Indonesia and the United States have had strong diplomatic relations for nearly seven decades. NOW! Jakarta spoke to U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, H.E. Joseph R. Donovan Jr. about this relationship and the opportunities for fostering this connection.
As far as strategic alliances and positive bilateral relationships go, what is your assessment of the current relationship between Indonesia and the United States? Where does this relationship stand especially in relation to other South East Asian countries?
The United States and Indonesia continue to enjoy excellent relations, built on shared democratic values and common interests. Through our Strategic Partnership, we cooperate in a wide range of areas— from trade and investment to defence to education and people-to-people ties.
U.S.-Indonesia defence cooperation has never been stronger or more comprehensive than it is today. We are proud to be Indonesia’s largest military engagement partner and work to deepen that engagement.
In addition nearly 9,000 Indonesian students studied at U.S. universities last year, and I would like to see that number increase. It is my goal to support efforts and programmes to not only increase the number of Indonesians in the U.S., but also the number of Americans studying in Indonesia.
Also, the Young Southeast Asian Leader Initiative (YSEALI) is one of our most effective partnerships with Indonesia. It is a programme that cultivates young leaders and helps provide them with skills and resources to improve their communities. Over 27,000 Indonesians participate in YSEALI and are part of a movement that is having a positive impact across the region in overarching themes selected by the YSEALI members including economic growth, sustainable development, education and civic engagement.
Given the worrying threat of terrorism and related issues affecting both countries—and the world at large— do both governments see a strategic link that can be fostered to combat these threats?
As you know, both the U.S. and Indonesia have been the victims of terrible attacks by violent extremists. We cooperate with a number of countries, including Indonesia, to detect and disrupt terrorist plots. The U.S. is committed to combating terrorism, including the threat of ISIS in Southeast Asia, and will continue to be a strong partner with Indonesia. The success of our cooperation depends on civilian-led law enforcement efforts, as well government agencies working together with civil society to prevent recruitment and radicalisation to violence in vulnerable communities.
How can the U.S-Indonesia partnership better address Indonesia’s plans to be more assertive in current issues concerning code of conduct in the South China Sea?
America’s prosperity and security are inextricably linked to the dynamic Indo-Pacific region. The United States, as an Indo-Pacific nation, has advanced freedom, openness, peace, and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific. We seek to sustain and strengthen the international system of clear and transparent rules, peaceful arbitration of disputes, and the rule of law by working with our allies and partners, and strengthening regional institutions such as ASEAN. Indonesia is a leader in the Indo-Pacific region and we support Indonesia’s work to forge a more robust and unified ASEAN role in addressing regional political and security challenges.
What are some of the ramifications in the relationship as a result of the heightened trade barriers set by the U.S.?
The U.S.-Indonesia economic relationship is a vital part of our strategic partnership, and we are committed to free, fair, and reciprocal trade with Indonesia.
However, as we acknowledge the benefits of trade, one of the primary tenets is that there should be a level playing field so that market access is reciprocal. Last year, U.S. exporters sent over IDR 92 trillion (USD 6.8 billion) worth of goods to Indonesia– goods that helped increase opportunities for Indonesian businesses and consumers ranging from soybeans for tempeh to parts for aircraft. Indonesia exported over IDR 270 trillion (USD 20 billion) worth of textiles and apparel, rubber products, electronics and machinery, seafood and furniture to eager buyers in the United States. These volumes can be higher, and they can benefit both countries.
The United States is one of the most open markets anywhere in the world. U.S. firms are eager to do more with Indonesia, but we do have challenges with market access, restrictions on investment, and sometimes unfair treatment for U.S. companies. American companies that are given the opportunity to compete do so very well.
Now that you’ve been here for almost two years, what are some of the challenges that you have overcome during your time here?
With a capital as vibrant as Jakarta, it is sometimes easy to forget that there is so much to see in Indonesia. I try and visit as many regions and cities as I can, and meet with not only government officials but business leaders, students, and alumni from our many exchange programmes. I learn so much from these interactions, and it has really helped me understand Indonesia and its complexities.
Indonesia has long been known for its tolerance and emphasis on social harmony. This is a reputation worth preserving and strengthening. Whether it is ethnic diversity or the right of all people to follow their beliefs and practice their faith, that diversity is a source of strength, much as it is in the United States. As the second and third largest democracies in the world, it’s important to recognise that the United States and Indonesia share many common values including those of tolerance and mutual respect.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year as the two countries celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations?
Our Strategic Partnership with Indonesia is a partnership that sits, quite literally, at the heart of the Indo-Pacific. Indonesia’s success is important to the United States because Indonesia is important to the United States. We hope to inaugurate our new Embassy compound later this year, and I tell people it is another indication of just how important this relationship is to us. So we will not only look back at the remarkable past 70 years, but also look forward to growing our partnership and achieving greater prosperity for our peoples and our democracies in the next 70 years.
This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine July 2018 issue “Health in a Era of Urbanisation”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.