Thursday, October 15, 2009

So why is Indonesia not on Obama's first tour of East Asia?

A few months ago, it was seen as a no-brainer: a triumphant return to his childhood home in Indonesia by US President Barack Obama to wrap up his first visit to East Asia. The long-anticipated Indonesian mission represented a unique opportunity, given Obama's years attending primary school in the Jakarta suburb of Menteng under the watch of his Indonesian stepfather.

As Southeast Asia's largest nation and the world's largest secular Muslim state, Indonesia plays into the Obama administration's script on a number of levels - the need to reach out to moderate Islam, support an emerging democracy and quietly reassert ties with a Southeast Asia that feels ignored by the US at a time of a growing Chinese presence.

Yet when White House officials recently unveiled his East Asian itinerary ahead of his appearance at the Apec forum in Singapore next month, Indonesia was conspicuous by its omission. Instead, there is a more predictable route of all the "must dos" - the traditional allies Japan and South Korea, as well as China. Obama will meet his Indonesian counterpart Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - who in July became the country's first president to win a second term in a democratic election - on the fringes of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Singapore. He will also host a summit with all Southeast Asian leaders.

Not surprisingly, Indonesians are scratching their heads. If Obama gets all the way to neighbouring Singapore, why can't he get to Jakarta?

Yudhoyono, after all, had played up the importance of the US relationship ahead of the election. He followed his first meeting with Obama at the Group of 20 summit in London with an announcement that the US president would visit this year. Now White House officials are talking about a possible trip next June, repeatedly stressing that an Indonesian visit had been merely postponed rather than cancelled.

Given Washington's interests in supporting Indonesia's democracy and seeing Indonesia live up to its potential and play a leading role in the region, not coming here is even harder to explain.The surprise decision has also sparked speculation among some security analysts that the deadly bombing of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in July had raised fresh fears for the safety of the Obama delegation. The bombings were the first in four years - and a blunt reminder that the war in the shadows against al-Qaeda-affiliated Indonesian terrorists was far from over.

Extract from Greg Torode’s article Chief Asia Correspondent South China Morning Post

No comments:

Post a Comment