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Wolfowitz Testimony







Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to testify before this committee on the very important subject of U.S. relations with Indonesia. Since my time is short, and there are several other witnesses who will speak on more specific matters, let me concentrate on some important broad points about Indonesia and our relations with that country. 1 will try to do so briefly, although Indonesia is an extremely complex country and it is hard to be both brief and accurate in speaking about it.

I served in Indonesia for three years as United States Ambassador to that country. from 1986 to 1989. I speak to you as someone who developed enormous affection for that country and its people and as someone who cares deeply about the future of Indonesia. However, a large part of the reason why I do care about Indonesia's future is because I believe that a successful and prosperous Indonesia is important for all countries in the Pacific region, including most definitely the United States. That is why I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you to discuss U.S. interests in Indonesia, including our interest in the very sensitive and important question of human rights.

1) INDONESIA'S IMPORTANCE. It is probably safe to say that there is no country in the world as important as Indonesia about which Americans know so little. Unfortunately, it is a safe statement because so many Americans would have difficulty even placing Indonesia on the map and, while people have frequently hoard about the beautiful island of Bali or about human rights problem in East Timor, very often they do not realize that these arc just two of the smallest provinces in a very large country. But I also say it with confidence because Indonesia is very_ important to the rest of the world, and becoming more important every year.

In fact, I continue to be surprised at how often even relatively well- informed Americans are unaware of the facts that make Indonesia one of the most important . countries of the Pacific region. I would like to emphasize three in particular:

- Religious Tolerance. One of the most important aspects of Indonesia is also one that is very poorly understood in the United States. Few Americans are aware that Indonesia has the largest Moslem population of any country in the world. With Moslems making up an estimated ninety percent of Indonesia's 200 million people, the Moslem population of Indonesia is almost as large as that of the entire Arab world put together. But it is the quality of Indonesian Islam that is as important as its size. Islam as practiced in Indonesia is moderate and extremely tolerant. And while Indonesia's population is predominantly Moslem, there are also large Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Buddhist communities. In fact, Islam is not the state religion and Indonesia is justifiably proud of its record of religious tolerance. As one looks around the world today at the tragic effects of religious intolerance, I think it becomes apparent how important it is that the country with the world's largest Moslem population practices religious tolerance. I believe that if Indonesia continues its impressive economic development, its influence as a country of religious tolerance and moderation will grow over the coming decades., Economic and Commercial Importance. With a population approaching two hundred million people, Indonesia Is the fourth largest country in the world. Moreover, Indonesia's economic growth has been impressive, averaging almost seven per cent per year over a period of more than two decades. As a result, even though it started from a relatively low base, Indonesia's is emerging as one of the world's larger economies. In fact, it is one the ten economies on the Commerce Department's list of Big Emerging Markets. While Indonesia is already an important trading partner for the United States, the prospect of continued rapid growth of this very large economy will make it even more important in the future.

-- Strategic Location. Indonesia's location makes it very important strategically. Most typically this kind of statement is accompanied by a reference W the fact that some of the most important sea lanes in the world, those which connect the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, pass through or by Indonesian waters. But even more significant is Indonesia's crucial role as the largest country in Southeast Asia, a region of more than 400 million people that is important not only in itself, but also as China's strategic neighbor. If Southeast Asia maintains its stability, as well as what the ASEAN countries call their "resilience," there is a much greater chance that China will remain at peace with its neighbors. Alternatively, if Southeast Asia becomes a region of instability or potential threats, China might be drawn into that instability, with consequences for the entire Pacific region. including the United States. Indonesia is crucial in determining that outcome,

2) INDONESIA'S ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL PROGRESS. Considering that Indonesia has been independent for only a relatively short 51 years, it has made remarkable progress during that time, Although important problems and challenges remain, the record of major problems successfully solved makes me optimistic about Indonesia's ability to solve these problems in the future, It might provide a helpful perspective to think of where the United States was in 1827 and how many major problems - including human rights issues -- remained to be solved. It is far too easy to sit here in judgment about the problems of another country twelve thousand miles away, forgetting that we have had more than two hundred years to develop our democratic institutions and that even so we still have many problems left to solve.

