Keynote address at Asia Society Tenth Anniversary Gala Dinner, Hong Kong

His Excellency Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid, President of the Republic of Indonesia

Hong Kong
April 16, 2000

President Wahid: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. First, I would like to congratulate the Asia Society here for its anniversary. Second, I wonder myself what brings me here. It looks like what Von Clausewitz said is true, war is too important to be left to the generals. Now, when I come here, it is clear, our host whispered to me that I should talk about politics, that politics is too important to be left to the politicians. The businessmen now are interested in politics. That is why I have to talk about security and investment because they are both the staples of politics.

You know the story where people were talking about the first profession. They normally say that people begin by collecting food from trees. Whatever is left has to be stored for the next time. The architect said, "Well, if it concerns space then it means my profession is the first, because without space there are no boundaries." The lawyer said, "Well, boundaries mean obligations, and that is my profession. So my profession comes first before yours, because without law, then there would be anarchy and disorder." Then the politician said, "Who can we expose?" So now I do not know whether I come here to create both or not.

Anyway, to talk about the situation in Indonesia, I would like to say that we are lucky now that disorder, the riots and everything, are now about to come to the end. The territorial integrity of Indonesia is preserved because I made it the first priority of my administration to go round the world to talk to world leaders about national boundaries, about respect for our national integrity, territorial integrity. Despite the fact that several people in Indonesia are asking, "Why did this crazy man go around the world?" I felt that it was important to go.

We also saw that this trip was important because economic recovery is essential to our situation. In addition to our economic crisis, we have also been lagging in both income and purchasing power. If we want to have Indonesia stable and prosperous then we have to increase its purchasing power by increasing the private income of the individual citizens. This is a must if we want to reduce militarism in our country. Why is the United States stable? Why doesn't the military make coup d'etats and so forth? They don't do that because the military have stable incomes, and they can live by their own retirement or pension. This has to be implemented in my country. So the escalations between the increase of income and the increase of domestic purchase power will make the country prosper in the long run.

The third thing to remember with regard to my trip abroad is that we live in a world where obligations are so intertwined with everything, that you cannot but be sucked into international affairs, especially if you are a big country like Indonesia, China or India, or even the United States for that matter. In the past, Indonesia suffered from a kind of "passivism" in this matter; we were too passive, we allowed people to make use of us in such a way so that everybody made use of us until now. Lately, we have begun to know the effect of a good foreign policy, an active one.

My idea is that over the long run in Asia, Indonesia, China and India should go forward economically, with the help of Japanese and Singaporean capital, general know-how, and technology. If those five countries can regroup into one single but loose entity, then I think the businessmen of these five countries, would be able to stand up against anybody in the world, whether they are Australians, Western Europeans, Americans or Middle Easterners. That is why my foreign policy is based on the need for forging a loose association between the Chinese, the Indonesians and the Indians, with the help of the Japanese and the Singaporeans.

Maybe we have to accommodate the fact also that other countries would like to participate as well, as is evident from what is said by Dr. Mahathir from Malaysia, or from General Pervez Musharraf from Pakistan, or the Prime Minister of Thailand. In this respect I can say that Indonesia can learn much from others, as well as give much to others. We will create a world that is safe for investment from many parts of the world and from many types of businessmen by being able to affect the escalations between individual income and domestic purchasing power of the nation. The most important issue to remember always is that there is no self-independence. We have to acknowledge our mutual dependency in all these things.

This was evident when I went to Havana last week for a Group of 77 summit. After listening to the speeches from heads of states throughout the morning, we can define the participants of the so-called 77 developing nations into two parts: one group is the hard-liners or confrontational nations, such as Cuba itself and Malaysia; the other is the "accomodationists" who would like to work with the developed nations, together with international agencies.

In my speech, I said that, in my view, my country's effort should be in negotiating without darkness, satisfactorily, with clear frameworks for discussions. Indonesia shall play the role of intermediary between the hard-liners and the accommodationists. If we cannot talk between the hard-liners and the accommodationists, then there is no way for us to negotiate with the developed countries. Negotiations with them will come only if we are able to resolve our problems internally.

That is what I said, and it was supported by many nations. Of course, they are polite and I am not polite like them, so I just spoke my mind, and out of wonder, Dr. Mahathir and Fidel Castro and others from all those countries, hard-liner countries, all came and said that it was a fine speech and that you play an important role. I am grateful that Indonesia will have that kind of role in the future, but, of course, I said to Dr. Castro that to be sure, Indonesia's role would be only as an intermediary, not to lead.

