U.S. Department of State
97/05/07 Brazeal on U.S. Relations With Indonesia
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Testimony by Aurelia E. Brazeal
Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Before the House International Relations Committee
Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
Washington, DC, May 7, 1997
U.S. Relations With Indonesia
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to discuss our important,
complex relationship with Indonesia. Our exchanges this afternoon should
help illuminate the major opportunities and challenges facing us in
managing our ties with this vibrant nation, whose population is the
world's fourth-largest and whose 17,000 islands span the strategic
juncture of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In this regard, it might be
useful to examine several central aspects of our bilateral ties,
including human rights, our mutual economic interests, and our security
relationship, as well as Indonesia's growing role in Southeast Asia and
An Important, Complex Nation
Few countries are more difficult to characterize than Indonesia. Its
cultural diversity encompassing over 300 different ethnic groups matches
its geographic reach. With a land area three times the size of Texas,
Indonesia's breadth east-to-west equals the distance from Boston to San
Francisco. Nearly 90 percent of its 200 million people are Muslim, which
almost exceeds the combined population of the countries of the Middle
East. Yet Indonesia is not an Islamic state, and affords generally
effective constitutional protections for all major religions. The
largest member by far of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), it nonetheless works with its neighbors through ASEAN to
encourage consensual and constructive approaches to regional issues.
Although a founder the Non-Aligned Movement, Indonesia welcomes a
strong, continuing U.S. security presence in the region. Boasting one of
the most dynamic economies in a booming region, Indonesia has a rapidly
growing middle class that already nearly matches Australia's population.
Millions of Indonesians, however, still live at subsistence levels.
Focus on Human Rights
Indonesia's complexity notwithstanding, popular attention in the U.S. in
recent months more often than not has focused on the nation's
shortcomings, especially in the area of human rights.
-- Serious problems in East Timor, where Indonesia seized control after
the former Portuguese colonialists departed in 1975, probably attract
the most coverage in U.S. and international media, especially after the
1996 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two East Timorese human rights
-- Worker rights is another area that has generated longstanding concern
in the United States. The ongoing trial of a leading independent labor
leader, Muchtar Pakpahan, on subversion charges has drawn sharp
criticism from the Administration and from the AFL-CIO, which recently
awarded Pakpahan its George Meany Human Rights Award.
-- Press freedom is constrained. The Government has closed several
publications that reported on politically sensitive subjects.
Journalists have been arrested as well for attempting to publish without
a license.
-- The Government-backed takeover of a major opposition political
party's headquarters that led to widespread rioting in Jakarta last July
further highlighted the distance Indonesia must travel before its
political environment matches those of its democratic Asian
-- Parliamentary elections scheduled for May 29 will occur in the
framework of an electoral system that severely limits political
competition and which denies Indonesians the ability to change their
government democratically.
-- Recent convictions of several political activists on subversion
charges, with sentences ranging from 18 months to 13 years, and the
ongoing trial of labor leader Pakpahan on subversion charges cause
concern regarding the rights of due process and freedom of expression
and association.
-- The adverse impact of rapid economic development and population
movements on various ethnic groups accompanied by claims of abuse by the
military, in Irian Jaya for example, draw additional attention from U.S.
human rights organizations.
-- Riots in Java, West Kalimantan, and elsewhere, some with religious
overtones, further the impression of a society under significant strain.
Although instances of unrest have been a common feature of Indonesian
election periods, many observers believe these recent disturbances
reflect underlying discontent with the political and economic status quo
and frustration over the lack of public channels for voicing it.
Taken together, these developments are certainly cause for serious
concern, as made clear in this year's State Department Human Rights
report. Moreover, as President Clinton has said, our relationship with
Indonesia, as important as it is, will not reach its full potential
until there is improvement in that country's human rights performance.
Work in Progress
At the same time, it is important not to labor under the misconception
that Indonesia is some sort of archipelagic Burma. While Indonesia's
human rights problems are serious, a closer examination of the workings
of this immensely diverse society provides a more complex and nuanced
Vigorous NGO Community
For one thing, unlike Burma or other countries whose governments rely
entirely on repression to control their populations, literally hundreds
of independent non-governmental organizations continue to function
despite recurring episodes of government pressure. Many promote
democratic principles  and better governance, and take active public
roles in defending the human rights of individuals accused of
wrongdoing. Others support environmental causes, and advise ethnic
groups on their rights to their lands and traditional access to natural
resources. Meanwhile, various youth groups have begun to play a role in
easing communal tensions, especially those arising from religious
differences, and are pressing for democratic reform. There continue to
be strong individual voices for reform and, while some have been
muzzled, others have not. A number of outspoken personalities also
continue to press a reform agenda.