Any balanced judgment of the situation in Indonesia today, including the very important and sensitive issue of human rights, needs to take account of the significant progress that Indonesia has already made and needs to acknowledge that much of this progress has to be credited to the strong and remarkable leadership of President Soeharto. The list of accomplishments is long, but let me mention four in particular:

-- Indonesia's economic development, which is entirely attributable to President Soeharto's era and "New Order" government, has transformed Indonesia and is continuing to transform it. People who knew Indonesia at the end of the Soekamo era, in 1966, have difficulty recognizing it today. The economic growth that is so evident in the new skyscrapers of Jakarta is also evident in the prosperity of the countryside and in thenew jobs being created in the rapidly growing manufacturing sector. Where thirty years ago poverty and malnutrition were endemic and thousands of people literally starved death. today millions of people are moving out of poverty. That is itself victory for human rights.

-- Indonesia stretches across a vast geographical expanse (a fact that is concealed by maps based on Mercator projections), as great as the distance from London to Moscow, and there are probably as many different languages, ethnic groups and religions in Indonesia as in that large expanse of Europe. Indonesia has overcome an almost mind- boggling diversity of languages and cultures and ethnic groups to build a nation that is, on the whole, despite important exceptions like East Timor, impressively unified and stable. In a world where internal ethnic strife has caused and continues to cause such terrible crimes and bloodshed, this peace and unity is a significant achievement and is a victory for human rights.

-- Indonesia, as I have already noted, has achieved a degree of harmony and tolerance among very diverse religious groups that could be a model for many other countries in the world. This achievement did not come without some serious struggles and it is not complete. Religion is still a sensitive issue and some problems persist. But in a world where so many people are still persecuted and even killed because of their religion, Indonesia's religious tolerance is also a victory for human rights.

-- Indonesia has played a prominent and constructive role diplomatically in promoting peace and cooperation among the ASEAN countries and in the Pacific region more broadly. Indonesia's contributions have been critical to the success of,several important organizations for regional cooperation - organizations with acronyms like ASEAN, APEC and ARF -- and Indonesian diplomacy has played a leading role in addressing such problems as Cambodia, Indochinese refugees, the South China Sea, the Mow rebellion in the Philippines and nuclear non-proliferation, Lest we take this for granted, I would like to underscore how much Indonesia's smaller neighbors appreciate Indonesia' s willingness to play a cooperative role in thc region. It was not historically inevitable that the largest country in Southeast Asia would choose to take its place as an equal partner among its neighbors. rather than seeking in dominate them. In fact, Indonesia's behavior under Soekarno suggested that it might take the latter course. President Soeharto deserves credit for Indonesia's very decisive turn toward regional cooperation, a policy course which made possible the creation of ASEAN in 1967 and which is contributing to the success of so many cooperative efforts in the Pacific region today.

3) HUMAN RIGHTS PROBLEMS iN INDONESIA TODAY. I note these very important achievements that Indonesia has made in order to provide some perspective and balance, not to apologize for problems that remain or for mistakes in dealing with those problems. In fact, I believe that Indonesia needs to achieve greater political openness if it is to sustain and capitalize on the enormous economic progress it has achieved and this personal view of mine happens to be very well- known in Indonesia. I expressed this view very clearly in providing my overall assessment of U.S.-Indonesia relations when I Jakarta in 1989. But I should add that I would not be comfortable with this view if I didnot feel that it was shared by the great majority of Indonesians I knew. Obvious though it seems, we should remember that it is their country that we are talking about and should determine its future.

In the seven years since that time, I have observed significantly greater openness in many respects. There is more questioning of public officials and government decisions; there have been important court decisions that have gone against the government, at least in their initial stages; military officers have been court-martialed for the massacre in East Timer in 1991; and the establishment of a government- appointed Human Rights Commission which has enough independence to issue reports that are critical of government actions is a remarkable milestone. However, there have also been some serious setbacks, most notably the closure of some news publications including the very distinguished and independent news weekly, TEMPO.

