Monday, December 17, 2007

Indonesia to build nuclear reactor

Indonesian authorities have given the go-ahead to build the country's first nuclear power plant on the densely-populated island of Java, with the aim of producing electricity by 2016.

Atomic and Nuclear Energy Agency spokesman Deddy Harsono says the site of the project, the Muria peninsula on Central Java province's north-east coast, was chosen for its tectonic and volcanic stability - a major concern in a country that sees regular eruptions and earthquakes.

Mr Harsono says the project will be tendered in 2008, for start of construction in 2010 and production in 2016.

The project, which was shelved in 1997 due to mounting public opposition and the discovery and exploitation of the large Natuna gas field, involves the construction of four plants, each with a 1,000 megawatt capacity.

Under the original plans, 12 nuclear power plants were slated for the northern coast of Java, with a total capacity of 7,000 megawatts.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country with more than 214 million people, currently relies on hydro, coal and fuel-generated electricity.

The rapid growth in energy consumption has required Jakarta to double its electricity production over the past 25 years.

Critics of the nuclear project, including legislators, environmentalists and academics, say Indonesia has many alternative energy sources and that a decision on whether to build the plants should rest with the people.

- AFP

Indonesia Benefit From World Bank-UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative Report

The Jakarta Post - September 26, 2007

Mas Achmad Santosa and Nenad Bago, Jakarta

During his visit to the U.S. to attend the UN General Assembly this week, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is slated to meet World Bank President Robert Zoellick to discuss the joint World Bank-UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative Report.

This report ranked former president Soeharto at the top of its list of the most corrupt political leaders. Soeharto's ill-gotten money is estimated at between US$15 billion and $35 billion, which he allegedly embezzled during his tenure from 1967 to 1998.

The essence of the StAR Initiative, prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank (WB), is to introduce an action plan that emphasizes international and global cooperation to help victim countries (i.e., developing countries) recover assets stolen and hidden by former political leaders and their associates.

StAR also underlines the critical importance of cooperation between developed countries, especially the financial center jurisdictions (which often serve as havens for assets stolen by former political leaders), and the developing countries from where assets were stolen.

Learning from countries such as Nigeria, Peru and the Philippines, which have enjoyed some recent successes in the recovery of assets stolen by their former political leaders, Sani Abacha, Alberto Fujimori and Ferdinand Marcos, respectively, it is clear that the asset recovery process is time-consuming -- it took Nigeria 6-7 years, Peru 4 years and the Philippines 18 years -- and costly due to expensive legal and investigation fees.

There have been already been some attempts to recover assets allegedly stolen by Soeharto. They include a move by President BJ Habibie to send then attorney general Andi Ghalib and justice minister Muladi to Switzerland back in 1999. The pair returned home empty handed. The government has intervened in the case involving Soeharto's son Tommy and Paribas Bank in Guernsey, which is currently underway, and has filed a civil suit in the Jakarta District Court aimed at getting back the assets of foundations established by Soeharto.

The efforts of post-Soeharto governments to recover stolen assets needs to be translated into a clear national strategy with a clear action plan that includes international support.

Therefore, the result of the meeting between SBY and the World Bank and UN agencies this week will reveal the extent of the current government's political will.

There are two main reasons why SBY should show strong political will in recovering the assets allegedly stolen by Soeharto. First, it will be a burden on the nation that will have far-reaching moral and historical consequences if we don't overcome the obstacles that are impeding the process of returning the assets allegedly stolen by Soeharto. Second, two influential international reports (TI's Corruption Perception Index and the StAR Initiative report) that have named Indonesia as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and Soeharto as the most corrupt political leader in the world have implications for national pride and Indonesia's international standing.

Indonesia needs a clear strategy for asset recovery. Under the StAR initiative, Indonesia should contact the governments that have successfully recovered stolen assets, including Nigeria, Peru and the Philippines, to learn about their experiences.

Generally, as StAR points out, little can be achieved without the effective cooperation and good will of the countries where proceeds of corruption are hidden. Jurisdictions where stolen assets are hidden, often in developed countries, may not be responsive to requests for legal assistance.

While the entering into force of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) is a big step forward, it is important to realize that half of the G-8 countries have yet to ratify it. Even when the conditions are right for pursuing asset recovery, some developed countries may not cooperate as they do not trust the requesting country, lack confidence in their legal systems, or for political reasons.

Therefore, StAR is relevant to Indonesia in both the short and long terms. In the short term, StAR can put pressure on countries where assets are hidden to seriously engage in the asset recovery process. StAR can also provide support to Indonesia through financial and technical assistance for its own asset recovery efforts. In the longer term, StAR can assist Indonesia to strengthen its legal and public financial management systems by supporting initiatives that will lead to good governance in these areas.

Indonesia also needs to show everyone, at home and abroad, that it intends to use the recovered assets in a transparent and accountable manner so as to support domestic programs aimed at alleviating widespread poverty.

The writers are legal reform and anticorruption analysts.

Making democracy work, Islamically


Indonesia’s Muslim educators support democracy, but grapple with how to make that commitment consistent with Islamic law.


*Robert W Hefner*

Ever since the Taliban rolled into Kabul, Afghanistan on 26 September 1996, many people have asked whether Islamic schools are the fount from which contemporary Islamist radicalism flows. In the weeks following the departure of Indonesia’s authoritarian President Suharto in May 1998, political observers expressed similar concerns about Indonesia’s Islamic schools. Just days after Suharto’s departure, dozens of Islamist paramilitaries, many with ties to Islamic boarding schools, sprang up in towns across the country. Many launched ‘sweeping’ campaigns, looking for alleged purveyors of drugs, alcohol, and sex, as well as young women unfortunate enough to be found out and about without a head scarf. In several locales, militias engaged in street-battles with Christians, democracy activists, and even the local police.

More than anything else, however, it was the October 2002 terrorist bombings of a beachfront pub in south Bali that pushed concerns about Indonesia’s Islamic schools to a new high. Students from an Islamic boarding school in Lamongan, East Java were eventually convicted of the crime. They and several of their teachers were shown to have ties to the al-Mukmin boarding school in Central Java. Al-Mukmin is the boarding school founded by Abu Bakar Ba`asyir, a senior Islamic scholar who is
widely thought to have served for several years as the spiritual leader of the terrorist organisation, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). For some Indonesian observers, facts like these confirmed that at least some of Indonesia’s Islamic schools had been turned into training camps for terrorist militants.


The forward-looking mainstream

However, Islamic education in Indonesia is nothing if not varied, and its central streams look little like the radical fringe. With some 11,000 Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) and 36,000 Islamic day schools (madrasah), Indonesia has one of the largest Islamic educational sectors in the world. A full 13 per cent of the country’s elementary school population receives their primary education in Muslim day
schools. More than twice that number take evening or weekend religious classes at Islamic schools. About one per cent of Indonesia’s Islamic schools might be described as socially radical, and the number that seems inclined to support militant violence is no more than a few dozen.

Far more representative of the educational mainstream, then, is Indonesia’s system of State Islamic Universities (UIN, IAIN). Under the leadership of Mukti Ali – who was Minister of Religion from 1971-1978),Indonesia’s Ministry of Religion undertook an ambitious modernisation of the state Islamic colleges, which had been formally established in 1960.

Today, every student admitted to the state Islamic university system fulfills divisional studies requirements that begin with courses on Islamic history and contextualising methodologies for the study of Islam. With their undogmatic emphasis on alternative interpretations of key historical events, these courses use methods similar to those in comparative religion programs in the West, but rarely used in higher education in other Muslim countries.

Since the early 2000s, seven of the state Islamic universities have begun a far-reaching restructuring that includes establishing new faculties in non-religious fields like medicine, psychology, general education, and business. No less surprising, since 2004, all students entering the state Islamic system have been required to take a civics course which introduces students to the ideals of democracy, civil society, and human rights. No where else in the Muslim world do Muslim colleges provide comparable instruction on democratic values. One reason
this is so significant is that the state Islamic college system acts as a cultural broker for new ideas and programs to most of Indonesia’s 47,000 Islamic schools.


Democracy and God’s law

The question these broad-minded reforms raise is whether the democratic values being promoted in the state Islamic system are in fact representative of general cultural currents among Muslim educators. In an effort to examine Muslim educators’ views on Islam and democracy, in early 2006 I worked with staff at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta to carry out a survey of 940 Muslim educators in
100 madrasah and Islamic boarding schools in eight provinces in Indonesia. The survey had 184 questions, the aggregate results of which are too complex to present here. But even a summary overview of the educators’ views is revealing.


Indonesian Muslim educators’ ideas on democracy are neither
formalistic nor crudely majoritarian; they also extend to
subtle civil rights.

The most interesting of the survey’s findings concern educators’ views on democracy and syariah, or Islamic law. An impressive 85.9 per cent of Muslim educators agree that democracy is the best form of government for Indonesia. In surveys of Muslim public opinion in other countries, analysts have greeted results like these with scepticism, claiming that the concept of democracy respondents had in mind is just majority rule, with little concern for another of democracy’s key ingredients, civil
and minority rights. The Indonesian survey, however, had a battery of questions designed to get at these latter points. The results confirm that Indonesian Muslim educators’ ideas on democracy are neither formalistic nor crudely majoritarian. In fact, the educators’ views extend to subtle civil rights.

