15 March 2006

Indonesia Connects the Koreas

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will travel to Pyongyang and Seoul in April. Yudhoyono's visit is not only about bilateral relations between Indonesia and the respective Koreas, but also Jakarta's attempts to play a role in the inter-Korean dialogue. Indonesian presidential envoy Nana Sutrena visited Pyongyang and Seoul in February, during which he invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to Indonesia (an invitation Kim, through President of the Presidium of the SPA Kim Yong Nam, reportedly accepted after inviting Yudhoyono to Pyongyang) and offered Jakarta as a neutral location for a proposed meeting between South and North Korean defense ministers.

While North Korea remains circumspect on the defense ministerial talks in Jakarta (all ministerial talks are temporarily delayed amid U.S.-South Korean defense exercises), Pyongyang has recently reiterated Kim Jong Il's agreement to visit Jakarta this year. As Indonesian officials have said, worries of Kim's alleged fear of flying are somewhat suspect, as Kim visited Indonesia in 1965 via air. This was, of course, Kim's only known foreign visit by air, but it happened nonetheless.

For Indonesia, the inter-Korean work serves several purposes. First, it gains economic attention from South Korea, which is ever ready to "pay" anyone for working to facilitate inter-Korean reconciliation (Seoul is reportedly talking of submarine sales to Jakarta, and will likely also get involved in infrastructure development projects and other investments in Indonesia). Second, through working with North Korea, Indonesia raises its importance in East Asia, something Yudhoyono sees as necessary for regaining a national sense of unity and pride and for rebuilding defense and economic ties with the United States. Finally, Indonesia hopes to regain its regional role as a major player, somewhat usurping China's growing regional role, though Jakarta is far from economically ready or socially stable enough to really reassert itself effectively.

But Indonesia serves a unique roll from the perspective of the two Koreas as well. Indonesia, unlike China, is neutral. While China claims to be a neutral party it has a vested interest in Korea, and thus cannot be seen as simply serving as a venue for dialogue. But Indonesia is geographically distant, didn't participate in the Korean War, and doesn't have a history of using the Korean peninsula as a defensive shield or an invasion route to Japan.

And this brings us to the little possibility floating in the air. That when Kim Jong Il goes to Jakarta, he may "accidentally" bump into another "secret" visitor – Roh Moo Hyun. The rumors of a second inter-Korean summit this year have been hot and heavy, and most have involved the summit in a third country, more often than not China. But Indonesia would be an even better place to hold it, taking the inter-Korean dialogue completely out of the hands of the Chinese or the United States. So watch June or so, and watch the airport in Jakarta.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you may want to look at indonesia minister defense blog at juwonosudarsono[dot]com