In general, the area of political speech and expression has been an aria of both some significant progress and some significant setbacks. On the positive side, there seems to be greater tolerance of public criticism within legal channels of government actions. The Human Rights Commission, as already noted, has issued critical reports and senior members have even criticized decisions By the Indonesian courts. On the whole, the Indonesian press is allowed to discuss problems more openly than ten years ago and even journalists from the banned weekly TEMPO have recently been allowed to take over the operation of some new weeklies that have consequently become quite outspoken.

On the other hand, the government seems to be dealing more harshly with political speech and actions that is not legally authorized. in particular, there seems to a disturbing tendency to use the very harsh subversion law against labor organizers, political activists and journalists who operate outside of the fairly narrowly constrained legal channels. This is true in the case Andi Syahputra, the editor of the unauthorized Suara Independen news magazine as well as the earlier case of two members of the Alliance of Independent Journalists who remain in jail; in the recent subversion sentences of nine activists from the Democratic People' s Party; and in the prominent case of labor leader Muchtar Pakpahan. In the, latter case there has been some discussion recently of the possibility that the government might release Muchtar Pakpahan to go abroad for ne medical treatment That would certainly be a welcome humanitarian gesture.

4) BALANCING THE NEED FOR CHANGE AND THE NEED FOR STABILITY. There is a complex balance between the desire for change and the desire for stability in Indonesia that Americans, who are able to take stability for granted, have difficulty understanding. I had a personal experience of this in 1987 during the election campaign when the PDI staged a massive rally in Jakarta. It was remarkable for its size - with almost a million people in the streets, and for its duration -- going on for several hours; but most remarkable was its extraordinary peacefulness. I was impressed, and very hopeful about the prospects for peaceful political expression in Indonesia. I expressed these sentiments a few days later to a very liberal Indonesian friend, who I expected would share them with me. I was surprised by his negative reaction, "My wife came home shaking with fear," he said. The large crowds wearing red shin and displaying pictures of the late President Socknine reminded her of the terrible days of the Soekarno era when her husband and family were the targets red-shirted mobs.

This experience brought home to me the importance attached to stability by those who experienced the instability and violence of Indonesia's first two decades. Perhaps they should have more confidence in the stability that their country has achieved since then; perhaps they are too inclined to err on the side of stability in making decisions about the fight pace of change. But perhaps, also, those who have none of that experience are too ready to take stability for granted. This includes not only virtually all of us Americans but also a majority of Indonesia's own population, since more than half of lndonesia's people were not even alive in 1967. It is difficult to say how the balance should he struck between change and stability, but it would be a mistake to pretend that it is not an issue.

5) THE ROLE OF OUTSIDERS IN INFLUENCING CHANGE. This brings me to my last point, about how foreigners, including Americans, who wish to support progressive change in Indonesia should conduct themselves and how they should offer advice.

To begin with, people should be careful about offering advice to countries they know very little about or which they had never even heard of a year ago. That is probably good general advice, but in certainly applies to a country as complex as Indonesia, a country where there arc difficult balances to be struck concerning the pace and priorities of change, decisions that must be made by Indoneisians for Indonesians.

For those of us who feel in a position to offer advice. a few guidelines are in order that I hope the Congress will keep in mind in any actions or resolutions it may consider concerning Indonesia:

-- If advice is offered as advice it should be done with some humility. We are not in a position to dictate, nor should we.

-- Whether to offer advice in public or in private is a delicate question. I believe that U.S. government officials, and former officials like myself, will probably be most effective if they offer their advice in private. The object is persuasion and it is far more difficult to persuade people if they also have to suffer the appearance of being dictated to by a foreign government.

-- Whether public or private, advice is not likely to be persuasive if it is perceived as hostile; if it appears to take no account of positive achievements along with problems; or if it appears to be based on inaccurate or tendentious information.

-- Finally, if we wish to encourage positive change, I think our role needs to be to persuade, not to coerce. The resort to sanctions may make some people feel better. but it ought to be judged by how it affects the situation. When our leverage is limited, the resort to sanctions is more likely to polarize the situation than to encourage positive change.


Background, Sample Letters on Paul Wolfowitz, Indonesia and East Timor






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