Thu, 13 Apr 2000

Expecting a new paradigm for a maritime nation

By I. Christianto

JAKARTA (JP): The recent establishment of the Indonesian Maritime Council by President Abdurrahman Wahid has rebounded hopes of exploring, protecting and restoring vital ocean resources, but a new paradigm is necessary to achieve the plan.

Efforts to create Indonesia as a marine state have been launched several times, but eventually they have been forgotten.

Historian A.B. Lapian, in an interview with The Jakarta Post, said that while the President's appeal might complement the previous series of efforts and struggle to turn Indonesia from an agrarian into a maritime nation, it hopefully would not turn into yet another undeveloped program.

Maritime issues were not merely about the ocean, Lapian said, but also water observatories, sea observatories to explore sea life and national marine sanctuaries and especially coastal development and economic viability with resource-related issues of ensuring sustainable fisheries.

"Comprehending the correct term of a marine state is one of the main issues of expecting ocean resources to play a greater role in Indonesia," said Lapian, a lecturer at the postgraduate program of the University of Indonesia in Jakarta and at the University of Sam Ratulangi in Manado, North Sulawesi.

He said that Abdurrahman's decision to establish the Ministry of Maritime Exploration and the council was a great one.

"We have to understand the paradigm about a maritime nation. Though the concept began following the Djuanda Declaration in 1957, which stipulated that Indonesia was a maritime state, there has never been a correct understanding."

"Many define Indonesia as an archipelagic state. Literally, an archipelago is not chain of islands, but means a 'prime ocean', as arch means prime and pelago or pelagic means ocean. Therefore, Indonesia is a maritime nation with so many islands," he said.

Lapian, who is compiling a book about commercial shipping in Indonesia, said that the former state of Russia was a proven maritime state which always expanded to seek seas as it only had icy waters.

"China is a good example of a continent which developed as a maritime nation. It has a very well prepared marine fleet. I don't have any figures, but it's clear that its Navy and merchant marines are so developed."

China, he continued, now deals a lot with the sea, "as we can see from the South China Sea dispute," he said, adding that there were also other continents preparing themselves to turn to maritime nations.

Lapian said he fully agreed with Abdurrahman's plan of a maritime nation, pointing out seemingly minor issues which showed the country's origins.

"Remember that Indonesians have the proverb lupa daratan (to forget land, meaning to lose reason). It shows that Indonesians were really used to the water," Lapian said.

However, he added, "Many things must be considered when we want to turn back into a maritime nation. We have been oriented to the land for so long."

For instance, he referred to a study on Malaysia's fisherfolk, who were always poor and dependent on salt or ice producers. They tried to send their children to school and "they found that the children refused to return as they decided to live in the city, far from the coast," he said.

This may be predictable but nevertheless was an issue which needed attention, he said. Though the issue of rich ocean resources was of more or less common knowledge, Lapian said "only few parties here are interested in knowing about the fisherfolk."

While there was hardly specific research on why maritime kingdoms moved to land and mountains, Lapian said he agreed with those saying the shift was due to Dutch colonialization and piracy.

Historian Merle Ricklefs told the Post earlier that there was evidence supporting the blame on the Dutch for the move of maritime kingdoms, "but there was also evidence to the contrary."

He said there were records of the Dutch Trading Company and the VOC working in alliance with the maritime kingdoms to their mutual benefit. The history was quite complicated, Ricklefs said.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC), Lapian said, "started its project in Indonesia by sea. Ancient maps contained only the sea, colored with symbols such as mermaids, fish or vessels while the land was empty. As merchants, the Dutch sought spices and they decided to monopolize the production. That's why they seized land in the 17th and 18th centuries. They also introduced the Cultuur Stelsel (forced plantation).

Since then, the economy was oriented to the land, Lapian said.

"But we have to remember that in the late 19th century, when the Dutch expanded from Java to other areas like Sumatra, Sulawesi and Maluku, the sea began to be a major point again. To some extent, this was supported by the Dutch KPM shipping firm which became one of the world's largest during that period."

Lapian said that efforts to make Indonesia a maritime nation should be supported by good sea transportation.

"During the Soekarno era, Indonesia had the ministry of maritime affairs. Now we have the Directorate General of Sea Transportation within the Ministry of Communications. I think we have to be more specific. Transportation is more specific than communications," he said.

In addition, the navy and sea police patrol would have to be stronger to avoid disruption by unauthorized foreign vessels, he added.

Lapian referred to the decades-old national doctrine of the Wawasan Nusantara, "but this has only been a slogan which focused on military affairs," he said, despite acknowledging some successful developments in sea transportation.

Turning into a maritime nation, he said, would take a long time. "Human resources should be also considered. The government can set up a university specializing in ocean engineering or other programs related to marine issues."

"Because the ship is only as good as the crew that minds her, we have to have good human resources," Lapian, the senior researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said.