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Indonesia 2011

Redefining a Partnership

Jun 01, 2011

How times have changed. In the mid-1950s, in the middle of the Cold War, an Indonesian government crumbled in the wake of a vote of no confidence in parliament after it pursued a security agreement with the United States.

In 2010, nearly a decade after 9/11, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and U.S. President Barack Obama signed the historic Comprehensive Partnership. And during a visit that year, President Obama’s televised speech at Universitas Indonesia was arguably the most anticipated address by a visiting foreign leader in our history.

What happened?

Indonesian Ambassador to the United States Dino Patti Djalal

Indonesia had changed. America had changed. The world had changed.

With decolonization and the Cold War behind us, it was time to face a new set of challenges. What were these?

Globalization. Millennium Development Goals. Climate change. Diseases. Terrorism. Financial reform. The more we studied these challenges, the more we became convinced of the need for closer engagement.

On climate change, for example, the United States is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, while Indonesia has the global antidote in her large tracts of tropical rainforests.

During the financial crisis, both countries saw a changing international economic landscape, and worked together to make the G-20 the premier forum for global economic cooperation.

In the war against terrorism, they collaborated closely on law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation, and were determined to prevent a deepening rift between the West and the Islamic world. Both countries also have a stake in the spread of pluralism, multiculturalism and moderation around the world.

In a world that has seen dramatic expansion of democracies, the United States and Indonesia have found a new political connection as the world’s second- and third-largest democracies.

Both Jakarta and Washington have significantly broadened the scope of potential cooperation, and redefined the dynamics of their relations into a 21st century partnership.

The partnership is certainly strategic in character but not an alliance. Indonesia is constitutionally prohibited from entering into a military alliance with any country.

First, it is “comprehensive” because it is no longer focused on “single-issue interest,” as it was in the past, when the principal focus was on East Timor or human rights. The six bilateral working groups established by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa reflect this new comprehensive approach: defense and security, trade and investment, democracy, energy, environment and education.

Second, it is “forward-looking,” because it leaves behind historical baggage and focuses on the common challenges of today and tomorrow.

Third, it is “flexible” because it allows plenty of room for both sides to agree to disagree (And we do this a lot!). Each side can choose which area of cooperation they prefer, and that is why I call it an “a la carte” partnership.

Fourth, it must be driven by “people-to-people” links, so that this relationship goes deep into the grassroots and does not become a thin relationship like it was in the past.

Fifth, it is based on “equality,” which means that it is a partnership among equals. We reciprocate when we can, and engage with mutual respect, with no imposition by one to another.

Indeed, the joint declaration of comprehensive partnership explicitly stated the United States’ respect for “Indonesia’s independent and active foreign policy” – a critical point of Indonesia’s diplomacy.

For Indonesia, our new comprehensive partnership with the U.S. is part of a globalist outlook that seeks “a million friends and zero enemies.”

In the last six years, Indonesia struck transformative partnership agreements with several countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and South Korea. It is part of our efforts to reform the world order and address global issues through a “can-do” spirit of cooperation.

Amid shifting power relations, President Yudhoyono stressed the need for countries to reach a “new dynamic equilibrium.”

That was why Indonesia was a strong advocate for the United States to join the East Asia Summit, and appreciated the Obama administration’s intensified engagement with Asia and with ASEAN.

To strengthen maritime security, Indonesia wants to see the U.S. Senate renew efforts to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

We also want to see rich “soft power” engagement by the United States in the region, one that is saturated with trade, investment, education, tourism, youth exchanges, technology, innovation, the arts and so on.

And, Universitas Indonesia believes it can play a complementary role in the partnership.

For university rector, Prof. Dr. Der Soz Gumilar Rusliwa Somantri: “If UI wants to play a very significant role, we have to pave the way for the country to heed to the future by building a new civilization based on a sustainable future and development. Make democracy in practice really functional in bringing the country progress and a sustainable future.”

In the coming Asia Pacific century, this is, indeed, the best way to realize President Obama’s call to “win the future” and achieve what President Yudhoyono calls our “win-win future.”

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Indonesia 2011 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

PDF of the printed report

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