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Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Cameron R. Hume, At the Opening of the EWC/EWCA 2008 International Conference, Bali, Indonesia, November 13, 2008
On behalf of the American Embassy, I want to welcome all of you to this very special international conference of alumni of the East-West Center…

Over many years, our Embassy has greatly valued the work of the East-West Center and its alumni in promoting international education and fostering mutual understanding. We know that Center programs build invaluable professional and personal relationships, enhance awareness and promote informed dialogue. We also know you serve the broader community. We were impressed when the East-West Center Tsunami Relief Fund several years ago generated more than $500,000 to assist with tsunami relief efforts and provide long-term support through education and research programs.

I know that one American Center alumna – if she were alive today – would be very happy with this conference and with your interest in experiencing the rich cultural diversity of Indonesia. Back in the 1970s, she was a grantee at the Center and an anthropology Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii. Her name was Ann Dunham Soetoro.

I think you perhaps just may have heard of her son, who spent four years with his mother and Indonesian stepfather in Jakarta. He studied at SD Besuki Menteng, a public primary school just a few blocks from my residence in central Jakarta. His name is Senator Barack Obama, and last week he made history when he was elected President of the United States.

Like thousands of other students, researchers and professionals, Mrs. Soetoro – and her family – gained knowledge and cross-cultural understanding from time well spent at the Center in Manoa Valley. She and young Barack experienced first hand what your conference theme, “Unity in Diversity,” means in the context of both Indonesian and American society. Both Indonesians and Americans value tolerance and diversity and education. I know that Mrs. Soetoro would be very proud not only of her son's tremendous accomplishments but also of the “new Indonesia” and of the Center's many achievements.

Over the next few days you have a full schedule of presentations and discussions on Indonesia and many regional and global issues, but, as U.S. Ambassador, I would be remiss if I didn't say a word or two about U.S.-Indonesia relations.

Many of you are serious scholars of the Asia-Pacific region and already know much about Indonesia. You already understand the history of Indonesia, including the important reforms of the past ten years. To many Americans and others, however, Indonesia is an abstraction, defined by a large swath of islands on the globe or limited to a single issue or even a single place, such as Bali.

As you know, Indonesia's story is complex and exciting, particularly over the past ten years. The job of any diplomat is to provide context. When I brief visiting U.S. officials and other visiting Americans in Jakarta, I find it important to underscore a simple message: More people have moved to democracy in the past seven years in Indonesia than any other country in the world.

The military is reforming; the government is engaging in a strong anti-corruption movement; Indonesian markets have taken a recent beating, but the overall economy is far stronger than before the 1997 financial crisis; and democratic institutions are developing and plans are being made for the 2009 presidential elections. And Indonesia has been a good partner in the war on terrorism. Terrorist networks have been disrupted, and the U.S. has lifted its travel warning.

It is truly difficult to overstate the impact of Indonesians democratic transition to its 245 million citizens, not to mention the example that Indonesia has provided to other countries in Southeast Asia and around the world.

Yet there are many challenges to confront. Let me list a few key issues that frame the challenges that I see for Indonesia:

  • Poverty: Nearly 50% of Indonesians earn less than $2 a day.
  • Food Prices: A recent poll found that over 62% of the population spends over half of their income on food.
  • Unemployment: It is over 9%, and underemployment is even higher, estimated to be 30 to 40%.
  • All of these conditions add up to rising income inequality. And inequality is not only an economic problem; it also is a social and political issue.
  • And the current global financial crisis won’t make things easier for Indonesians as they have to pay more to access the credit markets to fund their development, and an economic slowdown lessens demand for their exports.

As I look at Indonesia, today, I would note three "tipping points" – if these issues are addressed, prospects for Indonesia's future development are that much greater. If there is no progress or setbacks on these critical issues, Indonesia will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century.

These tipping points are: rule of law, including anti-corruption reform; improvement of education, particularly higher education, so Indonesia has a better educated workforce and a larger middle class and can become a more competitive, expanding market in the changing global economy; and the re-ordering of economic priorities, so that Indonesia can attract more foreign investment and take advantage of the increasingly connected 21st century economy.

We are using all government-to-government resources to help Indonesia. Applying the idea of moving “beyond diplomatic channels,” all of these issues will require the active engagement of non-government, private sector actors to make progress. With all of these efforts, however, I must point out one simple point: we can only be a handmaiden of reform – the Indonesian government and people are responsible for their own destiny. We can help, but they set the direction and tone – and take primary responsibility for the success or failure of their efforts.

These and other challenges will require the active engagement of not just government but also the non-government, private sector, and people like yourselves, to make real progress.

The U.S. government stands ready – as a facilitator – to work with Indonesia to advance shared goals and help promote stability and regional cooperation. The East-West Center, of course, continues to have a role in international education and exchange and in informing current and future leaders about issues of mutual interest and concern to the region. Cooperation with the Center and other U.S. and foreign institutions, private-sector partners and foundations can foster partnerships with Indonesia that, for example, promote science and technology entrepreneurship, economic development, leadership on environmental issues and English learning, among others.

In closing, let me say that I hope that all of you will have a rewarding time here at this conference and that you will leave Bali with a renewed interest in not only staying in touch with fellow alumni and the Center on critical issues of common concern, but also with this wonderful country.

Terima kasih, thank you and aloha.