The Hard Work Behind the Increasing Global Recognition of Indonesia

“I have many questions to you but the very important question is why aren’t you here in Indonesia? Why aren’t you visiting our school? I want to know your secret to be a president.”


Image via Wikimedia Commons

As published in The Guardian, these words were written by the, then 10 year old, Indonesian Cleo Latumahina, in his letter to Barack Obama.

Obama lived in Jakarta between the ages of six and 10, and many Indonesians have been eagerly awaiting his return.  During his 10-day Asian tour that followed his presidency, the children of Santo Fransiskus Asisi, the Catholic school Obama attended for three years, have compiled a book of letters, reflecting the pride Indonesians feel about him.

During his visit, Obama met President Yudhoyono, visited Indonesia’s largest mosque and delivered a speech supporting the country’s democratic progress.He marvelled at the incredible changes the country had gone through compared to how he left  he left it in 1971 that he even couldn’t recognize some of the streets.

It wasn’t only the way the streets looked that had drastically changed since Obama left. One of the most significant changes is the international position it’s steadily gaining, after decades of being focused on internal development.

Representing more than one struggle in our modern history, as the largest economy in Southeast Asia, the largest Muslim country in the world, and the world’s fourth most populous country with a population of 231 million; Indonesia is taking more initiative to be a stronger actor in the international sphere.

Indonesia’s effort has been met with better global recognition. However, some argue that the Indonesia’s active participation as a representative in international institutions hasn’t been fully established yet in comparison to what it represents.

“Whenever international institutions are mentioned, The United Nations is recalled”

The presence of the UN in Indonesia is mainly focused on social and economic development and disaster response. It also supports the governmental and private efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and help overcoming the challenges of such a people-centred development in a rapidly growing middle-income country.

The UN’s relation with Indonesia hasn’t been fully developmental; the country has been elected three times as non-permanent member to the UN Security Council. Indonesia was first elected for the period of 1974–75. It was elected for the second time in 1995–96 and for the third time in 2007–08, when Indonesia was elected with 158 votes out of the then 192 member states who have the right to vote in the UN General Assembly

Indonesia on the Global Defence and Security Map

The Jakarta International Defence Dialogue (JIDD) is one of the initiatives Indonesia started five years ago towards a more prominent role in the Asia-Pacific region; as an annual conference for the entire Asia-Pacific region to tackle Defence and Security issues these countries are having in common

In 2010, one year prior to the first NATO official visiting Indonesia, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General met the Indonesian Ambassador to Brussels met to discuss further cooperation between the two sides.

In the first JIDD conference, the first NATO official visited Indonesia. She delivered a speech as a part of the conference’s programme on how can NATO cooperate in the security exchange that is potentially taking place as a result of this conference.

In as late as Nov 2013, The EU’s foreign and security policy representative made her first official visit to Indonesia.’Her visit was perceived as a breakthrough in the EU’s relationship with Indonesia. In the same regard,  the Queen of Denmark Margrethe II, and the Consort Prince  made their  first visit to Indonesia in October 2015.

EU Partnership: Does it lead to economic and sustainable change? 

Speaking of the EU’s relationship with Indonesia, it is one that is more defined by economic ties than diplomatic or political ones. The timber products and palm oil produced from Indonesian forests are a primary provider to the EU.  For instance, 33% of the EU’s tropical timber is dependent on Indonesian forests (11% of Indonesia’s production).

Roughly twice the size of Belgium, oil palm plantations stretch across 6 million hectares and provide about half of the world supply. This industry is famously connoted with serious ecological threats and child labour in rural Indonesia.

Consumer countries are stepping up action to encourage palm oil producers, including Indonesia, to address the environmental concerns of expansion, and the European Union has pledged to stop buying palm oil resulting from deforestation by 2020.

It’s unclear, at least until 2020, whether the mentioned reasons can affect the momentum of global trade towards Indonesia. Until this point,  Indonesia’s export earnings are 11% dependent on palm oil production, and it supplies up to 35%  of the world’s certified sustainable palm oil.

It is interesting to note that deforestation rate in Indonesia dropped down to 0.7% between 2010-2015. This cutdown in deforestation was reached through a number of stages of restructuring and law enforcement. One of those stages is the signing of the Indonesia–EU voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) to ensure responsible governance of forest harvesting.

It is also important to avoid overestimation of the VPA as an only – or a main – contributor to the decreased illegal logging as it declined by 75% between 2000 and 2006, while the negotiations of VPA started in 2007 and it finally came into force in 2013. This counts as a further step from Indonesia trying to live up to global standards and establish itself better.

Indonesia – too- could make it through the Global Financial Crisis!

The indicators at the beginning of 2008 caused a good deal of optimism that the Indonesian economy, unlike in the 1997 financial crisis, would largely be able to escape the economic downturn, which developing countries normally suffered from the most.

The economic growth in Indonesia reached 6.3% by 2007, the highest in the post-crisis period. The growth rate was sustained and the stock market boomed, reaching the highest level in its history in January 2008.

However, in November 2008,the stock market started losing  many of the gains that took place between 2005 and 2008, and the exchange rate dropped significantly.

The way Indonesia dealt with the financial crisis in 2008, compared to 1997, shows that the country’s ability to handle such economic challenges has significantly accelerated.

“During the first crisis, Indonesian economic growth was negative and poverty increased significantly; whereas during the second one, Indonesia managed to keep a positive economic growth rate (though declined), and poverty kept declining,” writes Tulus Tambunan.

What’s Next- A Developing Country or a Global Representative?

Indonesia is working hard to been more internationally recognised; those efforts , as elaborated above, are getting the country closer to the position it’s aspiring to. If the current efforts continue in the same vein, Indonesia may be taking its place at the international table. However, this will be decided by the next generation of young Indonesians, and how they navigate the complicated web of international politics


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