Facing the Future United—Indonesia

While I was living in Japan, I discovered once again the extent of my ignorance of the rest of the world. Many of my friends were from countries I knew little if anything about. One of the most striking examples to me was Indonesia. Having met many students from Indonesia during my stay in Japan, I began to realize I knew nothing about their country despite its large population and relevance in ASEAN, a major economic bloc. I began to remedy this flaw even as I studied in Japan, taking a class devoted to ASEAN and its member countries. However, I still know far less than I feel I should about Indonesia along with the rest of the ASEAN states, so when I saw the opportunity to attend a lecture by Indonesian Consul General Nana Yuliana, I jumped at the chance.

The lecture, which took place earlier this week, was incredibly insightful. Dr. Yuliana has worked in a variety of diplomatic roles across the world, including as a member of the UN’s Economic Council, and is currently stationed at the Indonesian consulate in Houston, TX. Her lecture focused on Indonesian foreign policy, particularly as it relates to the US, as well as containing an overview of Indonesia and ASEAN in a global context. She explained the geography, the population demographics, and the post-colonial history of the country. After the dismantling of European colonies at the end of WWII, Indonesia was formed from a large archipelago of disparate cultures and peoples. With over 300 ethnic groups, over 700 languages actively spoken, and a large population of multiple major religious groups, the original and continued unity of Indonesia as a nation-state is a political marvel. Despite significant challenges to this unity, Indonesia, within the first decade of its existence, already turned its gaze outside its borders and sought to take an active role in international politics. In 1955 Indonesia hosted the Bandung Conference, a meeting of newly independent Asian and African states uniting against colonialism and neocolonialism. Since then, Indonesia has continued its active participation in several international organizations, particularly ASEAN and the UN, where Indonesia is a candidate as a non-permanent Security Council member for 2019-2020.

Like the rest of the world, Indonesia is facing a host of challenges in today’s political climate. With continued conflict in the South China Sea, the threat of North Korea, and worldwide fears of terrorism, Indonesia has much to concern itself with. More locally, Indonesia has expanded its efforts to accept refugees from the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and is serving as a mediator between the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front. Through its efforts in Southeast Asia, the Indonesian government is working to promote human rights and democracy throughout the region.

At the same time, however, Indonesia is facing struggles within its own borders. Despite Dr. Yuliana’s praise of Indonesia’s 5% annual GDP growth, my friends from Indonesia have found that national GDP growth does not always translate into actual improved standards of living for the people of a country. Rising prices, stagnant wages, and large public works projects that so far have done very little good for the majority of the population make the realities of Indonesia’s growth much less promising. Careful management and informed economic policy are vital for the Indonesian government in the coming months and years in order to translate short-run growth into reinvestment and long-term sustainable development. Indonesia has come a long way since it invented itself out of the post-WWII ashes of the Dutch East Indies. However, the country still has much growing to do and needs a steady, future-minded hand to lead it up the treacherous path to a bright and secure future for all citizens.

Hazy Horizons

The world is in a state of turbulence; this is a pretty standard belief. But the average standard of living is higher now than ever before in history. The American people are also, on average, safer and more prosperous than ever. So why do we characterize the world as turbulent? It was this question address by Dr. Thomas Finger, a faculty member at Stanford University and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis of the State Department, in his keynote address to round out this year’s International Studies Symposium at the University of Oklahoma.

The world is moving forward and upward, true, but there is still turbulence. This is because, for once, we can’t see the future. We do have enemies today, but they are much harder to identify than in the past. We used to know our enemy, whether Nazi Germany or the communist regime of the USSR. However, using Dr. Finger’s analogy, we have traded in a dragon for baskets of snakes. We cannot focus our energies on a single target, and each of our snakes has to be handled in a different way. Thus, we need to redefine how we deal with the world’s turbulence. Also, part of our problem is the change that has occurred in our definition of national security. We once defined national security in terms of the safety of the US homeland. Now, we have decided that all US citizens must be safe at all times no matter where they are and for what reason. How can we commit to such a promise? Is it even our place to risk our armed forces to save those who intentionally put themselves in harm’s way in the pursuit of glory or riches? I don’t know, but I do know that we need to decide what we can commit to and what is not our battle. The turbulence of this day is different than any we’ve faced before. We need to recognize our new breeds of enemies and develop new methods to fight them while preventing our paranoia from creating more. Our uncertainty cannot be allowed to destabilize us. We must move forward, regardless of the clarity of our horizons.