our national team," he said.

He noted FIFA has opened up entries for 48 countries whereby eight spots are for Asia.

"Maybe one or two teams can represent Southeast Asia, which would be good for the region," added Erick.