The Indonesia National Human Rights Commission, whose members were
originally appointed by the President, has gained wide respect among
Indonesian and U.S. human rights advocates alike for its willingness to
take forceful, independent positions on sensitive issues. It was the
Human Rights Commission, for example, that conducted a careful
investigation of the July 27 riots and issued a public report that
blamed the Government for interfering in the political process and
thereby setting in train the events that led to the riots. Regrettably
the government has yet to respond to that report. Although it cannot
enforce its findings, the Commission has conducted other investigations
and issued other reports on equally difficult issues. A number of these
have led directly to government action against officials or military
personnel responsible for human rights abuses.
Active Press
The Indonesian press practices self-censorship. The Government has
banned publications, pressured the independent journalists union, and
sentenced 3 individuals under laws prohibiting government criticism.
Yet, despite these problems, the Indonesian press can be remarkably
outspoken. Newspapers routinely feature articles on human rights issues
or other topics, like corruption, that would be banned in more than a
few countries. The press in Jakarta and elsewhere in the country devoted
extensive coverage to the Human Rights Commission's critical findings on
the July 27 riots. State Department pronouncements in the wake of the
riots and subsequent arrests -- affirming our support for freedom of
expression, freedom of association, and due process for political
dissidents -- received front-page coverage. Even our Human Rights Report
on Indonesia prompted an approving editorial in a leading English-
language paper entitled "Criticism From a Friend."
As Jack David, an American attorney long active in international human
rights issues, pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, the
press does a good job of covering law suits brought by Megawati
Sukarnoputri against the Government for its actions in unseating her as
head of the Indonesia Democratic Party. Mr. David adds that newspapers
also give ample coverage to efforts by human rights groups to overturn
the anti-subversion law under which labor leader Pakpahan and others are
being tried. It is worth noting as well that unlike any number of other
countries, Indonesia does not prohibit private satellite dishes or
restrict free access to the Internet. Growing numbers of Indonesians
enjoy unfettered access to international news sources, even when they
relay unflattering reports of government actions, such as those blamed
for the July riots in Jakarta. For those growing numbers of Indonesians
who can afford them, personal computers also provide access to
information through the Internet, which operates freely throughout the
Increasingly Responsible Military
Indonesia's armed forces also are showing evidence of positive change in
their approach to carrying out their responsibilities, although abuses
still occur. In the last few years, more soldiers have been prosecuted
and convicted for violating human rights and more commanders removed
from positions of authority when troops under their control harm
innocent civilians. During recent riots and inter-ethnic conflicts, the
armed forces demonstrated considerable restraint under sometimes highly
difficult circumstances. Senior military leaders acknowledge more must
be done to improve the human rights performance of the armed forces and
to resolve ongoing cases of alleged human rights violations. Also,
sentences accorded human rights violators do not always match the
gravity of the offense. But it is a fact that efforts are being made to
improve the military's performance -- in sharp contrast to the behavior
of the armed forces of some other nations where they are a law onto
Just in the last few weeks, for example, the International Committee of
the Red Cross conducted a week-long seminar on international law and
human rights for some 50 Indonesian Special Forces officers. The head of
the Special Forces, who requested the training, underscored his personal
support for its objectives by attending its opening and closing
sessions. Also, defense spending in Indonesia is quite modest -- only
1.4 percent of GNP, which places it 119th in the world in terms of per
capita military expenditures. The military's historic access to "off-
budget" funds from state corporations has largely disappeared, although
individual officers and units remain heavily involved in businesses.
Growth with Equity
Meanwhile, Indonesia's economy continues to grow. Over the last couple
of decades, the country's Gross Domestic Product has expanded at an
average rate of almost seven percent. Most experts see no reason it
should not continue at about that pace for the foreseeable future,
thanks to the government's sound economic policies. However, to assure
such an outcome, the Government must continue along its chosen path of
trade liberalization and must assure full access to capital and markets
for all of its citizens who wish to participate in business.
Strengthening the legal and regulatory framework for business operations
will become increasingly important if economic growth is to be sustained
into the foreseeable future. Although some question the income level
that should be defined as poor, everyone agrees that poverty has
declined dramatically. Looked at another way, Indonesia has moved from
an income base about half that of India's in the mid-1960s to a per
capita income ($1,000) more than twice that of India today. It must
continue its pattern of economic reform if it is to maintain its pace of
economic expansion.
