Public Address by Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyoo, President of The Republic of Indonesia, at The George Washington University, Washington DC, 26 September 2014
Peace and Prosperity be upon us all.
President of the George Washington University, Steven Knapp
Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs, Mr. Michael Brown,
Member of the diplomatic corps
My dear Colleagues and Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first express my appreciation to the distinguished faculty members and students of George Washington University for hosting me today.
It is a great honor for me to be here, in one of the most respected universities in the United States.
I approach the halls of this university with the reverence that it deserves. At the time of its founding in 1821, the country that today bears the name Indonesia was a scattering of kingdoms on a tropical archipelago. And one local prince on the island of Java was waging war against colonial forces.
While early 19th century Americans were building a center of intellectual excellence on these grounds, my ancestors were wrapped up in a struggle for survival and freedom from colonial chains.
They did not go to university, but they were familiar with notions like the right to life and freedom — because these were what they were fighting for. They were also seekers of truth, especially the moral truth of how human beings should deal with one another.
In time, however, in the course of our intertwined histories, Indonesians found their way into this institution. I am proud to say that a good number of Indonesians have graduated from the George Washington University. I can instantly name famous young entrepreneur Sandiaga Uno, who recently joined the Asia Society Board of Trustees, and my own Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam, as among the illustrious graduates of this university. May I ask Pak Dipo who is here with us to stand up and be recognized by the audience.
Let me tell you something about Indonesia and its journey. I assumed the presidency of Indonesia in 2004, after winning Indonesias first-ever direct Presidential elections. Our democracy was searching for stability in the 6 years between 1998 and 2004, we had 4 Presidents — and we were still grappling with the threats of separatism, terrorism, occasional communal violence, and corruption. At that time, we had just begun to recover from the trauma of the Asian Crisis of 1998.
But we launched our democratic transition and instituted social and economic reform.
Ten years later, after so much hard work, after putting out so many bushfires in various parts of the country, and proving our resilience in the face of the global financial and economic crisiswe have consolidated our democracy, which is now the third largest in the world, after India and the United States.
Since the era of reformasi in the late 1990s, we have routinely held four national elections every five years. In our latest presidential election the voter turnout was 70 percent. We peacefully resolved a long-standing separatist conflict in Aceh, and effectively curbed terrorism and extremism. Our national income per capita has grown by 400 percent — yes, you heard that right, 400 percent in 10 years ! Indonesia has become the 16th largest economy in the worldamong the top ten if measured by purchasing power parity, according to a recent World Bank report. We joined the G-20, and within the G-20, we registered the second highest GDP growth after China. We have the largest economy with the largest and fastest growing middle-class in Southeast Asia. Not bad for a country that was once referred to by Thomas Friedman as a “messy state” — a not-so-distant cousin of a “failed state”.
There are many explanations to Indonesia’s progress, but one thing is for sure : Indonesia greatly benefitted from a condition of regional stability and international cooperation. We benefit-ted from a rare condition of strategic luxury that we call “zero enemy, a million friends”.
More specifically, like most of the world, Indonesia also benefitted from excellent major powers relations. We benefitted from the fact that, since the Cold War ended, major powers actively nurtured positive relationships with one another, with tangible results. We saw major powers working together effectively in the UN Security Council to address conflicts. We saw Russia joining the G-7 so that it became the G-8. We saw major powers and emerging economies work together in the G-20. We witnessed economic boom in the relations between the US and China, and also between China and Japan. We saw Russia and Europe coming closer, despite some discomfort.
But what worries us most in Indonesia is that the rare strategic luxury of stable positive major power relations is now in danger of unraveling. We see this worrying trend in the downturn of relations between Russia and Europe. Between Russia and the US. Between China and the US.
Geopolitics is back, what I see is not pretty. You can see and feel that new chill in the international system. A recent poll quoted by the Financial Times found that 53 percent of Chinese respondents expect to see war with Japan by 2020; the number for the Japanese respondents is 29 percent. Seriously ?
We must stop and reverse this trend. In that endeavor the United States will have to play a key role. A role that is not limited to the political and security field but must embrace the economic and socio-cultural fields as well. In this context, Indonesia welcomes America’s pivot — or rebalance — to the Asia-Pacific, undertaken at the start of the Obama administration.
There was a new dynamism in Asia, and a more robust American engagement in Asia, after years of being strategically bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, was seen as a positive development. We understood that the United States was a Pacific power, a superpower in the midst of major geopoli-tical shifts, and how Washington decided to use American power would have an enormous impact on our region.
For us in Indonesia, what is important is that America’s rebalance is consistent — and indeed complementary — to Southeast Asian regionalism.
In the past five decades or so, something remarkable happened to Southeast Asia : countries in the region developed the diplomatic and political muscle to resolve their own issues. Indonesia ended konfrontasi with Malaysia and Singapore. Malaysia and the Philippines shelved their dispute over Sabah. Singapore and Malaysia, after a painful break-up, mended relations. The Vietnam War ended and Vietnam eventually joined ASEAN, as did Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore agreed on arrangements to manage the very strategic Straits of Malacca. Indonesia repaired relations with Timor Leste.
This remarkable development also includes resolution of sensitive boundary disputes — on land and at sea. For our part, Indonesia concluded around 22 maritime border agreements, most recently with Vietnam, with the Philippines and with Singapore. Some of these agreements took decades to negotiate, but in the end they came around.
This regionalism is certainly the best thing that has happened to Southeast Asia. The more Southeast Asian countries sort out their own problems, the more confident they become and the more peace and cooperation take root in our neighborhood. We are determined to strengthen this regionalism as part of the building block for peace in Asia as well as globally.
It is important that the US resolutely support this healthy process. This means supporting the efforts to realize the ASEAN Community and all its three pillars by 2015, the three pillars being the political and security; the economic; and the socio-cultural.
