Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Reinvigorating the Museum of Asia Africa

In 2005, during the 50th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference, leaders from the two continents established a New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) that was meant to “reinvigorate” the Bandung Spirit that had in the past influenced the downfall of colonialism in Asia and Africa. Nevertheless, the reinvigoration of the Bandung Spirit has proven to be difficult. 
Fingers are often pointed at our African brothers, accusing them of being incapable of sustaining this partnership. However, as one walked through the dilapidated walls of the Museum of the Asian-African Conference, one cannot but feel that maybe we in Indonesia are also to blame for this. We have failed to raise awareness of Indonesia’s relations with Asian and African countries, notwithstanding our supposed efforts to implement the NAASP.
There is a need to shift the thinking that underlie the museum’s existence. Efforts to create a shrine commemorating Indonesia’s achievements during the Asian-African Conference in 1955 may be admirable; yet, this would only go so far in making people truly understand current events and conditions. As foreign policymakers, it is essential that what is learned from the past be geared towards sustaining present policies as well as designing an agenda for future course of actions. 
In most cases, museums reflect a positivist view of the world as entirely ordered and rule-governed. Objects and information are provided in an ordered fashion for the visitors to follow “as it is”. In contrast, a constructivist view argues that learning involves people in the active construction of mental representations of the world. In other words, what we learn and understand is relative and provisional, and that history is understood within the context of today.
The Museum of the Asian-African Conference provides an admirable exhibition of Indonesia’s past diplomatic glory. However, in presenting solely this exhibition, it has become detached from Indonesia’s contemporary relations with Asian and African countries. The process of learning in the museum is static, and does not provide room for discovering how the past relates with the present, let alone the future. What good does this then do in our efforts to engage the public in supporting our foreign policy and diplomacy today?
Museums have the ability to influence people through the process of learning. By considering both the basis for our organization of exhibits and our theory of learning, we can develop a museum that can respond to the dispositions and interests of the visitors and maximize the potential for learning. In doing so, this makes the museum not only appealing for children, but also accommodating to all ages of learning. A university student trying to understand Indonesia’s foreign policy towards Africa would be able to appreciate the museum as much as an elementary school finding out for the first time where Bujumbura is located.
In its current form, the Museum of the Asian-African Conference serves as a memento to one of the most important episodes of Indonesia’s foreign policy. However, in order to maximize on its potentials, the museum should not teach only history, but also how history shapes things and events today. To become “interesting” and worthy of visits by the public, the museum needs to re-shape itself as an interactive center for learning on the Asian and African peoples. 
The museum needs to go beyond its current form as “the Museum of the Asian-African Conference”, and become “the Museum of Asia-Africa”.
First, the museum should revamp itself from being only a center for learning on the Asian-African Conference to being a museum that features Indonesia’s foreign policy towards the Asian and African continents. In doing so, the museum will become more relevant to the contemporary world and provide a larger space for public learning and public engagement with government policies.
Second, the museum should be geared towards developing greater public understanding of Indonesia’s foreign policy. It is important therefore for the museum to feature Asian and African countries in its exhibits. By learning more about these countries, the public would have a better picture of our efforts in engaging not only Asia and Africa, but also the developing world as a whole.
Third, by raising the public’s awareness on the plight of Asian and African countries, the museum should further efforts by the Department of Foreign Affairs to raise not only public interest in Indonesia’s foreign policy and diplomacy, but also public participation. In a sense, it is about time that the museum be perceived as a channel for extending Indonesia’s foreign policy and total diplomacy goals.
