Welcome to Mexico: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (left) and Ani Yudhoyono (second left) are welcomed by officials upon arriving in Los Cabos, Mexico on Saturday (Sunday in Jakarta). Yudhoyono is in the famous resort town for the G20 Summit meeting. (Courtesy Presidential Office/Abror Rizky)
From a small corridor on flight GIA 001, the Presidential A330 plane that was flying over the Atlantic Ocean, Indonesia looked impressive, despite being half a world away.
No telescope could capture Indonesia’s archipelagic shores from here, but none was needed. The impromptu words of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s resplendent confidence created a vista of national grandeur.
Often maligned at home, the President was in his element, speaking off-the-cuff on Indonesia’s place in the global community of nations.
“Think big, work hard!” Yudho-yono challenged.
En route late on Saturday to the G20 Summit in Mexico, his on-board briefing on the summit agenda did not start out as a battle cry for Indonesia Inc., nor was it a pep talk on nationhood. Yet his tone belied a passion for what his nation had overcome, was achieving and what should become.
Blazer off, relaxed yet astute in a white dress shirt and blue tie, Yudhoyono eloquently talked of greatness with the conviction of Moses on the way to the Promised Land and the confidence of Dorothy down the yellow brick road.
This was not the everyday Yudhoyono, who often looks fatigued by the cacophony of the nation’s democracy. This was a President who, perhaps partly energized by the restful seclusion of a 24-hour plane ride, looked forward to lifting the nation onto the global stage.
To him the G20 was not a bigwig rubbing together of shoulders, it was another punctuation of Indonesia’s rising prominence.
A stature convinced by the world, yet often doubted by its own people.
“If we are afraid of becoming great, than we shall never be great,” he insisted as he sprinkled English-terms into his Indonesian.
Projecting the positivism of exploiting challenges into opportunity, he spoke of the common effort for Indonesia Inc. as “the key to success”.
A nation with a lust for big capital, yet never forgetting the socialism of the meek and weak.
Confronted with the economic debate between austerity vs stimulus now raging amid the Eurocrisis, Yudhoyono conceded that cuts were inevitable. But cutbacks should first and foremost come from government, he insisted.
“Let us [the government] be the ones who become a little broke, as long as its not the people,” he said, mindful of the potential social disruption that may arise.
He highlighted the necessity of facilitating small and medium opportunities amid the stimulation of big business. He pointed to a grass roots safety net as a form of social justice.
After six years in office, Yudhoyono has perfected the art of acting presidential, and now in his final years of presidency he give a primer for a nation learning the humility of greatness.
When a delegate sounded praise for the President’s role in the G20 and the global stage, Yudhoyono quickly interjected: “It’s not SBY, it’s Indonesia!”
On his travails, Yudhoyono conceded that it was natural for people to question their benefit, but nevertheless stressed, “as a regional power with global outreach, the time has come for Indonesia to also ask what it can contribute to the global community”.
The conquests that made the empires of the past are not for the future, and it is clear where Indonesia should build its future legacy.
The geographical symbolism was coincidental, but the Atlantic represented a perfect backdrop to the perceptibly historical shift from pre-World War great power Europe, to post-War American hegemony, which is now giving way to the so-called Asian Century.
“We shall never cease to become a bridge between civilizations,” Yudhoyono said of the country’s role.
If it can truly be built, that bridge is much needed. The auspices of a country rising above its developing nation status, but not quite yet an emerging power. Instead, Indonesia is a middle player between developed and emerging markets, which ensures positive growth that the President defined as “sustainable growth with equity” in the face of looming crises.
Poor countries are reaching the limits of their financial abilities as richer ones perpetuate a global economic crisis with self-denial and policy confusion.
Capital flows to developing countries dropped US$140 billion last year, as aid from major donors dropped for the first time in 14 years, down over $3 billion.
“As a member of the G20, we are expected to do something,” Yudho-yono declared.
“The global economic crisis has not receded, the recovery still incomplete. Meanwhile the Eurocrisis erupts and emerging economies start to slowdown.” Yudhoyono warns of the haunting specter of a global “great depression” if Indonesia and the G20 make any errors of judgement.
Whether the President’s global foreboding or whether his vision for Indonesia’s greatness come true is something for the future. Even Moses did not see the Promised Land and Dorothy’s wizard turned out to be an illusion.
Speaking like a man who is already thinking about legacy, Yudhoyono knows that the task at hand does not lead to a final destination, but instead to a port of embarkation.
“Two years from now, I will have reached my expiry date [as President],” he remarked, and added “the rest will be for my successor”.