These rights include support for the idea of equality before the law (94.2 per cent of educators agree); freedom to join political organisations (82.5 per cent); protections for the media from arbitrary government action (92.8 per cent); and the notion that party competition improves government performance (80 per cent). These figures are as high as comparable data collected by the World Values Survey for Western Europe and the United States.

If this was all there was to educators’ attitudes on Islam and democracy, the results would be brightly optimistic indeed. However, educators’ views on democracy are not stand-alone. They co-exist with an almost equally strong commitment to syariah. For example, notwithstanding the strength of their commitment to democracy, 72.2 percent of the educators believe the state should be based on the Qur’an and Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet Mohammed) and guided by religious experts. A full 82.8 per cent of educators think the state should work to implement syariah. Support for syariah wobbles on a few points. For example, it drops to 59.1 per cent when the regulation in question concerns the amputation of thieves’ hands, or government efforts to require performance of the Ramadan fast (only 49.9 per cent agree). On
these matters, at least, some educators seem to have second thoughts about a too-literalist implementation of the law.

Nonetheless, when asked whether inobservant Muslims should be allowed to serve in the National Assembly, 74.3 per cent of educators feel they should not. A full 64.4 per cent agree with ongoing campaigns in Indonesia to implement Islamic law. On matters of women and non-Muslim religious minorities, we see a similar tension between educators’ enthusiasm for democracy and their commitment to syariah. Some 93.5 per cent of the educators believe that a non-Muslim should not be allowed to serve as president. A full 55.8 per cent feel that women should not be allowed to run for the office. Some 51.3 per cent feel that women do not have the intellectual capacity to serve as judges. About 20 per cent would bar non-Muslims from teaching in public schools; a similar percentage want to ban non-Muslims from performing religious services near the neighborhood in which the interviewee resides. Twice that percentage would bar non-Muslims from erecting houses of worship in the same area. In short, on three matters – gender, non-Muslims, and the place of Islamic law in government itself – the educators’ do not appear to be particularly tolerant.


The sacred and the practical

We see in these survey data, then, the tip of a larger problem for Muslim politics and public ethics. The Muslim educators’ stated commitments to democracy, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press are about as strong as anywhere in the democratic world. However, on religious matters, Indonesian Muslims are not secularist liberals.
Where a democratic principle runs up against an issue on which syariah is seen as having something to say, most educators feel that they must defer to syariah. At times this deference results in judgments that many observers, including most Muslim theorists who write on democracy, would regard as undemocratic.

However, in the complex circumstances of actual life, the tension between syariah and democracy does not appear to be as clear-cut as these survey data initially indicate. However strong educators’ support for syariah, most do not vote for parties dedicated to implementation of Islamic law. An additional battery of interviews that I carried out with 200 educators between 2004 and 2007 revealed that fewer than 30 per cent
said they had voted for an Islamist party advocating the implementation of syariah, and fewer than 10 per cent voted for parties advocating the law’s immediate implementation.

Does this mean that the data indicating broad support for syariah are inaccurate or, alternately, that Muslim educators are hypocrites? The discrepancy between the survey data and electoral choices can be interpreted in several ways, but, based on my interviews, I think it reflects two primary influences. First, the discrepancy shows that Indonesian Muslims do indeed believe that syariah is God’s direct and sacred guidance for humanity. Rejecting syariah amounts to rejecting God’s commands. That is something most educators are not prepared to do.


Most Muslim educators affirm the importance of syariah but
want its implementation to be consistent with justice and
fairness.

Second, and some might think paradoxically, this idealised commitment to syariah does not result in most Muslims making immediate implementation of the law their first political priority. Some interviewees pointed out that syariah can only be implemented in its entirety when a fully just social order is in place (which may be a very long time indeed). Until that time, stoning adulterers and amputating thieves’ hands is just not consistent with the broader conviction that syariah is supposed to be a blessing for humanity. Whereas conservative Islamists insist the meaning of the law is clear and unambiguous, some interviewees pointed that it is in fact neither, but requires continual contextualisation.

Rather than agreeing with the radical Islamist claim that syariah is the key to solving Indonesia’s problems, then, most Indonesian Muslim educators seem to engage in a subtle rational calculus as to the proper approach to the law’s enactment. They affirm the law’s importance, but are keen to make sure that its implementation is consistent with their general ideas on justice and fairness.

If this conclusion is correct, it means that the educators’ commitment to syariah is sincere, and a social fact that all political analysis must acknowledge. But the commitment coexists with an equally significant recognition that tackling the practical challenges of modern government and society requires effective empirical measures, not just vague invocations of the benefits of God’s law. Parties or actors that can demonstrate that implementing syariah can solve practical problems may yet be able to tap this otherwise amorphous reservoir of support for God’s law. But those that simply repeat that the law is a panacea for all society’s problems will not necessarily be rewarded for their views.

Inasmuch as attitudes like those of the educators are widespread in Indonesian society (and other surveys indicate that they are), these findings suggest that Muslim Indonesians are likely to continue to grapple for some time to come with the question of how to balance the ideals of syariah with those of democracy. At times the effort may give rise to ‘culture wars’ as intense as those that have taken place in the United States and other Western countries over the proper place of religion in public life. What is certain is that the results of this ongoing debate will have serious implications for the culture and practice of Indonesian democracy. *ii*

*Robert W. Hefner (rhefner@bu.edu )* is Professor of Anthropology and Associate Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs at Boston University. He is the author of several books on Indonesian Islam, including /Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia/ (Princeton, 2000) and the recent volume (co-edited with Muhammad Qasim Zaman), /Schooling Islam:
The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education/ (Princeton 2007).

Reforming jihadists


Preachers to the converted

Dec 13th 2007 | JAKARTA
From /The Economist/ print edition



The persuasive powers of reformed jihadists are being used to “re-educate” terrorists.


MEETING Nasir Abas at one of Indonesia's trendiest hotels, it is hard to imagine that this polite man in casual Western clothes was once a leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the region's most dangerous terrorist group. Now his job is to persuade his former comrades to give up the idea of perpetrating violence against the West in the name of Islam.

As he explains in his mild-mannered way, he uses two lines of argument.

One is theological: he points out the verses in the Koran that forbid aggressive warfare, and which insist that the lives of non-combatants, especially women and children, must be protected. The other line is more strategic: to convince his listeners that not all Westerners are anti-Muslim, he stresses the fact that many Americans opposed the war in Iraq. And he challenges them: have terrorist bombs made people respect Islam more? Some prisoners angrily reject his arguments, he says—but as long as they are still prepared to listen to them, he thinks it worth continuing to try.

Indonesia's anti-terrorism police, like their counterparts in many other countries, have set up a programme to “deradicalise” Islamist militants. Just as the internet now provides “courses” designed to persuade young Muslims that terrorist violence is legitimate—by arguing, for example, that killing civilians might be necessary in some
circumstances—governments and traditional theologians are working hard to develop and use arguments that guide people the other way.

In many countries, moderate Islamic clerics are expected to do most of the persuading—and they must run the risk of being viewed as government stooges. The Indonesian authorities have taken the risky step of using ex-militants, some of whom have only slightly moderated their views on when violence is acceptable.

Like many of the jihadists round the world who enjoy sufficient “street credibility” to sway younger hearts and minds, Mr Abas won his spurs as a fighter in the American-backed campaign against the Soviet occupation

of Afghanistan. While some Saudi veterans of that campaign began directing their energy against their homeland, Mr Abas—who was born in Singapore but grew up in Malaysia—returned to his own native region to spread the ultra-Islamist fire. He set up a JI network in the Philippines.

He had moved to Jakarta by the time the group bombed a nightclub in Bali in 2002, killing 202 people. He insists he was not involved in that operation and always disapproved of attacking civilians. But as a leading strategist in the organisation and the brother-in-law of one of the main conspirators, Mukhlas, he was arrested and given a short jail sentence.

The 2002 bombing, followed by others against foreign targets in Bali and Jakarta, forced an overhaul of Indonesia's police and intelligence services. As JI members were rounded up, two new police squads decided to see if they could get some of them to co-operate. Through kindnesses, such as arranging family visits, they hoped to dispel the jihadists' assumption that all policemen are /thoghut/ (un-Islamic), and thereby to encourage them to reconsider other deeply held views. The next step was to get those militants who still believed in the rightness of the bombings to listen to those, like Mr Abas, who had disapproved of them all along, or other co-operating but harder-line militants like Ali Imron, who had become convinced that the attacks were wrong only more recently.

Unlike many other Muslim countries that are experimenting with deradicalisation schemes—these include Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Algeria—Indonesia has a relatively open political system where the actions of the police must face public and parliamentary scrutiny. There was uproar when the police handlers of the scheme were seen treating Mr Imron, who was directly implicated in the Bali bombings, to coffee at a fancy Jakarta mall in 2004. Since then he has kept a lower profile, staying at the capital's police headquarters. In another sign of Indonesia's openness, the authorities gave an independent think-tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), enough access to make a broad evaluation of their scheme.

The ICG's report, in late November, was fairly positive, though it expressed some serious worries. Its main one was that the extreme corruption and disorder found in Indonesia's prisons may be negating all the scheme's attempts to persuade jailed militants that the system they are fighting is not utterly /thoghut/. With some prisoners rejecting attempts to deradicalise them, the ICG says the scheme may be
succeeding only on those who are not particularly dangerous. The ICG's Sidney
Jones says JI has gone “dormant”, so it may no longer make sense to focus efforts on its members. Meanwhile, the unreformed radicals may be recruiting among the ranks of ordinary prisoners as fast as the police-run scheme is deradicalising. And, outside the prison walls, other influences such as the dozens of /pesantren /(boarding schools) run openly by JI men, may be turning out more young militants.

