It May Not Be Soon, But We Can Become An Asian Superpower

Posted on November 24th, 2009 at 4:40 am by Akhyari


It is a fact that we live in a world surrounded by superpowers. In the Far East, we have China, the third-largest economy and whose economic growth is expected to surpass 10 percent in the fourth quarter of this year. A little bit further west is the nuclear-armed India, one of the world’s largest military forces and among the world’s fastest-growing economies. Over to the south, we are the immediate neighbor of Asia’s middle power, Australia, considered an advanced economy by the IMF, and whose major cities rank highly on quality-of-life surveys. Above all, we are a world citizen with the US and EU as the only superpowers. Now, let’s reflect internally on our capacity as a world citizen.

With what we have, is there a reason for the optimism to see Indonesia as a world superpower? In his 1996 book Indonesia’s Foreign Policy Under Soeharto, Suryadinata argues on several factors that underpin Indonesia’s international credibility. Writing at the time of the New Order regime, he makes the following points: First, Indonesia is geographically the largest country in ASEAN. Demographically, Indonesia earns a nod as the world’s fourth most populous country, after China, India and the United States. Second, Indonesia is considered an emerging Asian economy, hence the epithet “Asian tiger”.

Indonesia’s economy grew sustainably at an average 7 percent annually in the 1990s. If not for the Asian financial crisis in 1997/1998, our economic growth, let alone political development, would have been a different story.

Third, Indonesia’s military is arguably the strongest in Southeast Asia. It is for all these reasons that Michael Leifer labeled the republic “regional entitlement”. The Soeharto regime is now part of Indonesian history. We are now in a new league, one that demands economic prosperity on one hand and political freedom on the other; a league that demands leadership as opposed to land mass; and a league that demands coexistence of values in society.

Indonesia’s size remains unchanged from what it was during Soeharto’s period. It is still the biggest in Southeast Asia and still the world’s fourth most populous country. More than 230 million of the 570 million people in ASEAN live in this country. Economically, Indonesia’s resistance to the current global economic crisis has made it the only member of the G20 from Southeast Asia. On the political front, Indonesia is a strong proponent of ASEAN’s political development.

As we all know, ASEAN’s cooperation largely emphasizes the promotion of economic growth, while political integration remains a peripheral agenda. This is not surprising, considering that ASEAN, unlike the EU, consists of different political systems ranging from a military junta to full-fledged democracies. It is of course not an easy effort to promote political freedom in the region, but Indonesia has taken a significant role in raising the issue. And despite the challenges faced by the government both at home and from the region itself, Indonesia’s advocacy of ASEAN political integration remains strong.

In this light, it is worth recalling Indonesia’s stance from being an opponent of Western democratic values by arguing that they went against Asian values, to being the champion of democracy in the region. A transformation in need is a transformation indeed. Additionally, Indonesia is the third-largest democracy in the world after India and the United States, and the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. It is widely recognized as a place where Islam, modernity and democracy coexist peacefully in society. Indeed, there are still some challenges that need to be overcome.

These include partially horizontal tensions within society and other issues such as terrorism and radicalism. Corruption also remains a problem in the country. The country’s Corruption Perception Index as published by Transparency International puts us on the same level as Libya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Yet with the country’s persistent efforts in eradicating corruption, the index has improved by 37 percent since 2002.

Other than that, according to Reporters Without Borders, freedom of expression in Indonesia has actually worsened since 2002, placing it on the same level as Guinea and Mauritania. However, Indonesia’s overall ranking has improved significantly over the past year, from 111th spot to 100th, showing greater guarantees of freedom of expression. While the poverty and unemployment rates remain high, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration has gradually brought them down over the past five years, to around 14 percent and 9 percent respectively.

In conclusion, referring to all these features, it is certainly not an exaggerated hope to argue that Indonesia has all the potential needed to be recognized as a world superpower. We believe we have the right ingredients to be considered a super power. It may not be soon, but if we can nurture all the potentials that we embrace, Indonesia can become an Asian superpower, while to add the word “world” before “superpower” to Indonesia’s international stature may still need an extra effort by all Indonesians. Because a challenge remains: How do we translate these potentials into real power that can compete with China, India, Russia and, most of all, the United States?

Indeed, this is a question for all Indonesians who share our optimism that Indonesia can and will be a world superpower.

Hadianto Wirajuda is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK; Diaz Hendropriyono is a PhD candidate at Virginia Tech, US; Both are founders of the Youth Initiative for Indonesia’s Democracy and Development (YIDD).

Source: The Jakarta Post – Opinion

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