December 17, 2012
Interview with The Foreign Minister of Republic of Indonesia, Dr Marty Natalegawa
CLOSE-KNIT SOCIETIES: Ahead of the annual talks between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa dissects several bilateral issues and shares with Farrah Naz Karim, who was in Jakarta, his ideas for improving ties between both countries
Question: The consultation talks scheduled this week will be held amid several touchy bilateral issues. How will this platform address these issues?
Answer: I think it is very important to view these kind of meetings between the leaders of both countries as part the process — a process between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta that is very intensive and with a varied level of communication. The process takes place at the ministerial level, senior officers and technical level, right up to the top leaders. So, we have a very intensive and multi-level process of consultations. And this helps sustain the two neighbours’ good relations. This meeting also provides both countries (with) strategic guidance as to what are the next set of priorities, encompassing bilateral, regional and global issues.
Question: Where will this consultation take both countries?
Answer: When we talk about bilateral relations, among the areas of focus would be the promotion of our trade and investments as this is the bread and butter of any bilateral relations.
But when it comes to Malaysia, it goes beyond economic trade, investments and tourism, given the nature of our very close societies. So, we place a great deal of primacy in our people-to-people relations. This includes in the areas of education and consular issues between us as we have a large number of Indonesians living in Malaysia and likewise for Malaysia. The meeting will also deliberate further on unconcluded matters like the borders and maritime boundary issues.
Question: How would Jakarta rate the two countries’ people-to-people relations?
Answer: There are two issues where the people-to-people relations are concerned, there’s perception and there’s reality. The reality is that there is a huge degree of interaction between the people of both countries through the education sector with thousands of our students there, and vice-versa, the exchange of tourists and in the job market. Unfortunately, we have a perception problem as our relationship tends to get attention only when problems arise, be it consular issues, border or protection of our nationals. Often, these cases have nothing to do with the government. The in-between of things must be more pronounced. The true nature of our relations must be continuously highlighted and not only when there are issues and problems. Negative incidents that take place tend to shape popular opinions without taking into consideration what the relationship of both countries are actually like.
Question: How do you reckon this consistent promotion of our sound bilateral relations could be done to overshadow these negative perceptions?
Answer: This is where both governments have to do better. Arising issues and challenges must be efficiently addressed. We must first prevent them and when we are faced with them, they must be properly identified quickly and the necessary protection speedily given. At the same time, we have to put things in context. We must not be in denial but rather strive to address them. Having said that, we must ensure that the other dimensions of our bilateral relations provide the balance and anchor the bilateral relations, and that they are brought to the fore. Some of the incidents, like the rape case of our citizen by several policemen, have obtained public attention and are dealt with seriousness by both governments. It is what it is and it has nothing to do with the government or the rest of Malaysia. Both governments are on the same page and working together in handling issues like this, but high-profile incidents tend to define the relations and it’s our job to prevent this from happening and keep making sure we have immediate courses of action.
Question: How do you think Malaysia has been reacting to such incidents?
Answer: There is the legal aspect and there’s public expectation. We know the law operates at a certain pace and there are certain requirements and legal procedures to go through. But sometimes, there’s a strong wish on the part of people to see justice being carried out speedily. I’ve never had any problems relaying our concerns and expectations and I hope these will be properly looked into. Not too long ago, when there were a lot of shooting cases there (in Malaysia), I came across a statement from a Malaysian authority that a large number of them were Indonesians. When you present data of that kind just like that, it is bound to create a furore. So, we also need to be measured.
Question: How strong do you think is the mechanism that Jakarta has put in place to oversee the welfare of Indonesians in Malaysia?
Answer: The MoU (memorandum of understanding) on maids for instance was meant to be preventive in nature. That was why it covered areas like a day off, passport possession and minimum wage. On paper it is sound, but unfortunately, since the implementation early this year, only 97 people have gone to Malaysia to work using that protective framework.
