Doubting RI’s diplomatic ambition on North Korea
In a meeting with journalists at his office last week, US Ambassador to Indonesia Scot Marciel focused his discussion on several international and regional issues such as the problems of Syria, rising tensions in the South China Sea, the encouraging political developments in Myanmar and the nuclear threat from North Korea.
The American diplomat was apparently aware of the scheduled visit by president of North Korea’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong-nam to Jakarta next month. However, he took a cautious stance when asked his opinion about the timing and meaning of the visit amid growing international concern over the nuclear threat, especially after North Korea’s failed rocket launch.
Emphasizing that it was up to Indonesia to decide how to conduct its foreign relations, Marciel nonetheless voiced a strong hope that Indonesia would make it clear to the visiting North Korean official that the country’s provocative actions and its nuclear-weapons threat is “unacceptable behavior”.
The rocket-launch that failed was originally aimed at boosting the image of North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un. The country had invited several international media organizations including a private TV station from Jakarta to showcase the advanced development of its sophisticated technology.
There are widespread concerns in the international community that the humiliating rocket blast will trigger the North Korean military to speed up its nuclear-weapons buildup, very possibly at all costs and at any risks. In this context China may be reluctant to do much to stop the dangerous game.
As reported by The Jakarta Post in its April 16 edition, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa confirmed that President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono himself will host the bilateral visit of the reputedly second-most powerful man in North Korea, after the young Kim Jong-un.
“There have been intensified talks for some time between Pyongyang and Jakarta over the planned visit,” Marty said, and added that “the two governments are still assessing the plan.”
The 84-year-old Kim Yong-nam, who also served as his country’s foreign minister, will likely be accompanied by other Cabinet members.
For sure, there will be no significant economic agenda during next month’s meeting in Jakarta because of North Korea’s poor purchasing power, its limited ability to repay commercial loans and its insignificant exports to Indonesia.
Yudhoyono has a strong interest in the North Korean Peninsula, apparently because he believes that Indonesia has a strong moral position to convince the North Korean leadership to return to the negotiation table and abandon its nuclear-weapons plan.
The President is apparently confident in his powers of persuasion because, after all, Indonesia played an important role in convincing Myanmar’s junta to open its door to the international community by acting as a responsible citizen of the world and by democratizing itself. Now the world is warmly embracing Myanmar.
“We hope the meeting will be successful, particularly given the importance of North Korea to world security,” Yudhoyono’s foreign affairs spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.
All of Indonesia’s six presidents, including Sukarno and Soeharto, had strong ambitions to become international peacemakers.
Soeharto was successful in helping to end the civil war in Cambodia in the 1980s and early 1990s. On North Korea, Soeharto was very pragmatic knowing the economic power of the North’s neighbors: South Korea and Japan.
Banking on her childhood friendship with Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, and the close relations between her father Sukarno and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, the eternal leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, Megawati Soekarnoputri tried hard to be an influential peace broker, during and even after her presidential term which lasted from July 2001 to September 2004. It was a total failure.
North Korea naturally hopes to benefit, at least diplomatically, from next month’s meeting in Jakarta because Indonesia is the largest member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The country is becoming more isolated as other countries that have shown some level of support for North Korea’s position against the US, like Iran and Cuba, are now more preoccupied with their own domestic problems.
But knowing the decades-long stubbornness of the North Korean leadership even against its closest ally China, will Indonesia be able to persuade Pyongyang to be more flexible? Yudhoyono can certainly cite Myanmar as an example to the North Korean leader of how a country can suddenly become a “new best friend” of the international community through a decision to reform in a bid to emerge from self-isolation.
Until two years ago, people still readily associated North Korea with Myanmar. But with the rapid changes in Myanmar — and its rich natural resources — the country has gained lucrative concessions from its major trading partners and lenders such as Japan, and the US.
But again, will North Korea listen to Indonesia? It is very unlikely. So what can Yudhoyono expect from hosting the North Korean second-in-command? He can expect little in the short term, or perhaps even in the long term.
What can Pyongyang gain from Jakarta? Recognition from Indonesia of its important role in world security might be a “diplomatic consolation”, despite its continuous military build-up at the cost of the suffering of millions of its citizens many of them are near starvation.
Only time will tell whether Yudhoyono’s gamble will pay off on this occasion. Who knows?
Maybe, no matter how small the chance might be, Kim Jong-un will follow in the footsteps of the leaders of Myanmar’s junta and end his country’s isolation.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.