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Indonesia’s international affairs

Interview - June 18, 2014
Special Staff to the President on International Affairs Dr. Teuku Faizasyah talks to United World about Indonesia’s regional and international relations.
The transition from the New Order to democracy saw a rapid succession of presidents until Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) was elected in 2004. What would you say are the most important elements of the legacy of his 10-year administration?

SBY has had two stable terms as president so it is opportune to speak about legacy; ultimately he has left strong political and economic fundamentals. Additionally, as the third largest democracy, we are proud to say that we can have had elections without violence meaning that we have effectively consolidated the fledgling democracy that was inherited. 
I think if you were to ask SBY about his legacy after ten years in office, it would be democratization, and upholding the rule of law. Indonesia has opened up under SBY, we are collaborating more with democratic countries than we ever have before. Our partnership with the US is very strong because of this; we now speak the same democratic language. Before that there were sanctions, but that’s all history now, we can deal with issues as friends because we see eye-to-eye on human rights issues and democracy. We have a commitment to that friendship. This was reflected in the comprehensive partnership agreement of 2010.  Indonesia has started a new era in its relations with the US.
In the context of this partnership, how important is defense cooperation with the US? 
Defense relations are becoming increasingly important with the shift in US policy to a more active role in Asia. That has put us within their sphere of interest. It is in both of our interests to see stability so we must manage defense challenges together. As Indonesia is an archipelago, there are strategic challenges in securing our waters. Our success, in ensuring good relations with the US, has improved our capabilities and self-reliance. 
Do you see Indonesia as a country that is becoming more involved on a regional level?
Indonesia has always contributed constructively to dealing with regional issues. Because of Indonesia’s geographic situation, it is imperative for us to remain active and engaged in all new security developments in the region. Territorial disputes among some of our neighbors are of particular concern. We are active in ensuring cooperation amongst these countries. If you look at issues such as South China Sea disputes we were among the first who attempted to gather all affected parties together - that was 15 years ago. The recent Komodo naval exercises with the US were all about confidence building, which is important for countries in the region. We know that if something ever happened, such as a natural disaster we could pool the required resources together and coordinate our efforts to provide the best services to all.
How will joining the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) effect relations with the rest of the world? 
The AEC is only one of three pillars that make up ASEAN the others are the Political-Security Community and the Socio-Cultural Community, which are just as important. Understandably there is a focus on the ASEAN Economic Community. We have been working on developing better economic ties in the region for some time; we have been negotiating a fee trade area since the early 90s and this has helped us prepare to decrease trade barriers, as well as open up to investment. I think the AEC will result in a more cohesive region. I think it will also be vital in ensuring the South East Asian region remains competitive when facing global economic interaction. We will be one of the few regions, along with India and China that will experience sustained positive economic growth in the future. I think ASEAN will enhance our economic potential.
How do you see the AEC effecting relations with China? 
We approach relations with China collaboratively. We don’t see China as a threat and we try to allow for their interests in the region. I think the AEC will be mutually beneficial. China and ASEAN are also working towards a free trade area, and we are now looking at comprehensive economic cooperation with China. So we are trying to put together a more comprehensive set of agreements with China. I think beyond China, when we talk multilateral relations, the East Asia Summit for example is an event that brings together all the major players with interests in the region.
Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world. How do you see the progress of Indonesia’s democratic development?
: We are a very complex country with many different cultures across the archipelago. Each country develops their own system, their own style of democracy with its unique best practices. I think we have developed a system for the long term, democracy has developed very organically here and we want it to be a long lasting democracy. We have elements of both east and west and I think we can be seen as a good model for democracy in other developing countries. We have also shown that democracy and Islam can coexist peacefully. 

Do you think perceptions of Indonesia abroad reflect the consolidation of democracy here?
Perceptions from people from other states can sometimes be quite outdated. Some still believe that we have an authoritarian system, a military government of the past. We have tried to change this perception, but it takes time. Being a member of global multilateral organizations and forums such as the G20 has improved people’s awareness of the situation here and boosted our profile. It takes a lot of effort to change perceptions but I think we are doing so successfully.
Is there a possibility that relations with the US will be affected by the change of administration after the elections? 
Relations with the US are already on the right track, because we have established the comprehensive partnership. We have an action plan and agenda; so there needs to be a continuation on this same path. We already have a platform, so I don’t see any major changes to come, its natural to have minor adjustments, built on the achievements of this government.  When the new government is ratified it will be fully briefed on Indonesia- US relations, so rest assured that Indonesia will remain committed to close relations with the US.