Discourse: ‘We can uphold democracy and at the same time respect Islamic values’
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sits down with CNN’s Andrew Stevens in a rare, wide-ranging and in-depth discussion on the state of the country. He outlines Indonesia’s ambitious economic growth plans, discusses challenges including corruption and environmental degradation and reveals his road map for national progress on the international stage.
Question: You look at what’s happening in Indonesia, you’ve pushed off the global financial crisis, foreign investment is pouring in now, if you look at investment grade, it’s about to get investment grade probably in the next 12 months or so of six and a half percent, perhaps stronger. My question to you is, is this growth of 6 or 7 percent now sustainable?
Answer: Yes, this is a great challenge for Indonesia — to maintain sustainability of our economic growth. This is why we are working hard to sustain that growth. But growth is not our only economic target...
One area we need to improve is Indonesia’s investment climate so that we can attract more investors to our country. In this context, we are developing a master plan, for the next 15 years, on how to speed up and expand our economy. We are establishing six economic corridors or highways that will link various zones or areas of growth. We believe these measures will maximise our ability to sustain our present economic growth.
Can Indonesia have strong economic growth and protect the environment at the same time? Because if you look at the examples of growth in emerging economies — and I’m looking at China and I’m looking at India — there has been significant environmental degradation. How does Indonesia avoid that?
My government has declared that we are committed to a 26 percent reduction of emissions by the year 2020. This is a very important step. We have to continue to really protect our forests, our environment and prevent destruction in the future. Our philosophy is that we can achieve both — economic growth and environmental protection and my government is committed to doing that.
The corruption watchdog ‘Transparency International’ stills rates Indonesia quite poorly on their corruption index. You have another 3 years in office. What would you like to achieve on this issue by the time you leave? What do you think you can achieve?
Corruption is indeed our biggest challenge, my biggest challenge — I have to be frank on that. In fact, since I assumed office in 2004, Indonesia has launched the most aggressive anti-corruption campaign in our history. And the results show for themselves. About 150 senior officials have faced the law and some of them have been convicted and sent to jail. And there’s now a big movement in our society against corruption.
I want to talk about Indonesian democracy. This is a young but entrenched democracy in a predominantly Muslim country. Do you think Indonesia can be used as model for the emerging democratic movements as we see today in North Africa and the Middle East?
Yes, Indonesia can be a model where Islam and democracy exist hand in hand, with no contradiction between the two. Despite the fact that we are still facing some challenges to becoming a real model, as the world’s largest Muslim nation that practices a true democracy. In general, I’m pleased to say that we can uphold democracy and at the same time respect Islamic values that exist in this country. If Indonesia can do something like that, then countries in Middle East and North Africa can also achieve it. Of course, they need to know that Indonesia’s experience has not been easy.
In your opinion, Mr. President, how big is the radical movement? The radical, religious extremism in Indonesia?
I have to say that there are still a few cells within our society. Radicalism or extremism has always existed from a long time ago in Indonesia. Amid international developments there have been influences from the Middle East in Indonesia or from other places. Radicalism is rising, but I can’t say how big they are in terms of percentage but these cells do exist and what worries us is that no matter how small they are with the advances in the information era, openness era, democracy, in the human rights era, extremist teachings or radicalism could disturb the majority of moderate Muslims. That’s why we need to handle it well.
Across Asia, we have seen rising tensions between China and some of its neighbors. A lot of it centers on the South China Sea. Are you concerned for Asia about China’s growing assertiveness in this region?
Regarding the South China Sea, we hope that tension or problems could be resolved diplomatically and to find political solution in a peaceful way. That is our hope. I know that there are overlapping claims in South China Sea which include several ASEAN members and China. I hope we could find a peaceful solution. China is an emerging power — economically, politically and in its military. I hope the rise of China could be part of the solution for Asia and the world. If China could play this role, it wouldn’t cause fresh tension and it could strengthen global cooperation.
Highlights of President Yudhoyono’s interview on CNN’s Talk Asia will be available online at www.cnn.com/talkasia