Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations

Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations

Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations

Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations


"An important contribution." John Bresnan Author of Managing Indonesia "A well-researched, comprehensive review." David D. Newsom U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia (1974-1977)


During the three years that I was fortunate to spend as U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, it is fair to say that I fell in love with the country and its people. I was certainly not the first American to do so, and there will surely be countless more in the future. Like so many others, I was attracted by the rich diversity of Indonesia's many cultures and by the country's natural beauty. For me, the ongoing story of Indonesia's remarkable history was particularly fascinating, as was the opportunity to meet some of the extraordinary people who helped to make that history and are doing so today. Most of all, like so many Americans, I fell in love with the wonderful qualities of the Indonesians themselves.

It is striking how much mutual admiration Americans and Indonesians have for one another, particularly given the physical distance and cultural differences that separate us. This is not to say that we fail to recognize one another's imperfections. Americans complain not only about hot, humid weather or Jakarta's pollution and congestion but also about government practices that contribute to what Indonesians euphemistically call the "high cost economy." Indonesians have their own reservations about the United States -- not merely about cold and snow and urban crime but, more fundamentally, about U.S. foreign policy or the excesses of individualism and materialism in American life.

Yet, despite this, I rarely met Americans who had close contact with Indonesia who did not really like the country. and a fairly similar statement could be made about Indonesians who know the United States. No doubt, this is partly because both countries have so much natural beauty, culture, and history to admire. But it is also because we share important common values. We are both people who accept and admire diversity; we both believe in tolerance in religion and in other matters; above all both Americans and Indonesians are warm and friendly and hospitable.

Shortly before leaving I gave a speech in which I expressed the hope that Indonesia would become more open politically over the next twenty years, just as it had opened up economically over the preceding twenty. It was just one sentence in a fairly long speech, but it struck a very responsive chord -- not because the U.S. Ambassador said it but because I was voicing a hope that many Indonesians, both prominent and humble, had expressed to me about their own country.

Indonesia has come a long way in its first fifty years, perhaps even further than the United States came in its first half century. But neither of us has achieved perfection; indeed, no society ever can. the spirit of open examination and open . . .

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