Yet, at the same time, we have the issuance of the JP (Journey Performance) visa, which facilitates employment that do not come under this protective umbrella. I guess it’s quicker but it’s like an accident waiting to happen. In other words, we have a mechanism which is not fully utilised. That’s why I told my colleagues to look at whether there is a bottleneck somewhere or underlying issues that need to be addressed, because if we are trying to establish something but in the end we have an outside system, it will not work.
It is not my intention to make any suggestions on how Malaysia should be addressing issues. We are trying to set out the best mechanisms, not only with Malaysia, but all countries whenever we have consular issues.
Question: How do you best address these manpower issues, especially when both countries have independent systems and sets of policies?
Answer: We could look at three areas.
1. PREVENTION: By now we should (have a big) enough dossier of cases, to be able to identify their root causes. From our end, we have identified some root causes, including problems that stem from identification and documents. On Kuala Lumpur’s end there might be some issues to address with employment agencies. Let us sit down and look at the number of bullet points that we can both address as prevention is always better than having to confront the problems. It will be useful for us to be in synergy and where the MoU is concerned I think there are a lot of points and action plans that we can work on to better the system.
2. EARLY DETECTION: This means, notwithstanding our efforts to prevent problems, when it happens nonetheless, we must be able to quickly identify, manage and resolve it speedily. We have had for some time now the Mandatory Consular Notification (MCN), where if there are Malaysians in consular difficulties here, we have the mandatory requirement to inform the Malaysian authorities. So, you will be able to exercise your protective role. Likewise, although Malaysia does not have this mechanism as it is already required by the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations to do so, a similar arrangement would benefit us both in dealing precisely with such issues.
When we have a menu of early detection capacities, our embassy in KL could react proactively.
3. PROTECTION: Notwithstanding our prevention efforts, when we detect a problem, both countries must be able to carry out their protection responsibilities. This includes access to legal counsel. Serious issues should involve embassies, the police, and the attorney-general. That’s why we are now trying to come up with a set of cooperation mechanisms with the foreign and home affairs ministries because there are a lot of cases that need the attention of these authorities. Ultimately, we must work side by side. In dealing with cases, especially high-profile ones, we must quickly mitigate them and at the same time raise the other dimensions of our relationship. Perhaps an eminent persons group (EPG) could facilitate this.
Question: There have been a lot of social problems caused by Indonesians in Malaysia and the number of them criminalised is quite significant. If Jakarta wants Kuala Lumpur to implement the Mandatory Consular Notification, can you take it a step further by perhaps also looking at the “wanted list” of Indonesians or put in measures to stop unsavoury characters from coming into Malaysia?
Answer: We can also hand over to Malaysian our wanted criminal list. That can be done. This early notification system is simply to keep one another informed as it has a good managing impact. Beyond that, there are many possibilities to explore, including mutual legal assistance, extradition treaties and other arrangements within the ASEAN framework. For instance, we are interested in also having an arrangement with Malaysia in transferring of sentenced persons.
Question: You seem optimistic that these three formulas could appease the people here, especially when less than desirable issues crop up?
Answer: I think so. It’s not like a magic wand but we will have a better chance of not allowing incidents of these types to define our relations. That’s why I’m really focusing on the areas of prevention. But we all know full well there won’t be a foolproof effort in the first attempt; we may need a second or third. For any relationship to be sustainable, it must be mutually beneficial.
Question: The EPG you proposed, is it to look into issues specifically revolving around people-to-people relations and manpower?
Answer: There was such a group before and, hopefully, it will be revived. We are recommending that this EPG makes sure that the most appropriate measures are taken in dealing with such issues and that balance is there in addressing them. It could also play a role in government-to-government, business-to-business, Parliament as well as youth and women groups’ dealings between both countries. We need to make our relations more multi-faceted and, therefore, able to absorb any kind of shock.
Question: Will this EPG be a reality?
Answer: During the last joint ministerial meeting, my counterpart and I agreed to recommend to our leaders to re-launch the EPG. Now it’s a matter of it being endorsed. We will go into who will be the representatives. On the MCN, if Malaysia is not favourable to it, we could have a different arrangement, so long as we have that early notification arrangement. Currently, it is done on a personal level with my Malaysian counterpart. When something happens, I will contact him or he will call me to quickly address the issue. It is good when countries can meet halfway to settle problems. This is the kind of environment that modern society has. Malaysia has its own internal domestic settings and dynamics and so does Indonesia. But what we have to do is simply project the comprehensiveness of our bilateral relations.