While such impressive sustained growth has produced some enormously
wealthy individuals, these same sound economic policies clearly have
brought widespread benefits to average Indonesians. The numbers of those
living below the absolute poverty line have declined from about 60
percent of the population to somewhere just above 10 percent over the
last three decades. A World Bank report on poverty credited Indonesia
with achieving the greatest reduction of any of the countries examined
over the course of a 20-year study. Another World Bank study found that
Indonesia has the smallest gap between its richest and poorest citizens
of virtually any developing country in Asia. Needless to say, such
rapid, relatively equitable growth has considerable impact because it
helps cushion political and social problems and gives Indonesia greater
resilience as it faces the still substantial challenges that lie ahead.
Society in Flux
In short, Mr. Chairman, Indonesia is a society in flux, a work in
progress. There are areas of concern, but also reasons for optimism.
Debate is under way among Indonesians themselves regarding the country's
future political direction, and at least some mechanisms are available
to ensure that differing views can be heard and considered. It is also
important to recognize that Indonesia now appears to be entering what is
likely to be a protracted transition to new political leadership, a
phase that may well extend into the next century. President Soeharto
will almost certainly be selected for a seventh five-year term in 1998
if he decides to run again. He will be nearly 77 years old at that
point. Most Indonesians therefore seem to realize that the issue of a
successor will face the nation in the not too distant future.
The U.S. Role: Limited but Important
Let me review, Mr. Chairman, some of the actions the United States has
taken to help promote improved respect for human rights in Indonesia
and, in the words of former Secretary Christopher, "an orderly
transition . . . that will recognize the pluralism that should exist in
a country of that magnitude and importance."
We must recognize in this regard that U.S. influence on events in
Indonesia is inevitably limited, although nonetheless still important.
As in any large nation, internal considerations will predominate, and
Indonesia's people and political leaders will shape their own future.
This said, we have taken a number of actions to help encourage greater
respect for human rights while furthering the numerous mutual interests
we share with Indonesia.
East Timor
The situation in East Timor has long been an important part of our
dialogue with the Government of Indonesia. President Clinton, for
example, has raised our concerns directly with President Soeharto.
Secretaries of State Christopher and Albright have discussed them
extensively with Foreign Minister Alatas, as have Ambassador Roy and his
embassy colleagues with their counterparts in Jakarta. In New York and
elsewhere, we have strongly supported UN-facilitated discussions between
the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Portugal, as well as the dialogue
among the Timorese themselves. We are encouraged that Secretary General
Kofi Annan's recent decision to appoint Ambassador Jamsheed Marker to be
his Special Representative on East Timor matters will give a new impetus
to these key discussions. I will be meeting with Ambassador Marker later
today and will underscore with him the importance we give to the UN's
role in finding a solution to the East Timor problem.
While many of our efforts involve quiet diplomacy, we also have not been
reluctant to support public expressions of concern where appropriate.
For example, we have supported action on East Timor at the United
Nations Human Rights Commission. Only last month, the Commission passed
a resolution, with U.S. cosponsorship, that expressed deep concerns over
Indonesian policies there.
It will be important in our view that an overall solution in East Timor
incorporate proposals that give East Timorese themselves greater control
over their economic and political life, in keeping with the their unique
history and culture. In the meantime, we have urged the government to
reduce troop levels, to allow increased access the province, and to
release prisoners of conscience. We have also called on the East Timor
resistance to forswear violence and join efforts to achieve a peaceful
resolution of the dispute. Two U.S. Congressmen, Ambassador Roy, and
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,
John Shattuck, recently visited the area, and other embassy officers
have visited six times in the past ten months. Assistant Secretary
Shattuck also visited the imprisoned East Timorese activist Fernando de
Araujo last March.
Over the years, we have been the largest international aid donor to East
Timor, with eight projects now currently under way with a total budget
of $15.8 million. Our aid programs are designed to improve the lives of
average Timorese, while helping them achieve more control over their own
economic future.
