Thursday, 9 July 2015

Bandung Creative City: Reinvigorating the Capital of Asia-Africa

On 17 April 2015, I was invited by The Global Times, one of China's leading English-language newspapers, to speak at their annual Global Ambassador Forum.  Of course I was delighted to receive the invitation, especially because I am not ambassador.  So, I accepted the invitation in a heartbeat.

The topic of the forum was "Building Smart and Green Cities", something that I immediately realized I had no idea about.  But I have always been told by a senior colleague that when given a chance to speak, then speak.  Because speaking gets Indonesia's name on newspapers (for the right reasons), and that's part of what our job is.

The words of that senior colleague do make sense.  At least, more so than the advise of another older diplomat, who once belittled me, and said that I shouldn't speak at a forum promoting Indonesia's movie industry because I "didn't have the competency to speak about such matters".  What nonsense, I thought, and still do 'til this day.

I will take the risk of appearing cocky and assert the believe that I am an authority in Indonesian matters, here in Beijing, China.  And this is not simply because I've entertained one too many questions from Chinese people about things Indonesian.  If anything, I believe that every diplomat should have it in his hearts and minds that he or she is an Indonesian resource person wherever they are posted. Not only competent, but an authority on Indonesia.

And so, it didn't take long for me to decide on Bandung as my topic of discussion for the Global Ambassador Forum.  The choice was somewhat easy.  I've been to Bandung many times.  Bandung is increasingly becoming known for its "smart" and "green" urban development.  Bandung was also about to host the 60th Anniversary of the Asia-Africa Summit, and many in Beijing knew little about Bandung. 

Indeed, following the forum, I was interviewed by three Chinese media that wanted to do a background story for the Asia-Africa Summit.  In fact, one of the publications resulting from these interviews can still be found on the website of East China News Service (ECNS.COM).

In case some of you are interested in what I said during the Global Ambassador Forum, please continue reading below.


Excellencies Ambassadors,
Respected members of the diplomatic corps,
Esteemed editors and journalists of Global Times,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First and foremost, I would like to thank Global Times for inviting me to speak at this forum. 

I am a loyal reader of Global Times, and therefore, it is indeed an honour for me to be here, and to talk about my country, Indonesia.

In all honesty, I am not an expert in urban development.  Nor am I an architect or landscape designer. So I am not going to speak to you in jargons that I myself don't even understand.

But as a diplomat, I do get to travel, and feel the heartbeat of many cities.  From my experience, every city has its own, unique life.  And each city’s life is always evolving along with its population.

In this vein, today I would like to talk about Bandung, which is Indonesia's third largest city, after Jakarta and Surabaya. 

Bandung is the capital of West Java Province, and boasts a population of around 7.4 million people.  Surrounded by mountains, and sitting at almost eight hundred meters above sea-level, the city's climate is generally more comfortable than that found in coastal cities across the Indonesian archipelago.

Just two hours away from Jakarta, Bandung is known as a getaway destination for residents of Indonesia's capital.  This was true even during colonial times, when Bandung frequently entertained Dutch administrators and plantation owners from Jakarta and the rest of West Java.

In 1955, Bandung hosted the Asia-Africa Conference.  Attended by leaders of Asian and African countries, the conference was the first summit ever among many new nations that had just gained independence following the Second World War.

Indonesia's President Soekarno; India's Prime Minister Nehru; China's Premier Zhou Enlai; they were all there, and they voiced out their countries' respective nation-building processes, and efforts to establish peace, stability, and prosperity for the people.

The 1955 Asia-Africa Conference would later be known as the Bandung Conference.  And the spirit of solidarity and cooperation that was born out of that conference became known as the Bandung Spirit. 

That spirit continues to live on to this day, as Asia and Africa increasingly occupy the headlines of world news. 

Such a sense of solidarity is also reflected in the participation of many leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, in the Bandung Conference's 60th anniversary commemoration, later this month. 

This is why I have chosen to speak about Bandung.

At the beginning of the millennium, beautiful Bandung, which was previously known as the Paris of Java, had gradually taken on many unappealing "big city" traits -- traffic jams, air pollution, and garbage. 

Bandung's urban problems can be traced to poor infrastructure and uncontrolled development.  The situation had become so damaging that many locals had succumbed to the possible irrelevance of Bandung in today's modern society.

However, things have changed for the better in the last few years. 

Bandung had always been known for its people's creativity and dynamism. And it was believed that any effort to make effective changes to the city would have to rely on these characteristics. 

In a city whose population is almost 50% made of youths, it is impossible to think of Bandung lacking in creativity and dynamism.

In 2008, Bandung launched a "creative city" movement, which was aimed at harnessing the pre-existing cultural and creative industry into a more organized city-level community.  The main aim was to inject new life into a supposedly fading city.  

