Daniel Korski

The London-Jakarta link should be strengthened

The London-Jakarta link should be strengthened
Text settings
Comments

President Obama's return to Indonesia this week was remarkable, in part, for the limited attention it has garnered outside his childhood nation. You can't walk through an airport bookshop without being inundated by bestsellers about China's rise. India has always occupied a special part in British hearts. But Indonesia is different. There are few in the British foreign policy establishment who really know the place.

Some British military officers know a few Indonesian counterparts through their time at Sandhurst and the Defence Academy. The human rights lobby grew familiar with Indonesia over years of protests against the Sukarno/Suharto dictatorships and the country's mistreatment of East Timor. But, on the whole, little is still known about Indonesia.

This is unfortunate. For Indonesia is becoming increasingly influential globally, and not only as it represents a moderate Muslim country or a large market for British exports – though both are very important.

Like Turkey, Indonesia has sought to address any bilateral disputes, particularly with Malaysia and The Netherlands. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – who goes by the rap-star abbreviation SBY – has spent the last year touring several countries, strengthening bilateral relations but also producing pledges of increased commercial ties.

Regionally, Indonesia has focused on developing a regional security architecture for East Asia. Under its slogan of "bebas aktif" (active but not aligned), the government has been paving the way for its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2011.

This will provide new opportunities for Indonesia to expand its regional role but also develop its interests in the Indian Ocean Rim and its hopes of revitalising the Non-Aligned Movement. The Indonesian government already has large military contingents in UNIFIL (Lebanon), UNMIS (Sudan) and MONUC (Congo). Earlier this year, Indonesia deployed a sigma class corvette as part of UNIFIL Maritime Task Force. On broader Middle East issues, the Jakarta government hosted the Four Country Initiative on Palestine, aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Indonesia is, in other words, becoming more and more important, and should be high on the Government's foreign policy agenda. Time for William Hague to pack his suitcases.