Sat, 18 Mar 2000

What RI crisis means to the region

This is the second of two articles based on a paper presented by Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab when opening the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) conference on Indonesia on March 8. The conference was jointly organized by CSCAP-Indonesia and CSCAP-Japan.

JAKARTA: There is the need to keep the unity and integrity of the nation intact. Indonesians' resentment at the peripheries of the country over the inequities, neglect and oppression under an authoritarian central government has over the decades taken a heavy toll on their sense of belonging to a single nation. That resentment has fed separatist movements.

If we can successfully contend with this fundamental challenge, there is always hope that we will overcome all the other challenges. If not, the prospects are bleak that we will ever manage to tame all the other challenges.

The government of President Abdurrahman Wahid has promptly responded to these challenges. It has given top priority to restore investor confidence by ensuring a level playing field for all who would participate in economic life; it continues to rebuild the banking sector, help the corporate sector back on its feet and reform the national economic structure.

It has intensified political and legal reform and sees to it that people's civil and political rights are as well protected as their economic and social rights. I am proud to say that there are no political prisoners in Indonesia today. We are fine-tuning our social safety net programs. We continue to investigate anomalies in public office and violations of public trust.

We are enlisting all segments of society in a movement for ethnic and religious harmony. And we are redressing the grievances of the regions and provinces by vigorously pursuing decentralization and equitable sharing of resources, and by engaging them in sincere dialogue.

And we are doing all these because, in the first place, they constitute the imperatives of national survival as well as national dignity.

We are also fully aware that the challenges have serious implication on the situation in East Asia, especially Southeast Asia. It is thus a matter of responsibility to the region that Indonesia should exert its utmost in managing these challenges.

For if we fail to solve our economic problems, the rest of the region is apt to suffer its contagion. This is the stark lesson of the Asian financial crisis. Recent experience has also taught us that any international political issue against any one Southeast Asian country, becomes an issue against the region, against the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Widespread social turmoil in Indonesia will weigh heavily on the region's stability for the simple reason that the 210 million Indonesians make up 40 percent of Southeast Asia's population.

The political fragmentation of Indonesia and its population of 210 million is nothing less than the possibilities, we acknowledge our great responsibility to the region.

But more than three decades ago, the nations of Southeast Asia had already realized that not a single one of them could solve problems without the cooperation and support of all the others. That was why ASEAN was founded -- so that all Southeast Asia nations could form a community that works effectively for peace, that could conquer the basic problem of poverty and become globally competitive -- a community that is aware of its common cultural legacy and shared ultimate destiny.

This vision of ASEAN's founding fathers has been restated for our time as a set of goals that the Association intends to achieve in the next two decades, which have been embodied in "ASEAN Vision 2020."

We believe in this vision of enlightened regionalism. Indonesia's participation in the work of ASEAN will therefore continue to be the lynchpin of foreign policy for the simple reason that we cannot solve our problems in a vacuum.

We must solve them within a social, economic and political environment and our most immediate environment is ASEAN. A considerable part of the solution to our economic problems lies in the success of ASEAN's economic integration, in the achievement of AFTA, the ASEAN Investment Area and the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation scheme.

The many initiatives of ASEAN in social and human development will help Indonesia enhance the quality, especially the technological competence of its human resources. The instruments for peace that ASEAN has developed and keeps refining, such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), serve to ensure that the economies of East Asia and the rest of the Asia-Pacific, including Indonesia, are not distracted from the pursuit of prosperity by the disruptions of armed conflict and bitter dispute.

When President Abdurrahman laid down our foreign policy directions at his inaugural address on Oct. 20, 1999, he adhered closely to the conventional wisdom that is today guiding ASEAN.

He stressed the need for the restoration of Indonesia's dignity, the maintenance of its unity and integrity, the forging of closer cooperation among Asian countries, and a policy of equidistance that entails the strengthening of relations and cooperation with all nations.

Today, ASEAN is also addressing its international image; it is moving to restore investor confidence in the region. It is also focusing on its cooperation with its Asian neighbors, particularly China, South Korea and Japan. Its newest dialogue partner is India.

And yet it is maintaining important ties with Europe through the Asia-Europe Meeting, with the American continent through the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and is initiating cooperation with Latin America, the Indian Ocean Rim and South Asia. Everything that Indonesia is trying to do as an individual country can be matched with and reinforced by a parallel activity in ASEAN.

For in the ultimate analysis, Indonesia is not in any way different from the rest of Southeast Asia. Our economic, social and political problems may be more severe as they are amplified by the immensity of our population and extensiveness of our territory, but we are essentially the same as everybody else in the region. We share the same historical and cultural legacy, the same contemporary struggle for development and stability, and the same eventual destiny.

As to what will be that eventual destiny depends on how well ASEAN and its Asia-Pacific and global linkages work, on how well we can all make them work.