This week the Indonesian Embassy held extensive celebrations to mark the 70th Anniversary of Indonesia-Myanmar relations with a flurry of cultural, culinary and musical events.
Events took place including a cultural festival and a food festival with the culture of West Sumatra on display, including music and dance.
Indonesian Ambassador to Myanmar Mr Idra Fadri Duta Besar took time out to sit down with Mizzima Editor in Chief Soe Myint to discuss Indonesian relations with Myanmar and their joint concerns.
The following is the full interview:
How do you view the state of Indonesia-Myanmar relations today?
As fellow ASEAN member countries, Indonesia and Myanmar have a close intertwined relationship. This good relationship must be utilized as well as possible to build and develop cooperation in various fields, including political, economic and socio-cultural.
Indonesia has a priority to foster and maintain bilateral relations between the two countries that are already running well. Furthermore, Indonesia would like to increase cooperation in the economic field as part of government policy to strengthen economic diplomacy.
Indonesia has had a long relationship with Burma including Burmese support for Indonesian independence. Can you tell us about this?
Both countries have almost the same history, freeing themselves from foreign occupation.
Friendship between Indonesia and Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been established since the beginning of Indonesia's independence and even Burma has not been fully independent. On 30 October 1946, General Aung San, head of Burma's interim government, sent a wire to President Sukarno and Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir.
The contents of the wire included the hope of creating close cooperation between Burma and Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia, for the sake of eternal world peace and invitation to visit Burma while attending the Inter-Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi in 1947.
The Indonesian delegation led by Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir attended the Inter-Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi, India, on 27 March - 2 April 1947. Returning from India, Sjahrir and his entourage stopped in Rangoon, Burma. Unfortunately, he did not meet with General Aung San, but met with U Nu, one of the leaders of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) who became first Prime Minister in 1948.
In 1947, Indonesia opened the Indonesian Office or Representative Office of the Republic of Indonesia in Rangoon. This office took care of operation permits of the RI-001 Seulawah aircraft to operate in Burma as a civil flight under the name Indonesian Airways in 1949.
When the Dutch launched a second military aggression to Indonesia, Burma proposed to India to hold a Conference on Indonesian in New Delhi, India, on 20 January 1949. 18 Asian countries were present at this conference to support Indonesian independence.
On 24 January – 2 February 1950, President Sukarno made his first overseas visit to India, Pakistan and Burma. Upon his arrival in Rangoon, Burma, Sukarno was welcomed by Burmese President Sao Shwe Thaik.
The three countries visited by President Sukarno had provided much assistance in the most difficult times for the Indonesia's struggle in achieving independence.
In April 1950, the Indonesian Representative Office was officially opened as the Indonesian Embassy in Rangoon, followed by the opening of the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta. As fellow former colonized countries, Indonesia and Burma were active in opposing imperialism and colonialism. Indonesia and Myanmar were the initiator of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung on 18-24 April 1955, together with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Indonesia welcomed Myanmar’s membership to ASEAN in 1997 and has been supportive under the ASEAN umbrella. How important is the ASEAN forum in helping member states?
ASEAN has played a large role in creating a stable and peaceful region. The presence of ASEAN so far is considered to be able to avoid the region becoming an arena of rival power of superpowers.
ASEAN becomes a foundation for dialogue within ASEAN member countries and also with major countries outside Southeast Asia that have relations with one of the member countries or in the region itself.
Indonesia views the important role of ASEAN. Indonesia encourages enthusiasm for dialogue, expresses opinions in relations between member countries and outside ASEAN. We also always strive for stability and regional security by offering assistance to other member countries and preventing conflicts and transnational crime.
Indonesia went through its own struggle for democracy and recently held elections.
How do you view Myanmar’s transition to democracy?
The holding of the General Elections in 2015 evidenced democratization in Myanmar. The NLD Party won the 2015 elections; this was a happy thing for the people of Myannmar. Because the majority of Myanmar's people really want a civil and democratic government. However, it cannot be denied that although the NLD has won, there are still many tasks and challenges that must be carried out and faced by the government.
How do you view Myanmar’s peace process?
There have been various efforts made by the Myanmar Government to promote peace and reconciliation, and terminate the ongoing conflict between the ethnic armed groups and the military. Since 2011, discussions have been taking place amongst the armed ethnic groups, military and government, although there are still issues that need to be resolved.
Ending the fighting as early as possible is essential factor for the ceasefire talks and the peace process. Therefore, both the ethnic armed groups and the military must stop the fighting and find possible solutions to end the armed conflicts. If bilateral ceasefire agreements can be signed between the Myanmar Army and Northern Alliance, it will be an important step forward for the peace process.
Indonesia is committed to support national reconciliation and peace process in Myanmar.
Therefore, ten representatives from Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) of Myanmar led by U Ko Ko Gyi has visited Aceh-Indonesia to learn about peace process in Aceh. The JMC delegation discussed and shared best practices with resourced and related persons from Aceh that are expert in peace process and conflict resolution on July 2019. As a good model of conflict-resolution, the Aceh Peace Process offers invaluable lessons for countries affected by conflict in other regions of the world, including Myanmar.
Clearly the crisis in Rakhine is a cause for concern. How do you view the Rakhine crisis and what is Indonesia advocating to deal with it?
The Rakhine State crisis is a complex issue. However, the complexity of this issue cannot be used as an excuse to not find a solution to the resolution of the humanitarian crisis. We must always be optimistic, and Indonesia is ready to contribute.
