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Role Indonesia can play: Bridging Asia and the Pacific
Publication Date : 30-08-2013
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been active in the past few months strengthening bilateral relations with countries in the Pacific, while also fostering ways to connect the Pacific and Asia.
Within a span of less than three weeks between June and July, Indonesia had the privilege to receive four Pacific leaders (Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill; Timor Leste President Taur Matan Ruak; President Truong Tang San of Vietnam; and reappointed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd). Just recently, Yudhoyono also received Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo at the Bogor Palace.
With each of these leaders, SBY not only produced a new cooperation commitment and framework, he provided a sense of interregional partnership and a sincere outlook for deeper cooperation within the Asian-Pacific region.
With Papua New Guinea, a new strategic comprehensive partnership was created that will go a long way in enhancing trade and investment relations while forging peopleto people contact, especially among those at the border. With Timor Leste, the continued support of Indonesia for this close brother-country will further enhance the development of Indonesia’s eastern region while also maintaining accord in the face of global issues.
In a new strategic partnership with Vietnam there will be more effort to pursue not just economic interests, but also to preserve regional maritime security, especially to prevent misperceptions in Vietnam’s East Sea.
And with Australia, as key actors in the East Asia Summit and the G20, both leaders also agreed to study deeper relations in cattle trade and preventing the abuse of boat people by clandestine organisations.
While the meeting with the Solomon Islands not only produced greater technical cooperation, trade commitments and people-to-people relations, SBY encouraged Lilo to continue playing an active role in multilateral forums, such as the Coral Triangle Initiative, the G7Plus and also Apec.
Finally, in all these meetings, not only did the leaders reaffirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Indonesia, but they also sincerely appreciated Indonesia’s efforts to foster development and progress in the provinces and for the people of West Papua and Papua.
This support was evident from the genuine interactions between the Pacific leaders and SBY. Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands all considered Indonesia a big country looking out for small countries.
Prime Minister Lilo even generously said, “The leadership that Indonesia has taken in Asean and the region is important. And for Indonesia to extend that invitation to connect with small island states, it goes right down to show that here is a big country in the world that is able to reach out to small countries and bring them up and make them fit in and get more opportunities.”
Indeed, with 12 million Melanesians, which is more than the entire population in the Pacific, Indonesia has an interest in continuing to provide development options for these members of its society. While challenges do prevail domestically, the interests of the Melanesian community will remain a priority as mandated by the Indonesian Constitution.
In fact, Asia will continue to play a major role in global economic growth. It will also give colour to the international security discourse, not just in the Korean Peninsula and South China Sea, but also in the face of emerging security issues such as transnational crime, military misperceptions and growing interests for global security and stability. Addressing climate change for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and combating people smuggling will also be key.
Specifically on the people-smuggling front, although it may seem like a regional issue, it is becoming a global demographic problem involving the migration of hundreds of thousands of persons leaving their countries to go to Australia and New Zealand via Southeast Asia. Both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) may be called upon to produce a new approach for those countries concerned to curtail this growing migration issue. Syndicates have not only abused Indonesian hospitality but have also mocked Australian immigration policies.
Hence, Rudd’s new policy, that “no boat person be permitted to reside in Australia”, may serve as a circuit breaker, but could also induce these persons to consider Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand as the new destination country of preference. Although the Bali Process has been going since 2002 to address this people-smuggling issue, the changing international landscape may force countries of origin, transit and destination to consider new and alternate options to shut these operations down.
Therefore, the regional meeting of ministers suggested by President SBY would serve as a good forum for foreign ministers to take a snapshot of these new emerging threats, while providing Asian and Pacific countries concrete and humane options for medium- and long-term solutions to the people-smuggling issue.
In either way, Indonesia’s genuine and sincere good offices to forge partnership among countries big, medium and small should go down in history as an effort to dignify all states and empower them to play an equal and contributive role in international issues.
The writer is assistant special staff to the President for international relations. The views expressed are his own.