A policeman close to the project admits that probably, more radicals are being created than are being won over to moderation. But he insists that the project has at least got prisoners to divulge valuable intelligence.

The country now has some policemen with insight into the militants' thinking—before, they hadn't a clue. This has helped police round up many of JI's leaders including, in June, the group's presumed military chief, Abu Dujana, who went on trial this week. And there have been no more bombs since 2005.

Still, any crime-fighting strategy based on the idea of “taking a thief to catch a thief” can encounter ethical dilemmas. In Indonesia, some of the people the police hired to deradicalise prisoners are only marginally less militant than those being lectured to. Mr Imron apparently still argues that bombings could be legitimate in
Indonesia—if there were sufficient public support for them.

The police's rationale for letting him argue this is that his fairly extreme views give him more credibility among his “pupils” than someone more moderate and pro-establishment could ever have. As the ICG report notes, the whole project is based on the assumption that, by bolstering a somewhat more moderate Islamic view of the world, the most radical, violent variety is weakened. That is hard to disprove—but by lending credibility to some relatively fundamentalist views by paying someone to argue them, the authorities may be in danger of appearing to endorse them.

For all the doubts, Indonesia's deradicalisation programme does at least seem more likely to produce positive results than the methods being tried in Thailand's Muslim-majority southern provinces. The army (which seized power in a coup last year) has scooped up hundreds of young Muslims merely suspected of “links” to the region's separatist uprising, and sent them to camps for compulsory “job training”. Last month a group of almost 400 of them won a court order declaring their detention illegal. If any policy is likely to turn locals against the authorities and act as a recruiting-sergeant for militants, this is it.

In Bali, new incentive for developing nations to curb emissions


Forest-preservation pledges of $166 million this week could entice them to take part in a post-Kyoto climate deal.

Nusa Dua, Indonesia - Efforts to map the way to a post-Kyoto climate treaty have sailed into rough water this week. But amid the turbulence, a key climate initiative is gathering momentum.

Dubbed REDD, it would reward nations for keeping chain saws out of threatened tropical forests, serving as a powerful magnet that could pull several developing countries with significant emissions into a new global-warming pact.

Deforestation accounts for roughly 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that human activities pump into the atmosphere. This means "REDD is going to be a critical element of a global deal" on climate for 2013 and beyond, says Andrew Deutz, senior policy adviser for the Nature Conservancy.

This week, the World Bank pledged $160 million for pilot projects to test the idea, with Norway chipping in an additional $5 million. In response, some 30 developing nations expressed strong interest in the idea, first proposed by Costa Rica and Papua-New Guinea at the 2005 UN climate talks in Montreal. Even the US-based Nature Conservancy – a group that typically finds itself asking others for cash – has ponied up $1 million toward the effort.

REDD, shorthand for "reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation," is a triple winner, explains the organization's Dr. Deutz. Developing countries would set targets for avoided deforestation and earn carbon credits for beating those targets, but would incur no penalty if they fall short of their goals. Those credits would be in demand among industrial countries as a relatively cheap way for them to meet more-stringent emissions reduction goals. And the move could protect biodiversity and preserve the critical services healthy forests provide.

The bottom line: Developing countries could pocket from $2.3 billion to $23 billion a year from avoiding deforestation under REDD, according to Frances Seymour, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Jakarta, Indonesia. The range reflects different assumptions about the price of carbon on international markets and on the expanse of forest involved. And as talks on crafting a framework for negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol wind down
here, REDD looks as though it will be incorporated into that framework,analysts here say.

Tough negotiations in Bali

Efforts to craft such a post-Kyoto road map grew testy on Thursday after the European Union threatened to boycott a US summit of major emitters next month. The EU perceives the meeting, as well as US balking here in Bali, as efforts to dilute or derail the UN process. The highest-profile issue has been a reference that cites scientists' projection that to hold global warming to about 3.6 degrees F., global emissions must fall from 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels. EU leaders are baffled and angry that the wording, which the White House didn't object to in a pre-Bali agreement, suddenly has become an apparent deal breaker for the US.

Including the 25-to-40 percent range would signal that industrial countries remain serious about making further emissions cuts – a key factor in getting developing countries to agree to take part in a post-Kyoto deal.

While REDD has also been championed as a way to get developing nations on board, the idea has its critics. Groups championing indigenous people's rights say they doubt that many if any of the benefits from REDD would trickle down to the people who need it most. And it could trigger land grabs by individuals or companies who want to cash in on REDD's credits.

Others, such as Marina Silva, Brazil's environment minister, argue that the use of credits in conjunction with REDD would allow industrial countries to duck their responsibility for reducing their own emissions.

Still, what a difference seven years make. At the 2000 global climate talks in The Hague, environmental groups split on the issue of getting credit for the carbon reservoirs that forests build up protested each others' press conferences. Now, most environmental groups back the idea.

Several factors account for the change, says Claudia McMurray, US assistant secretary of State for Oceans, Environment, and Science. One is a recognition of what impact deforestation can have on a country's ranking as a greenhouse-gas emitter, she explains. Indonesia and Brazil are third- and fourth-worst globally, after China and the US, because of deforestation and the wildfires related to it, she says.

In addition, the science related to forests, their carbon content, and the processes that can boost or reduce emissions has improved.

And politically, tropical-forest countries are joining forces to press for help on the issue in ways they haven't been able to for other issues. They recognize that "rates of deforestation are really staggering, and if nothing is done – in the climate arena or anywhere –we're going to lose some very precious forests," says Ms. McMurray.

Earlier this week, the Woods Hole Research Center unveiled a study on the impact climate is having on tropical forests in the Amazon and on the impact deforestation there has on climate.

REDD a 'powerful proposal'

"If current trends continue, by 2030 ... 55 percent of the Amazon will have been cleared or impoverished by some combination of logging, drought, and fire," says Daniel Nepstad, the scientist who compiled the report. "In my 23 years working in the Amazon, I've never seen so may powerful forces coming together" to threaten the world's largest tropical forest.

He calls REDD a "very powerful proposal" that could play a significant role in holding back the tide of deforestation.

Over the past several years, researchers have been whittling away at some of the technical problems that made forest issues so contentious at past climate talks.

For instance, Sandra Brown, of Winrock International in Arlington, Va.,this week unveiled the results of work she and her colleagues have done to develop mapping techniques that highlight areas vulnerable to deforestation.

And satellite technology has been a major help in developing baseline estimates of the amount of carbon a forest holds, notes Doug Boucher, with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Within the next five to 10 years, he says, remote sensing technology will become still more precise – determining the species of trees, as well as their height and distribution over spaces as small as a few yards.

But enthusiasm for REDD is tempered by an acknowledged lack of experience with it. That's why pilot projects such as those the World Bank aims to underwrite are important.

Some argue that to halt deforestation, countries may need to restructure their ministries, bringing portfolios such as agriculture and energy into the environment ministry. Carlos Rodgriguez, former minister of environment and energy in Costa Rica, says that was crucial to his country's success at halting and in some areas reversing tropical deforestation.

These practical considerations may frustrate those developing countries who are eager to jump on the REDD bandwagon now, suggests CIFOR's Ms. Seymour. "We're going to be facing a tension between dealing with climate change as an emergency, reducing emissions as quickly as possible, but doing so at a pace that makes sure we don't make mistakes

by rushing forward too quickly and not having the institutions in place to make sure it's successful," she says.

S. Korea, Indonesia Join to Produce Armored Vehicles


By JUNG SUNG-KI, SE

South Korea’s rolling stock maker Rotem will transfer technology to Indonesia to help the Southeast Asian nation develop wheeled armored fighting vehicles, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced Dec. 13.

Representatives from Rotem, a unit of Hyundai Motor, and Indonesia’s PT.PINDAD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the joint development and production of six-wheel-drive armored vehicles during aceremony at DAPA’s headquarters in central Seoul.

“We believe this MoU will pave the way for the future export of South Korea’s armored vehicle technology to foreign countries, particularly Asian and Middle Eastern nations,” said Cmdr. Park Sung-soo, a public affairs officer for DAPA.

Indonesia plans to equip its military with about 400 advanced armored combat Vehicles, Park said.

The MoU with Indonesia is Rotem’s second contract on the transfer of technology abroad, following a contract in June with Turkey over the XK2 Black Panther main battle tank.

Jakarta is considered Seoul’s key arms trade partner. South Korea sold seven KT-1 Woongbi basic trainers and spare parts to Indonesia in 2003 under a $60 million contract, which made the country one of the few aircraft exporters in the world.

In 2006, Indonesia purchased 12 more KT-1s. The country is also a potential buyer of South Korea’s indigenous submarines.

In a move to boost bilateral cooperation in the defense industry, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono, issued a joint declaration on “strategic partnership relationship” during a summit in December 2006.

The two leaders agreed to improve cooperation on defense-related technology transfer and joint development.

The Rotem-PT.PINDAD contract was reached during a joint defense committee between South Korea and Indonesia in Seoul in August, DAPA officials said.

The climate conference: What's in it for us?


*Endy M. Bayuni*, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali

The ongoing climate conference in Bali is quite a show for a developing country like Indonesia to host. More than 10,000 delegates, observers and journalists, and five heads of state and dozens of dignitaries are gathered to bring the Dec. 3-14 conference to its climax this week as they discuss ways of saving our planet, which seems to be getting warmer at an ever-increasing rate.

