Indonesia: Asia’s Emerging Tiger


We already know that most of the world’s economic growth will take place in China and much of the rest will be in India. But many of us do not know that the third biggest source of global growth will be right here in Indonesia.

I have spent the past 30 years working and moving around this region from Australia to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia. I have seen firsthand the economies of these countries change, some for the better, some for the worse. What I see in Indonesia today is an enormous opportunity for the next decade and beyond. The economy now is one of the best performing in Asia after China and India, with the fastest rising value of domestic stock market shares and currency. It is certainly the best performer in ASEAN, the grouping of 10 countries in this region consisting of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


Indonesia is blessed with rich natural resources, with abundance of petroleum, tin, natural gas, nickel, timber, bauxite, copper, fertile soils, coal, gold and silver. It has large and thriving industries that deal with petroleum and natural gas, textiles, apparel, footwear, mining, cement, chemical fertilizers, plywood, rubber, food and tourism. With a local population of 240 million people, we enjoy the privilege of a huge domestic market base to succeed in almost any small business venture.


Last July saw a significant event, the landslide win by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) in Indonesia’s presidential elections. I emphasize landslide because SBY won by a huge margin over other equally popular candidates to again lead our country for another 5-year term. The election was very peaceful and it certainly reaffirms that Indonesia has cemented itself as the world's third largest democracy. Indonesian voters elected a leader who understands democracy and who is very capable of projecting the interests of his country on the world stage. Indonesian voters chose to return a professional and efficient administration in Jakarta that can do business with the world.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been described by some intellects and political analysts as “a regional leader of immense significance, someone who could emerge as a global leader”, whose “destiny and legacy will be in the international sphere”. He is expected to “promote a more assertive foreign policy, and leverage the country's status as an international standard bearer of democracy and moderate Islam”.


While China, Malaysia and Singapore remain in the grip of ruling elites that refuse to let go of power, Indonesia has held f ree elections that gave a resounding mandate to its progressive and moderate leader SBY for a second 5-year term. Today, Indonesia is considered by many to be the best functioning democracy in SE Asia. The days of dictators are long over, the army no longer rules and our economy is no longer broken. In this decade, Indonesia’s economy grew by almost two-thirds, its per capita income rose 25% in 5 years and almost 50% this decade. Even IMF forecasts an economic growth of 15% over the 3 years of this global recession, and only China and India will do better. Indonesia will never match the scale of China and India, which have more than a billion in population each, but it is moving in a different direction.

Indonesia is the only member representing the ASEAN region in the G-20 world forum. All 19 member nations of G-20 are amongst the top 24 economies as measured in GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) rates in the world in 2008. Indonesia is significantly the only representative from what used to be called the emerging tiger economies of South East Asia.

Indonesia is the world's largest country with an Islamic majority. Indonesia is now also this region’s symbol of democracy and a country that is overwhelmingly moderate religiously. Few developing countries are as pluralistic and have embraced democracy so quickly.


Last July was marked by a significant event: after a 4 year lull, terrorists staged another attack on the JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels. But the good news is that the main suspect behind this bombing, a Malaysian by the name of Noordin Mohamad Top, was shot dead last September. His trusted aides and presumed to be the likely successors, Syaifudin Zuhri and Muhammad Syahrir, were also shot dead in October. This brings to14 the number of top-ranking hierarchy in the terror network that have been killed or arrested. This has significantly weakened the group but the threats of terrorism can never be eliminated. The Indonesian police have been lauded for their excellent work to round up most of the key suspects in this group. The terrorists’ intent to sow fear in the community has not had the impact that they intended.


Indonesians, like my friends and I, have continued about their business immediately after the July bombing, visiting shopping malls, cinemas, Star Bucks and other entertainment outlets that are so often considered as soft targets. Bookings at hotels were not hit as hard as might be expected. Hotel cancellation rates on the most popular tourist island Bali, where two previous attacks occurred, were less than one per cent. I remember watching a rock concert here a week after the bombing and witnessing the lead singer of a popular rock band pull down his pants live on stage to reveal the words “Bombers kiss my ….” written beautifully in red across his disgusting backside. The general public and vast majority of Indonesians despise them; terrorists are not welcome here. Zuhriand Syahrir, who were shot dead recently, were refused burial at the village from which they came.


Indonesia is the only South East Asia country listed as a “Free Country” by Freedom House, an independent non-government organization that supports freedom worldwide. A Free Country, as defined by them, is one where there is broad scope for open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media. Indonesia is a country where people can say what they like without having to check who is listening. There is now free speech, a free press, independent courts and free elections. This is the Indonesia that I know and love, the country that is much more liberal and tolerant in freedom of expression, compared with many other countries in this region.

Indonesia’s democratic revolution is now strongly embedded in this country and its economic revolution is starting to do the same. Much of the country’s success will now depend on SBY's second term in office and how the administration tackles corruption and reforms to its bureaucracy, labor market, infrastructure and investment. Personally, I am confident that SBY will do very well.

In closing, I invite you to visit my beautiful country next year for Recharge Asia Expo 2010. I invite all my friends, suppliers and customers to support this event

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