To develop the museum into a center for learning on Asia and Africa, particularly on Indonesia’s relations with countries in these two continents, more exhibits are needed on Asian and African cultures, history, and geography. The exhibits need to encompass materials concerning countries beyond those that participated in the 1955 Conference; the exhibits need to reflect the success of the Bandung Spirit in influencing the birth of new countries in Asia and Africa.
Children shall remain one of the most important target audience. As such, programs have to be designed to ensure children’s interest in the materials being presented in the museum. Games and questionnaires could ensure that the children travel to every part of the museum and allow them to carry out their learning process at pace and using directions they desire individually.
By getting children to learn early about their brothers and sisters from afar, the museum could very well create an impact in these children’s lives, which could be beneficial for the country in furthering efforts in people-to-people diplomacy in years to come. At the same time, games and questionnaires could also be of interest to adults, thus opening the possibility for learning at all ages.
There is also a need to continuously engage visitors even once they have departed the museum. For example, the website for the museum, could be re-designed to contain materials that would provoke the people to want to know more about the museum, its exhibits, and anything related to Asia and Africa. The website could contain information, quizzes, and other features that would lead people to want to re-visit the museum, or if not, learn more about the issues as a whole. 
Another example is to make souvenirs available that could create some form of lasting attachment between the museum and its visitors. Indeed, much of most souvenirs these days are simply made to satisfy the public’s consumerist appetite. Nonetheless, if looked from a broader perspective, souvenirs could become means of public diplomacy. It could promote the museum as an interesting place to visit and a center for Asian-African learning. It could also contain educational materials on the Asian-African Conference and related contemporary issues.
Indeed, to set such a reinvigoration of the Museum of Asia-Africa in motion would not be cheap. Funds will be required not only to renovate the building in order to accommodate new exhibits, but also to bring in new exhibits, develop interactive programs, re-design the museum’s website, and create a line of souvenir and merchandising. Resorting to government funds is the option most suitable considering that the project is an attempt to enrich the Indonesian society’s knowledge as well as for the government to further its public diplomacy goals. Yet, the Government has its limitations.
An alternative resource for funds would be the private sector. However, private control could mean that the Government would have to relinquish full control over the museum. As well, if the museum were privatized, then there is a chance that financial profits and losses would dominate its development, and not education and knowledge.
The soundest solution would be to create a foundation comprising of elements of the Government (both central and provincial), civil society (particularly among educators and the academia), and the business sector. Within such a foundation, the Central Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs would remain at the helm of decision making related to the museum. Inputs from the provincial government, the civil society and financial contributions from businesses would complete a line up of actors that could take up such a mandate.
In 1955, Bandung became the capital of Asia and Africa. It is our responsibility to ensure that Bandung will continue as such. This will not happen if the museum only highlights past events. The museum must be able to allow its visitors to make connections between past and present. The museum must actualize its potential in creating and nurturing the public’s interest and knowledge in events and facts in Asia and Africa. The museum must maximize its capacity in conducting public diplomacy and enhancing understanding on Indonesia’s foreign policy.
Realizing this goal would require a concerted effort among all stakeholders. It would also require careful planning, and most importantly, continuity. 
Some smaller steps could be taken in anticipation of the start of such a project. One of these first steps could be by changing the hours of the museum so that it opens on Saturdays and Sundays. Museums anywhere else opens on Saturdays and Sundays. Somehow, it is just too difficult to imagine the Museum of Asia-Africa evolving into a center for learning if it was closed on the days when people are most likely to make a trip there.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Centrality of ASEAN in Indonesia’s Foreign Policy