As ideas emerged, interchanged, and further developed within conducive discourse environments, concrete efforts began to materialize on how to make the city more livable, and more lovable.  Some of the locals even dreamt of making Bandung a world class city. 

In this way, the desire to make Bandung more habitable had come from the grassroots, from the bottom up.  The city’s upward progress was therefore positively linked to the people's increasing enthusiasm and participation.

And in 2013, efforts to reinvigorate Bandung hit the next gear, when a young, foreign-educated, local architect by the name of Ridwan Kamil was elected as Mayor. 

Kamil had stated that his vision was "to make Bandung the happiest society in Indonesia".  And he has worked hard to fulfill his promise by listening to the people, and absorbing their ideas. 

The government has since pushed for better and more integrated public transportation.  This includes a cable car program and a bike-sharing program, which is the first of its kind in Indonesia.  This is targeted at making Bandung's streets less congested and less polluted.

The citizens of Bandung have also been encouraged to change their lifestyle.  And Mayor Kamil has tried to lead by example, as demonstrated by his frequent bike rides to work.

Creativity, the lifeline of Bandung’s progress, could only surface from lively surroundings.  Therefore, a mutual symbiosis needed to be created between the people and their home. 

In this regard, the government and people of Bandung emphasized on the idea of green development, by creating new parks, and revamping old ones. 

More public spaces have also been created, to stimulate positive interactions among the local population.  For example, areas under bridges, which had previously housed criminal activities, have been shifted into outdoor movie theaters and soccer pitches.

Moreover, to ensure the sustainability of this movement, citizens are asked to become directly involved in local projects. 

For example, to refurbish the city's soccer stadium area, a design competition was launched.  And the winner's design was then adopted as the blueprint for the project.  

In other words, the citizens are asked not to only demand a better life from the government, but also to be responsible for such improvement in livelihood.  The hope is that such public involvement  would cultivate a sense of belonging, thus ensuring sustainability.

Esteemed guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

There are a number of factors that I would like to highlight in the way that Bandung has become a more livable and lovable city.

First, creativity.  Many of the changes happening in Bandung began with creative ideas. The development of forums for exchanging ideas among the local population has provided the energy for the city’s evolution.  

Second, participation.  The ability to express one’s mind has led to more Bandung people participating in public discussions.  In turn, the establishment of such forums has stimulated the emergence of new ideas, often among people who had previously been indifferent about the city's fate.

At the same time, creative ideas would only remain as ideas if the people are unwilling to convert them into concrete, tangible projects. 

This is where things are different now compared to before.  And this has much to do with a government and a leadership that is keen on materializing the people's ideas.

Therefore, third, attentive leadership.  Mayor Ridwan Kamil continues to interact with the public, not only by meeting them face-to-face, but also by making use of social media and the cyberspace. 

Through twitter, facebook, and instagram, Kamil can get first hand accounts of life in Bandung.  At the same time, Kamil uses these social media channels to report on the actions he has taken in response to popular aspirations and demands.

And fourth, a sense of belonging.  By allowing the public to participate in the governance of Bandung, a sense of responsibility has been nurtured.  This is something that is important in making the people more connected to their home, to their own livelihood.

Of course, in spite of the progress that I have outlined here, there remains much room for improvement if Bandung is to become a world-class city. 

However, if we speak to any people from Bandung today, then I can assure you that you would feel a strong sense of optimism oozing from them.  A sense of optimism in their capacity to make positive, long term changes.

History will always dictate Bandung as the capital of Asia-Africa.  But, by making Bandung a creative city, the local people have successfully breathe a new, reinvigorated life into their beloved city.  

In doing so, Bandung, like the Asian-African cooperation, have progressively changed with the times.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road: An Indonesian Perspective

On 22 May 2015, the Embassy of Indonesia in Beijing was invited to participate in One Belt One Road: New Silk Road, New Starting Point for Cooperation and Exchange Seminar, which took place in Xi'an.  
The seminar was organized by the Municipal Governments of Xi'an and Quanzhou, which are the starting points of the Modern Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, respectively.  
The following is the speech that I presented in front of around 400 participants of the seminar, including local and national media people.

