It has been 72 years since Sukarno’s words from 56, Jalan Pegangsaan Timur reverbed throughout the then infant nation, heralding the beginning of independent Indonesia. Like many other counterparts during the decolonization period, you were surmounted with many challenges from struggles with your colonial predecessors, domestic rife and economic uncertainty. All of which, at the time, had damaging effects on the economy and politics of your country but not on the will and rigour of your people.
Now, you have much to be proud of. As a member of the G20 and the 16th largest economy in the world with a GDP of US$ 932B, you’re on course to break the US$ 1T mark by the end of this year. Indonesian GDP alone contributes 37% of ASEAN’s total GDP making it the largest economy in the association. With an ethnically and linguistically diverse population of 261 million people spread across 2 million sq km and 17000 islands you have in your hands, invaluable geographic and human capital that smaller states can only dream of.
Your contribution to ASEAN can be traced back to its founding in 1967. Fresh from the resolution of the Konfrontasi with Malaysia, differences were set aside as then Indonesian Foreign Minister, Adam Malik aspired for “a region which can stand on its own feet, strong enough to defend itself against any negative influence from outside the region”. Indonesia has since assumed a vital role in ASEAN, evidenced by Jakarta’s selection to be the location for the ASEAN Secretariat, making it the de facto capital of ASEAN. You’ve helped mediate tensions in the South China Sea dispute and the Thai-Cambodian border dispute during your chairmanship in 2011. The goodwill shown by Indonesian efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Junta Myanmar at the height of the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis adds another feather to your diplomatic hat. On the economic front, ASEAN has benefitted greatly from various projects under the Indonesian led ASEAN-South Korea Action Plan and look forward to grow together, much stronger under the initiatives of the AEC.
As we head towards the future, there is no doubt that ASEAN is entering uncharted waters. The challenges up ahead affect not only Indonesia but other countries within the association. The threat of militant terrorism is one that deserves utmost importance. I am disinclined to suggest ways of resolution that might be perceived as an encroachment on your right to self-determination. I would however, bring to light that the root of such problems, that fester in those who harbour xenophobic and overtly nationalistic tendencies, is one that is common to countries within ASEAN. Hence, a regional approach to tackle that would not be a far-fetched idea. The same can be said about the unpredictability of regional geopolitics that could threaten the stability of the region. As flattering as the courtship of external powers towards a few ASEAN countries is, it is paramount that the association isn’t dissuaded or it risks fragmenting. One can only hope though you wish to strengthen your borders, that the spirit of economic cooperation and socio-political integration is not forsaken.
President Jokowi very inspiringly stated in his Independence Day address that “Through democracy, we safeguard people’s sovereignty and harmony in diversity”. His words, equally resonate on the regional front as such aspirations would serve well to strengthen ASEAN in our coming years. Salam Merdeka!
An ASEAN citizen