In the last two decades, the region also witnessed an important development : the rise of China as a military power but especially economic power, and at the same time its fast-growing economic relations with Southeast Asia.
China is now Indonesia’s largest trading partner, with the balance of trade in our favor. I believe China also ranks as the top trading partner for nearly every country in Southeast Asia. We also assume that China’s power will continue to grow across the board, and grow faster and faster: militarily, economically, technologically, and culturally. There are not too many nations in the world that can boast this. Like the US, how China decides to use its power will have far reaching consequences for our region.
I do not believe in the dualistic notion that when Asians think of security they think of America, and when Asians think opportunity they think of China. China will soon overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy — perhaps within a decade if not sooner — but it will be some time before China can catch up with America’s living standard, income per capita, technological prowess and innovation.
Indonesia therefore has an overriding interest to develop close relations with both — not either, but both — the United States and China.
I hope America’s rebalance is something that will help catalyze a new kind of geopolitics in the Asia Pacific. As America rebalances, as India looks east, as China rises, as Japan adjusts her role, as South Korea goes global, as Russia turns away from Europe, and as ASEAN elevates in the global community, I am sure somewhere there is a meeting point for all these confusing arrows.
I call this meeting point : dynamic equilibrium. It is a state of affairs where there is no preponderant power and a healthy soft power competition prevails over a dangerous rivalry of hard power. A state of affairs where countries creatively find ways to gain some kind of balance, and avoid the strategic tension and new conflicts that in the past characterized geostrategic collisions.
It is a condition where rivalries and competition exist, but the bonds of interdependence and coope-ration are so strong that none of the powers can afford to engage in a relationship based on enmity.
It is a condition where nations work together to develop a win-win strategic outlook, always looking for solutions in problems, always seeking opportunity in crisis, always willing to think differently and take risks for peace.
For so many decades and centuries, most of Southeast Asia was at the receiving end of major power competition. The region suffered from colonization and intervention by major powers. And it also suffered from conflict between regional countries.
I am sure I speak for the region when I say we wish to leave that behind us permanently. We do not wish to be divided again. We do not wish to be pulled in different directions. We are determined to be a coherent ASEAN Community, at peace with one another and at peace with the world.
We know full well that our ability to develop interdependence, evolve a strong ASEAN regional identity, and strengthen ASEAN centrality and solidarity is by far the most effective guarantor of regional peace and progress.
Let me therefore use this unique occasion as a platform from which to appeal to the major powers. I hope that they can find their way to working with one another again. After all, as major powers, the Permanent Members on the UN Security Council they have the mandate to take responsibility for the collective security of the international community.
We in the ASEAN region would like to see the early conclusion of negotiations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. It will help ensure that no open armed conflicts will break out in that tension-filled area that will lead to security nightmare for the region. The Code of Conduct, will hopefully can prevent the recurrence of incidents and reduce tensions between China and Philippines and Vietnam. I think it would also be a good idea for the Northeast Asian countries to consider negotiating a similar code of conduct in the East Sea.
The ASEAN countries have enjoyed decades of peace, stability and cooperation as a result of their adherence to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. I think it would be wise to conclude a similar treaty that would cover the Indo-Pacific region, one that would be signed also by major powers and emerging powers alike, so that the transformational experience of ASEAN may be replicated all over the wider region.
I also believe that bilateral disputes involving major powers can be addressed in a peaceful manner through dialogue, negotiations or consultations. Therefore I wish to urge the major powers to find ways of resolving their differences amicably and restore the spirit of cooperation among themselves, even on sensitive territorial or boundary disputes
I also humbly suggest that the major powers engage in a sustained effort at public diplomacy aimed at making their peoples understand and appreciate one anotherso that we can avoid a situation where it is the people themselves who are too accepting of the possibility of war between their countries.
I am sure that this can be donebecause we have been doing this in Southeast Asia for nearly five decades. We have not allowed our disputes to harm our relations. We have also made a tremendous effort at getting our peoples to know one another and feel positively toward one another.
I am aware that this is not an easy task, especially as countries including those in East Asia and Southeast Asia continue facing new threats, including terrorism. Individually, as well as through international cooperation, we are putting extra efforts to contain and fight radicalism, extremism, and terrorism.
For our part, Indonesia will never waver from promoting the true face of Islam a religion of peace which teaches its followers compassion, moderation and brotherhood. This is a never-ending job, especially with the growing threats of radicalism in many parts of the world, not least the propaganda of the ISIS movements that we must prevent, deter, fight and defeat.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since time immemorial, periods of peace have been the exception rather than the rule. This is because people have put their greatest skills into the service of war. It is time that we work for peace.
The Cold War may be over, but we are now in danger of living in an era of for want of a better term — Hot Peace.
Instead, let us build a durable architecture of peace. And put all our energies, our best creative skills into that task.
In the context of Indonesia-United States relations, I am pleased that we are already doing our part to build that architecture through the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership. That 21st century partnership between our two countries, in my view, already serves as an important pillar for regional stability and international peace for today and tomorrow.
As a final note, a famous man once said, The world will never have lasting peace so long as men use their full resources only in tasks of war. While we are yet at peace, let us mobilize the potentialities, particularly the spiritual and moral potentialities, which we usually reserve for war.
John Foster Dulles was an outstanding alumnus of this university. Many will remember him as fierce Cold Warrior. I will always remember him for that gem of a thought of his on peacebecause we in Indonesia are striving to do what we counseled: to mobilize all our potentialities in the service of peace.
And it is my hope that othersin the high offices of the major powerswill also take up that counsel.
I thank you.
WASHINGTON DC, 26 SEPTEMBER 2014
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA
DR. H. SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO