Indonesia's president cut short his maiden trip to the U.S., skipping a much ballyhooed meeting with Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, as the political pressure increases over the Asian country's raging forest fires.
It isn't entirely clear why Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly referred to as Jokowi, cancelled his dinner plans with Cook but regional experts and media have pinned the blame on the country's forest fires.
Even though they are an annual event - Indonesians deliberately set rainforests ablaze to clear land, generally to produce palm oil - a lack of rain and the El Nino weather system has meant that the air pollution caused by the fires has been particularly bad this year, covering Southeast Asia in a so-called haze.
But, the fires have been raging for months so why did Jokowi choose to cancel his trip? Experts are puzzled.
"There's nothing he could do this week that he couldn't have done last week. There's nothing he could do from Jakarta that he couldn't do from San Francisco," Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at Lowy Institute for International Policy, said in a phone interview.
Connelly noted that Indonesia's failure to get the forest fires under control has damaged the country's credibility with its neighbors. Over the past couple months, the pollution has caused some flights into Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines to be cancelled as well as forcing some schools to close.
Indonesia's president had been expected to chat up Apple, Google and other technology players about investment projects in the country, both to boost internet access in Indonesia and the country's tin industry, as the metal is used in iPhone production, Reuters reported. Apple is also expected to set up a research and development center in Indonesia, according to media reports.
A representative of the president's office said via email early Wednesday that Jokowi assigned four ministers to meet with U.S. technology CEOs in his place.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for information on the meeting.