Indonesians and the people in countries of the South Pacific belong to one family. We call the Pacific Ocean our home. And our cooperation in developing the South Pacific will define the future that we want to create together for our next generation.
Indonesia and South Pacific countries face growing, common challenges that directly impact our communities. They stretch from the rising of sea levels to the pursuit of welfare through economic development.
In short, aligning our interests to cope with these perennial and vital challenges will continue to be the basis of our future engagement. And the most effective form of engagement is a partnership that is inclusive, comprehensive, mutually beneficial and mutually respectful.
Over the years, this engagement, this partnership has been steadily bolstered at every level — bilateral, regional and global. For instance, at forums such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Indonesia and the South Pacific countries have together pushed for a stronger global commitment to overcoming the devastating impact of climate change. As maritime states, Indonesia and the South Pacific countries will suffer the most from rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.
At the bilateral level, Indonesia continues to strengthen its cooperation with South Pacific economies. Maximizing on Indonesia’s positive economic growth, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has stressed the need to invest in international development programs, including in the South Pacific. Among the prominent programs are technical cooperation and capacity building, which will grow more significantly in the years to come.
At the same time, there is tremendous untapped potential on the economic front between the two economies. Indeed, trade relations remain relatively small at US$450 million and there are factors challenging increased investment cooperation. However, as a family, we must unlock this potential. Indonesia and the South Pacific must redouble our efforts to overcome hurdles, most notably the tyranny of distance.
Herein lies the importance of developing connectivity. Not only physical connectivity, but also the enhanced connectivity of hearts and minds.
Indeed, improvements in connectivity have taken place over the years. As Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum initiative takes shape, we have expanded and upgraded strategic ports in the eastern part of the country. Our aim is to establish greater sea connectivity, which will bring Indonesia closer to the South Pacific.
People-to-people and business contacts have also steadily intensified, as interest in the South Pacific grows among Indonesia’s business community. On the one hand, such trends will situate Indonesia as a strategic gateway for the South Pacific to interact with other countries in the Asia-Pacific. While on the other hand, they open more opportunities for Indonesian businesses to participate in the economic development of the South Pacific.
We are also seeing emerging geopolitical trends in the region, including the Indo-Pacific cooperation. This new trend must be anticipated in order for Indonesia and the South Pacific to seize new opportunities.
In this regard, engagement between Indonesia and the South Pacific becomes ever more significant. A new form of partnership must be forged accordingly.
There are two possible approaches or steps to realize the new partnership. First, expand and deepen the layers of interactions and dialogues.
More platforms for dialogue between Indonesia and the South Pacific are needed. Currently, there are a number of those outside of the United Nations, such as the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).
While these forums have provided a vibrant platform for dialogue between Indonesia and the South Pacific, there is an urgent need for a framework of cooperation that will allow Indonesia to have a more meaningful dialogue with the South Pacific.
A framework that identifies common challenges and opportunities, and explores areas of concrete cooperation.
The Indonesia South Pacific Forum (ISPF) in Jakarta today is a timely initiative to fill that need. The ISPF provides an avenue for Indonesia and the South Pacific countries to meet in an informal setting, to chart the future and accelerate the delivery of the benefits of our cooperation.
Second, we will diversify the engagement between Indonesia and the South Pacific beyond government-to-government relations. This could be achieved by extending the cooperation toward businesses, academics and civil society.
To this end, as part of the ISPF, Indonesia is also hosting a Business Engagement that brings together Indonesian and South Pacific businesses an economic partnership showcase for Indonesian businesses and an entrepreneurial training program for South Pacific business persons.
Additionally, on the margins of the ISPF, Indonesia will explore the potential for Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) with Fiji and Papua New Guinea. The PTAs are expected to transform our similar sociocultural traits, historical traditions and political partnership into concrete economic benefits for the peoples of Indonesia and the South Pacific.
All in all, the ISPF provides an avenue for dialogue for Indonesia and the South Pacific, which benefits all — the governments and the peoples. This robust avenue is the new dawn, which opens a new era of Indonesia-South Pacific engagement, an era that has been long overdue.
The writer is Indonesia’s foreign minister.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.