The leader of the countries of 77 will be Dr. Castro, with the help of the South Centre in Geneva. The South Centre will receive input from Africa through President Mbeki from South Africa, from Dr Mahathir in Asia (or people appointed for him), and from President Ernesto Zedillo from Mexico. Those are the people who will be responsible for giving the right information to the South Centre in Geneva.

I think if we can have this kind of arrangement, then Indonesia will play a very light role. The information has already been collected by those institutions, and we will just have to push the things that are discovered by them. However light, this role will also necessitate a secure Indonesia and an Indonesia where territorial integrity will be maximized, which I am glad to report is presently the case.

I know that the Aceh problem is now nearly finished. Now we are in the last stage of confrontation there, because I strictly imposed the policy of accommodation and negotiation with the so-called rebels. I never called them rebels, because for me they don't rebel. They are rebels because they are just desperate to survive with a sense of human rights. Since this happened under the previous Presidents, if we correct them, I believe that the Chinese will come to terms with us, and if that happens to the people, then the leaders of the so-called pro-Aceh movement will come to us as well and negotiate as well.

Malaccas, the province, which I believe is not far away from Hong Kong, has experienced the same recovery. According to my first daughter, the situation now is very fluid, with the Christians and the Muslims now together to create or to assist people in so-called humanitarian efforts. We have assistance from the United States, from the Chinese people, to take care of those people, either in food or in medical care.

After that, I think they have to think about the development of infrastructure, and I am glad to say that the Dutch government, the Norwegian government, the Danish government, and the Swedish government are all very concerned about that. Thus, they will start to establish the so-called infrastructure of the Malaccas Province. If that happens, then investment will follow directly behind those infrastructure developments.

In Aceh, I think the Arab countries would like very much to assist us, but besides that, we have also the promise of the American Ambassador who heard about it. In the United States, the government took responsibility for the development of the infrastructure of Aceh. That leaves the others also to take care of the development of infrastructure in the province of Irian Jaya. The rest of the governments I think will be able to take care of the development of infrastructure in other islands as well, while the Japanese government has promised us to build the railway double track from Surabaya to Jakarta, about 800 kilometers. Also, the so-called independent energy producers now say that they will assist also in relaying the energy produced in Payton to Surabaya, about 100 kilometers away, in order to enable us to utilize the electricity for the double track rails to Jakarta from Surabaya.

Looking at this, you know, I see in the coming years, the ability of the Indonesians to overcome difficulties. Through investment and private activities, private enterprises will develop that are important for us in this sense. Because of that, I would like to invite all businessmen everywhere to Indonesia. I have said this to businessmen in Davos, in England, in France, in the Netherlands, in Germany, and throughout the world. Tonight, my Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab will go from here to the Gulf countries, via Kuwait, also to convince the businessmen and the government leaders there to invest in Indonesia in the near future. All this is possible because of the increasing stability we are experiencing day by day everywhere.

Of course, there are still efforts to try to wreck the situation by creating dissention or by demonstrating, but, of course, this is only sporadic. It happens in Jakarta, with limited impact. Given its limited, sporadic nature, regardless of what you see on television every day or you read in the newspapers and magazines, don't believe all of it. It is useful for the press to give priority to the blackened picture, the picture of disadvantage, and that is the function of the press, to highlight destructive things. They don't talk about the achievements, the success stories because that is ordinary for people. So because of this, I would like to repeat, don't believe all the news you hear, but use it as a certain yardstick to know Indonesia.

But to know Indonesia better, then you have to go there. Indonesia is secure and stable. I hope that this can be known by all of you so that you will have little doubt about that. When you believe in Indonesia's security and stability, then other obstacles will be technical, whether they are investment regulations, banking practices, or law loopholes. We realize that overcoming these technical obstacles is useful to us; after thirty-two years of mismanagement of the economy, it is not surprising that we have faulty regulations.

If you happen to know of these sorts of problems, then please write to me directly, so that I can, after seeing the letters, if we have already taken action, we can learn from your letter. I hope that you will help me in this matter and your assistance is very much appreciated.

So, all in all, please invest in Indonesia, and in doing so, let us be prosperous together, because Asia is now taking its role, a real role in the commerce between nations.

Thank you very much.

