Building U.S.-Indonesia Mutual Understanding Since 1994

Transcript of Speech by Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal at USINDO Welcoming Dinner

  • After remarks by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Mr. Kurt Campbell and introduction by President of USINDO, David Merrill.
  • Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal presented his credentials to President Barack Obama around noon, 16 September 2010
  • This speech can be viewed on Youtube.  Keyword search : “Dino Patti Djalal USINDO”


No pressure …….. (laughter)

Thank you David for your generous introduction.

There are only two people who used to wake me up at midnight in Jakarta.  First, President SBY because he is a workaholic who likes to work late into the night.  Second is David Merril because when it’s midnight in Jakarta it’s lunchtime in Washington DC. (laughter)

We are very honored to have with us tonight Senator Kitt Bond and his lovely wife Linda, thank you for coming.  Senato Bond is a great American and a great friend of Indonesia, and because I want to keep it that way I will make no jokes about him. (laughter)   I remember when I served here 10 years ago, Indonesia was at a low point.  But high point or low point, Senator Bond always stood by Indonesia and kept his faith in us, which is the mark of a true friend.  So thank you Senator, for your steadfast friendship. (applause)

My gratitude also to Kurt Campbell for being here, and for your kind remarks.

The last time Kurt was in Jakarta he told us how surprised he was that his daughters knew more about President Obama’s plans to go to Indonesia before he did – his daughters were classmates with Sasha and Malia Obama, at Sydwell.  Which is why upon my arrival here I immediately requested a bilateral meeting with Kurt’s daughters to seek their diplomatic advise. (laughter)  Kurt’s daughters were not very keen to discuss US Indonesia relations.  In fact, they were more interested in more fun issues .. like the South China Sea territorial disputes. (laughter)

I want to introduce my wife Rosa.  She is a dentist.  And she is very productive : between 2005 and 2007, she gave birth to 3 babies … all mine. (laughter)  We met when I was director for North American affairs in 2003 and she was looking for a visa to study at New York University.  SO THANK YOU America !!  And yes, she did get the visa … But only after she accepted my marriage proposal … (Laughter)

I see Sri Mulyani here, I wish I could make fun of her, but my political adviser told me that I shouldn’t really take that risk because as everybody knows she is not someone you mess around with. (laughter)

And of course Ed and Alene Masters – who started this wonderful seed of USINDO and continues to be its light.  You two are simply the best and I mean it. (applause)

Ok, I got 6 down, another 300 to go .. (laughter)

Today, I presented my credentials to President Barack Obama.  It was supposed to be a very nice event,  but I brought my three children and we had a little bit of “diplomatic incident”  which it did not turn out to be so…

My son Keanu – who is four years old – and because of the changes of weather he caught a cold.  When the door to the Oval office was about to open, he asked me “Dad can I blow my nose on your suit ?” and I said “no !” and then he asked his mom “can I blow my nose on mom’s dress?’ and of course she said “no !”, and that’s when I became petrified because the door opened and there was President Obama with his very clean suit standing tall, and Keanu was just running towards him with his runny nose ! (laughter)   I had to stop Keanu and then proceeded to present my credentials to President Obama.

But then another “incident” happened : when I was presenting my credentials, my three year old, Chloe – she had no idea that America is a different country and she thinks that America is part of Indonesia (laughter) – when I was presenting my credentials – I have a photograph to prove this – Chloe was climbing and walking on top of President’s Obama desk.  Walking on his desk !  But President Obama is such a kind warm man, and he’s a father, and he was laughing at  the whole thing.  So all turned out well and no diplomatic incidents. (laughter and applause)

I want to thank everybody for coming tonight.  I see many old friends, I wish I could hug all of you, and many new faces, and I look forward to meeting all of you later on. I thank USINDO for organizing this wonderful dinner to welcome Rosa and I. You made us feel very welcome, and I want to thank all of you for your friendship and support as we strengthen ties between our countries.

The case for US-Indonesia relations is obvious to you but perhaps less obvious to others.

Even my old college friend from Bayside, New York asked me “why should America give a hoot about Indonesia ?”

I told him – after I slapped him – you SHOULD give a hoot, because if you count the things that are dear to America, Indonesia’s got plenty of them.

America prides herself for being the beacon of democracy.  Well, Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world.

America wants to extend her outreach to the Islamic world.  Well, Indonesia has the largest muslim population in the world, there are more Muslims in Indonesia than in the entire Middle East.