Granted it is a United Nations conference, which is picking up the huge bill. Indonesia volunteered to host it when the world body canceled on Thailand following the military coup in Bangkok in September last year.

The gathering has already been billed as the largest ever on climate change, a testament to the importance of the issue at hand. Either that,or many people have come because it's being held in Bali.

Still, for this privilege, Indonesia is spending some of its own money, and deploying thousands of people to help with the protocol, security and many other arrangements, in order to make sure that the meetings proceed smoothly and safely.

Naturally, the most frequently asked question in the minds of people in this country is "what's in it for us?" Without intending to sound selfish, what do we, as a nation, get out of this to justify the huge expense and trouble that we must go through?

In terms of tangibles, there are not that many.

Bali tourism is obviously one of the beneficiaries, with all hotel rooms in the Nusa Dua and nearby Jimbaran resorts taken up. Restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, car rentals and tourist sites are reporting brisk businesses, an added bonus ahead of the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Tourism in Indonesia's renowned holiday island has been clawing back its share of the international tourism market following the devastating impacts of two terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005. This conference is important, not only for the presence of the 10,000 people, but more importantly for the big publicity that it attracts, and for providing a testament that Bali is safe now.

The government has also been at pains to explain to the Indonesian public that with the right strategy, Indonesia stands to gain billions of dollars from the growing global carbon trade, one of the substantial issues being discussed at the climate change conference.

To bolster its chances of securing that money, Indonesia and other countries that are home to large tropical rain forests are pushing the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program into the carbon trading mechanism. As chairman of the conference, Indonesia inserted REDD, which essentially makes funds available for countries with large tropical forestry resources, on to the conference's main agenda.

What else is there for Indonesia?

Other benefits are less tangible and are difficult to quantify. The experience of hosting such a major international conference is in itself quite a feat. Those who are involved, directly or indirectly, have gained valuable skills and knowledge in organizing big events.

There is the knowledge to be gained just by sitting through the meetings and witnessing at close hand the process of negotiations and of lobbying behind the scenes.

The Foreign Ministry and Trade Ministry will have more people with greater insights into the complexities of negotiating deals after this. There is the massive publicity Indonesia gets from being in the international spotlight. This is a new Indonesia that is very different to what it was 10 years ago -- it is more democratic, more humane, more peaceful and more confident. This is a story that is probably not that
well known abroad. This is an opportunity for Indonesia to tell its story.

The conference serves to show the world that Indonesia is capable of not only hosting an international conference, but also of providing the necessary leadership in directing the conference to bridge the huge differences that remain on climate change issues.

The message we want to convey is that after going through economic and political turmoil and a series of devastating natural disasters, Indonesia today is very much back on its feet, ready to play its part in the search for solutions to international problems, including global warming.

Thanks to extensive media coverage, the Indonesian public has become much more aware about global warming and its consequences, as well as the need to act, than would be the case if the conference took place elsewhere, like in Thailand.

So the answer to the question, "what's in it for Indonesia?" is: a lot.

It has made Indonesia a better host, a better organizer, a better negotiator and better at environmental issues. After this conference, Indonesia will come out a much better country and a better nation. That is priceless.

UN climate conference expected to embrace forest protection as part of climate change plan


BALI, Indonesia: Fighting illegal logging has for decades mostly been
marked by failure. There was never enough money or political will to
overcome the corruption and poverty that drove people in tropical
nations to cut down trees.

But with new evidence showing deforestation contributes about 20 percent
to global warming — emitting more heat-trapping gases than cars, ships
and jet planes do every year — delegates at the U.N. climate conference are taking a fresh look at the problem.And, for the first time, they are expected to include forest protection measures in negotiations on replacing the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. They also are likely to set up a mechanism that would resolve a problem that has been at the heart of the deforestation — how to make it more
valuable for governments to protect their trees than allow timber and
palm oil barons to cut them down.

"If we lose the world's forests, we lose the fight against climate change," Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Michael Somber told conference delegates Wednesday. "Action to reduce emission from deforestation is too important to wait."

For nearly three decades, saving tropical rain forests, especially in
the Amazon, Indonesia and Congo basin in Africa, from chain saws has been marred by missteps and disappointments. Efforts to include protection schemes in the Kyoto agreement were rejected over concerns that credit for saving forests would take
pressure off the West to reduce emissions, but also because some nations were unconvinced it would be possible to verify reforestation efforts. Western governments, instead, rolled out programs aimed at getting villagers in Africa or Southeast Asia to shift to other businesses or ensuring logs being exported from, say Indonesia or Brazil, came from sustainable sources.

But few efforts have been able to slow the pace of deforestation, resulting in the loss of 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forest each year or twice the size of Panama, according to The World Bank.

Brazil and Indonesia — where 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation — are the hardest hit mostly because of rampant illegal logging and the growing demand for biofuels and other commodities like soybeans.

"Changing forest-use patterns in developing countries is at least as difficult as cutting industrial emissions in developed countries," Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told delegates. "Yet it is a task that must be confronted ... Positive incentives from the international community would greatly help that effort, especially in the case of the poorest countries."

Ten years since Kyoto's signing, donors, environmentalists and tropical countries say they hope results will be different. Dubbed Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Degradation or REDD, the tentative program will essentially pay countries who can show they are making efforts to reduce their levels of deforestation and, in the case of Indonesia, protect peat lands. The program is being hailed not only as a climate change solution, but also as a way of helping protect biodiversity and providing a cheap way to shield communities from the worsening floods and landslides that are so common in much of Southeast Asia.

"If you agree with Al Gore that we have a climate emergency, you can't afford to have 20 percent of the problem off the table. We have to do it," said Frances J. Seymour, the director general of the Center for International Forest Research in Indonesia, referring to the Nobel prize-winning former U.S. vice president.

"There are so many other reasons to conserve forest from sustainable development forest." Still with as much as US$23 billion (euro15.6 billion) expected to be available for forest protection, countries have been jockeying in Bali to include language that would make them eligible for REDD. Some like India and Costa Rica are pushing to be able to gain assistance for conserving their forest since they already have strong protection measures in place. African countries want to include the word
degradation — tree loss to such things as farming and small scale logging — since their deforestation levels are relatively low.

"Everybody is sure that reduce emissions from deforestation will be in there so they all want their little piece of it," said Douglas Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The form of assistance has also been an issue with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea leading an effort for countries to get carbon credits for conservation — which they could eventually trade on a commodities market for cash much as emissions are done in Europe. Brazil, on the other hand, supports creating a fund created through direct aid from Western countries, or taxes on such things as international air travel or the energy sector.


Other concerns are the methodology for verifying a country's reforestation efforts, the corruption that remains rife in forest departments and concerns that the bid to save forests will force indigenous people off their land or deprive them of their livelihoods.

That debate played out Tuesday outside a World Bank meeting, where seven Western governments were announcing plans to donate US$160 million (€109 million) to the agency's newly created Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. Norway on Thursday agreed to contribute US$5 million (€3.4 million) to the fund, bring the total to US$165 million (€112 million). It is a forest protection program that will fund pilot projects in five developing countries to better understand what methods will best work for REDD. So far 30 countries from Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Latin
America have requested to participate in the program.

"We reject REDD," said Mina Susana Setra, a member of the Indigenous People's Alliance Archipelago and one of 60 people protesting the plans with chants of "Hands Off World Bank". "Who will take control? Who will benefit? When these projects happen, we are forced from our land."

World Bank President Robert Zoellick insisted the projects would consider the concerns of indigenous people while at the same time providing a global solution to climate change. Countries involved in REDD have 85 percent of tropical forests, and proponents of the scheme note that doing nothing to protect the trees — which release carbon dioxide into the air when they are cut or burned — would be like allowing the United States or China to continue to pollute unabated.

"This signals that the world cares about the global value of forests and is ready to pay for it," he said. "This can change economic options for many people who depend on the forests for their livelihoods. There is now a value for conserving, not just harvesting forests."

BBC

Canadian protesters upset with treatment at climate change summit in Bali


By Mike De Souza, CanWest News Service

NUSA DUA, Indonesia — A youth delegation protesting the Harper government’s climate change policies say that a Canadian representative intimidated them on Wednesday with a warning about Indonesian prisons to get them away from a news conference held by Environment Minister John Baird.

“He said that we might have free speech in Canada, but we don’t know if we have it here, and we wouldn’t want to be arrested by the Indonesian police,” said Elizabeth McDowell, 24, who travelled to Bali from Vancouver.

McDowell was among a handful of Canadians who held up a sign questioning the government’s leadership at the climate change conference while Baird was arriving to speak with reporters.

But she said the federal government representative who is in charge of Canadian security at the summit quickly yelled out to Indonesian police asking them to question the youth.

“He called them over and he was quite aggressive,” said McDowell.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the Canadian representative was not part of the government, but defended his actions.

“My understanding is that he was watching out for them and ensuring their safety,” said Harper’s press secretary Dimitri Soudas. “He was trying to be helpful. That’s a shame that they took his kindness towards them and spun it.”

Soudas has urged Canadian reporters covering the climate change summit to be skeptical about the dozens of Canadian youth who are promoting action on global warming, since some of them are card-carrying members of the Liberal party.

But McDowell said the accusations suggest the government is scared of criticism, noting that Baird bailed out of a scheduled event the previous night to present his own climate change plan to the conference.