Other Human Rights Concerns
In the area of worker rights, we have maintained ongoing discussions
with the Indonesian authorities to urge implementation of
internationally accepted labor standards. In this regard, we encouraged
the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower to adopt a Plan of Action in
November 1994 that laid out a number of important benchmarks. Indonesia
has made progress in implementing these commitments. For example,
regional minimum wages have increased, and enforcement of the minimum
wage law has improved. The government has permitted formation of plant-
level unions and allowed them to negotiate collective bargaining
agreements. The official union has been restructured into a federation
of 13 sectoral unions and collection of union dues is being transferred
to the local unions, rather than being done by the Department of
We are exploring all possible ways to encourage further progress in
addressing remaining worker rights issues. We would like to see further
relaxation of restrictions on freedom of association and continuing
improvements by Indonesia in implementing commitments made under the
1994 action plan, such as better enforcement of existing law and further
reductions in security forces' intervention in legitimate trade union
activities. We also support those in Indonesia who are working to bring
the new draft labor law into compliance with international standards,
ensuring that it protects fundamental worker rights and allows workers
to share in Indonesia's growing prosperity and development.
Of immediate concern is the current trial of labor leader Muchtar
Pakpahan on subversion charges and his resumed imprisonment on a four-
year sentence for inciting labor riots in Medan in 1994. The charge,
from which a Supreme Court panel exonerated him in 1995, was reinstated
by a lame-duck Supreme Court Justice in October, 1996. We have
repeatedly called on the Indonesian government to ensure that Pakpahan
and other labor advocates imprisoned solely for expressing their views
be released. We also remain deeply concerned at reports of continuing
harassment of labor leaders and limitations on freedom of association.
We continue to examine the question of reinstating the formal review of
Indonesia's eligibility for GSP privileges.
With the Indonesian military, we are working to encourage further
improvement in its interaction with the civilian population, while
supporting the Armed Forces' own desire to improve its professionalism
in carrying out its responsibilities. No better tool exists, Mr.
Chairman, to achieve these results than our International Military
Educational and Training (IMET) courses. The record of IMET graduates
speaks for itself. Indonesian officers trained in the United States have
been among the strongest advocates for improved respect for human rights
and the accountability of the armed forces in the performance of their
duties. One IMET graduate is the senior officer who convened the Honor
Board that cashiered the commanding officer of troops who fired on
crowds in East Timor in 1991. That same honor board imposed jail
sentences on some of the soldiers directly involved. Another IMET
graduate wrote and circulated the human rights manual that is now part
of the standing orders for troops in the troubled province of Irian
Jaya. In short, we can think of no better means of encouraging better
human rights performance by Indonesian military officers than by giving
them extensive exposure to U.S. military forces, with their doctrines of
respect for civilian authority and for the rights of civilian
populations. Indonesian NGOs agree with our position on the
effectiveness of IMET training for military officers.
As for the ongoing trials of political dissidents, we have publicly
underscored our support for the rights of free association and free
speech, while urging respect for the defendants' right to due process.
In addition, Embassy officers are directly monitoring the trials.
Assistant Secretary Shattuck made a special point of visiting Mr.
Pakapahan in March to stress our concern that his rights be respected
and that he promptly receive all necessary professional medical
treatment in accordance with his needs, as well as visits by ICRC
medical officials on request.
The United States also provides approximately $20 million in financial
support areas of human rights, democratization, good governance, and the
environment, much of which is spent through NGOs. In fact, we are the
single largest international donor to these organizations. Similarly, we
have purposefully sought ways to help highlight the important work
performed by the National Human Rights Commission. Secretary
Christopher, for example, arranged to meet with the Commission's
leadership shortly after it was established in 1994. He met with them a
second time in Jakarta last July. On both occasions, he stressed our
admiration for its contributions to improved respect for human rights,
while according the Indonesian Government appropriate credit for having
established and supported the Commission and its work. His remarks were
carried widely in the Indonesian press. Assistant Secretary Lord as well
as Assistant Secretary Shattuck were permitted to meet with Budiman
Sutjatmiko, an imprisoned political activist.
The Larger U.S.-Indonesia Relationship
Mr. Chairman, I have chosen to devote considerable attention in this
statement to human rights, given that subject's prominence in recent
months. In framing our policies toward Indonesia, however, we must also
keep in mind the enormous importance of other areas where our interests
overlap and are mutually supportive. It would be a mistake to do
otherwise. Not only are these interests important in and of themselves,
but by working with Indonesia and by acknowledging Indonesian
contributions in these areas, we better position ourselves to speak
candidly to the Indonesians on human rights or other sensitive matters.
A lesson to be drawn here, Mr. Chairman, is that our ability, for
example, to support Indonesian NGOs working for a more responsive,
pluralistic society or to urge improvements in the East Timor situation
depends significantly on our willingness to recognize, and to work with
that nation in areas where it has already made considerable
Economic Ties
U.S. and Indonesian economic interests coincide in virtually every key
area. I have already touched on Indonesia's remarkable economic record.
