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Asean chairmanship success

Article - April 9, 2012
Indonesia's accomplishments as the 2011 ASEAN chair have further raised its position as a regional leader and responsible global citizen
In recent years, Indonesia has become an increasingly active member of regional and global organizations such as the G-20, UN Security Council, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Politically and economically, the country’s heightened international profile has undoubtedly been helped by the nation’s stability, in addition to the popularity – both at home and abroad – of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who in 2009 became the first Indonesian president to be re-elected in democratic elections for a second term. 

In 2011, it was Indonesia’s second turn at the helm of ASEAN. Established in Bangkok on August 8, 1967, ASEAN was created to accelerate socioeconomic growth and cultural development among member states, as well as promote regional peace and stability. Indonesia was one of the original founding members of the ASEAN community, and its national motto of ‘Unity in Diversity’ (Bhinneka Tunggall Ika) brought a harmonizing cultural message to the union last year that is echoed in the fundamental ethos of the group.

“Discussions have always been about the ASEAN community up until 2015. But after the Bali summit last year, we now have a much better idea of what ASEAN should do in a global context”

Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia’s Ambassador to the U.S.

“Our founding fathers at the very beginning explained what our diversity should be, and that is what we are using as an instrument to maintain this diversity and to bring our nation forward,” says Djoko Suyanto, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs. 

The nation appears to demonstrate how multiculturalism can work. “Indonesia is the largest Muslim-populated country in the world, and despite the stigma that Islam has of being radical, violent, intolerant and closed, we would like to say that Islam in Indonesia is not like that,” says Mr. Suyanto. “Islam in Indonesia is more tolerant because it was developed through tradition, culture and personal relations and not through a dogmatic approach.”

Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia’s Ambassador to the U.S., believes the Bali Concord III was Indonesia’s biggest achievement during its year as the ASEAN chair. The agreement was signed on November 17, 2011 by the leaders of ASEAN’s 10 member states. It outlines how member countries could increase cooperation in conflict resolution, tackle transnational crimes, fight corruption and work toward nuclear disarmament. Social-cultural issues detailed include the relief and prevention of natural disasters, climate change, health, education and cultural issues. In line with ASEAN’s goal to become an integrated economic community by 2015, the declaration also calls for the adoption of regionwide production standards, a distribution system for commodities, greater transparency, technological progress and energy diversification.

“Discussions have always been about the ASEAN community up until 2015. But after the Bali summit last year, we now have a much better idea of what ASEAN should do in a global context,” says Dr. Djalal. “The other achievement has been on the Declaration of Principles via members of the East Asia Summit (EAS). This is very important because this is a region with a lot of hope, but also still has some instability and clash points, for instance in the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and so on. Having all of the member countries of the EAS sign up to a Declaration of Principles on how to manage regional affairs is quite a milestone for us. We hope that this is something that will be morally binding to all countries that have signed on to it.”

Indonesia’s position as a regional leader and responsible global citizen was also demonstrated last year as it stepped in to diffuse rising tensions between Cambodia and Thailand. In July 2011, the International Court of Justice ordered both countries to withdraw military troops from a 1.78 square mile area on the border, which surrounds the disputed Preah Vihear temple, and appointed Indonesia as observer.

“You can see the [peacekeeping] role of Indonesia in terms of pushing Thailand and Cambodia to sit together, for example, and the conflict in the South China Sea,” says Freddy Tulung, Director General of Information and Public Communication at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kominfo). “It is playing quite a significant role. In terms of social issues and culture, we have the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center and a peacekeeping force.”
Indonesia is also a vociferous proponent of the creation of an ASEAN single visa. “We inherited the single visa idea from the EU,” says Mr. Tulung. The project aims to establish ASEAN as a single destination and means that there will be no individual visas required for ASEAN member countries, enabling foreign tourists to visit the region on a single tourist visa.

After a successful year in charge, Indonesia handed the annually rotating ASEAN chair to Cambodia for 2012. It will then be passed on to Brunei in 2013, Myanmar in 2014, and Laos in 2015. As a former military-backed dictatorship that successfully transitioned to a democracy, Indonesia serves as a useful role model for Myanmar as it pushes ahead with its political and economic reform.