You’ve referred to cultural understanding as something needed between Indonesia and the United States and that’s one of your focus areas under the Comprehensive Partnership. How’s it going so far?
To build the kind of relationship that we want, we need more Americans to know more about and understand better Indonesia. And we need to overcome some perhaps misperceptions that some Indonesians have about the United States. There’re a lot of ways to do that but I think a key way is more exchange programs and university partnerships. So that’s where we’ve put a lot of emphasis. There’s a lag time from the time you start to the time that you get the numbers on students. But the initial indications are certainly we’ve got more scholarships and more funded programs. We’re certainly seeing a lot more US universities coming here and recruiting students.
Obama has visited twice. He’s built on his special relationship with Indonesia. And the outcome of the visits is the Comprehensive Partnership. Could you comment more on that and any other outcomes of his two visits?
The Comprehensive Partnership that President Obama and President Yudhoyono launched in November 2010 was designed to bring the two countries closer together through more government-to-government consultation and cooperation, but also trying to build more links between the societies. So there’s a big focus on business promotion, on education, environment, on security, on many different areas. We announced significant new scholarships, and funding to help Indonesia to protect its environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We had an agreement for OPIC [Overseas Private Investment Corporation] to resume operations. We resumed the Peace Corps program here, which is flourishing. Last November during his visit to Bali we signed the MCC compact [Millennium Challenge Corporation compact] that will mean US$600 million from the MCC to Indonesia over the next five years to focus on environmentally friendly economic development, health and nutrition, and to improve governance. And on the security side we’ve seen a significant increase in military-military engagement including an agreement to transfer twenty-four F16s to Indonesia to enhance its military capabilities. So it’s pretty broad range.
The United States has contributed significant funds to Indonesia and the Climate Change Center was created in 2010. How’s it going on the climate change front?
Climate change is a long-term effort. We’ve focused on steps to help preserve the marine environment because Indonesia has got the highest marine biodiversity of any country in the world. So we think that’s very important. We have a series of programs including from the USAID, the Department of Treasury, debt swap programs, as well as the MCC Compact, which is going to promote low-carbon growth. And the Climate Change Center is producing real results that are relevant to policy-makers. To be honest, there’s a lot happening but it’s hard to measure short-term; to say, OK as a result of this we’ve saved “X” amount of carbon. And this is Indonesia; these involve lots of difficult challenges of governance and law enforcement.
On the investment side, everyone is looking at Indonesia. Yet investor interest is tempered by caution as well. What do you say when asked about opportunities here?
I tell people that there are tremendous opportunities here. You can make money here. That said, I also tell them it’s not easy. Indonesia scored 128 on the World Bank’s 2011 “Doing Business” Index [that measures the ease of doing business in countries, with 183 as the lowest score]. That fact tells you about the challenges. You sometimes have unclear regulations. You have some uncertainty around the legal system. You have corruption. And in the last several months I think we’ve seen a series of regulations come out that have perhaps added to the concerns, in terms of protectionism and nationalization; challenges for investors that could undermine investment and growth in Indonesia. Obviously that’s not the intent but those are some real concerns. We’ve talked to the Indonesian government about that and highlighted that Indonesia is in the G20 where all countries have committed to resist pressures for protectionism. It’s an ongoing discussion.
Another issue is the growing profile of extremists here. We just saw the cancellation of the Lady Gaga concert. Is extremism a concern of the embassy?
If you talk about terrorism I think the Indonesian government has done a very good job. If you’re talking about individuals or groups who are advocating a more intolerant approach—so I’m distinguishing that from terrorists—I think what we hear concern from a lot of Indonesians. I think Indonesia rightly gets a lot of praise for a long tradition of tolerance and people living together in harmony. With democracy and freedom, of course, groups that promote intolerance also have been more free to operate and I think that the challenge for Indonesia, like in any democracy, is how do you allow freedom of expression for all groups without allowing small groups that are promoting intolerance to get away with violence and intimidation. I’m quite confident personally that the long tradition of tolerance and respect for others is going to win out.
The United States just announced building a base in Darwin, Australia. The US military has also announced a shift to the Asia Pacific region. How should Indonesians view these developments?
There’s absolutely no reason for Indonesians to be nervous. The increased US engagement in the region is not led by the military. What we’re doing is significantly increasing diplomatic attention to the region. And you can look at the long list of things in the last few years: of joining the East Asia Summit, naming the US Ambassador to ASEAN, signing onto the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation—it’s an intensive engagement in terms of high-level visits throughout Asia. On the military side there is some shifting of personnel within the Pacific. Our ships and folks have been in the region for decades. We’re moving some marines out of Okinawa. At the same time we’ll be rotating a small number of marines through Darwin for exercises with Australia. We have for many years had a large number of US soldiers training in Australia at any given time. So having up to 2,500 rotate through Darwin, if you look at it in that context, is nothing dramatically new.
And are there any developments between the United States and the Indonesian military?
Yes we have now more than 150 activities a year between our militaries. These are sometimes what we call “subject matter expert exchanges.” Our experts on logistics or humanitarian assistance sit down with theirs. We’ve been focusing on peace-keeping and supporting efforts to build a peace-keeping center here. We’re building their capacity to respond to humanitarian disasters, and to protect their marine environment in terms of being able to patrol the seas off Indonesia. At the same time we’re just getting our soldiers together so that if they have to work together, let’s say, in response to a natural disaster it’s not for the first time.
From your experience in Asia, do you think the United States is looking to develop strong ties with Burma, and how is that going to affect Indonesia and ASEAN?
Of course I’m not responsible for relations with Burma, but we have for many years been encouraging Burma to adopt reforms and improve its human rights record. As the President and US Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton made clear, we have welcomed its reform steps. Secretary Clinton announced recently that we would send an ambassador there for the first time in almost 20 years. We’ve taken steps to suspend some of the economic sanctions. I don’t want to speak for the Indonesian government but I think the ASEAN countries at large and the United States share that goal of wanting to see Burma move in a positive direction. It’s good for everybody.
Indonesia is rising economically, it is now in the G20, and is the largest ASEAN member. What role does the United States hope Indonesia will play in the global community?
It’s not really what role we want Indonesia to play. Indonesia is going to make that decision, not the United States. Our role is to be a good partner and to help where we can in capacity building and where outside help can be useful, and to talk to Indonesians about opportunities and problems and how we might be able to work together. We see Indonesia as a big important country. It has good relations with most countries and it can use those relations to help advance diplomacy. But Indonesia always has been and always will be a very independent actor.
Over your time here are there any highlights that come to mind?
Well, there’s a lot. President Obama’s visit here in November 2010 was really amazing. It was very special in a way that few presidential visits can be just because of his history here and the warmth with which he was greeted.
What do you think Americans could learn from Indonesians?
The first thing I hope Americans will learn from Indonesians is just to learn more about Indonesia. And I think the other thing [to learn] is for all of us: there’s still a tremendous optimism and enthusiasm here about freedom. It serves as a good reminder for all of us about how wonderful it is.