Mr. President, I think most of the businessmen here know that the trade policy in Indonesia is quite liberal, really-compared to the other ASEAN nations-and I am just wondering if you think that the economy will be stable enough to continue that trend towards liberalization within the ASEAN region?

President Wahid: Well, as I said before, the country now begins to be stable, and since the stability is essential, I will say that the intention is to preserve that kind of stability. If necessary, we have to add to the stability, so that the so-called liberal policies vis a vis privatization will take place and be preserved in the country.

Question: Mr. President, thank you for your most insightful comments. You were talking earlier about the G5. If I can collectively mention those five countries you were talking about, and later on you were talking about ASEAN, I wonder if you would like to make some comments about the role of APEC in the future of the prosperity of the region, thank you.

President Wahid: Well, ASEAN now, I think, day by day begins to emerge as a world power in economics, especially in commerce. Because of the rich abundance of natural resources in the region as well as the industriousness of its people, I would venture to say that ASEAN, as part of the region, will also be able to show its "positive face." In that respect, the very important question is what happens to ASEAN?

I think Prime Minister Mahathir's protests are due to the fact that ASEAN countries did not fare so well compared to other parts of the world, especially with the developed nations. So, because of this, he requested that all peoples come together to negotiate further activities in the future. I think this is a safe proposition. Now it depends on the negotiations, on the principle of common progress, between the developed and the developing nations. Then we have to develop frameworks for moving forward together, as I think happens with ASEAN.

Look at Australia and New Zealand, both can invest in our countries, why not? I was asked whether the relationship between Australia and Indonesia will be improved -- yes, I said, it will be improved, and at the end of May I shall go to Australia and, you know, I will talk to John Howard -- not because of anything, but because of the fact that, as a human being, he has his own ideas about a common front; it is evident from his speeches.

One objection he has, among others, is that Indonesia serves as a departing point for those illegal migrants to Australia from the Middle East. I have ordered a national policy to stop that, so both of us can work together to stem that thing. We can help each other, and this is why talk is important for us. If that happens with the Australians, that can happen also with New Zealand.

Concerning how I will use my transit point in Darwin for asking Xanana Gusmao to meet me there and to talk together about the idea of developing human resources for the country, for East Timor, it needs coordination. I was told by President Mbeki of South Africa that Gusmao went there and talked about the possibility of sending East Timorian students to South Africa. Then I was told that Gusmao talked the same way to the President of Mozambique and the Brazilian President. All in all, co-ordination between South Africa, Mozambique, Brazilia, Indonesia and East Timor, would bring good results. Co-ordination will be needed not only to facilitate the development of human resources, but also to insure that the process is a meaningful encounter. So with these things in mind, I think we will be able to make use of our situation.

That happens also to the Indian case. Now the folk from Silicon Valley in the United States come back to India, specifically to Bangalore, to create a new enclave for those scientists. I think the development of IT in the region of ASEAN would be facilitated by this situation in India, which is situated in South Asia. Looking from all sides, I am convinced that the situation will bring many possibilities for us to develop together, and the developed world will benefit from that too. The combination of well-developed human resources as well as agreements on the utilization of natural resources in the area of ASEAN will enable those countries, now 12 countries, to rise to a new status, to a new position among the world's countries.

I talked with the President of Vietnam about the Mekong Basin project in which the Japanese will finance the development of human and natural resources, resources in developing the Mekong Delta. Together with Laos, Cambodia, as well as Thailand and Myanmar, six nations will take part in that. So, this would enable us to see the development of ASEAN in terms of the economy as well as science.

Question: Mr. President, the population of Indonesia has doubled within the last 30 years. It has now reached 220 million. Do you see the size of that population as a problem and, if so, what are your thoughts about dealing with this problem?

President Wahid: I was asked about the situation, whether we can check the population development of Indonesia, the population increase. I answered that the first thing to do is to check whether the current measurement used is right. Suharto was known, you know, as not wanting to see the population of Indonesia increase too much, so he put, according to the reports, 1.1% as the population increase per year. From my own personal observation, however, there are so many children in Indonesia that the figure must be a lie. Because of this then, I ask the official responsible for population to make a careful check; in June, we have a national census that we will use to project the right number.

Now we have varieties of numbers; 1.1% increase in population; 1.6, and then 1.9, so we don't know which one we have to use. Once we know this for sure, maybe in July and August, we will be able to decide which population policy we have to follow. The most difficult part of population control will be to convince people that family planning is necessary. Once it is attained, then the rest will be a technical job, I am convinced of this.

