INDONESIA’S NEW HUMANITARIAN DIPLOMACY
Once a recipient of foreign aid, Indonesia is now set to provide the same help to other countries in need. In her annual foreign policy statement recently, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced the establishment of ‘Indonesia Aid’, an agency that she says will be responsible for delivering social and economic assistance to people and places stricken by conflict and natural disasters.
Indonesia was one of the first countries to offer humanitarian assistance in the wake of last year’s massive refugee outflow from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. Last month, construction began on the Indonesian Hospital in Mrauk U, 70 kilometers north of Sittwe on the Bay of Bengal, as Indonesia continued to act as the driving force behind the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center in Rakhine state.
It isn’t just Myanmar. Last year, Marsudi signed an agreement with the Afghan government to build a health polyclinic inside Kabul’s Indonesia Islamic Center complex, where an Indonesian mosque now stands.
Working with a modest budget of Rp1 trillion (US$70 million), Indonesia Aid represents Indonesia’s commitment to strengthening South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTC), by partnering with 31 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the South Pacific in the fields of food security, fisheries, agriculture, as well as small and medium enterprises and micro-finance.
In the Pacific region, Indonesia has engaged in capacity building and humanitarian assistance, especially where tiny island nations have been struck by typhoons and other natural disasters.
But how does all this gel with the fact that Indonesia is still an aid recipient, such as from Japan and the World Bank. The volume of assistance has been considerably reduced over the years as the economy increasingly comes to rely on trade and investment, but it is also a fact that 10 percent of the country’s 250 million population still live below the poverty line.
Still, as long as the level of poverty continues to decline (it fell by two percent in 2016), Indonesia can afford to continue doling out modest foreign assistance as a member of the G-20, a grouping of the world’s 20 richest nations. After all, with its economy currently ranked the 16th largest in the world, Indonesia is clearly emerging as a global leader with an important role to play in encouraging democratization in Southeast Asia. ***