Building U.S.-Indonesia Mutual Understanding Since 1994

The Honorable Ralph “Skip” Boyce

USINDO 10th Anniversary Lecture Series

The Honorable Ralph “Skip” Boyce
U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia

Ambassador Skip Boyce characterized bilateral relations as good as they can be in light of strong domestic reactions in Indonesia to United States policies and events in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.  He said in an update on U.S.-Indonesian relations on June 18 that the expulsion of Sidney Jones, Jakarta director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), was triggered by a singular incident and does not signal a general crackdown on nongovernmental groups.  He strongly praised Jones’ work and called her ouster “unfortunate.”  In other remarks, he indicated that the long-awaited investigation into the murder of American teachers in Timika in 2002 may be reaching a culmination, perhaps improving the chances for the restoration of full military-to-military relations because of the markedly improved cooperation between the FBI and Indonesian authorities.  And, in answer to a question, he did not contradict recent press reports that terrorists in Indonesia may be switching tactics from car bombings to targeted assassinations.  Regarding prospects for the July 5 first-ever popular election of a President, Ambassador Boyce did not predict who might win, although he observed that polling data consistently favored Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Renewed Interest in Indonesia

Boyce reported on the recently completed tour of U.S. cities by the American ambassadors to ASEAN countries.  This was the fourth time he participated, he said, and in 2004, “we have turned the corner” from the low point of lackluster interest in Indonesia in the wake of the economic collapse of 1998.  The region is growing by 9 percent this year; he observed; even “plucky little Indonesia grew by 4.1 percent,” a rate that is good but not good enough to keep up with unemployment and marginal employment.  Unemployment figures of 40 million people demonstrate a “structural problem that has to be addressed, particularly in view of radicalism.  We’ve been saying the real impediment to growth is the lack of foreign investment, but the real impediment to foreign direct investment is not the security question but the danger of capricious law suits.”

This message has been delivered to the Indonesian government not only by the U.S. but by a joint effort of the U.S., Japanese and Indonesian Chambers of Commerce, as well as those of other nations and the World Bank.  But, in an election year, no significant changes can be expected until the new administration is installed in October.  In answer to a later question, Boyce commented that government inaction on providing legal certainty to potential investors is a contributing factor to the growing energy problem in Indonesia.  “Investors are ready with billions of dollars [in energy development] if they had some certainty,” he said.  Until then, the energy outlook is not good: production is down, demand is up, and producers are having trouble meeting contract obligations.  U.S. and other producers are caught in the middle, he said, meeting export contract obligations to Japan in addition to obligations to supply petroleum products to fertilizer plants.

A Real Democracy

On Indonesia’s upcoming presidential elections, Boyce said, “nobody knows” who will win.  Current public opinion polls in Indonesia, including those of the International Foundation for Election Systems, give Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (popularly known as “SBY”) a decisive lead of 40-44 percent approval ratings.  In view of IFES’ credible exit polling at the April elections this may be significant, he indicated, but the democratic process is unpredictable, not in the least because the first-ever direct election of a President will be held on July 5 and on September 20 in a two-way runoff.  He gave as an example of this unpredictability the unexpected selection of Wiranto as Golkar’s candidate.  The Golkar convention was a surprise, he said, and signaled the workings of a “real democracy.”    He recalled that at the Golkar convention no candidate reached a majority of delegation votes on the first round.  “The second vote was immediate,” he said.  “There was no time to cut deals.”  He credited Wiranto’s win with his diligent spadework in the provinces, while party chairman Akbar Tandjung perhaps assumed that managing party headquarters would be sufficient to assure his selection.

“Our [U.S.] public policy on Wiranto is in fact our real position,” Boyce said, that “we support the democratic process and will live with whomever is elected.”  He dismissed press reports that Wiranto had been denied a U.S. visa.  “We don’t have a visa ban,” he said.  “Wiranto may apply for a U.S. visa anytime he wishes.”

He suggested that the opinion polls favoring SBY might be a result of the voters “internalizing” the results of the April 5 legislative elections.  In those elections the assumption was that Megawati’s PDI-P would lose support compared with the 1999 elections but that Golkar, having the best party organization, would capture those votes.  In fact, PDI-P did lose support (from 34 percent to 18 percent of the votes) but Golkar stayed flat (getting 21.5 percent of the votes, compared to 22 percent in 1999).  The 15 percent that PDI-P lost migrated to two new parties: SBY’s Democrat Party and PKS, the Justice and Prosperity Party.  PKS, a “fundamentalist Muslim grouping comprising educated urban youth, is very disciplined,” he said.  “They did not campaign on Islamic issues but on anti-corruption and good governance.”  The results indicated that the voters want new leadership and clean government, he said.

