During the first decade of this century we heard a lot about the economic role of China and India but very little about Indonesia. For close to ten years following the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, Indonesian policy-makers mainly looked inward and focused on the need to promote growth at home. The game is now changing.
This is not surprising. Indonesia, with a population approaching 250 million, is the world's third-largest developing country and plays a key role in underpinning stability and economic expansion in Southeast Asia.
One sign of Indonesia's growing involvement in international affairs is the expanding role of ASEAN. While Indonesia was recovering from the Asian Financial Crisis, ASEAN found it difficult to move ahead with confidence. But during the last few years Indonesia has given strong support to ASEAN and ASEAN's place as a key economic institution in Asia has grown. Another sign of the Indonesia's increasing emphasis on economic diplomacy is Indonesia's role in the G20. Indonesia, in effect, represents Southeast Asia and ASEAN in the G20. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (commonly referred to as SBY) has made it clear to his ministers that he wants Indonesia to be an effective player in the G20.
A third indication of Indonesia's expanding role in economic diplomacy are the nominations the President has put forward for key positions in international economic organisations. In 2010 he nominated the well-known Indonesian minister for finance, Dr Sri Mulyani, to a top post in the World Bank. And just last month, SBY nominated another of Indonesia's most well-respected economic ministers, Dr Mari Pangestu (pictured), as a candidate for the position of Director General of the World Trade Organization.
Mari Pangestu is an outstanding candidate for the position of DG of the WTO. She is a regular visitor to Australia and has many long-standing friends and acquaintances in Canberra (including, I should note, me). She has excellent professional qualifications, having studied economics at the ANU and then later having taken out a PhD in trade policy economics from the University of California. And just as importantly in the highly competitive world of economic diplomacy, she built up a very strong track record as Indonesia's trade minister from 2004-2011.
In a cabinet reshuffle in 2011, Mari Pangestu was appointed minister of tourism and creative economy. She has proceeded to promote tourism and the creative industries sector (including film, the performing arts and computer software) with vigour.
Nine countries have nominated candidates for the WTO position. Three are from the Asia Pacific (Korea and New Zealand have also put forward names). Mari Pangestu looks like a strong contender from the Asia Pacific region because in recent years there has been increasing international pressure for developing countries to be better represented at the leadership level in multilateral agencies.
Hopefully the Australian Government will announce an early commitment to support Mari Pangestu's nomination for the top post in the WTO. She is a strong advocate for the types of good global trade policies to which Australia is committed. And Australian support for Mari Pangestu would send a clear signal to Asian neighbours that policy-makers in Canberra recognise the new linkages emerging at the start of the Asian Century as Indonesia's economic role expands in the region.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.