“I think they’re a little bit threatened by us,” she said. “They’re not ready to defend their plan because they don’t have one, and they’re not ready to defend their actions here.”

She stressed that she had no particular political affiliation, adding that the youth coalition is made up of people from all political stripes.

The Indonesian police officer who was called over by the Canadian representative asked the youth a few questions, but soon walked away after determining they were no threat to security.

The youth have complained that they have been excluded from the official Canadian government delegation — along with environmental groups and opposition parties — while industry representatives, including an oilpatch executive, were welcome. Baird has not responded to requests for a meeting with the youth, she said.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stoking democracy in a Muslim giant



Indonesian president battles pessimism amid realistic expectations


By *TOM PLATE*

BALI, Indonesia — Do you like big-time success stories? There may be a quiet one in the making here that almost no one knows about, aside from the neighbors. And it's an important story at this early stage, even if the political tale's ending cannot honestly be forecast.

The plot revolves around Indonesia, which many Western tourists know best as the country that houses Bali, one of the most gorgeous places anywhere. It also hous more Muslims than anywhere as well. But how does a fledgling democracy flower in the largest Islamic country on earth? Isn't Islam utterly incompatible with democracy? Interested observers can hardly get a better answer than the one provided by Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono, the elected president of what in fact is our third-largest democracy, after India and the United States.

"In Indonesia, democracy, Islam and modernity go hand in hand, effortlessly together," he insisted in a major speech. "Rather than becoming a bastion of radicalism, the heart and soul of Indonesia remains moderate and progressive."

A former general himself, Yudhoyono proffered that optimism in the course of accepting the "Democracy Award," which honors the country's 240-plus million citizens for pushing democracy forward. He told cheering delegates at the International Association of Political Consultants (celebrating the organization's 40th annual conference) that democracy was here to stay in Indonesia.

In 2004, when Indonesia offered national elections that included the first direct election of the president, approximately 80 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. This was not just a high turnout, it was a political revolution.

"For many decades," the tall, solidly built president explained, "Indonesian politics gravitated around the elite. Indonesians have complained about feudalistic tendencies in our political culture. This elitism is unhealthy for our democracy."

The president admitted that democracy all by itself will not satisfy the people if it fails to deliver economic improvement: "When people cast their ballot, they do so with the intention of improving their lives. Democracy must be a process of fulfilling that hope."

For its plain-speaking and evident optimism, the president's address won over the convention's delegates and lifted them to a standing ovation. Yet, in this region, it has been the fast track of authoritarianism that has been more closely associated with prosperity.

Neighbors Singapore and Malaysia are two economically successful nations that cannot be described as classically democratic in the Western sense of the term.

At the same time, democracies in other parts of the world (U.S., Scandinavia, etc.) deemed to be world class have also been associated with good governance as well as economic achievement. There are not a whole lot of such democracies to be found in this neighborhood.

So, how will Muslim Indonesia ultimately turn out? Yudhoyono asks us to avoid pessimism while remaining grounded: "It is critical to remember that democracy cannot be taken for granted. There are many cases in the world where democracy falters, stagnates, decays, crumbles or reverses itself. And like all processes of change, [transition to] democracy is bound to be rife with endless criticism, occasional self-doubt, stubborn resistance, and numerous hurdles."

The truth is that doubt about democracy is not confined to Southeast Asia. People in the West can find their ideological faith tested. Turnout at elections is often low; campaigns are generally dreary; the quality of the debate generally hovers on the intellectual level of used-car advertisements. Prosperity defuses the irritation, but
economic downturn can bring old anxieties back to the surface.

The U.S., for its part, faces the certainty of a presidential election next year amid the distinct possibility of a significant economic downturn. To use Yudhoyono's terms, we may then face the prospect of political stagnation along with decay of the political spirit. It is then that U.S. democracy will be hard-tested. All democracies, as well as authoritarian regimes, look good when the economy is good. It is when things go sour that the resilience of a political system reveals itself.

"In the final analysis," said Yudhoyono, "democratic transition is not a linear process where you go in a straight line from A to Z. In many cases, it is a stop-go process rife with ups and downs, and shocks and jolts."

For decades after its independence from the Dutch, the political system of the giant archipelago known as Indonesia was an authoritarian one. Only in 1999 was the new electoral system was born. That's not much time to get democracy right, but it can't hurt to have a democratic leader with maturity and vision to fight against pessimism while keeping expectations realistic and hope alive. Right now, Indonesia would seem
to have that kind of leader.

---------------------
UCLA professor Tom Plate, a journalist and Burkle Center board member, participated at the the International Association of Political Consultants conference. Copyright 2007 Tom Plate

OECD invites five countries to membership talks, offers enhanced engagement to other big players


16/05/2007 - OECD countries agreed to invite Chile, Estonia, Israel, Russia and Slovenia to open discussions for membership of the Organisation and offered enhanced engagement, with a view to possible membership, to Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

*Extract from the Council Resolution on Enlargement and Enhanced Engagement*

(adopted by Council at Ministerial level on 16 May 2007):

THE COUNCIL


i) Invites the Secretary-General to strengthen OECD co-operation with Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa through enhanced engagement programs with a view to possible membership. The Council will determine whether to open discussions on membership in light of the willingness, preparedness and ability of these countries to adopt OECD practices, policies and standards.

ii) Decides to open discussions with Chile, Estonia, Israel, the Russian Federation and Slovenia and invites the Secretary-General to set out the terms, conditions and process for the accession of each of these countries to the OECD for subsequent consideration and adoption by Council. Separately, Council may raise issues of a political nature which the Secretary-General will convey to the countries concerned in the context of the discussions on accession.

iii) Invites the Secretary-General to inform other countries that have applied for membership that their applications for accession shall be further considered individually by Council as enlargement proceeds; future applications shall be similarly considered.

iv) Invites the Secretary-General to explore and develop recommendations to Council on how to expand the OECD's relations, including through enhanced engagement, with selected countries and regions of strategic interest to the OECD, identified by Council. In light of its growing importance in the world economy, priority will be given to South East Asia with a view to identifying countries for possible membership.

v) Invites the Secretary-General to report regularly to the Council on the progress of his discussions and consultations with the countries above and outline options for the OECD's further relationship with these countries. In outlining such options, due consideration will be given to the capacity of the Organisation to process potential candidates without affecting the regular programme of work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Unease grows between Jakarta and Singapore


By Eric Ellis (South-East Asia correspondent for Fortune magazine)


Resentment and envy still appear to underpin a testy relationship, writes Eric Ellis.

***

ASIDE from Bali and the brothels and business parks bordering Singapore, the city-state's investors, like Australians, have never felt particularly comfortable in Indonesia.

While its bankers shelter billions in Indonesian loot from prying Jakarta investigators, it is generally regarded as a country best avoided, a corrupt swamp of intrigues on Singapore's pristine doorstep.

And Indonesians return the suspicion with scorn. Former president B.J.Habibie once described Singapore as a Chinese "red dot" in an Islamic archipelago, a toy-town so insignificant that were it to suddenly vanish, Jakarta would not notice it missing.

That was 1998, and Indonesia was in no state to be patronising. The rupiah had lost 80% of its value, collapsing the economy. The post-Soeharto political vacuum was being exploited by religious extremists and - as Indonesian nationalists see it - by Singaporean Government funds in a $2 billion bottom-fishing trip accumulating
state assets on the cheap: major banks, marquee property and, most controversially, Indonesia's two leading mobile phone carriers.

Nine years and several presidents on, a nasty fight between Jakarta and Singapore over those telcos suggests resentment, or envy, still informs the relationship, while raising questions about how economies manage the investments of sovereign wealth funds.

Much bitterness bubbles around Telkomsel and Indosat, the carriers that control 80% of Indonesia's mobile phones market. Offshoots of Singapore's Temasek Holdings bought in soon after Megawati Soekarnoputri became president in mid-2001, when Indonesia was on its knees.

Temasek's state backing gave the deals a foreign policy hue, while Indonesia was consumed by terror, and the Bali-bombing terrorists threatening to absorb skittish Singapore into its Islamist caliphate. But Temasek's boldness has been rewarded. Its 56%-owned SingTel Optus owns a 35% share of Telkomsel, now worth an estimated four or five times its original investment, while its 100%-owned STT Telemedia controls 42% of Indosat, with a similar multiple. SingTel gets 20% of its profits from Indonesia.

But perhaps not for much longer. After a long probe into the mobiles market, measured per user as one of the world's biggest and, with margins approaching 60%, most lucrative, Indonesia's anti-monopoly agency this week demanded Temasek sell at least one of the two interests. It fined eight Singaporean affiliates and demanded tariffs
be slashed after accusing both operators of fixing prices.

It is the second time in a year that Temasek's deal making has upset a powerful neighbour, prompting a coup in Thailand last year after taking then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra out of his family business. The huge paper losses there stained the reputation of Temasek's technocratic chief executive Ho Ching, wife of Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

As in Bangkok, Temasek denies wrongdoing in Jakarta, and is challenging the ruling in court.

Singapore's official broadcaster described the ruling as a "foregone conclusion that had left political watchers, businessmen and international investors shaking their heads over the unpredictable nature of doing business in Indonesia".

Disagreeable though it is for Singapore Inc, tussles between business and regulators are inevitable. As Richard Pratt and Amcor doubtless rue, troubles are inescapable when governments decree functioning and consumer-friendly competitive markets.

