The Jakarta Post
I visited last September a Swiss-French hotel on the border of Switzerland and France. When I say 'border', I mean that the hotel stands exactly on the border dividing the two countries. It was fascinating when I was asked whether I wanted to sit in France or Switzerland after ordering a cup of tea in the hotel's restaurant.
After my tea, I was given a bill in euro but I did not have any euro with me at the time as I had traveled from the Swiss side of the border. The lady said, 'Swiss Francs are okay'.
In a different setting, I was in Monaco in 2010. A seven-minute walk from Monte Carlo brought me to a restaurant located in France. I crossed an international border in only seven minutes without even noticing that I was moving from one country to another.
This experience confirmed what Kenichi Ohmae had once said, that we live in a 'borderless world'. Borders, while they exist, do not prevent people and goods from moving from one country to another.
The situation is completely different here at home and across ASEAN in general. The case of Indonesia-Malaysia borders is a good example. The use of the Malaysian ringgit by Indonesians residing near the Indonesia-Malaysia border in Borneo, for example, can easily spark questions of nationalism. However, people may respond completely differently to people in big cities, like Jakarta, who use foreign currency (US dollars, for instance) for some of their economic transactions.
There are lessons to be learned from the stories above. First, settled borders are essential.
Collaboration and interaction between two countries in border areas can only take place effectively
if border settlement is no longer an issue. Settled borders guarantee clarity of the spatial extent of rights and obligations so that each country is certain about their territory and jurisdiction.
As Robert Frost stated in his poem Mending Wall, 'good fences make good neighbors'. Therefore, settling borders must be a priority and it has to be done before disputes manifest into riots or conflicts. Border issues must be addressed in a proactive rather than reactive manner.
Second, borders, when settled, should not limit human interaction across them. On the contrary, borders should be established in such a way as to promote connectivity. Economic activities across borders should be promoted and the use of different currencies should not be seen as an issue. In addition, collaboration in education is also important so that people residing in border areas can access education in the countries on each side of the border. By doing so, cross-cultural understanding can be better promoted.
Third, border areas must be seen as front page rather than backyard. Only by viewing border areas in this way will the government prioritize their development.
This reminds me of my visit to Niagara Falls from the New York side in 2007. From New York, the development on the Canadian side of the falls can be clearly observed.
This to an extent motivates similar development on the US side of the Niagara River, which abuts the two countries. Put simply, border areas can promote positive competition in development.
Fourth, borders must be seen as a source of opportunity instead of a threat. It must be admitted that every time we hear about borders, we generally imagine conflicts, disputes or the like.
What I observed in the restaurant on the Swiss-French border tells a different story. Borders are not always about conflicts and disputes.
Borders can also be friendly. Unique and unusual objects and phenomena around borders can be promoted as tourist attractions, for example. We can promote a hotel near the border in Borneo by saying, 'Can you imagine, tonight you will sleep in Malaysia and tomorrow you can wake up in Indonesia', or 'Come to our hotel and you can be in two countries at once'.
Fifth, in order for such good interaction around the borders to take place, equality is a prerequisite. People on different sides of a border should feel neither inferior nor superior in relation to the other.
In the case of Indonesia and Malaysia, economic equality is needed. People residing in Borneo's border areas, for example, can clearly see the disparities between the two countries.
It is understood that infrastructure on the Indonesian side is far less developed than that on the Malaysian side. There is much work for Indonesia to do in addressing this; in particular, it needs to develop its front page to ensure equality when facing its neighbors.
The National Agency on Border Management (BNPP) was established to address, among other things, precisely this kind of issue.
It seems to me that the BNPP has made a good start in addressing border issues by promoting the economies of border areas. An exhibition held in Jakarta at the end of 2011 provided a good example.
The exhibition had many stands from different institutions, mainly local governments located in border areas. Representatives at each stand made their best efforts to exhibit their local potential, which was mainly economy-related.
While some showed their potential in traditional, local food and beverages, others tried to sell their mining or tourism potential.
This exhibition showed that the BNPP had established a new approach to border management in Indonesia, which is no longer centered solely on security but also prosperity and welfare. However, I am not aware whether other events similar to this exhibition are conducted regularly.
To sum up, borders should be viewed from a different angle. Borders are not only sites for potential conflicts and disputes, they are also about opportunities. Borders are essential in our modern world but they should not prevent people and goods from moving from one country to another. Borders must be 'permeable' in nature to promote connectivity.
The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Geodesy and Geomatic Engineering, Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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