Magazine article DISAM Journal

Indonesia: Positive Trends and the Implications for the United States Strategic Interests

Magazine article DISAM Journal

Indonesia: Positive Trends and the Implications for the United States Strategic Interests

Article excerpt

[The following statement was presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in Washington, D.C., September 15, 2005.]

Strategic Overview

Although it is no surprise to members of the committee, Indonesia is clearly, by virtue of its size, location, and status as a democracy, one of the most important countries to the United States in Asia. Consider the following facts:

* Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has become the world's third-largest democracy.

* Indonesia has more people of Muslim faith than Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia combined.

* The strategic sea lanes that pass through and along Indonesian territory carry one-third of the world's sea-borne trade.

* Half the world's oil passes through the Malacca Strait.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Indonesia is a key player in the dominant ideological struggle of our time: the competition between democratic modernization and the rise of extremist Islam. Indonesia is aggressively combating the tiny minority of terrorists. It is also working to promote religious tolerance among the population at large, while demonstrating to the world that Islam and democracy are fully compatible.

Opportunity

The success of Indonesia's 2004 national elections, and the joint Indonesian and United States response to the tragic earthquake and tsunami of December 26, 2004 have opened a window of opportunity for U.S. and Indonesian relations. The positive trends in Indonesia today with regard to democracy, countering terrorism and extremism, economic reform, security service reform, and peaceful resolution of conflicts, strengthen this opportunity. We have the chance to achieve a breakthrough in our relations with the world's largest Muslim-majority nation and third-largest democracy. If we succeed, it will have far-reaching effects on our common interests with Indonesia and throughout the world.

Indonesia's national elections proceeded in an exceedingly peaceful and democratic manner, and gave Indonesians for the first time the right to directly elect their president. President Yudhoyono emerged from the elections with a mandate from the Indonesian people, receiving over 60 percent of the votes in the presidential run-off in September of 2004. With Indonesian voters demanding change, President Yudhoyono is pursuing a bold reformist agenda. Furthermore, as a U.S. university and military college graduate, he has first-hand knowledge of the U.S. and its people. President Yudhoyono is keenly aware of Indonesia's status as a role model to the Islamic world and seeks a greater international profile that accords with this status. The example he sets is a positive one.

President Yudhoyono demonstrated his statesmanship in the aftermath of the tsunami, and he opened up the previously closed Aceh province to international assistance, particularly from the United States. Our joint efforts in relief and reconstruction for the victims of the tsunami saved the lives and lessened the suffering for tens of thousands of victims, helping to bridge the distance between our countries. The USS Lincoln off the coast of Aceh made a strong positive impression on the people and government of Indonesia no other country was able to match our response. Scenes of U.S. relief workers and soldiers working side-by-side with their Indonesian counterparts showed Indonesians that the United States is a friend. Public opinion toward the United States has since improved.

With Indonesia we have the opportunity now to forge close, long-term ties with a developing democracy that is home to 4 percent of the Islamic world. Indonesia has a history that includes serious human rights abuses, separatist conflict, ethnic and inter-religious strife, and other problems and challenges that have affected our relations. Many of these problems and challenges remain today. …

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