Indeed, Indonesia’s foreign policy needs to demonstrate assertiveness and independence.  However, as the largest and most populated country in Southeast Asia, being assertive and independent does not necessarily mean forsaking Indonesia’s role in ASEAN, even if the regional organization has lately been criticized from both within and abroad. 

And most importantly, in spite of making ASEAN the cornerstone of its foreign policy, Indonesia remains active in other engagement efforts beyond this regional body’s mechanism.  Although it has to be said that in larger forums, Indonesia has gained prominence as one of the few, if not the only, ASEAN country involved in forums such as G-20, OIC and between 2006-2008, in the UN Security Council.

Unlike the views expressed by Dr. Rizal Sukma in an article titled “Indonesia Needs a Post-ASEAN Foreign Policy”, ASEAN remains valuable in Indonesia’s foreign policy, particularly as a means to engage Indonesia’s closest neighbors as well as to project the country’s foreign policy ideals within and beyond the region.  At the same time, any challenges posed by Indonesia’s association with ASEAN do not constitute a hindrance to efforts at pursuing its national interests abroad.

Criticisms as well as certain levels of frustration have indeed been raised with regards to ASEAN’s development as a bona fide regional organization since its inception in 1967.  Among others, the centrality of ASEAN as the driving force for regionalization in the Asia Pacific has come under fire, thus leading to calls for re-assessing not only the centrality of ASEAN in Indonesia’s foreign policy, but also Indonesia’s association with the regional body as a whole. 

One of the biggest criticisms against the credibility of ASEAN thus far has been the way in which the regional body has dealt with the issue of Myanmar.  While in the past such criticisms have mainly been expressed by the West, there is now also a growing dissenting voice from well within ASEAN.  Tied to this issue is the supposed inability of ASEAN to promote human rights issues in the region, thus becoming a thorn on the side of the regional body’s engagement with many dialogue partners.

Criticisms are also often lodged at the inability of ASEAN to resolve disputes among its members.  In recent times, the border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand as well as the media-flared dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia over maritime territories in the Sulawesi Sea are some of the examples in which ASEAN’s cohesion and lack of a peaceful dispute settlement mechanism are observed with much pessimism.

Issues of democracy, human rights and conflict prevention/resolution are indeed some of the elements of ASEAN’s vision of a peaceful, free, and prosperous Southeast Asian region, as enshrined in the Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community signed in March 2009, which agreed on the political-security, economic, and socio-cultural blueprints for an ASEAN Community by 2015.

Nevertheless, as efforts in community-building take place, much needs to be understood with regards to how efforts conducted within the framework of ASEAN complement those carried out through bilateral or other multi-lateral means.  In a sense, on issues such as territorial disputes, in which two or more ASEAN members are involved, a peaceful settlement should be reached by the concerned sides, while making use of the conducive environment provided by years of dialogue within the ASEAN mechanism. 

Meanwhile, human rights issues approached through multilateral efforts such as the UN should in no way be considered either as a burden or challenge to efforts being carried out at the regional level by ASEAN.  If anything, the complementariness of these efforts should give way to a more comprehensive approach to the issue, as is the case with which the Myanmar issue is being dealt.

In efforts at community-building, it would be misleading to suggest that compromise has only been made by Indonesia.  Although needing to be assertive in its pursuit of national interests, and supposedly being in a position of dominance, Indonesia’s role in ASEAN should stem from respect and example, and not from authority.  In a community of nations as various as those in Southeast Asia, differences will continue to exist; how those differences could be narrowed, through ways including certain levels of compromise, should be the measure of success for such a community. 

With the signing of the ASEAN Charter in 2007 and the development of the political-security, economic, and socio-cultural blueprints for an ASEAN Community, a strong basis has been created on which to construct a solid organization which is rules-based, integrated, and people-oriented.  Indeed, some of the difficulties faced by ASEAN thus far have been its flexibility and openness.  However, the development of the Charter and the three blueprints should evoke greater optimism about the prospects of ASEAN in the future.  At least, although not necessarily perfect to each member’s liking, these documents reflect a shared goal among ASEAN countries in building a community in the region.

To the general public eye, the benefits of ASEAN in the daily lives of member countries’ citizens are not always seen directly.  This, therefore, begs the question of ASEAN’s relevance in the local society.  However, as regional economic integration takes place, and ties among ASEAN countries are strengthened in all three pillars of cooperation, there will be an increased linkage between national policies and those implemented by ASEAN.  Indeed, the onus falls on each member country to implement on what it has agreed to carry out by 2015.

Indonesia’s foreign policy should not be seen as being imprisoned by the supposed lack of development in ASEAN.  If anything, ASEAN has progressed impressively since its establishment, with Indonesia continuously playing a constructive and innovative role.  Certainly, compromise has had to be made in ensuring progress within ASEAN, particularly considering the gaps existing among the membership.  Nonetheless, and without appearing apologetic, when considering the progress made thus far, and most importantly, the declared goal and vision to continue moving forward towards an ASEAN Community, then it would be unfair to view that Indonesia’s foreign policy has been entrapped by certain ways of ASEAN deemed inapt by a few.