U.S.-Indonesian Relations

Boyce said that Indonesians might disagree on major U.S. global foreign policy, especially relating to the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan, but not with its policy toward Indonesia.  “The importance of Indonesia is fully recognized” in Washington, he said.  An increase in USAID funding, especially through President Bush’s education initiative, and the fact that critical statements from the U.S. have sharply declined, show that “since 1998 the U.S. has known that Indonesia is really important.  That’s a situation I enjoy as ambassador.”  He said the U.S. realizes that Indonesia, as the second biggest democracy – “They get out more voters than the United States” – with the freest press in Southeast Asia, the “explosion” in civil society, shows its “ability to keep moving the boulder forward.”

Ambassador Boyce also described briefly plans for full U.S. participation in the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Consultations (PMC) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meetings at the beginning of July, noting that Secretary of State Colin Powell would also have a bilateral meeting with President Megawati at that time.

Expulsion of Sidney Jones

“With all this good news,” he called it “unfortunate” that Sidney Jones, the Jakarta director of the International Crisis Group (ICG), had recently been expelled from Indonesia.  “Technically, her work permit expired and her visa was not renewed, but I consider her expelled,” he said.  Her departure “does not portend a crackdown on NGOs,” he added.  The details of the incident are “Sidney-specific,” he said, and he suggested that a new administration in Indonesia might re-admit her.  “Sidney is a national treasure for both the U.S. and Indonesia, he observed.  “She has lived in the country for 30 years and has produced fabulous reporting on issues important to Indonesia, getting the truth out.”  She will keep reporting, though not necessarily from Jakarta, he said.

Q:  The Far East Economic Review recently reported intelligence sources as saying that terrorists have recently changed tactics in Indonesia to assassinations of key officials rather than car bombings.  Is this true?

A:  Anyone who knows Jemaah Islamiyah will not be surprised.  Whether they’ve changed tactics, who knows?  Certainly the JW Marriott bombing [in August 2003] was a disaster for them.  All but one of the dead were Indonesians.  So they might well change their tactics.  In any case, a couple of named individuals accused as bomb-makers are still at large.  In Jakarta we have had two town meetings to remind the American community that although Indonesia is a very welcoming place, it is not wise to become lax.  We asked Americans to consider their habits.  Do you have regular, predictable habits?  Do you take your golf lesson the same time every Saturday?

Q:  What is the current status of the special autonomy law for West Papua?

A:  The special autonomy law [passed by the House of Representatives] is not being implemented.  The government has divided Papua into two provinces, with the possibility of creating a third.  It doesn’t make people confident.  I visited Papua and advised demonstrators who were calling for “Merdeka” (freedom) that they should focus instead on demanding that the government implement its own stated policy of autonomy.  It is a good policy.

Q:  Can you comment on the U.S. role in maritime security in Southeast Asia, especially in the Strait of Malacca?

A:  The outbursts from Indonesia and Malaysia at a statement by Admiral Fargo [Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Forces] was a tempest in a teacup.  He was responding to a purely hypothetical question regarding Washington’s Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI).  He mentioned several possibilities, including -with due consultation and agreement of the neighboring states – of U.S. forces cooperating in security for the Straits.  There should be security for every ship passing through the region just as there is security for every single plane in the air.  He concluded that the RMSI “would be a lot of Indonesia and Malaysia, and a little Singapore and the United States” and averred that no one takes issue with RMSI’s objective of promoting the security of ships and maritime cargoes.

Q:  Is there any progress on the investigations into the murder of two Americans and one Indonesian in Timika (Papua) in 2002?  What is the possible effect on Indonesian-American military to military relations?

A:  FBI investigators are in Papua right now.  The degree of cooperation with the Indonesian police has improved dramatically since the tragedy occurred in 2002; the political will exists in Jakarta to resolve this issue.  The investigation needs to be a joint effort of the FBI and the police.  Hopefully there will be a positive result, and, if so, positive prospects for change in military-to-military policy.  I do believe in IMET [International Military Education and Training, the U.S. program that trains military personnel from participating countries].  In a return to unconditional IMET I don’t mean weapons and fighting training, but programs to meet today’s challenges.  We have missed a whole generation of Indonesian military that could have had U.S. training, in things such as human rights, transparency of budgets, how to organize a modern military, technical training, and meeting transnational challenges.  We will not be able to have normal military relations until we have answers to the Timika question, but I think the prospect for answers is good.