Moreover, the very existence of "independent" institutions such as the KPPU, the Bahasa acronym for Jakarta's competition commission, was what investors demanded Indonesia create to rid itself of corruption and cronyism, and the policy-by-personal-fiat that marked Soeharto's 30-year kleptocracy. (Indeed, were the KPPU's rulings on cross-ownership applied in Singapore itself, state-owned Temasek might be in a pickle there, too. Temasek companies control Singapore's two leading mobile operators, and have a substantial stake in the third. But the same Government that owns Temasek only instituted a competition commission less than three years ago, after Indonesia, and insists it provides full and fair competition.)

But this being Indonesia, where few things are ever as they appear, there are intrigues and wrinkles.

The KPPU ruling was light on detail, and comes amid unresolved diplomatic dramas that have poisoned bilateral affairs. The most contentious has been Jakarta's desire to extradite errant businessmenfrom legal exile in Singapore.

Merrill Lynch found recently that 33% of Singapore's 55,000 millionaires were Indonesians controlling $US87 billion ($A98.78 billion) in assets on the island, fuelling a colossal property boom.

Jakarta sees an extradition treaty with a reluctant Singapore as essential to its anti-corruption effort, so it can go after corrupt officials and businessmen who have salted ill-gotten gains in Singapore banks.

Jakarta is also miffed that Singapore is extending its borders, demanding that traders stop shipping Indonesian sand for Singaporean reclamations. With the economy doing well, Indonesia is confidently reforming itself into one of Asia's most robust democracies. From environment policy to Middle East peace prospects, Jakarta is again
projecting authority as an Asian power.

There have been intrigues aplenty during the KPPU drama. This week I was handed a document that purports to be a working brief for a Russian oligarch's plan to buy Temasek's Indosat share, citing the connivance of two Indonesian cabinet ministers and their staff, known collegiately by the Russians as "teams". Parts of the "Project
Indosat" document seem a nod to Le Carre. It describes a stage-managed campaign of protests, financed by the Russians, against the Singaporean ownership of Indosat to force its divestment. Naturally, millions would be paid to named government officials whose lobbying and influence would nail the deal.

The document's veracity is impossible to establish, but there is a PhotoShop feel about it, which has not stopped the Temasek-friendly Singapore media reporting slabs of it.

The fact that it is being proferred by Singapore-friendly backroom "consultants" skilled in "the dark arts" suggests scepticism is the best policy. But the fact that it is being whizzed into Jakarta inboxes is eloquent testimony of the battle's nastiness.

Another intrigue concerns Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, a great survivor from the Soeharto era. He is not mentioned in the document, but lobbyists point out that a junior telco owned by his family has big expansion plans.

Indonesia has one-third the mobile penetration of Singapore, suggesting much room for new players, but the inference is clear. A lobbyist told me that some KPPU members are close to Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, whose family business had a 10-year joint venture with SingTel in a struggling telco centred on Bali and
Indonesia's eastern islands. Kalla's group recently bought out SingTel, which lost money on the deal. Kalla is seen as the champion ridding Indonesian telcos of their Singapore partners. He is also contemplating a tilt at the presidency in 2009.

Alongside the legal campaign, Singapore has - untypically for the reclusive Temasek group - mounted a public relations blitz. Its lavish lunch briefings of the past year are famous among Jakarta's poorly paid local scribes.

But in arguing that Temasek's offshoots operate independently of the Government and the parent and that there is no conflicts of interest, the Singaporeans sometimes shoot themselves in the foot. A lawyer insisting on this independence is a director of another Temasek company and a member of Parliament representing the long-ruling party.

The Singaporean campaign claims the ruling will backfire on Indonesia's foreign investment aspirations, describing it as a politically inspired legal travesty. This may well be right - Indonesia's legal system is light years from perfect and rumours swirl around some KPPU commissioners.

But that is also a self-serving argument as Indonesia enjoys its highest foreign investment since the mid-'90s, mostly in the resources sector where the law is as quixotic as ever.

Still, the matter is shaping as a test case for Indonesia's evolving institutions, and a setback for Singapore's efforts to spread beyond its mature economy.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged not to intervene, and underlined the KPPU's independence. But it is clear among the ruling elite that Singapore Inc is no longer so welcome in Indonesia - Temasek is also being pressured over two banks in which it has invested - and as the deadline nears, its exit from not-so-happy investments will probably come down to price.

The proceeds will end up in places such as Australia, where the welcome mat, and the legal system, are not so soiled.

Eric Ellis is South-East Asia correspondent for Fortune magazine

A Time to Kill, And a Time to Heal


In his job as an Israeli pediatrician, Yuval saves the lives of Palestinian children. But the father of three also takes Palestinian lives as an attack helicopter pilot patrolling Gaza.


By Laura Blumenfeld

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2007; Page A01



HOLON, Israel
-- The 2-year-old's flawed heart beat backward, pumping blue blood to his lips and inking rings around his eyes.

Ahmad edged across his hospital bed, toward his mother, Nasima Abu Hamed. Nasima, a Palestinian from Gaza had brought Ahmad to Israel for an operation. She moved uneasily through hospital halls decked with

Israeli flags -- but the Jewish doctors could save her son.

A pediatrician named Yuval walked in wearing a white coat. Nasima smiled. Yuval high-fived Ahmad, who was wearing toddler-size army fatigues. Yuval said in Arabic, "How's he doing?"

Nasima shrugged and asked, "When is the surgery?"

Nasima was eager to return to Gaza. There was trouble at home, clashes with Israeli soldiers. Fear had kept her family up all night, the chop of hostile helicopters. Two years ago, a missile fired from a helicopter had killed two cousins. If Nasima ever met an Israeli pilot, "I would faint and die from fear."

Yuval patted Ahmad on the head. The surgery would be soon. Later, Nasima called Yuval "our savior of the children."

Yuval is a savior of children. He is also an attack helicopter pilot. It was Yuval in his Cobra -- though Nasima didn't know it -- hovering over her town, as Israeli troops battled armed Palestinians. By day, Yuval works as a pediatrician. By night, he fires missiles for the air force.

One of Yuval's supervisors, physician Sion Houri, sees no contradiction between Yuval's two jobs. "There's reality A; there's reality B. It's not a dichotomy -- it's us," said Houri. "It's our life as Israelis."

After decades of war, what might be madness in another society passes for normal in Israel. As negotiators meet this week in Annapolis to try to resolve the Middle East conflict, Israelis find ways to resolve the conflict in their own lives. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes declares: "There is . . . a time to kill, and a time to heal." Yuval is doing both, at the same time.

*'It Sounds Like a Conflict'*

Yuval walked through the door, home from work. His little girl toddled over. "I missed you!" Yuval said, kissing his daughter as she peeled off his Velcro name patch and bit it. Yuval's mother-in-law, Nitzan, who was babysitting, said: "So, Yuval, are you a pilot or a doctor today?"

Yuval, a 40-year-old major in the air force, is prohibited by the military from giving his last name. He lives with his wife, two sons and a daughter on Palmachim air base, north of the Gaza Strip. The military has allowed Yuval to study medicine while he serves. When he isn't flying, Yuval treats children as a resident at a nearby civilian hospital.

"He's never home," his mother-in-law said. He's either on alert or on call. He's either dressed in a flight suit, carrying a ruler to calculate firing positions, or he's dressed in scrubs, carrying a measuring tape to gauge baby skulls.

"It sounds like a conflict, but he knows he's protecting us," Nitzan said. "You don't want to kill people, right, Yuval?"

Yuval didn't hear his mother-in-law because he was running his daughter's bath.

Nitzan said, "Look, our situation is intolerable."

"Situation" is Israeli shorthand for the country's relationship with Arabs. It wasn't always intolerable, Yuval said. He grew up on a farm, where on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m., his father revved up the tractor. All day, Yuval picked oranges with Palestinians from Gaza. For lunch, Yuval brought bread and cheese; Palestinians boiled Arabic coffee. They became, Yuval thought, friends.

"Now it seems like ancient history," Yuval said, splashing his daughter's curls, so immersed in memories he didn't notice she had her socks on in the tub.

Yuval's oldest son was born in the 1990s, after the Oslo accords. He dreamed that his son wouldn't be drafted. Then, in 2000, the second Palestinian intifada erupted. Suicide bombers blew up Israeli discos and cafes. Israelis responded with force. Palestinians from Gaza were banned, including the men who labored with Yuval. Yuval flew targeted assassination missions, killing some 15 intifada members, he said. After a strike, Yuval said, he would emerge from his cockpit successful, yet feeling bad, his hair wet with sweat, his neck reddened with tension.

Some pilots quit. They criticized the military. Yuval called them "unforgivable." As he snapped pink pajamas on his daughter, Yuval said,"If you think you're more moral, stay in and fight the battle the way you think it should be fought." Yuval's wife, Tamar, and their two sons came home. After dinner, the boys slid under Peter Rabbit sheets.

"Who's waiting for their 'kiss of protection'?" Yuval asked.

"Me!" said Imry, their 5-year-old. The kiss banishes bad dreams.

"About witches," the boy explained. "Dragons and ghosts."

Yuval started to smile, but then Imry added, "And the warriors, who
want
me to die."

***



At 2:30 a.m., air force sirens woke Yuval. Tamar didn't stir as Yuval leapt from their warm sheets, they recalled in interviews about that night in October.

"Is it the mission we briefed for?" Yuval whispered into his phone.

"Something else," a voice said from headquarters. "You're going south."