Oldies, But Goodies...

Here are some my old articles, somehow still available on the internet.  

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Cina, Tiongkok, China

The confusion in the use of the words "Cina", Tiongkok", and "China" to address the "Middle Kingdom" in Bahasa Indonesia has for long been a concern of mine.
In formulating a foreign policy towards China, it is clear that such a confusion symbolizes the lack of coordination, vision, and goal in Indonesia's approach towards enhanced diplomatic ties with China.  
Put it this way, if a person is referred to as Peter by one person, and then Paul by another, and James by another, then it is most likely that each one of them will view this Peter-Paul-James individual differently.  But if they all know him as Peter, than they can somehow at least see this individual through similar perspectives.
Here are some articles and blog entries worth checking out:
I am a proponent of using Tiongkok in our diplomatic and foreign policy usage.  "Tiongkok" in Bahasa Indonesia and "China" in English.  This will require time to promote, as in the Department of Foreign Affairs, the use of Tiongkok, China and Cina remain prevalent without any institutional preference.  
Anybody wanna join my efforts?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Path of a Middle Power

I've always been a proponent of this notion called "middle power".  For a long time, Indonesia was at the door, knocking to be let into the grouping of countries which call themselves middle powers like Canada, Australia, and others.  And now, I believe that Indonesia is well within its right to call itself a "middle power" and start to engage the international forum as such.
The article printed in the Jakarta Post was derived from a paper that I wrote for my Sesdilu course.  Am hoping that it would let the ball roll on further discussion on this issue, especially among my peers.

Linking with the Land-Down-Under

The media in Indonesia has become a battleground for ideas.  Am happy about this 'coz it signifies, in many ways, the maturity of democracy.  However, at the same time, I cannot help but feel that the Indonesian people remain very emotional in their treatment of the media as well as their digestion of matters in the media.
We have a long way before the Indonesian people can learn to be critical of the media, and use the media truly as an means to enhance their participation in this democracy.  
The Indonesian people also should not be provoked by the media.  It is important to recognize that the media provides a forum for forwarding different views on anything under the sun; difference should be celebrated with a view to moving forward successfully.
I take the example of my assessment of The Jakarta Post's selection of articles on Indonesia-Australia relations.  On this occasion, I cannot but applaud the Jakarta Post's attempt to present multiple sides of the story.  And more so, the fact that the Jakarta Post printed my letter as a source of reflection.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

One China

On the issue of the One China Policy, I have voiced out my opinion on a number of occasions and through various media.  The view remains the same up 'til now.  It is formed not only by my status as a diplomat representing Indonesia, but also by research done on Chinese domestic and international politics.  
I remain a democrat and value the notion of self-determination; however, in the business of managing state affairs in a community of great powers and super ones, some values need to be suited to the reality of the moment.  
Does this make me a fake...? I don't think so; I'm just trying to be more real in a world often filled with lofty idealism. Dream the dream, but live the life as well...
The article on the One China Policy is attached below and was first published by The Jakarta Post and then cited in the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing's website. The link is as follows:

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

An Intro

And so… I decided to try this thing called blogging… Have heard of it so many times, and how supposedly blogging and the bloggers are becoming the cool people around… Well, I wanna be cool too…!

I may become addicted to it, I may just lose interest in it within a week… Whatever the result, I can now say that I am an active participant of the cyberworld… Really…?! Nah, I just like making comments about this and that, and making sure that these comments get heard…

Once in a while, you’ll get to see some of my writings on a bunch of issues on this blog… Other times, you may see snippets of news or articles which I find interesting enough to be posted.  All in all, you’ll probably get a view of what goes inside my head, as I try to understand the world, its inhabitants, and their interactions…

Comment on anything as you please…  Good or bad, nonsense or significant, related or far-fetched… Anything goes… It’s the cyberworld, right?!