Indonesia is our nearest large populous neighbour. The Aussies realized this long ago, albeit for slightly different reasons. Indonesia is often touted as the world’s largest Islamic nation. This claim may be true but it disguises the true nature of this emerging power in the region and the world.
It has a population of more than 240 million scattered across thousands of islands.(I see numbers from 13,000 to 20 plus thousand islands, so I am not sure who did the counting). The vast archipelago stretches from the Aceh province in the west to Irian Jaya (Papua) in the east.
The people differ, speaking many languages but they are united by the modern Indonesian language spoken today. Christianity, Buddhists and Hindi are large minority religions and for the most part they get on--- apart from the odd trouble on some of the islands (Sulawesi). We don’t need to look too far back to see such differences in the western world and elsewhere. There is an underlying pride amongst Indonesians that transcends religion.
The days of the dictatorship of Suharto have long gone and the memories of his seizing power something that Indonesians know about but would like to put firmly in the past. Yes there are problems; endemic corruption one of them, but with the advent of a growing middle class, look for changes in that area too--- just like India.
It is no accident that our Prime Minister Key, is spending three days in Indonesia, discussing trade, aid and human rights with his counterpart. It is a recognition that Indonesia is going to play an important role in New Zealand’s future. There is an agreement that Garuda, Indonesia’s hugely improved national airline will resume direct flights to and from NZ and Air New Zealand will fly to Bali.
Expect large number of Indonesian tourists to visit NZ as they look to spend their expanding wealth. Perhaps the language should be given more attention in our schools.
There are still vast inequalities in wealth sharing in Indonesia, but any President or political party that ignores this in their policy making is doomed to face electoral defeat and ‘feet’ on the street. It doesn’t take much to get the populace out, knowing now that there is less chance that they will languish in some seedy jail.
As for NZers who insist on breaking Indonesia’s strict drug laws--- the warnings are pretty clear--- they don’t need that sort of tourist and the consequences are dire.
What about the ‘extremist’ element that persists in Indonesia? They represent a small but powerful influence; one that the Government struggles to eradicate. They are making progress and in those areas that demand Sharia Law--- well its quite simple--- the vast majority of Indonesia does not support that option--- so avoid Aceh unless you are prepared to embrace and respect the local tradition.
If you want excitement along with the buzz--- try Jakarta, Bali and the other big cities. The potential for tourism in Indonesia is immense. Think of those beautiful often sparsely inhabited tropical getaways and you can see where the trend is heading. Surely there are opportunities for joint ventures, offering relatively cheap holidays. Add the best of Indonesian cuisine into the picture and you have a secret paradise.
Turn some of our overseas aid towards Indonesia; the fact is it will give us a payback that far outweighs any outlay.