America wants to save planet earth and have clean air.  Well, much of the air that you breathe now comes from Indonesia because we have 30 % of the world’s tropical rain forests, and we have been providing free environmental service to America and to humanity. (laughter)

America wants to fight terrorism around the world.  Well, Indonesia’s counter terrorism efforts to capture and neutralize terrorist networks has been an outstanding success.

America wants to always be a Pacific power. Well, Indonesia is the largest country, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, the largest archipelago in the world, and with Malaysia and Singapore we occupy one of the most strategic straits in the world, the Straits of Malacca.  When there is cooperation between us, there is peace in the region.

But Indonesia is also pertinent because it is a tricky experiment that worked.

The Indonesian democratic experiment was full  of  danger signs.  If we failed, the consequences were very worrying : collapse of democracy, breakdown of law and order, return to authoritarianism, economic crisis, ethnic warfare, dismemberment of Indonesia, and regional instability.  And who knows what else…

But the Indonesian experiment succeeded, and by doing so, we proved many things.

First, we proved that there is absolutely no contradiction between democracy, modernity and Islam..and as Secretary Clinton points out with women’s rights also.

And remarkably we achieved synergy between these 4elements WITHOUT bloodshed or painful soul searching debate, but rather easily, naturally and smoothly.

We also proved that we did not have to chose between democracy and development – this was the debate in the 60s and the 70s.

We have achieved robust democratic development – with three regular  elections in 10 years and peaceful political changeovers in the last 10 years – while also achieving high economic growth, around 6 % before the financial crisis and around 4 % during the crisis, the third highest among G20 economies.  Don’t get me started on how we did it.  But the fact is that we did it !  Not by chance, not by luck, but by always believing that with hard work ultimately we will get our democracy and economy right.

As Indonesia changes, and as America changes, our relationship must also change.

It can no longer be a 20th Century Cold War relationship.  It must be a forward looking 21st Century G20-world relationship.

It can no longer be crisis driven. It must be opportunity driven.

It can no longer be burdened by mistrust and attention deficit.  It must be a friendship based on trust, and common interests.

It cannot be dominated by hard power.  It must be a relationship saturated with soft power and smart power.

It can no longer drift away without a compass.  It must have a clear direction, with set objectives and targets, and a plan of action to achieve them.

Above all, it must be an equal partnership.

This is why tomorrow’s bilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and Secretary Hillary Clinton is so important, in the first ever Joint Ministerial Forum between our countries.  They will provide direction and a concrete program of cooperation that will provide substance to the Comprehensive Partnership that we are trying to build.

But as we embark on this great US Indonesia project, allow me to say this to all the stakeholders.

Every partnership – between husband and wife, between friends, between companies, between nations – every partnership must have soul.

And this is also true for the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.

In the context of our evolving relationship, finding the soul means both sides must begin understand what we mean to one another, and how we mean to each differently today compared to previous times.  It means both sides appreciate that we have long term strategic interests in this partnership.  Finding the soul means we become more familiar with one another, able to feel each other’s pain, each has stake in the success of the other, and we respect each other enough to “agree to disagree” when we have to.

We find this soul, and we will turn this into an extraordinary partnership.  You lose this soul, and you will see this partnership become mechanical and robotic.

It is important to note that we are evolving this Partnership at a very interesting time – a time of great challenge.

30 years ago, studying in America was the coolest thing any young Indonesian person can do – a batch of honor, a social status. Today, there are more Indonesians studying in China than in the US.  I know you will be challenged by this fact. And my goal is to divert the declining trend of Indonesian studying in America and also to get more American to study in Indonesia. (applause)

30 years ago, what happens in remote places in America was of no significance to us in Indonesia.  Today, the foolish act of misguided individuals in some county can cause public outrage, political damage and even violent incidents outside America.  This is new territory for us.  In the age of twitter, facebook and instant media, we will see more of these types of grassroots friction and provocation, often with asymmetrical effect.  Our partnership must find a way to be adapted and be resilient, while trying to put out these small fires.

And most importantly, 30 years ago was still the 20th century, and now we live in the 21st century – which is CERTAIN to be the most progressive century in human history.

This is going to be the century where middle class throughout the world will explode, where humanity can potentially come close to achieving zero poverty, where we can come closest to a condition of harmony among civilizations.  Democracy, freedom and governance – within nations and between nations – will continue to spread.  Technology will drive creative explosion, and create opportunity for billions of world citizens.  The green economy will take off.  The number of emerging economies and developed countries will multiply and every human being on this planet will be more interconnected by technologies we can’t even imagine as yet.