At current rates of growth, the World Bank estimates Indonesia could be
the world's sixth largest economy by the year 2010. Not surprisingly,
Indonesia's sustained growth, which is increasingly driven by the
nation's booming private sector, has greatly benefited U.S. economic
interests as well. Annual bilateral trade between our two countries grew
nearly 60 percent over the last five years, to almost $12.3 billion.
U.S. investment, which has helped fuel Indonesian development, now
totals some $7 billion, not counting massive U.S. outlays in the
petroleum and gas sectors. The GOI recently announced, for example, the
tendering schedule for the estimated $40 billion Natuna gas project, of
which Esso Indonesia (Exxon) and Mobil own 76 percent. Construction on
the giant project is expected to begin in 1999.
Beyond our thriving bilateral economic links, the United States and
Indonesia have worked closely together to encourage trade liberalization
in the region and beyond. In this regard, Indonesia has provided vital
support to the 18-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which
is moving to free trade and investment within this dynamic region.
Building on the first APEC leaders meeting that President Clinton
hosted, President Soeharto invited heads of Asia's major economies to
Bogor in 1994, where they set ambitious goals to achieve free trade and
investment by 2010 -- for developed countries -- and 2020 -- for others.
President Soeharto's personal intervention in support of these goals was
crucial in securing agreement from several reluctant APEC members.
President Soeharto also insisted that all trade sectors, including
agriculture be included in the liberalization agenda, a stance that
directly benefited our efficient farm sector. Indonesia was similarly
one of the first developing countries that signed onto the Information
Technology Agreement during last year's Singapore World Trade
Organization meeting. Here, again, Indonesia provided important impetus
to freeing trade in a $500 billion market where the U.S. has important
competitive advantages.
Security Ties
Indonesia and the United States also share similar interests in ensuring
that Southeast Asia and the broader region continue to enjoy peace and
stability. For its part, Indonesia has become a leading force within
ASEAN, which over the last 30 years has evolved from a defensive anti-
communist bulwark into a political institution dedicated to regional
stability, as well as a dynamic economic organization promoting regional
trade and investment. In fact, Mr. Chairman, it could be argued that
Indonesia's support for ASEAN has been the single most important factor
underlying the success of this dynamic organization, given Indonesia's
overwhelming size and influence in the region. As a result, the ASEAN
nations have been able to achieve a level of prosperity and stability
that is the envy of many other parts of the world. In 1993, Indonesia
helped establish the 21-member ASEAN Regional Forum that holds annual
meetings to discuss security issues, thus encouraging vital patterns of
cooperation among countries with security interests in the region. The
ASEAN Regional Forum complements our own engagement in the region as
Indonesia also has emerged as one of the region's most effective voices
for peaceful settlement of disputes. Along with France, for example,
Indonesia took the lead in negotiating the UN-sponsored settlement that
led to the establishment of an elected government in Cambodia in 1993.
Last year, using its membership in the Organization for the Islamic
Conference to effective advantage, Indonesia helped broker a peace
agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro
National Liberation Front, which ended a decades-long conflict in the
southern Philippines. Other Indonesian contributions to peace and
stability in the region include sponsorship of workshops to help resolve
longstanding territorial disputes in the South China Sea, providing safe
haven for hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people, and becoming
the first ASEAN member of the Korean Peninsula Development Organization
(KEDO) and donating heavy fuel oil to its program designed to reduce the
threat of nuclear proliferation in North Korea.
As evidence of its support for the U.S. presence in the region,
Indonesia welcomes U.S. ship visits and provides important commercial
repair facilities for our navy. Indonesia has made available a bombing
range as well, which provides valuable opportunities for our pilots to
train in the region. U.S. and Indonesian forces also engage in a growing
program of joint training exercises.
In concluding, let me commend you, Mr. Chairman, and your colleagues on
the Subcommittee for holding these important hearings on Indonesia. As I
have attempted to show in my statement, our relationship with that
country is a highly complex and unusually important one that involves
numerous key U.S. interests. I am certain you agree that policies
designed to advance those interests must be firmly grounded in a full
appreciation of the dynamic Indonesian domestic scene as well as a
thorough understanding of that nation's large contributions to stability
and prosperity in Southeast Asia and the wider region. In short, Mr.
Chairman, our overall approach should encourage a continuation of
Indonesian Government policies that reinforce our regional and global
interests while supporting those Indonesians working for a more
pluralistic and democratic Indonesian society and greater respect for
human rights.
I am confident that our discussions today will contribute greatly to
ensuring our policies advance these important U.S. interests.
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