The important thing that must be created immediately is a conducive situation in order to rebuild mutual trust between all involved elements. This is what Indonesia and ASEAN have done since the beginning to resolve the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State.
There are two things that can encourage the resolution of the humanitarian crisis, namely, one, addressing the needs of refugees. Security must be guaranteed immediately, so that the process of repatriation of refugees that is safe, voluntary and dignified can be carried out.
Two, creating sustainable peace through economic development and empowerment for the people of Rakhine State.
Both the Indonesian and Myanmar authorities are concerned about “radicalization” and “extremism” when it comes to communal and religious matters. How do you view the growing threats?
Indonesia and Myanmar face the same challenge, namely increasing identity fanaticism (religion and race). It is deemed necessary to maintain historical capital in the form of tolerance, mutual cooperation and inclusiveness.
The religious conflict is not caused by religious teachings. Religious sentiment is only used to justify the economic and political agenda of certain groups. The role of government to ensure equitable development can reduce the conflict or social degradation.
Indonesia and Myanmar not only face vertical conflicts (rulers and people), but also horizontal conflicts (within / between communities). And the effort to maintain peace and social integration is becoming more significant. In this connection, the habit of dialogue and informal approaches at the grassroots level is very important.
Addressing the problem of radicalization and extremism must involve all parties, both society and government.
Could you tell us about Indonesia’s work to provide humanitarian aid to Myanmar?
Indonesia is committed in humanitarian aid in Rakhine State. Besides the construction of schools and the provision of ambulances, Indonesia provided humanitarian assistance as first response after the conflict in Rakhine State in August 2017. Humanitarian assistance amounting to 20 tons from Indonesia in August 2017 was the first in-kind assistance received by the Government of Myanmar by using the G to G mechanism.
Through constructive measures with the Myanmar Government as well as the collaboration between Indonesian Red Cross and Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (MER-C) supported by the Indonesian Government, Indonesia is currently in the process of building a station hospital in Rakhine State. The hospital construction itself is now at 90% and will soon begin the process of procurement of medical equipments. It is hoped that the Indonesian aid project hospital in Myaung Bwe, Rakhine State can be inaugurated soon.
The hospital construction project in Myaung Bwe is a realization of the idea of the government and the people of Indonesia to provide humanitarian assistance and health services that are "all inclusive" to the entire community in Rakhine State, regardless of their ethnicity, religion and background.
What is Indonesia’s main focus when it comes to trade with Myanmar?
The Indonesian government and business circles are exploring the possibility of establishing economic cooperation links with Myanmar in a series of business meetings in Yangon. The trade value between Indonesia and Myanmar has reached beyond USD 1 billion in 2018. It is the first time in the history of bilateral trade relation to reach such significant number.
The huge portion of the Indonesia’s export to Myanmar trade are palm oil and edible oil, electronics, plastic, rubber, pulp and paper, and automotive spare parts. Meanwhile, Indonesia also import are beans, sugar and teak wood. Nevertheless, the purchase and shipment of the goods both import and export are through third parties so there are more excessive cost compare to direct trade between Myanmar and Indonesia.
There are several potential sector to be focused on which are agribusiness, animal husbandry, food and beverage industry, construction material, textile as well as handicrafts.
Are Indonesian companies interested in doing business in Myanmar? How do you view the business and foreign investment environment in Myanmar?
Yes, definitely. Myanmar is already a strong trade partner with Indonesia. Myanmar is also a promising investment destination with the market size around more than 55 million people accompanied by abundance of natural resources. There are already many Indonesian companies based here in Myanmar namely Japfa Comfeed in poultry business and Kalbe Farma in pharmaceutical as well as several other company in fast moving consumer goods sector. In the first half of 2019, there are more than 20 companies whom enquired or visited Myanmar to study the potential on doing business here.
Although the potential for investment here in Myanmar is very large, nevertheless, there are some challenges that have to be faced by the foreign investors including Indonesians. There are three main challenges which are: the uncertainty of the rule of laws, the condition of infrastructure in Myanmar, and the complexity of regulation on how to do business in Myanmar. Nevertheless, I am confident that in the near future, the Myanmar authorities will find a prompt and manageable solution in addressing these key challenges.
One issue that is in the world headlines today is man-made climate change. All countries need to play a part in dealing with it. One issue that comes up when we think about the environment in Indonesia is deforestation and the annual cycle of fires used to clear the land. How is the Indonesian government tackling these issues?
Indonesia is committed to optimizing early detection and early warning systems and strengthening the early fire response. In addition, Indonesia has also optimized its peatland management system through regulation, infrastructure and ecosystem restoration.
In an effort to manage forest and land fires, Indonesia has increased community empowerment by strengthening local economic institutions, providing economic incentives, skills and efforts for agriculture or non-burning cultivation and optimizing law enforcement.
How do you view the future of Indonesia-Myanmar relations?
Indonesia and Myanmar need to deepen bilateral relations in sectors that have the potential to develop into future such as agriculture, industry, livestock, textiles, manufacturing and food products.
Indonesia and Myanmar together with other ASEAN members need to continue to play a significant role in strengthening the three pillars of the ASEAN community namely the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio- Cultural Community.
Seventy years of diplomatic relation between Indonesia and Myanmar has already blossomed into a magnificent friendship. In the many years to come, Indonesia and Myanmar will continuously walk hand in hand to more prosperous nations.