Report on Mr. Ibrahim Yusuf's Seminar on Indonesia's Current Issues at the Japan Institute of International Affairs
Chadwick I. Smith (International University of Japan)
Mr. Ibrahim Yusuf, Head of the Agency for Policy Planning and Development, Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia gave an open discussion at the Japan Institute of International Affairs on Thursday, July 29, 2004. Mr. Yusuf covered important topics such as Indonesia's Foreign Policy, an East Asian Community, and Indonesia's recent elections.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Yusuf stressed that Indonesia's foreign policy is shaped by factors such as history, geography, demography and its security and national interest. He clearly stated that Indonesia has a "independent and active foreign policy," and it alone will decide and determine its own position in the world without any external pressure. This policy will also serve both its national interests and allow Indonesia to work with other states to fight injustice at the same time.
Yusuf stated that the most serious challenge facing Indonesia it preserving its territorial integrity and that the secessionist threats are a great concern. Indonesia wishes go gain support from other states to preserve their territorial integrity and this is a cornerstone of their diplomacy. Solutions must be found based on the concept of special autonomy. Indonesia will work with other states through a system of concentric geographic circles of diplomatic engagement. The first circle is with ASEAN, the second is with East Asia and the third is with the United States and the European Union. Yusuf went on to stress that Indonesia believes that the United Nations is the primary instrument of multilateralism and rejects all unilateral decisions taken outside the framework of the United Nations.
Then Mr. Yusuf went on to discuss ASEAN+3 and East Asian Cooperation. He stressed that the growing strength and importance of East Asia is making this process irreversible and inevitable. Mr. Yusuf reminded the audience that the process is becoming more institutionalized as evinced by frequent summits, joint communiqué's and the signing of agreements on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and both China and Japan. In addition, these states have recently signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) which is also indicative of the desire to strengthen ties. Yusuf also stressed that ASEAN is now working actively with the Republic of Korea (ROK) to deepen their relations for the 21st century.
According to Mr. Yusuf, all of this progress is evidence that the establishment of an East Asia Community will eventually become a reality. Yet he cautioned that this cannot be achieved overnight, it will take time so states must continue to work together to strengthen their ties in the future. He also added that ASEAN itself is establishing an ASEAN community consisting of an economic community, a security community and a socio-cultural community and posed the question whether the East Asian Community will be an expansion of an ASEAN community or will these two develop simultaneously?
Finally Mr. Yusuf discussed the Indonesian elections, both the parliamentary elections and the recent presidential election. Indonesia's parliamentary election consisted of candidates of 24 political parties contesting 550 seats in parliament and the first round of the presidential election had five different candidates. Yusuf stressed that this election is the first time in the history of Indonesia in which the people directly vote for the president. Previously the President was elected by the People's Consultative Assembly and citizens had no direct vote or say in this matter.
Consequently, this election represents an extraordinary achievement for Indonesia. According to Mr. Yusuf, Indonesia is completing its transition into a fully democratic system. Although Indonesia was ruled by an authoritarian government for over thirty years and had no history of democratic election, a "free, fair, clean and democratic" election has taken place only six years after the overthrow of Suharto. As a result Indonesia is now truly proud to be the third largest democracy in the world. He also added that Indonesia has proven that democracy and Islam are not incompatible and thus can lay the foundation for further reform and economic development.
After Mr.Yusuf finished his remarks there were many questions by guests. There was a deep interest if Australia and New Zealand would be included in a future East Asia Community. Yusuf replied that
Australia and New Zealand could be a part but it is entirely up to them. He said there is already movement in that direction and stated that there is a planned Australia/New Zealand-ASEAN summit planned for next November. Also, guests wished to know if the frictions between ASEAN and Japan in investment services and the agricultural sector can realistically be reconciled. Mr. Yusuf responded that he recognized that there was a development gap and pointed out that there is also a development gap within ASEAN and states must work together to satisfy their mutual interests. He then insisted that although the ASEAN way is slow moving, as long as states follow "the spirit of cooperation" all problems can be overcome.
An important question was raised about why ASEAN has not taken any firm action on the issue of Myanmar and democratization. Mr. Yusuf responded that this issue is developing within ASEAN but he also stressed the principle of non-interference. He went on to mention that ASEAN was becoming much more open in discussing this and there are a number of efforts already taking place such as the Bangkok Process. When Mr. Yusuf was pressed to give a time frame on how long this process may take, he explained that it is not possible to set a deadline and it is important to realize that this is an issue that will take time. He cited the work that has been done in the past by ASEAN in both Cambodia and the Philippines as evidence that states are working towards a lasting solution.