Question: Many are hopeful that Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur will establish a government-to-government arrangement to address the maid issue.
Answer: The framework of the MoU was drawn after long discussions. The MoU is a mechanism that is to be reviewed every three months to identify what works and what doesn’t. We have to wait for the outcome and result. We live in a globalised world and both countries are very close, easily accessible. The framework must be one that factors in all that and provide the cognition of that reality. We must remember that we will have an Asean community by 2015. We may be overtaken by events if at the bilateral level, we are terribly slow in keeping up with things, more so when at the regional level, things are happening much faster.
Question: Over the last few years, how many protest notes concerning bilateral issues has Jakarta sent Kuala Lumpur?
Answer: I wouldn’t know. Our communications go back and forth. We frequently engage each other, especially on the issue of protection of our nationals, aside from border violation incidences. We exchange notes because that is part and parcel of putting on the record that these incidences must be addressed. The past one year, however, has been particularly difficult because some of the issues were high-profile. That is why we need to quickly address them.
Question: How far forward are we in addressing the maritime border issue?
Answer: We have been discussing it in the last few meetings. In the past two years, there have been increased intensification and frequency of discussions and meetings at the technical and senior level. Already there are a number of consensus reached and the technical level will bring to the attention of the leaders if they can be locked in and before we agree to move on to other unresolved segments. Our ap proach is to address the main issue and that no agreement will be made until the macro is agreed on. As we work towards achieving that, we sit through address emerging consensus, derived from the many different elements sur rounding the issue.
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta can be a model to the rest of South East Asia that having unresolved border segment issues doesn’t have to become a bilateral problem. It is a fact of life for two countries with such proximity. And having this kind negotiations and meetings is crucial in ensuring that these unresolved issues are addressed through dialogues and talks. A classic example of how talks could bring mutual benefit would be the understanding we reached on handling the unintended encroachment of maritime boundaries by our respective fishermen. This agreement can be seen in our MoU on Common Guidelines Concerning Treatment of Fish ermen by the Maritime Enforcement Agencies of Malaysia and Indonesia, signed in January this year. This MoU is not meant to resolve the actual maritime border delimitation and it is not prejudicial to the final outcome, but this kind of arrangement to manage unwanted incidences between two very friendly and close nations is a prime example to the rest of the region, of how a problem could be managed.
Question: When do you think KL and Jakarta could land something concrete in finally settling this issue?
Answer: It will take years. Some of our past negotiations on the maritime delimitation even took 30 years. This is a very important and sensitive issue and it must be based on agreed principles. The basis of discussions that are taking place cover the law of the seas and other international laws. We need to ensure that while this takes place, the conditions on the ground and at sea, remain peaceful.
Both leaders will deliberate on the development of ne gotiations that have been taking place and give guidance from there. To some, this may sound very administrative and bureaucratic, but on issues like this, the fact that meetings are taking place is itself very important as it allows us to better understand where the other side is coming from as well as avoid miscalculations and misunderstandings.
Question: Has there been a deadline set to resolve the issue?
Answer: I find it unnecessary to have deadlines. The most conducive way is to encourage progress and take note where we have been and how quickly we have proceeded. But we don’t set artificial deadlines. Both nations are quite com fortable in each other’s political commitment to fully address and resolve our border issues
Question: How is Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta expanding its economic relations?
Answer: We had about one million Malaysians tourists in 2011. This year until July the number was already 634,000. We are on track with our bilateral trade ambitions. Our trade value last year was US$22 billion (RM67 billion).
Malaysia invested some US$600 million here last year while taking in US$400 million from Indonesia. Our economic relations are becoming increasingly important. We are also both working closely within ASEAN in building the regional community. The beauty of the Malaysia-Indonesia relationship is that it is comprehensive in nature, where there is engagement at all levels, from the highest of leadership to the ordinary public.