Mon, 12 May 2003

Schroeder visit to revive relations

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The planned visit of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Indonesia is expected to revive relations between the two countries, which have been sluggish since the early days of the 1998 reform era.

"We appreciate the planned visit of the chancellor as a step forward to improve relations between the two countries," Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said over the weekend.

Hassan said that Indonesia had dynamic relations with Germany during the tenure of former presidents Soeharto and B.J Habibie.

"However, the ties have suffered a slight setback in the past three years as both countries concentrated on other issues," the minister remarked.

Schroeder's visit to Indonesia is part of his Southeast Asian tour that will also take him to Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

His visit will be the first by a German chancellor since before the downfall of former president Soeharto in 1998. The last chancellor to visit Jakarta was Helmut Kohl in 1996.

Hassan said that the two countries would focus on economic cooperation, especially in trade and investment, as well as technical cooperation.

He further highlighted the importance of the visit regarding the fact that Schroeder was Kohl's political opponent, and Indonesia also has had a regime change.

Chancellor Schroeder and President Megawati Soekarnoputri are scheduled to witness the signing of several memorandums of understanding between the two countries, including one on investment protection.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said that currently both governments were working on the schedule of the visit.

A source at the presidential palace said the chancellor was slated to arrive at Halim Perdanakusuma air base on the evening of May 13 and meet with Megawati the next morning.

The two leaders will visit the German Center in Serpong, Banten.

The Deutsche Presse-Agentur news service said the chancellor's visit to the region would send a firm message that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) scare should not be blown out of proportion.

"We saw how important the trip was given the difficult times in the region," a senior official told the news agency prior to Schroeder's May 10 to May 17 Southeast Asian tour.

The German leader, however, will travel with a far smaller entourage than initially planned to reduce the risk of infection.

Schroeder will be accompanied by economics minister Wolfgang Clement and CEO of Germany's giant Siemens concern and Asia- Pacific Trade Committee chairman Heinrich von Pierer.

Twenty-seven German industrialists and all reporters initially invited have been bumped from the chancellor's jet. The downsized German delegation will number about 30.

Trade is the dominant theme, but other top issues include the fight against terrorism, rebuilding Iraq and bolstering Germany's dialog with Islamic states.

The official noted that Indonesia remained a major customer for German shipyards. Energy, mining and telecommunications are also strong German areas of activity in the country.