Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi speaking at the opening of the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta on Monday. (Antara Photo/Sigid Kurniawan)

Indonesia Strengthens Outreach to Pacific Isles

APRIL 20, 2015

Jakarta. Indonesia is pushing for more cooperation with Pacific island countries at the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta this week by helping countries in the region through a multitude of means.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi met on Sunday with seven of her counterparts for separate talks on the sidelines of the conference, four of them from Pacific island nations.

Vanuatu’s foreign minister, Meltek Sato Kilman Livtunvanu, said his country considered Indonesia to be “the gateway to Asia” and was looking for greater cooperation with Southeast Asia’s biggest economy in trade, agriculture, tourism, and disaster mitigation capabilities.

In early April, the Indonesian government sent $2 million worth of aid to Vanuatu after a devastating cyclone hit the country and left more than a dozen people dead and thousands homeless.

Kilman said Vanuatu was also preparing to open an embassy in Jakarta in a bid to enhance bilateral relations.

“Vanuatu has a great diplomatic relationship with Indonesia. Therefore, Vanuatu hopes to have its embassy in Jakarta,” he said as quoted by state news agency Antara.

“Indonesia and Vanuatu will also be able to experience stronger bilateral relations in the future and be able to discuss various global issues together,” Kilman added.

Vanuatu is among the more than 80 nations that have sent delegates to Indonesia for the Asian-African Conference this week, taking place in Jakarta and Bandung through Friday.

Retno said the Indonesian government welcomes Vanuatu’s plan.

“We are very excited and proud of Vanuatu’s decision to open an embassy in Jakarta. This means that almost all countries of the Pacific will have an embassy here,” she said.

She added that both countries were committed to discussing the technicalities of establishing resident embassies and opportunities for partnership in other sectors.

“We have talked about boosting partnership in the economic, engineering and agricultural sectors, where we already have very good cooperation with Vanuatu,” Retno said.

The minister also expressed her optimism about where relations were going between Indonesia and other Melanesian countries in the Pacific.

Melanesia extends from Fiji to the Arafura Sea and is commonly thought to include Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, West Papua and the Maluku islands. The latter two are part of Indonesia.

“Indonesia’s Melanesians are about to become larger than other groups of Melanesians. So I tell you this: Indonesia is Melanesia and Melanesia is Indonesia,” Retno said, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Retno also met with her counterpart from the Solomon Islands, Milner Tozaka; Fiji’s Ratu Inoke Kubuabola; and Papua New Guinean Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato.

Pato and Retno discussed increasing trade between the two neighbors. The countries will stage a joint ministerial committee in September to discuss cooperation in a number of areas from sports, education, energy and mineral resources to telecommunications.

Papua New Guinea, Retno said, is also interested in learning more about Indonesia’s recent plans to boost its fisheries and maritime sector. She said several Indonesian companies were interested in investing or expanding their operations in Papua New Guinea.

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Tozaka said his country was looking to send more students to study in Indonesia.

“We have several cooperation [agreements] in agriculture and education. We have several students studying here and we are aiming at increasing [their numbers],” he said as quoted by Antara.

Retno said that to further strengthen ties with Melanesian countries, Indonesia was looking to host a festival on Melanesian art and culture in October in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.

“Through cultural and arts events like this, we can establish more people-to-people contacts,” she said.

Retno also met with South Africa’s foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane; Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari; and Nepal Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey.