Foreign Minister of Indonesia
“Neighbors cannot be choosers” is maybe the right expression to reflect the dynamic relations between Indonesia and Australia.
As President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo arrived in Canberra on Saturday for a two-day visit, we begin to see the two neighboring countries’ efforts to not only strengthen bilateral ties but also to secure the future of the two great nations.
We, of course, cannot choose who our neighbors are and, in this case, Indonesia is destined to live side by side with Australia. There is no option for both Indonesia and Australia other than identifying areas of mutual interest and seeking deeper relations as closest neighbors.
Australia in particular, is expecting Indonesia to take a leadership role in Southeast Asia, maintain international peace and security and promote global growth and prosperity.
Improvement in their bilateral relations, therefore, only indicates their readiness to assume responsibilities as strong emerging powers. Both sides will grow stronger if they share the burden of leadership in the region and globally.
For that to happen, a strategic partnership counts. Such a partnership will require both sides to build strategic trust. And strategic trust will develop from fostering fundamental principles of mutual respect and respect for one’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The global landscapes ahead, however, will not be easy. The declining trend of economic growth, unemployment, climate change, financial crisis, disruptive impact of the internet, protectionism and lousy health care will continue to constitute the challenge of the century.
After 70 years, reliable and solid bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia will be of significant and strategic importance in the future for a number of reasons. First, deepening our common values. The strategic partnership between Indonesia and Australia must continue to promote the values of democracy, pluralism and tolerance.
We continue to witness creeping intolerance and xenophobia around the world. We also keep watching trends in politics of identity on the basis of religion, ethnicity and ideology in many parts of the world, including in our country. This will pose a threat to our common values of democracy, pluralism and tolerance.
As countries with a strong commitment to these shared values, Indonesia and Australia must work shoulder to shoulder in demonstrating and promoting democratic values and moderation. We must tackle together the cause by strengthening people-to-people links at all levels of government, the private sector and among civil society actors.
Those values and partnership will need to trickle down to the collective imagination of both of our societies. Passing down these commitments to democracy, pluralism and tolerance to something much deeper and broader will be a major, intergenerational effort.
Second, it is in our shared interest to protect the common public goods of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Amid the rise of protectionism, Indonesia and Australia must continue to voice open, free and fair economic principles. Amid the proliferation of a zero-sum game, Indonesia and Australia must continue to promote the win-win paradigm.
The Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a perfect example of the two countries’ strong belief that an open and fair economic system will benefit all parties. This is what Indonesia and ASEAN are trying to achieve through the ASEAN Outlook in the Indo-Pacific, which aims to change rivalry into cooperation and turn a trust deficit into strategic trust.
With strong support of all players in the region, the Indo-Pacific region will become the center for future global economic growth.
And there is no doubt that a robust and more trusting bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia will be a significant advantage to the Indo-Pacific region. The recent endorsement of Australia to the ASEAN Outlook in the Indo-Pacific is living proof of what the two nations can bring to the table to realize their common interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Third, Indonesia and Australia could do more in becoming development partners for the Pacific region. Australia alone could not overcome all development challenges in the region. The impact of climate change and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals are among the main issues in the Pacific region. Together we could achieve so much more.
Archipelagic in nature, both Indonesia and the Pacific region do not face different challenges. We truly understand that climate change, natural disasters, social equality, education, health and human resource development are real challenges that prevent countries in the Pacific region from prosperity.
Indonesia and Australia should work together as development partners and true friends of the countries in the Pacific region. A closer triangle of cooperation between Indonesia, Australia and Pacific countries will be crucial in the future to address and respond to developmental challenges and to create new centers of growth in the Pacific region.
Indonesia and Australia are not only fated to need each other strategically, but to also become best friends in a more comprehensive way. In the next 30 years when we celebrate our first century of friendship and partnership, we need to always work side by side and work really hard to form the basis of an even stronger partnership.
Such a partnership will not only bring prosperity to our peoples but also contribute to stability, security and prosperity of our region and world.
More than just neighbors, Indonesia and Australia are strategic partners. Deeper cooperation as close neighbors by bringing together comparative advantages of our two regions will be significant modalities for the two countries to work together into the future.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.