Yuval shot into the hallway in his underwear. He had 15 minutes until
takeoff.

Every movement, every zip and shiver, from Yuval's pillow to his Cobra had been timed. Two seconds to rinse with mouthwash. Forty-five seconds to pull on his flight suit and boots. Ten seconds to sprint to the car,parked nose-out. Six minutes to drive to the airfield, including swerves, in case a jackal crossed the road.

By the time Yuval reached his helicopter, four wire-guided missiles had been loaded. The crows roosting on the rotor blades had flown. Yuval strapped on his helmet and plugged into the cockpit radio. He recalled hearing:

"Your mission is to attack a group of terrorists. They launched a Qassam rocket at Israel and they're about to launch again."

In the past four months, the army says, more than 1,000 rockets and shells have been launched against Israel. On this night, the army said, four men from Islamic Jihad were attacking. Yuval entered the coordinates -- northeast Gaza, four miles from the Israeli town of Sderot -- into his electronic map.

The radio said: "All four are approved for targeting."

Yuval's heart, already beating fast, began to pound, he recalled. Usually, Yuval fired warning shots, or destroyed the launchers. Now Yuval and his wingman were supposed to take out a whole squad, he said.

Kill four men, or be a failure.

"Ready for takeoff," Yuval said. It had been 12 minutes, almost 13, since the sirens had woken him. As the light of the helicopter lifted through the humid air, it looked to Yuval like he was rising inside a pitcher of milk.

The flight to Gaza took five minutes. Sometimes when targeting a Palestinian, Yuval flew for hours without firing. Once, Yuval circled a building every day for a month -- in his helicopter with the white, open-jawed snake painted on the side -- waiting until civilians cleared.

One day, a boy sat on the roof. Another day, the target's secretary walked into his office. Finally, the Palestinian was alone. One, two, three missiles killed him.

On this night over Gaza though, there could be no delays. Yuval pictured an Israeli bedroom, exploding. He approached the launch zone tense and tenser, leaning toward the screen of his heat-sensitive targeting system. The rocket squad had crept into an orchard near a house. Yuval adjusted the contrast knobs, trying to coax four figures from the shadows, he recalled. Trees were gray. A house was white. The men were
black hot.

"It's a terrible thought," Yuval said later, but it had occurred to him many times: The children of the Palestinians he had picked oranges with in his father's orchard were now launching rockets. "I'm sure I know some of them. You can't recognize them from the air."

All Yuval could see now were small, dark movements. Two figures behind a tree. A person crouching.

"This is it," Yuval recalled thinking. Yuval placed his cross in the middle of a thin, black figure. "I'm looking at someone whose role in life is to kill, and I have to stop him," he thought. "Now, now, now." Yuval's adrenaline surged.

His thumb pressed the red button hard. Yuval held his breath, hoping that "nothing comes into the cross, like another person."

But instead of turning the Palestinian into a black-hot burst, the missile thudded into the sand. His ammunition had malfunctioned, a dud.

"No!" Yuval recalled thinking. He fired again. "Good hit," said ground troops, spotting for him. But by then, the two remaining rocket squad members had crawled close to the house.

Yuval had to decide: fly away and spare the civilians or fire again and fulfill his mission?

"Not good," Yuval said to his wingman, as they turned back.



***

After he landed, he tiptoed into his house and lay next to his wife. It was 5:30 a.m. Tamar rolled over: "Did you fly?"

Yuval said bitterly, "No, I went out with my buddies."

He lay there, he later recalled, so wrung out that he felt like he'd lost 20 pounds. He thought: "I have to wake up in two hours and go to the hospital."



*Brotherly Therapy at Week's End*

On Fridays, Yuval drives his family to his parents' farm on Tranquility Street.

"He hardly ate! You ate nothing," said Yuval's mother, also named Tamar, on a recent Friday evening.

Yuval's mother said having a doctor for a son was "the ultimate nachas." But a pilot? "Too much worry," she said. "I'd rather not know."

Yuval's two brothers are also pilots. Michael flies an F-16 fighter jet, and Ori, a reconnaissance plane.

"On Friday night, we debrief here," Yuval said.

"They talk among themselves," said Yuval's father, Ron. "We just eavesdrop."

For Michael, who had tried to kill Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, their conversations were a form of brotherly therapy: "We talk about our failures, because the successes don't weigh on our hearts."

Yuval confided to Michael about his mission in Gaza. "You don't get so involved in what's happening on the ground," Yuval told him.

"My fight is more sterile," said Michael, who operates at 20,000 feet. Michael shoots autonomous "fire-and-forget missiles," which allow him to jet away.

"When you put the cross on someone running, it's more difficult," Yuval said later. And back at the squadron, he said, "you see the video again and again, and the black dot goes down, and he doesn't move anymore -- it's difficult. You think not as a pilot, but as a human being." In the cockpit, though, "I don't let my head go there. I don't allow myself to think about a target's mother."

At dinner, Yuval's mother said, "You try very hard not to hurt people, right, uv-ik?"

Yuval squeezed the stem of his wineglass. Efrat, Michael's girlfriend, teasingly called Yuval "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." They cleared away their dishes, the wineglasses last. They had clinked the glasses earlier, with a toast: "To life!"



*When All Seems Possible*

The baby's heart stopped. She lay on her hospital bed -- 10 pounds at 4 1/2 months -- her chest deathly still.Yuval was working in the emergency room when a nurse called out, "We need you, quick!"

Two brooding days had passed since Yuval's mission to kill four men. Now it was up to Yuval to save an Arab life.

The Arab baby, Tara, had four heart defects. Tara had come to Israel through Save a Child's Heart, a program that sponsors surgery for children from poor areas. Doctors had inserted a shunt in Tara's heart.

Eight stitches threaded down her chest. Tubes emerged from her ribs, from her clavicle, from her hand.

Through all the wires, Yuval could see that Tara was "innocent, untouched."

"When they come from Gaza at age 3 or 4, they have that look in their eyes," he later recalled. "That 'I know the dangers, don't get too close to me.' "

As Yuval bent over Tara, the monitors beeped alarms. Tara's lungs had filled with fluid. "It was horrible to think this little girl was going to go," recalled the nurse, Svetlana Kakazanov.

"Adrenaline," Yuval ordered. He felt for the center of Tara's chest with his thumbs, and pumped.

It was sad for Yuval, but he often thought that the Gaza children had "a 90 percent chance of becoming terrorists. But mainly it's not their fault, it's 'the situation's' fault. And I'm not treating 'the situation.' I'm treating the child."

In the ICU, "the situation" would disappear, if sometimes only for moments. Yuval had sat night after night with a father from Gaza whose son had a hole in his heart. They talked for hours, as the boy struggled, intubated, under a pale blue blanket. Yuval recalled: "I'm looking at this father, how normal it seems, like me and my friend. But he tells me his uncle was killed in Gaza, and I feel maybe I was even
involved. It's strange."

In the air, while flying at night, in serene, misleading moments, "the situation" would disappear as well. Usually Arab lights glowed pink, and Israeli lights burned white. But when Yuval wore night-vision goggles along the Syrian border, the lights of Damascus shone as green as Tel Aviv. "You don't think, 'Wow, there's my enemy.' " The differences disappeared.

Now in the ICU, as Yuval ordered a second shot of adrenaline for Tara, as her lungs were being puffed manually, Yuval felt the differences disappear again. So what if she was from Gaza? "All that mattered was that she's blue, and she has to be pink."

Yuval kept pumping the baby's heart. Five minutes passed. He stopped to listen for a beat, but every time he stopped, the blip of the monitor's green cardiac line went flat.

"Third dose of adrenaline," Yuval ordered. He wiped his brow. He thought, "She has no reason for dying. She's going to come back. She has got to come back."

Sometimes, Yuval said later, "I can see the children that died while I was trying to resuscitate them." The blond 9-year-old boy, crushed by a car. The green-black baby born at 23 weeks.

There were also the faces Yuval didn't see: "the small, dark image -- I don't visualize the face behind it -- of the terrorist I was ordered to fire on."

He couldn't let Tara's face join the others. He had to breathe her back into improbable existence. Things that seemed impossible, he said -- peace for Israelis, for Palestinians -- Yuval still believed could be true.

He pressed his stethoscope to Tara's ribs. The irregular blip of her heart steadied, and leveled, to 120 beats. He could hear the exquisite swish of her circulating blood.

Tara's chest was rising. He said, "We got her back."



*A Wish for a Change of Heart*

Yuval slumped into a chair. He was on the night shift in the neonatal unit. He felt sick. A fever and chills.

"This past week has been too much for me," Yuval said. The mission to kill the four-man rocket squad in Gaza. Tara's cardiac arrest. He could feel the pressure rising behind his eyes.

"My oath as a doctor is primo no nocere, do no harm," he said. Even as a pilot, when he's ordered to kill, "I try to think of it as -- I'm helping to save lives, and not hurting lives." In Gaza, flying over the orchard, he had killed two men, but let the other two go, he said. The risk of hitting civilians was too high, he said.

"We failed."

As an officer, he berated himself for failing his assignment. As a citizen, he doubted the efficacy of killing anyone. Yuval said: "Maybe because I killed those two, their brother and uncles will launch Qassams in revenge, and kill two Jewish children. So did I do a good thing? I don't know. I don't know if it served my country in the long run, but I know what I had to do that night. That's part of the problem: We need people on both sides to stand up and look 20 years ahead."


