Thu, 13 Apr 2000

Putting a maritime nation in perspective

The idea of reestablishing Indonesia as a maritime nation, put forward by President Abdurrahman Wahid, is not easy to fathom amid the struggle to free the country from the economic crisis. Former ambassador-at-large on the law of the sea Hasjim Djalal recently shared his views with The Jakarta Post. Below is an excerpt of the interview:

Question: Does the establishment of the Indonesian Maritime Council sufficiently signify a switch to a maritime nation?

Answer: This is not about a judicial concept, but one related to development ... Also, it's not about rivalry among offices dealing with defense and natural resources. I want to see (the plan) become a success. I think Gus Dur (President Abdurrahman) has the capability to realize the concept.

There are still many of us who do not realize the maritime issue is a tool in development and unity ...

Q: Why was the name of the Indonesian Ocean Council changed to the Indonesian Maritime Council?

A: There is a slight difference in perception.

The old one focused on shipping and transportation data. It dealt more widely with ocean-related affairs and was supported by personnel who were mostly from the Directorate General of Sea Transportation and other ministries. Only two members were not ministers.

It also had the sense of politics and defense, being under the supervision of the then coordinating minister of political affairs and security.

The new council comprises more personnel from various offices as well as businesspeople, experts and scholars from non- governmental organizations and universities. I feel it tries to cover many groups and relates more with maritime issues, including its resources.

Regardless of the council's name, the important thing is how to create the same perception. We have to make the best of our maritime resources in all aspects.

Q: Why does the new council relate more with maritime issues?

A: I think Gus Dur is concerned about fishery and resources. He also recently set up the Directorate General of Fishery and the Directorate General of Coast and Small Island Affairs (under the Ministry of Maritime Exploration), as well as the Directorate General of Protection and Nature Conservation (under the Ministry of Forestry and Plantations).

Q: What do you expect from the new council?

A: I hope this new body can handle maritime issues better. There are so many factors, including cultural aspects in this issue. It's very strategic ... we used to claim to be a maritime nation. But we have to switch our attitude, totally. It's not easy as we have (depended) on the land for so long.

Q: What are the challenges?

A: There are so many visions ... better coordination is needed. There are 11 ministries connected to maritime affairs. There have been overlapping projects.

Q: What are other constraints?

A: We are not yet able to maximize our resources. That is one long story. Other obstacles are human resources and funds.

Just imagine, we have six million square kilometers of sea, about triple our land size. We have only some 50,000 Navy officers. How we can control this, while the police always complain about the ratio of one police officer to 1,800 people?

We also have to think about science and technology and necessary equipment. Huge funds are needed.

Q: What about previous attempts in handling maritime affairs?

A: Many people say Indonesia has done nothing about this. This is not true. What has been done must be improved. Since the Djuanda Declaration in 1957, which was an international attempt, we have continued to do a number of things (in a bid to reduce foreign exploitation of its seas, the government announced in December 1957 that its waters were no longer measured three miles from each island, but 12 miles. Due to international protests the declaration was revoked in 1960 -- Ed.)

We also fought for the maritime law from 1969 to 1982 although implementation may have been poor ... Our diplomacy in maritime affairs has gone on for 40 years so one should distinguish efforts and implementation (in 1982 the International Convention of the Law of the Sea recognized among Indonesia's rights a 200- mile-wide exclusive economic zone, and incorporated the Nusantara concept defining Indonesia's area of its land, sea, air and all the natural resources within -- Ed.).

Q: Do you think Indonesia is basically a maritime nation?

A: Some people from different places in Indonesia are well-known as seafarers. However, areas have cultural backgrounds and perceptions, which is reflected in folklore, which discourage a love of the ocean.

Remember the tales of a sovereign or power controlling the sea, asking for offerings? People in the area usually stay away from the sea.

Most places in the country promote dishes based on meat, not seafood. The fish consumption per capita in Indonesia is only 18 kilograms per year, compared to 48 kg and 65 kg in Hong Kong and Japan, respectively. This pattern shows who Indonesians are. We need to change this.

Q: And what would it take?

A: Again, change the attitude. We'll need to involve sociologists and related educators. We have to convince people, starting from the elementary school level, that there are opportunities from the sea, and not to fear it.

Q: What are other things do we need to take note of?

A: The government must realize that maritime affairs should be handled sustainably, continuously and consistently with a good program, planning and vision based on knowledge. We should realize the function of the sea for development and the nation's unity.

Look at Singapore, which can exploit the Strait of Malacca.

We do not need a few weeks or months, but about 15 years or 20 years to have the same vision. We can learn from the former Soviet Union or China, which have done well in concentrating their vision and efforts in maritime affairs. (I. Christianto)