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Despite the economic pressures resulting from the eurozone crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Jakarta to show Germany’s support for Indonesia. She appreciates the development of the economy and democracy in a big developing nation like Indonesia; a country that has the largest number of Muslims in the world, around 200 million. Indonesia can be another model of a Muslim country — besides Turkey — where Islam can be compatible with democracy, economic development and modernity.
It is now incumbent upon Indonesians, especially their leaders, to show that they can live up to the expectations of the chancellor and others in the world, while the domestic situation has become dicier due to the alarming numbers of human rights abuses. The government, as the last arbiter in establishing the rule of law and public order, has not done what it should do to prevent and solve these abuses. And, the plight of the poor, the unemployed and the underemployed remains hanging in the balance, many people will continue to live below the poverty line.
However, Chancellor Merkel also has her hands full due to the financial crisis since 2008, which has seen the eurozone particularly challenged. Her leadership has become the hope of the eurozone members and the whole of the European Union (EU).
Indonesia sympathizes with her, and hopes that she finds the best solution to the crisis and gets the EU moving again. In a globalized world, we in Southeast Asia also feel the impact and have a stake in the EU’s economic revival. It is hoped that a stronger and more united EU can emerge from the crisis sooner and renew partnerships with other parts of the world, including Southeast Asia. In ASEAN we have learned a lot from the EU’s experience on how to cooperate with members, be more multilateral in approaches and policies, place regional interest as part of every member’s national interest, and make sure that in Southeast Asia no more shots will be fired in anger as was the case over 40 years ago in the region.
Chancellor Merkel has shown the strength, leadership, vision and demeanor to lead the EU together with other leaders to overcome the crisis. A German friend who knows her well told me after her election as Chancellor, that one should never underestimate her, because she is tough and smart.
The world has indeed seen her leadership in dealing with the eurozone crisis. She has faced not only her colleagues in the EU, who expect so much from Germany, but also her own people and constituencies, which she has to convince and pay attention to, especially given that a German general election is due next year.
As far as Indonesia-Germany bilateral relations are concerned, they have always been positive, especially on trade and investment. But we can and should do better in exchanges of ideas and new thinking, both on policies and strategies, especially if we believe that the world is changing fast, and we all should be able to play an important role in defining the changes and to find a new modus operandi through multilateral approaches instead of those of the unilateral kind.
From the mid 1960s until the end of the 1970s many young Indonesians went to Germany to study, then the trend moved to the US and now it is to Australia.
As I see it, we now have less understanding and less learning about each other in terms of concepts, strategies and policies. To overcome this deficit we should have more exchanges between not only Germany and Indonesia, but also between the EU and Southeast Asia, at the think tank and university levels. Hopefully, the visit of Chancellor Merkel can bring new ideas and avenues for better bilateral cooperation between Germany and Indonesia.
Frau chancellor, thank you for making time for Indonesia and for encouraging Indonesians during a difficult period to stay solid and positive in order to improve the future. We can assure you that Indonesia can be resolute. We wish you all the best in leading Germany and the EU together with other leaders, because we need the EU to be a positive force in the years to come in terms of global developments, peace and stability. And we in Southeast Asia, especially in ASEAN, will do our utmost to be a partner you can depend upon.
Indonesia welcomes you, and wishes you a fruitful visit.
The writer is vice chair of the Board of Trustees, with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Foundation, Jakarta.