Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Obama's trip to Indonesia is an opportunity for closer bilateral ties and for continued outreach from the West to the Muslim world.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Jakarta next week is a pivotal point in relations between Indonesia and the United States. Indonesia is now also an established democracy, both countries adhere to market economies and both are viewed as important players in the Asia-Pacific region.

The visit is important for the anticipated “comprehensive partnership” that will be unveiled during the visit. The partnership will deepen cooperation in six areas: trade and investment, security and defense, education, health care, energy and transnational issues such as nonproliferation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

But it is just as important for its symbolism. Obama is expected to deliver a keynote address during his three-day trip in which he will build on his address to the Muslim world in Cairo last June. The speech, said Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, will touch on the progress that has been made and that needs to be made on the relationship between the Muslim world and the West.

Obama’s visit has raised opposition from some hard-line Muslim groups that have demonstrated against it in the past few days. In a democracy, that is to be expected as all citizens have the right to express their views.

But Jakarta should not let this opportunity pass. The eyes of the world will be trained on Indonesia during the three-day visit, and this is a unique opportunity for the country and all Indonesians to show the international community that Indonesia really is ready to take its place among the community of nations.

How Indonesia responds to this opportunity will not only define their relationship with the United States going forward, but will have a lasting and significant effect on how the world perceives Indonesia. If the country sends out the right messages and defines its image well, it will create momentum not just for economic growth but also for its diplomatic efforts.

The key is that all segments of Indonesian society must take advantage of the visit. Obama’s visit will set a positive tone for bilateral relations and for US companies to take a fresh and proactive look at Indonesia.

The United States now sees Indonesia as an increasingly important player in Asia. Indonesia has much to offer the region and the world, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s leadership is increasingly respected in international circles. The visit is a great opportunity for Indonesia to put its best foot forward. Let’s hope it is not wasted. Jakarta Globe

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