In the 60-year history of the good relations between Syria and Indonesia, there has only recently been an effort by both countries to build a strong bilateral partnership.
Several high-level visits, including by Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Ottri to Indonesia this year and by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda to Damascus in 2007, from both sides have taken place. During these visits, a number of important agreements were signed.
Bilateral trade has grown in double digits, although the value is still low.
There is at least one man, to a certain extent, who is responsible for this sudden flurry of activity. He is none other than the outgoing Syrian Ambassador to Indonesia Mohamad Darwish Baladi, an old friend and great fan of Indonesia.
“Both countries, which have excellent relations at the political level, are regional powers in their respective regions. There is a need for a strong relationship between Indonesia and Syria,” Ambassador Baladi told The Jakarta Post in an interview at his office recently.
“We have common perceptions on issues related to Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon. We thank Indonesia for its staunch support for Syria at international forums, especially on the issue of the Golan Heights.”
The Golan Heights, a Syrian territory, is under the illegal occupation of Israel.
In an effort to enhance existing relations, Baladi said, both coun-tries had signed an agreement to hold a Joint Commission Meeting regularly.
“The first Joint Commission Meeting will be held this year in Jakarta. We have also signed agreements on science, arts and culture,” said Baladi, who will be leaving Indonesia soon following the completion of his tenure in Jakarta.
He added Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was planning to visit Indonesia this year to further cement the relations.
When Baladi came to Indonesia in 2003, he faced problems in finding trade figures.
“Our trade was too low to register in the trade statistics. During all these years, I focused mainly on increasing the contacts between businesspeople from the both countries,” Baladi said.
As a result, bilateral trade jumped to almost US$100 million in 2008, a huge leap from just $47.08 million in 2003.
The trade is heavily (almost 98 percent) in favor of Indonesia, which mainly exports textiles, rubber, tea, coffee, palm oil, wood and paper to Syria.
For example, Indonesia exported $89.90 million worth of goods to Syria in the first 11 months of 2008, while it imported just $1.43 million of goods, mainly dry fruits and olive oil and others, from Syria during the same period.
“We are expanding our trade with Indonesia by adding new goods. The latest addition is cars.
We imported 30 Toyota cars from Indonesia last year,” Baladi, who loves reading and walking, said.
In future, Baladi continued, trade is expected to grow by leaps and bounds.
“Our businesspeople now know the Indonesian market. I am confident the trade will increase tremendously in the coming years.”
Syria has also increased its scholarships for Indonesian students to study in Syria.
“Now we have some 150 Indonesian students studying in Syria,” Baladi said.
When asked about Indonesian migrant workers in Syria, Baladi said there were some problems from the legal point of view.
“We have several thousand Indonesian workers in Syria. In order to provide legal protection, both countries have already agreed to sign an agreement on labor cooperation. We will sign it soon,” he said.
Baladi had a raft of kudos for Indonesians.
“The Indonesian people are very friendly. They have a great culture. I like their concept of unity in diversity,” Baladi said.
The jovial ambassador, who turns 65 on April 30, might be leaving Indonesia in a couple of days, but he will be taking back with him a lot of unforgettable memories.
He has a special relationship with Indonesia.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Likewise, the outgoing Syrian
Ambassador to Indonesia Mohamad Darwish Baladi began his long diplomatic journey in 1976 as an attaché in Jakarta.
During his distinguished 33-year diplomatic career, Indonesia occupied a significant role in Ambassador Baladi’s diplomatic ladder.
“My first foreign posting as an attaché was in Jakarta. My first promotion as third secretary was in Jakarta, and the peak of my career, as an ambassador, also began in Indonesia,” Baladi said.
He has worked in Bulgaria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in various capacities in Syrian diplomatic missions.