Yuval said he knows that Arabs and Jews can get along. "I know it's possible. I see it in the hospital."

When Yuval sees Nasima Abu Hamed, the mother from Gaza, holding Ahmad, her blue-lipped 2-year-old, waiting for his surgery, "my wish is his generation will have a change of heart. That something will change for Ahmad, that he will live differently. But I don't think doing a transposition of the great arteries will do it."

Yuval had visited the wards to check on baby Tara. The mothers were gathered, talking. Tara's mother, Huda Isstefou, greeted Yuval. Yuval hadn't known it when he saved Tara's life, but the tiny girl wasn't from Gaza. She was from Iraq.

"When I told friends I was going to Israel, they said, 'Be careful, Israelis are very dangerous humans,' " Huda said. "But I said, 'They save my child.' "

"An excellent doctor," Nasima said, cradling Ahmad.

"What a nice doctor," said another mother, Majdi Assassa.

Yuval bent over and felt Tara's tummy. "Shalom!" he said in a high-pitched voice. As Yuval listened to Tara's heart beat, she grasped his thumb, his missile-trigger finger, and stared up into his eyes. (*)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Commanding yet isolated, Suharto fades away


By Seth Mydans
Published: October 31, 2007

Nearly 10 years after the tumult of his ouster, the old dictator spends his days alone in his sitting room, one friend says, inviting few visitors, making no public statements, eating carefully to avoid hurting his stomach.

As he did during his 32 years as Indonesia's president, Suharto, 86, often offers an enigmatic smile when asked a pointed question, the friend says, but now it is sometimes a smile of bafflement as his mind slips away.

These are the impressions of Retnowati Abdulgani-Knapp, the author of a recent sympathetic biography who continues to visit Suharto in the modest home to which he retreated in May 1998 and has rarely left since.

The crowds chanting, "Hang Suharto!" have long since disappeared, the nation has hurried ahead without him, and fewer people really care what happens to the man who once towered over them.

It is a strange, muted fate for a deposed strongman, neither fleeing nor being vigorously pursued, a quiet, defeated presence in a quiet neighborhood in the middle of the bustling city.

"To me, it's self-punishment because he's doing that of his own will," said Abdulgani-Knapp, though it was not clear what might be causing him remorse.

"Why does he stay in that house all the time?" she asked. "He just wants to be alone to punish himself to prepare himself for the next life, I really believe so."

But there is still the question of money.

In September the United Nations and the World Bank put Suharto at the top of a new list of the world's most audacious embezzlers. They quoted an estimate by Transparency International that he stole $15 billion to $35 billion in state assets while in power.

Whatever the actual sum, in a decade of legal fits and starts Indonesia has recovered none of it. In fact, bombarded by doctors' notes saying he is too sick to attend hearings, the courts seem almost relieved not to have to push too hard.

A criminal case against him was dropped in 2000, after doctors reported that his mind had been weakened by a series of strokes. (Commentators note that he becomes well again when there is a family wedding or birthday party to attend.)

Now he is facing a civil suit that charges him with embezzling $1.5 billion from a charitable foundation he created. That case is stumbling forward, but, to nobody's real surprise, crucial financial documents have disappeared from the attorney general's office and cannot be found, according to local news reports.

In what might seem an unexpected twist, the only legal victory so far involving Suharto's wealth went his way. In September he was awarded one trillion rupiah, or $109 million, in a libel suit against Time Asia magazine for a 1999 article that said he and his family had amassed a fortune of around $15 billion. The magazine is appealing the verdict.

The government's half-hearted pursuit of Suharto says a good deal about the aura he has maintained even as his political and financial power has disappeared.

Many of those who hold that power today were once beholden to him, the patron without whose blessing it was impossible to rise high in politics, business, the military or public life.

"Of course, he did a lot of great things for Indonesia and most of the people who are now in power basically grew up under him," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a political scientist. "There is still personally enormous respect toward Suharto, at least among the establishment, and still a strong resistance to see him hauled in front of a court."

Given that lingering stature, the weekly magazine Tempo said the attempts to put him on trial were "like a dog barking at an elephant."

Powerful figures still pay their respects at his residence on his birthday and at the end of the holy month of Ramadan - some perhaps out of curiosity, but others out of deference.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was a rising general in Suharto's military-dominated government, still refers to him as "my senior" and visited him in the hospital in 2005 when he had severe gastrointestinal bleeding.

Many of those who grew wealthy through their connections with him remain among the country's richest people. These include his six children, who still control major enterprises that were counted as part of the Suharto wealth.

One son, Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy, 44, has been convicted of a crime - arranging the murder of a judge who had ruled against him in a corruption case. What is notable about the 15-year sentence he received was that he served just one-third of it and was set free last year.


Suharto himself, on the other hand, seems to have placed himself under a sort of voluntary house arrest, said Abdulgani-Knapp, whose book is titled "Soeharto: The Life and Legacy of Indonesia's Second President."

"Can you imagine, it's like an internal prison," she said. "That's what he does the whole day. He just stays in one room, behind the room where he dines. He never eats with anybody except on Saturday, when I understand a few of his children visit him."

They watch his diet carefully, she said, "but sometimes, when he wants to eat something good, they let him."

If indeed Suharto is punishing himself, he has never voiced public remorse for the deeds that have darkened his legacy - the corruption, the repressive militarized rule or the deaths of at least half a million people in a mass bloodletting when he took power in 1965.

His regret, as Abdulgani-Knapp describes it, is that he misread the public mood and overstayed his welcome in office.

His surprise resignation followed an economic collapse, then huge riots in which hundreds of people were killed, then a student uprising, and finally rejection by the military and his own cabinet.

"I used to tell him, 'Bapak, you should have followed your instinct and stepped down earlier,' " she said, using an Indonesian term of respect. "And he smiled and said, 'You are right.' This is something he regretted."

Bowring: The invisible giant of Southeast Asia


'We have to be brave enough to ask: What would the world do without Indonesia?" When she recently posed this question to her compatriots, Indonesia's trade minister, Mari Pangestu, had in mind the country's role as premier global supplier of various important commodities.

But the question could as well have been asked about Indonesia's wider relevance to the world. Boastful it might sound, but the remark offered a counterpoint to the nation's extremely low international visibility, a result of the mix of deference, inward looking politics and persistent lack of leaders willing to make an articulate stand on the world stage.

Indonesia is about to become the president of the UN Security Council. That is unlikely to alter its international profile, but it does provide occasion to look at why Indonesia is rather more important than it usually appears, and at why it fails to leave much of a mark.

Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous nation, the largest predominantly Muslim country, the third largest (after India and the United States) democratic country, a 3,000-mile-wide archipelago dominating key international waterways - the Malacca, Sunda Lombok and Makassar straits.

But Indonesia is not taken very seriously as a Muslim country. Though the Muslims of the Middle East and Arab world in particular have much to learn from the tradition of religious tolerance at the heart of the Indonesian state, the Muslims of west Asia, and the Arabs who claim some special status as source of the religion, have scant interest in learning from the East.

While the outside world gets excited over the economic rise of China and India, it seldom stops to notice the equally remarkable transformation of Indonesian politics in the 10 years since the downfall of the 30-year authoritarian rule of President Suharto.

It now has the most open, extensive, decentralized democratic system in all of Southeast Asia, achieved possibly at some cost to economic growth but with little localized disorder, and with settlements of the Aceh and Timor Leste issues to its credit.

It is also a remarkably plural society to which the position of Pangestu, a woman, and ethnic Chinese and a Christian attests, and a cultural vitality that puts much of a money-obsessed region to shame. It is of course not without communal tensions and occasional bloodshed. But it provides a salutary contrast to its small higher profile, wealthy neighbors, Malaysia, a country of growing religious intolerance and deepening racial divide and Singapore, a state whose social and political development lags far behind its foreign investment-driven economy.

Yet despite its attributes and size, Indonesia's influence is slight. Its efforts at being a player have been half-hearted, and even its national airline does not fly to Europe. It should be the natural leader of Jakarta-headquartered Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), this year celebrating its 40th birthday. But Indonesia's diplomatic voice is almost silent.

If any Asean country has a chance of persuading the Burmese junta to change its ways, to democratize gradually without falling apart, it should be Indonesia. It has made such a transition, albeit from a very different and more successful type of authoritarian government.

Unlike Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, it does not have local commercial interests dictating policy to Burma. But a reluctance to stand up, to divert from a Suharto-era doctrine of "non-interference," to seize Asean leadership rather than be player in a leaderless team, has left the running on Asean's approach to Burma to the likes of Singapore, home from home for the Burmese generals and their wives.

Likewise with its economy. Indonesia may never has been a "tiger" economy and suffered more than any country from the Asian crisis. It may still have more problems with corruption and bureaucracy than its major Asian competitors. It even has had the temerity not to succumb to every foreign investor demand by providing levels of employment protection unheard of in China. Nor does it enrich its politicians as does China's Communist party. On a longer view, the 40 years since China and Indonesia were both traumatized in the mid-1960s, it has done creditably.

Foreign eyes may be on China and India. But looking ahead natural resources are likely to be scarcer than the cheap labor of those two countries. It is also less dependent, at least than China, on Western demand for Asian manufactures. Indonesia's mix of resource, base, attractive demographics, vibrant culture and domestic demand potential have mostly gone unsung, not least by a government so focused on domestic issues and local politics.

In short, Indonesia and the rest of the world could benefit much from knowing each other better.