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Bracing for the Asean Community

Publication Date : 27-08-2014

 

The establishment of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) should be viewed as a transformation of Asean's connectivity through the widespread use of  information and communication technologies as prescribed by the Asean ICT Master Plan of 2015 and its slogan: “We go higher when we are connected.”

However, to “go higher when we are connected” requires an effective and efficient kind of interconnectivity. It requires infrastructural interconnectivity that solidly supports institutional interconnectivity in order to improve the compatibility of norms and values; and as a consequence, the compatibility of mind-sets among the people of the member states.

This is the basis for a “rules-based community of shared norms and values” as proclaimed by the Asean Political and Security Community 2015. It should be the basis for the other two communities as well. A focus on people within Asean, then, is a natural consequence of this endeavor.

It is, therefore, self-evident that Indonesia should take the initiative. It was former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, who together with Hassan Wirajuda as foreign minister, took the initiative in 2003 to advocate for an AseanCommunity comprising three pillars: political and security cooperation, economic cooperation and sociocultural cooperation. 

These three pillars should be closely intertwined and mutually reinforcing for the purpose of ensuring durable peace, stability and shared prosperity in the region. Together, they should nurture common values and help develop a set of sociopolitical principles that can foster a community of caring societies that in turn promotes a common regional identity and a “prosper thy neighbor” policy.

This will help ensure the long-term vibrancy and prosperity of the Asean region. Realising and expanding the widespread use of information and communications technologies to achieve the maximum compatibility of norms, values and mind-sets is the only means of dependably achieving these objectives.

Indonesia’s weakest link in developing these three pillars is the economic one. The major problem here is an inefficient business environment hampered by inadequate infrastructure, connectivity and a low level of awareness regarding small- and medium-scale businesses (SME) within the general public.

This has resulted in Indonesia losing a competitive edge at the SME level.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration issued Presidential Instruction No. 5/2008 and No. 11/2011, instructing relevant ministries and non-ministerial bodies to “execute the various commitments of the AEC” and “to take steps to effect the commitments of AEC’s blueprint”.

In 2012, another presidential decree was issued mandating the establishment of a national secretariat of Asean–Indonesia. The body reports to the President through the foreign minister and acts as the focal point of Asean affairs, coordinating the implementation of Asean decisions at the national level, expediting the establishment of the Asean Communities and accelerating Indonesia’s efforts in closing the gap, primarily between itself and the original Asean members.

 It is now August 2014. The Asean Communities will be launched on Jan. 1, 2016. The incoming government of  Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will have just 14 months to step up Indonesia’s capability to fulfill the requirements of the AEC and compete on a healthy basis within Asean.

The major problem here is to reach out to the 55,000 Indonesian SME entrepreneurs — constituting 95 to 98 per cent of Indonesia’s total business ventures —  of whom the majority are unfamiliar with doing commercial business across borders.

These business owners need to be educated about the various consequences of the freer flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skilled labor that will follow the AEC launch.

 Development in the SME sector is crucial to achieving equitable economic development within Asean.

 Reaching out to Indonesian business ventures and improving their communication linkages must be a priority for the new government. Furthermore, the government should upgrade Indonesia’s communications infrastructure in the following areas: broadband Internet connections (with larger bandwidth by using coaxial or fiber-optic cables), satellites, microwaves and infrared links access methods. It should also increase the number Internet service providers utilising these technologies.

Additionally, the SMEs should be encouraged to computerise their firms and utilise Internet services to speed up their businesses, both domestically and on an Asean basis in order to close the competitiveness gap between Indonesian SMEs and their Asean counterparts. Once better connected, Indonesia can “go higher” together with the other Asean member states.

 These goals demand the appointment of a capable and experienced person in Asean affairs to coordinate the implementation of Asean decisions at the national level and to accelerate Indonesia’s efforts at closing the gap, primarily with the original members of Asean.

That responsibility will fall to Indonesia’s foreign minister, so the immediate question is determining the most suitable person to fill this crucial post.

 In my opinion, there is but one person who can fulfill these requirements to assist the president in mobilising Indonesia’s business community and the people at large.

The one person with sufficient knowledge of Asean and extensive utilisation of the Internet is Marty Natalegawa, our current foreign minister. His experience in conducting Asean affairs is well known and indisputable, both at home and abroad.

Jokowi as the seventh president of Indonesia and Marty as foreign minister would provide the leadership and competence needed to successfully join the Asean Community that Megawati and Hassan initiated in 2003.

(The writer is a researcher at the Center for Political Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta)

 

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