Envoy sees an Indonesia role in any dialogue with North

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Envoy sees an Indonesia role in any dialogue with North

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John Prasetio, Indonesian ambassador to Seoul

Peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula are preconditions for the creation of a so-called Asian century, an era dominated by the region’s population, economy and culture, said John Prasetio, Indonesian ambassador to Seoul.

“In order to achieve the [Asia-] Pacific Century, we need to see peace and stability,” Prasetio said in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily last week. “We need to reach out [to the North], but at the same time we need to put pressure and give incentives and punishment to North Korea if they still don’t give up their nuclear ambition.”

The comments made by the envoy come as Pyongyang has defied international calls to end its nuclear weapons program amid rising concerns that its third nuclear test, after 2006 and 2009, is imminent.

“We would like to see North Korea give up its nuclear ambition,” Prasetio said.

He arrived in Seoul in early October and presented his credential to President Lee Myung-bak on Dec. 6. He was a private sector businessman until his appointment as ambassador to Korea. He had served as a special adviser to the Indonesia’s minister of industry and a member of the President’s National Economic Council, among many other posts.

In easing tension on the Korean Peninsula, Prasetio said his country can offer support in carrying out inter-Korean or multilateral dialogues.

“Indonesia could provide a neutral venue for discussion precisely because Indonesia is neutral and it is not a big country with power, interests or political ambition,” he said. “When it comes to some of the big players, there’s always the suspicion.”

Indonesia also has a full-fledged embassy in Pyongyang.

“If it would be relevant, we can be of help in terms of serving as a mediator.”

The envoy added that there could be a new momentum in inter-Korean relations with the inauguration of President-elect Park Geun-hye later this month.

“She is the first Korean president with some experience of meeting Kim [Jong-il before inauguration],” Prasetio said. “I think she knows exactly what to expect.”

The ambassador also expressed hope that Korea-Indonesia ties will continue to grow under the incoming administration.

“President-elect Park is very popular in Indonesia,” he said. “I think many Indonesians have huge admiration for her. She went through a rather dramatic life, has demonstrated endurance, perseverance and, at the same time, commitment to Korea.”

The respect is also tied to the president-elect’s father, former President Park Chung Hee.

“We are a developing economy and we are struggling still in terms of abolishing poverty,” Prasetio said. “So we have great respect for the success [achieved by] President Park Chung Hee.”

Korea and Indonesia celebrate their 40 years of diplomatic ties this year.

Demonstrating her commitment toward the Southeast Asian region, Park last month met with Prasetio and the nine other ambassadors of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Ambassador Prasetio is currently the chairman of the Asean committee in Seoul.

“[I got the impression after the meeting that] the president-elect will continue with a global-oriented outlook rather than looking inward, which is good,” he said.

Korea’s relations with Asean have seen significant improvement under President Lee Myung-bak.

In particular, Korea-Indonesia economic and defense ties have been strengthened under the outgoing president, who received Indonesia’s highest state medal last November in recognition of his contribution to bilateral relations.

The medal, which had previously been given to former South African President Nelson Mandela and former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was presented by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bali.

When Lee was in the private sector, one of his projects was the construction of the first toll road in Indonesia in late 1970s and early 1980s.

Also, Indonesia’s first ambassador to Korea was the father-in-law of President Yudhoyono, who frequently visited Korea because he was about to marry the daughter of the then ambassador to Korea.

“If you talk to President Yudhoyono, you might get an impression that he’s knowledgeable about Korea,” said Prasetio.

“President Lee has introduced Korea to be more globally focused. I think the way he looks at the world is that Korea’s opportunities are in countries with big populations [like Indonesia].”

The ambassador added that in the case of Jakarta, there is a growing of middle class looking for new cars and smartphones.

“As an industry or country, Korea can take advantage by investing in Indonesia,” he said.

Under Lee’s term, Korea also has enhanced its military industry ties with Indonesia, selling jets, parachutes and spent parts for military helicopters to Jakarta. Compared to other vendors of military equipment, such as Russia, the United States and Poland, there is a “chemistry between our two political leaders, President Yudhoyono and President Lee, because they are close friends.

“I suppose it’s easier to discuss this kind of cooperation when you know each other so well. Korea has so far established a reputation of being credible in terms of the ability to deliver on schedule, on time and according to the specifics.”

Currently, trade volume between Korea and Indonesia, the largest economy in Asean, is about $30 billion. When the two presidents, Lee and Yudhoyono, met in March 2012 on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, they set a target of reaching $50 billion in trade in 2015 and $100 billion in 2020.

“The relationship [between the two countries] has been very warm, and somehow our economies are complementary,” Prasetio said. “There is this mutual benefit that has been produced from our economic collaboration.”

Compared to China and Japan, Prasetio said, “Korea offers more sophisticated technology in different sectors. We cannot underestimate the experience, the international experience, of Korean companies.”

As for China, according to the ambassador, it has only been recently trying to be an international player, so “they are still learning their lessons, trying to find their way, whereas Korea has more sophistication and more experience.”

Prasetio expressed hope that President-elect Park will consider visiting Southeast Asian countries as part of her inaugural journey.

He also affirmed his position that there should be progress in inter-Korean relations.

“Hopefully, with the dream of the Asian Century, we will have peace and stability in the Korean peninsula to support the notion,” he said. “Otherwise, the dream will only be a dream.”


By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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