Ladies and gentlemen,
First and foremost, I would like to extend my sincerest appreciation to the Governments of Quanzhou Municipality, and Xi'an Municipality, for kindly inviting the Embassy of Indonesia to participate in this important conference.
Indeed, the invitation extended to our Embassy is a reflection of the high regard given by Chinese Government towards Indonesia, as an important player in efforts to concretely develop the One Belt, One Road initiative. 
Freshly following the visits of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Indonesia and Kazakhstan last month, I sincerely believe that the organizing of this conference is timely. The hope is that we will have frank and fruitful discussions on the values and challenges of the One Belt One Road initiative.
Since the introduction of the One Belt, One Road initiative in 2013, the Chinese Government has vigorously promoted this initiative in bilateral and multilateral forums.  China is also leading efforts to develop supporting institutions and mechanisms, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). 
Indeed, China is not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk.
Like many countries in the Asia-Pacific, Indonesia welcomes the One Belt One Road initiative as a contributing step towards building a more connected, more prosperous, and more peaceful region.  As one of the countries along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, Indonesia recognizes that efforts to strengthen connectivity could directly lead to greater economic prosperity across the region.  
Such a shared interest in developing maritime connectivity can be traced to historical accounts linking Indonesia and China.  We all know of the seven voyages of Admiral Zheng He.  On each of his voyages to the Western Seas, Zheng He and his men spent time in Indonesia, to learn local traditions and introduce the locals to Chinese culture.  Stories of these friendly exchanges are very popular in Indonesia.
Today, as a country made up of over 17 thousand islands, Indonesia knows too well the importance of better maritime connectivity.  While Indonesia may be located strategically between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, without strong connectivity, it would be challenging for us to maximize on our geographic advantage.
We recognize that connectivity provides a basis for better flows of goods, people and services. This would spur business activities stemming from easy access and the development of regional production networks.  Better connectivity will bring products and services closer to consumers. Our aim should be to rid the Asia-Pacific of high-cost economy, and make the region more competitive and cohesive. 
Connectivity will also improve balanced growth and narrow the development gaps existing among countries in the Asia-Pacific.  It will spur more intensive investment cooperation, especially in infrastructure development, thus fostering sustainable and long-term growth.  Therefore, the One Belt One Road initiative must evolve along a win-win path, for both developed and developing countries. 
Ladies and gentlemen,
President Xi Jinping's state visit to Indonesia in October 2013 marked a new chapter in Indonesia-China relations, as our bilateral cooperation was elevated from "strategic partnership" to "comprehensive strategic partnership".  Moreover, it was during the visit to Jakarta that the idea of a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road was first introduced to the region.
In November 2014, it was Indonesian President Joko Widodo's turn to further elevate bilateral relations, as China became his first destination abroad since assuming the Indonesian leadership.  President Widodo is committed to deepening and widening bilateral cooperation in various fields, such as infrastructure, connectivity, as well as energy and food security. 
Moreover, President Widodo believes that China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is complementary to his vision of Indonesia as a "global maritime fulcrum".  What we want are: improved physical connectivity, better institutional connectivity, and stronger people-to-people connectivity.  With commitment, hard work, and close partnerships with neighboring countries, this is all within our reach. 
China is the biggest economy in Asia, and Indonesia the largest in Southeast Asia.  Together, our two countries should promote togetherness to convert our bilateral ties into a more solid cooperation that benefits not only our two peoples, but also the region as a whole. 
The One Belt One Road initiative could provide a platform for strengthening Indonesia’s maritime infrastructure and transportation. It could stimulate sectors such as ship building, power plants and seaports.  Indonesia could also take advantage of the trade routes opened by China to export its products to areas previously difficult to reach, such as Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
Indeed, greater infrastructure investments would benefit Indonesia, as it accelerates the development of the country's internal and external connectivity.  Maritime connectivity also opens opportunities for China to be part of efforts in realizing Indonesia's economic potentials. 
At the same time, because of Indonesia's geographical position and sheer size, these trends would contribute positively towards stronger connectivity in the Asia-Pacific as a whole.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Trade along the ancient Silk Road and maritime silk route was a significant factor in the development of many civilizations in the region. It opened up China and all the countries along the silk routes, to political and economic interactions, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people connections.
Against this backdrop, it is understandable that many countries have welcomed China's One Belt One Road initiative.  And it is understandable that efforts to implement the initiative has led to the prominent rise of certain Chinese cities, such as Quanzhou and Xi'an.
As a rising power, China’s economic development will continue to bring opportunities to its neighbors. Therefore, its attempts to develop new cooperative mechanisms are commendable. 
At the same time, China must be willing to listen to the rest of the region, especially in maintaining China's image as a friendly neighbor among the Asia-Pacific countries.  Cooperation can only be nurtured within a stable and peaceful environment.
The concept of a modern silk road belt and maritime silk road should not only be symbolic in nature, but also concrete in its implementation. The hope is that our efforts would contribute positively towards further fostering a sense of community, a shared identity, and an integration of interests in the Asia-Pacific.
In this Asian Century, it is in our hands to determine the fate of our peoples and our region as a whole. 
Thank you.