Yudhoyono returns with mission accomplished

NEWS ANALYSIS

While he did not get everything, he inked significant deals with US and Japan.

HE RETURNED home yesterday a statesman and salesman extraordinaire.

After a 10-day trip to the United States and Japan, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono left the world’s major powers even more confident of his government.

His diplomatic tete-a-tete with US President George W. Bush and Japanese Premier Junichiro Koizumi burnished his international credentials as he pulled off significant bilateral deals.

Dr Yudhoyono set in motion the process of restoring vital military links with Washington and secured massive investment pledges from Tokyo.

But he did not achieve everything that he had wanted when he left Jakarta on May 25.

Clearly, one of his objectives was to try and patch up Indonesia’s military ties with the US.

Washington had restricted military aid in 1991 due to human rights abuses by Indonesian soldiers. Eight years later, it suspended all links with the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) including the sale of arms, following the East Timor imbroglio.

Against that stark backdrop, the Indonesian leader managed to get the Americans to resume the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme which in the past was the rite of passage of some of the country’s leading generals.

Secondly, he got the US to resume the sale of non-lethal military equipment to Indonesia. Excess military items could be sold as a package with training and maintenance.

Both these moves, however, were still far off from the normalisation of military ties that the President was aiming for.

Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the key figures in the US military embargo on Indonesia, noted in a recent interview with the weekly Tempo magazine:

‘When the Indonesian military meets the conditions of the law, which include prosecuting and punishing members who have been alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights – then full military cooperation can be restored.’

Besides the violence in East Timor, US senators also want Jakarta to prosecute the killers of two American teachers in Papua in 2002.

Despite such calls, Dr Yudhoyono has been able to win the confidence of Mr Bush and the US government which is enjoying its most stable relationship with Jakarta after a dizzy run of four leaders following Suharto’s fall in May 1998.

The US is driven by two factors: the need to balance China which is also warming up to Indonesia, and more importantly, the war on terror.

There are happier faces in Washington today given the prospect of a US-educated general who can give the support America needs to wipe out Al-Qaeda linked terrorists in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

For some in Washington, Dr Yudhoyono represents a velvet fist – a military strongman turned democrat. That view is also shared in Tokyo.

Dr Yudhoyono’s four-day trip to Japan yielded potential billions in fresh investments into Indonesia.

Japan is one of the largest foreign investors in Indonesia, with some US$11 billion (S$18.5 billion) pumped into the country.

But Japanese firms have been more wary of making investments in recent years given the range of problems from corruption to terrorism.

To his credit, Dr Yudhoyono managed to assuage some of those concerns, resulting in both countries signing an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). A major aspect of this pact is to double Japanese investments into Indonesia in the next five years.

Sceptics argue that the EPA is nothing more than a pledge by the Japanese who continue to remain doubtful about investing in Indonesia.

The trips to the US and Japan confirms that unlike his immediate predecessors, Dr Yudhoyono is keenly aware of the value of building international relations with the major powers.

He might not have gotten everything he set out to do in 10 days. But the fruits of his efforts are likely to be felt in the long term.

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