Thu, 20 Nov 2003

How RI and U.S. could become better friends

Richard G. Lugar, Senator, Washington D.C

Indonesia and the United States have long been friends. They should now become stronger partners, working together to foster democracy, stability, religious freedom and respect for human rights throughout Southeast Asia.

As a U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I believe my country should become more engaged with Indonesia on all levels -- economic, political and cultural. I recently told my Senate colleagues that I believe the significance of Indonesia to Asia and to the world is often under-appreciated. Indonesia is an important country and the U.S. wants to stand with Indonesia as it continues its democratic transition.

This journey toward full democracy is one that my country has traveled for more than 200 years, and yet we still encounter challenges and difficult issues. Like Indonesia, we are a religiously observant society that values the distinction between political and religious institutions, and deeply treasures religious tolerance. Our people, like Indonesia's, practice many religions and come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Our country also spans a large area and encompasses a number of geographic and regional interests.

Of course, Indonesians themselves must determine their own solutions suitable to Indonesia. What the U.S. can do is offer support and offer lessons we have learned as our democracy has developed.

Recently, a group called the National Commission on U.S.- Indonesian Relations issued a report that will become an important point of reference for my colleagues in the U.S. Congress. The report was written in collaboration with the U.S.- Indonesia Society, the National Bureau of Asian Research and the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

The report suggested a number of areas where the U.S. could assist Indonesia in its development: Education, democratization, economic growth and security. The Commission recommends that the U.S. and other countries donate more money to programs in these areas.

In particular, I believe education is vitally important. Democracy only works well when the citizens are educated enough to inform themselves about government policies, and education is the surest route to better jobs and a stronger economy.

Democracy, development and growth are of mutual interest to both Indonesia and the U.S.. In 2002, Indonesia's exports to the U.S. were US$9.6 billion, while the U.S. exported $2.6 billion worth of goods to Indonesia. This trade, and foreign investment in Indonesia, can grow rapidly, if the infrastructure of business and law increases.

I am pleased that five percent of all Indonesian students in the U.S. attend schools in my home state of Indiana. More Indonesians should come to study in my country -- but it is also important that American students study in Indonesia. Our two countries have much to learn from each other.

Another element of democracy, which we have found essential, is transparency. Our system promotes openness in the operations and conduct of all government agencies, including the national military and law enforcement agencies. A free and vibrant news media, which actively reports full details of government activities at all levels, has greatly benefited Americans and our friends around the world.

In Indonesia, I believe a higher level of transparency would benefit citizens in both our countries as well. For example, Indonesian and American citizens will both gain from knowing details of a transparent and vigorous investigation into the killings of an Indonesian and two Americans (and wounding of eight others) last year near Timika in Papua.

Just as Indonesia can benefit from the lessons America has learned regarding transparency, a free press, the rule of law and other basic foundations of democracy, so too America can learn from Indonesia. We need to hear your ideas about promoting democracy in a pluralistic society where individual rights and individual obligations are kept in balance.

We can learn from your efforts to respect and practice deeply held religious beliefs while your country modernizes and traditional social structures change. This will benefit America as we join our efforts toward the common objective of a prosperous and democratic Indonesia.

As our U.S. Ambassador, Ralph L. Boyce, said recently, "We hope the friendship will be further strengthened as our two countries continue to work together toward shared goals in a spirit of mutual respect and appreciation."

The writer is also Chairman of United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee