The Jakarta Post
Indonesia has had a long history of positive and fruitful relations with the South Pacific region and its 14 countries and 10 million inhabitants.
The overall relationship between the two sides has shown a slow but steady increase in economic cooperation over the years.
In 2013 alone, Indonesia donated millions of US dollars to Pacific countries to be used in various fields. In early 2016, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi visited Pacific countries to reiterate Indonesia’s interest in strengthening relations with them.
The Foreign Ministry has expressed its belief that this relationship has the potential for further development.
“Becoming part of the Pacific is destiny. You can choose your friends but not your neighbors,” said Desra Percaya, who is director general for Asia-Pacific and African Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia.
“Indonesia’s diplomatic mission in the Pacific is to create a territory that is safe, stable and friendly, and to increase economic cooperation, trade, investment and social-cultural relations.”
The country has developed diplomatic relations with nearly all countries in the Pacific, and is currently in the process of opening a relationship with the Cook Islands.
Its relations with Pacific nations encompasses aspects like capacity building, diplomatic training, inter-university partnerships (such as between Pasundan University and Fiji National University) and work on dealing with common concerns, such as climate change.
With the Fiji archipelago, for instance, Indonesia has maintained a strong and dynamic relationship for the past 30 years. It has helped Fiji respond to disaster. In the aftermath of the recent category-five tropical storm, Cyclone Winston, which devastated Fiji last February, the Indonesian government has given the Fiji island nation US$5 million in reconstructive and rehabilitative aid.
The government has also pledged to help Fiji rebuild its Queen Victoria School by deploying engineer troops. It has also offered cooperation in areas of fisheries, food security and general disaster mitigation. In helping Fiji develop its agriculture sector, Indonesia has also sent 100 hand tractor units to aid the Fiji government.
Another Pacific nation, Papua New Guinea, has also enjoyed positive relations with Indonesia. In April this year, Rimbink Pato, Papua New Guinea’s foreign affairs and immigration minister, said that both countries had signed 11 memorandums of understanding and three corporate arrangements that spanned issues such as economic cooperation and politics.
The ministers of both countries have also discussed security arrangements, intelligence sharing and working in close cooperation on the border.
Throughout the years, Indonesia’s work with its neighbors in the Pacific region has also resulted in a number of influential intergovernmental sub-regional organizations, such as the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), the Southwest Pacific Dialogue (SWPD), the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF).
Among the most notable of the organizations is the MSG, which began in 1988 as a means to promote economic cooperation among Melanesian nations – Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Indonesia was recognized as an associate member in 2015, after initially being accepted as an observer in 2011.
The relationship between Indonesia and the MSG countries is not simply economic. Indonesia in the past has used its common cultural background with these Melanesian countries to strengthen bilateral relations.
Indonesia has 11 million people of Melanesian descent spread across provinces such as Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara.
In fact, according to Vice Minister of Foreign Affair A. M Fachir, increased connectivity between Melanesians in Indonesia and the MSG nations could pave the way for broader access to the Indonesian market.
“Stronger connectivity will create wider opportunities,” Desra added.
“To answer this challenge, Indonesia is pushing for a meeting of the SWPD Group on Connectivity under the leadership of Papua New Guinea to discuss strengthening connectivity between Indonesia and the Pacific, especially the Southwest Pacific.”
In 2014, Indonesia and the MSG nations also agreed on a nine-paragraph joint statement that identified potential venues for cooperation in fields such as food security, education, democracy, good governance and social and cultural issues.
The country’s desire to improve cooperation extends to the natural world as well. In 2009, during the World Ocean Conference, Indonesia spearheaded the CTI-CFF with countries like Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
Aside from protecting nature, Indonesia has also used the CTI-CFF as a way of fighting against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and to have it classified as a Transnational Organized Crime.
This decades-long history of cooperation between Indonesia and the Pacific nations has all been part of Indonesia’s diplomacy goal of building good relations with all of its neighbors and maintaining a stable, prosperous and secure regional neighborhood, which in turn is crucial for Indonesia’s own security, development and prosperity.
“Indonesia has an interest in pushing for stronger political stability and economic growth in the Pacific by playing its role in building bridges to Southeast Asia,” Desra said.
MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY