South Asia tsunami information   |   Information on Aceh

For Yudhoyono, opportunity knocks amid the ruins

18 January 2005

Indonesia and the US, thrown together because of the Boxing Day tsunami, want to revive their military links and boost business and investment ties.

The tsunami aid effort has precipitated the renewed friendship, but strong signals coming from the newly elected American-educated Indonesian President are also important.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday spoke of a new partnership with the rest of the world and also a strong environment for business, entrepreneurship and democracy.

The US deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, said the time was right to review the relationship, which has been on hold for more than 10 years because of US concerns about human rights abuses in Indonesia.

"If we're interested in military reform here, I think we need to reconsider a bit where we are," said Dr Wolfowitz, a former US ambassador to Indonesia.

Cutting off contact with Indonesian officers only makes the problem worse, he said.

Indonesia has asked the US for assistance with officer training, particularly in management and in technical areas.

Coinciding with the warming in the defence relationship is the sense that a new era may be beginning, with Dr Yudhoyono getting the attention of the world's investors by offering them a role in infrastructure projects that by year's end will total $US75 billion ($99 million).

In the first phase, launched yesterday, projects worth $US22.5 billion were put up for tender to an audience of more than 1000 investors, construction companies and bankers.

A further $US53 billion of projects will be offered in November.

"We invite you to prosper together with us," Dr Yudhoyono told the gathering.

The Indonesian leader has a strong affinity with the US, where he spent several years at military college and university. As well, his new cabinet includes several members who have had long stints in the US both during their youth and later in life.

Business executives at the conference said the tsunami, although disastrous, had galvanised them and they felt some good might yet come out of it.

"It takes two to tango and we are looking for like-minded dance partners," said the Minister for Planning, Mulyani Indrawati.

She added that in Aceh, where the need is most immediate, the Government expects reconstruction will start within six months and continue for five years.

Ms Indrawati said the Government wanted an integrated new city to replace the wrecked Banda Aceh and did not want ad hoc development.

On the political front, Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, seems positioned to be the example to the Islamic world that the US had wanted to make of Iraq. While US efforts to impose a democracy and develop a civil society there are being violently resisted, speakers at Jakarta's infrastructure summit championed democracy, a freer business environment and more openness.

Dr Yudhoyono said Indonesia was united in tears and deeds by the disaster, which had electrified the country with a spirit of resilience. He said it was a chance for Indonesia to change for the better, "to make Indonesia more democratic, more prosperous, more just, more peaceful. In fact, the tsunami has only added greater urgency for us in achieving these national objectives."

Deborah Cameron

Information on Aceh   |   Peace Movement Aotearoa