The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, November 04, 2010


(Picture above: Students from the Al Azhar school in Jakarta performing at the Southeast Asian Night Market on Wellington's waterfront in March 2010. The 2011 market will be held on the Wellington waterfront on Saturday 16 April.)
Learning about our Muslim neighbour

I hope the blinkered public service mandarins note your editorial (1 November) about engaging with a changing world. They need to expand their vision beyond China and India for trade, schooling, immigration and influence in Asia.

So far they’ve been overlooking a closer market of enormous political and strategic importance.

Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy with more Muslims than any other nation. It’s our nearest Asian neighbour, our second biggest market in Southeast Asia. Trade between us is worth almost $1.5 billion a year and growing. Most is in our favour. .

We’re frequently first in line giving aid following natural disasters, like SurfAid assisting with the current Mentawai Islands tsunami response. We’ve been closely involved in advising on earthquake damage mitigation and geothermal energy.

About 25 years ago the late Colin McLennan established a unique rehabilitation unit for disabled children in Yogyakarta. This Wellingtonian’s vision has now expanded to Bali and Nias.

Yet few seem to recognise the opportunities in what Trade and Enterprise calls a “relationship-driven market.” Earlier this year Amris Hassan, the outgoing Indonesian ambassador to NZ, commented in The Jakarta Post that many businesses were failing to seize the openings created through visits by leaders of both countries.

“NZ must capture the opportunities in education. Indonesian students seeking to study abroad provide a big market,” he wrote.
“NZ schools and universities say they want overseas students but to be frank they’re not doing enough to attract Indonesians … there are 20,000 Indonesians studying in Australia. That figure is 50 times larger than the number of Indonesians in NZ schools and universities.“
The NZ Embassy in Jakarta responded with a report underpinning Mr Hassan’s comments. It added that a better relationship in education should provide a direct economic benefit and “form a pillar in a stronger political relationship.”
Worthwhile words, but they’ve stimulated little movement in Wellington ministries. There’s still no government-to- government protocol for education.
It’s the same with tourism. Minimal effort is being put into promoting our attractions in Indonesia, a country of 240 million with a rapidly expanding and cashed-up middle class.
The faults aren’t one-sided. Live cattle sales to Indonesia have hit a gateless fence. A Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia hasn’t been finalised so young people can’t apply for NZ working holiday visas – and vice versa.
Sad because our image in Asia isn’t just clean and green – it’s also safe and welcoming, while Indonesia is a magic, friendly land for our youth to explore and learn about moderate Islam.
This absence of students and visitors means we live in the shadow of Australia while Kiwis only see the Archipelago from 10,000 metres as they fly to Europe for their OE.
Indonesia’s march to democracy is stunning. It has a large economy that will only grow bigger, and it has the power to be more than competitive with China.
We understand Prime Minister John Key plans to visit Indonesia early next year. That’s good news. However if the doors he opens aren’t used by NZ entrepreneurs and departmental heads prepared to include Indonesia in their Asian vision then he’s wasting his time.

(First published in The Dominion Post 4 November 2010)


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