Monday, August 1, 2016

Indonesia - Germany-Indonesia relations very good, very intensive

German Ambassador to Indonesia Georg Witschel is leaving Jakarta after a four-year term in the country. The Jakarta Post’Endy Bayuni and Novan Iman Santosa talked with Witschel about the development in bilateral relations during his tenure and what lies ahead. The followings are excerpts from the interview: 

QuestionHow would you characterize German-Indonesian bilateral relations during your term here? Which areas can be improved?

Answer: I can only characterize them [bilateral relations] as very good, very cordial and very intensive. We have no major bilateral problems so there is nothing I have to be concerned about. There were smaller issues, of course, but nothing serious. 

Looking back to the last four years, we had before my arrival the visit of Chancellor [Angela] Merkel here in Jakarta, we had president [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono visit Berlin in early 2013 for a state visit and more recently President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited Berlin in April.

We had numerous meetings at the ministerial level. The last one was when Education and Culture Minister Anies Baswedan visited Germany in July together with Kadin [the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry] to do some discussions on vocational training.

Our foreign minister was the first to meet Ibu Retno [LP Marsudi] after she was appointed by President Jokowi. 

We recorded US$6 billion in bilateral trade in 2015. The overall trade was actually decreasing the past few years mainly because Indonesia’s exports were decreasing as commodity prices were lower. I estimated the trade would remain stable in 2016.

There are some 300 German companies in Indonesia employing some 10,000 workers with a total investment of $3 billion.

We have also started the negotiation for the EU-RI Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). If everything goes smoothly, I hope it will come into force in 2021 or 2022. 

Germany is also the largest destination for Indonesian students in Europe with some 3,600 Indonesian students. Germany ranked the fifth for overseas Indonesian students.

Germany is also one among the few countries that has its own science attache who mainly works on biodiversity.

What were your highlights during your term here?

One highlight would be accompanying president Yudhoyono during his visit to Berlin. Another one would be a meeting with president-elect Jokowi at City Hall. There was a delegation from Papua meeting him, complete with their Papuan dress. I shook hands with one of them before realizing that there he was standing beside the Papuans. Pak Jokowi was just smiling and said it was OK.

I would say one of my biggest achievements was increasing the number of Indonesian students studying in Germany from 2,400 in 2012 to 3,600 in 2015.

We have close cooperation with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Goethe Institut in promoting German higher learning institutions. 

What is your general perception of Indonesia?

Indonesia has achieved a lot. It is something to be proud of and confident. That doesn’t mean Indonesia can sit back because the existing obstacles in infrastructure, corruption, a too big bureaucracy, too many obstacles in the business world, including an eternal issue of work permits, are still limiting growth.

With the government I am fairly optimistic they are going in the right way. They are starting to regulate, they are starting to enter free-trade negotiations, so I am fairly optimistic that the 5 percent growth will be the bottom and in the next years we will see maybe 6 or 7 percent growth. It is difficult to say because of the commodity prices. 

Compare that with my future host country’s, Brazil’s, second consecutive year of -4 percent, and compare that to South Africa and Turkey, so Indonesia is not bad. 

In spite of Indonesia’s rise, it remains relatively unknown on the global stage. There is an expression that Indonesia “is punching below its weight”. Any suggestions on what Indonesia should do to raise its profile?

Yes, I believe Indonesia is punching rather below its weight. We would like a more active role for Indonesia worldwide, particularly in the Middle East and to some extent also in ASEAN. I know Foreign Minister Marsudi is working really hard to ensure that ASEAN centrality is being maintained.

There are some similarities between the EU and ASEAN. We have 28 members and you have 10 members. Even with 10 members it is often hard to reach consensus, particularly with tricky questions such as the South China Sea and The Hague award, etc. We also appreciate Indonesia’s moderating role in regards to the problems between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, I think Pak Jokowi has a clear focus in developing Indonesia.

During my old days in New York, for example, in many meetings I knew my Indonesian counterparts were very knowledgeable and very constructive, but hardly ever took the floor. So maybe Indonesians need to be a bit more Batak in international affairs. 

Sometimes it is also a virtue being Javanese in international affairs, particularly in ASEAN where there will never be open criticism. It is all behind closed doors. On the other hand, sometimes one has to push harder in order to achieve something. You have very good diplomats and foreign minister.

Can you give an example of where Indonesia can speak up more? 

One is perhaps the Declaration of Conduct (DoC) and Code of Conduct (CoC). Indonesia is even pushing harder to move forward with the real negotiations on the CoC, on the South China Sea, 

In ASEAN, I believe Indonesia is in the right way trying to achieve a statement on the South China Sea, not necessarily with direct reflection on The Hague award. 

Perhaps one area where I would wish to see a bit more clear language is North Korea.

Georg Witschel - JP/Endy Bayuni

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