I myself worked very hard in the family planning program in the past, so I know how to deal with it. I think that if we can convince people that family planning is necessary then when we reach 235 million to 250 million people, stability will be attained. If that can be attained, then we can sigh with relief, because as of now, you see, we have to give food to 3.5 million additional people per year. It is an idealistic attempt, I confess that, but anyway I am convinced and I am very sure that we can attain it, we can stem the increase.

A quick question with regard to your views on the evolution of the strategic relationship between the United States and Indonesia, and, in particular, whether you would be supportive of the resumption of close cooperative ties between the Indonesian and the American military.

President Wahid: The ties between the United States and Indonesia will be strengthened because we share so many things; first of all, the characteristic of unity through diversity, that one. The second thing is that now we see the need of inputs for establishing a firm regional or autonomous government in the provinces and in the districts; we can learn from the Americans in this area too. Also the fact that technology-wise, we have to learn from them as well; the managerial skills needed can be developed from the States also.

I detect that the American Government now is very, very helpful in this method. As I said before, the American Government has agreed to take responsibility in developing infrastructure in Aceh -- the streets, the roads, the bridges, the railway and so forth. The U.S. will take responsibility, and the Ambassador said to me that they are ready to pay for that, however much it is. Investment, of course, will follow, and it is natural that American investors will come. If they invest in Aceh, then they can do that everywhere, everywhere else in Indonesia. So I don't think that the relationship will deteriorate, but that we will be able to develop our relationship.

As for the military, I think there is a need for a strong defense in the country. Of course, for the time being, we obviously shy away from too close of a relationship and cooperation in the military field between the United States and Indonesia, because I know that the American Government has its own troubles vis a vis Congress. Well, we also have our problems with our generals. After both sides settle their affairs, then we will be able to negotiate; why not?

This is what I said to President Clinton when I visited the White House and he laughed his head and said "Ah, that's a fair thing, and I like this kind of fairness." I mean that's the fairness of giving the benefit of the doubt to the other side in the sense of I think I believe that we will be able to cooperate in the future.

Mr. President, I would like to ask you a rather personal question. In view of all the difficulties Indonesia is facing right now, why did you choose to take on this heavy responsibility of becoming President?

President Wahid: I cannot give an answer. At that time, either Mrs. Megawati or Amin Rais or Professor Habibie thought that my appointment as President was impossible -- not seeing, not having enough of a political power base, and so forth. Because of this, they allowed me to be nominated. If I was appointed, then it was their fault, not mine. I myself wondered.

You know that it's only two months before the appointment of President that I was sure that I would be appointed. As I said before that, you see, I was just trusted by those people to become nominee, because, you know, otherwise they would collide with each other. So then the only person that they can think about temporarily as a candidate is myself, and you see I do not know why, but I continued. I do not know how to stop.

That is my answer. Once I am given a task I will finish it; I never care about other consequences or the obstacles in front of me. If you ask me whether I would like a second election, I will say that I don't know, and I don't care, because for me one time is already full with frustration, so difficult, you know.

My idea was to retire after I am 60 and now I am 60. I would like to write books, four or five books for that matter, and among the five books, a collection of jokes. You know, more than 15 years on the stand, as a speaker, four or five times every day, more than 15 years, that means I must know so many jokes because I have to stand before the public.

You know that in the heyday of the Suharto era when General Syarwan Hamid was still Minister of Interior, he was accused by Megawati of smearing her. He had said that Megawati was the Corazon Aquino of Indonesia, so she brought a suit against him. In Megawati's view, Corazon Aquino deliberately toppled Ferdinand Marcos and she had no such plans, so there is no similarity between the two, thus, her demand for 25 billion rupiah -- very much money in our currency.

So, I told a gathering of about 25,000 in Lamongan that Mrs. Megawati goes to the court because of this, and that means that if she gets all the money and the money is used to buy bakso for you, then each of you will get 5,000 -- you know 1,000 cups. Although he had said a similar thing about me, that I am the Cardinal Sin of Indonesia, I will not go to the court, because I know he has no money.

So I will be satisfied with a forthright and honest answer from General Syarwan Hamid. If Megawati is the Corazon Aquino, and myself the Cardinal Sin of Indonesia, then who is the Ferdinand Marcos? People jumped at that, so things like that can be told in a joke book, you know.

Thank you very much for coming here. I look forward to meeting you in Indonesia.