Both Indonesia and America are trying to REPOSITION ourselves, and to find our places, in that brave new world.  Indonesia will hopefully continue its path as a stable multi-ethnic democracy, towards a competitive advanced economy, and to be a regional power with global outreach.

As for America, President Barack Obama has said that in the 21 st century “the American moment has not passed”.  Indeed, as President SBY said, the 21st century can be everybody’s century.  It can still be the American century as well as the Asian Century or the African Century.

If you care to hear my opinion : to recapture that moment, to ensure that the American moment has not passed, America must continue to relentlessly project to the world what is best about America.

My family has had firsthand experience with what is best about America.

When my father arrived in this country in the 1950’s as the first Indonesian student ever in the University of Virginia, he found that he was without means to pursue his Phd.  His family back in Sumatra were poor Muslim farmers, as they had been for generations.  But his American Professor, Alfred Fernbach, seeing the potential of this young man, tucked him in, found him shelter, struggled to find him a scholarship and treated him with respect and kindness. He never asked for anything in return, only the joy to help another human being with unfortunate circumstances.

Years later, it was my turn. After my father left for Canada, in 1983, an American family, the Carlo family in Queens, New York, took me into their home.  It was a typical patriotic American family.  One of the boys, Michael, later became a New York City fireman and he died heroically trying to save lives during 9/11.  When I lived with them, they gave me lots of love – blind to the color of my skin and indifferent to my funny accent – and refused to take my rent money because they said I was family.

This is America’s true national character : kind, compassionate, decent.

It is this basic goodness, this pristine goodwill, this generosity of spirit that must always be reflected in America’s engagement with the world. The world expects America’s leadership, but the world also wants to see an American leadership which exercises its enormous power with great heart and wisdom.

And this is why I very much look forward to working with all of you to renew the US-Indonesia connection.

I return to America, for the third time, as part of a journey to find answers to some pretty big questions of our time.

What happens when the world’s only superpower and the country largest muslims constructively engage one another ?  Can they help cement relations between Islam and the west ?  Can they help create a world marked not by clash but confluence of civilizations?

What can be achieved when the world’s largest greenhouse emitters work with the country with the largest tropical rainforests, the ultimate anti-emission weapon ? Can our joint efforts help save the planet ?

What is the best way for Indonesia, America and ASEAN to promote peace and progress in the Asia Pacific and beyond ?

How do we better connect 230 million Indonesians with 320 million Americans ?  And most importantly, how do we manage these complicated connections to ensure that they bring more jobs, more knowledge, more opportunities, more empowerment, more understanding, more peace to our good peoples ?

These are pretty big questions and I will devote all my energy to find answers.

Before I got on the plane to America, a small delegation of people came to the airport to see us off.

They were the principals and students from the Elementary school, where the young Barack Obama went to school.  They came to hand over to me a bunch of letters for President Obama, which I happily delivered to the President through the State Department.  With your permission, I wish to read one of the letters.  It is written by hand, and it reads like this :

Jakarta, 7 September 2010

Dear Mr. Obama, the President of The US of A.

First of all, let me introduce myself My name is Najma, I am 9 years old girl and I’m a fifth grader at SDN Menteng 01.

I am so happy because I have been given an opportunity to convey my dreams and hopes although indirectly. I hope Mr. President would receive this and read it through.

As a student of SDN Menteng 01, I am very proud to have been given an opportunity to learn in a school that have made a President. President of a big country; United States of America.  A super power nation that become a barometer for the entire country in the world. USA has now a reference for all countries in the world, whether in science, technology and culture.

Just like you, I also dream of becoming a great man. The man who is able to work and contribute to the progress.  My dream world (is)  full of joy and no fear. Where the nations  in it are friends with each other, tolerance, harmony and no war. Children can play, attend school, have a place to live and live with people they love.

Mr. President, as well as a leader of a major country you are also a world leader. I’m sure you could do much to the progress and world peace. Hold out your hand to help poor countries and stop the terrible war. I am sure, you can. Especially to SDN Menteng 01. I wish I could talk to and meet directly with you if I am given a chance because you are my motivator. You move me to reach my dreams directly. You are the person that makes me confident that I could become a useful person. You have built my spirit.

Thank you Mr. President. God Bless you and your family.

Yours Sincerely

Najma Almira Miftach

Little Najma wrote that letter for President Obama.  But the more I read it, the more I realized that the letter was written not just for President Obama, but also for America.

For all of you.

Can we answer the hopes and prayers of Najma ?

I believe President Obama will say : Yes, we can.  Presiden SBY will say : Harus Bisa.

And I say : Insya Allah, we will.

I thank you.

(ends) (standing ovation)