Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is the second stop in Clinton's inaugural overseas trip as the top U.S. diplomat. She said that was "no accident," with the trip designed to show support for the country's hard-won democracy as well as its efforts to fight terrorism while respecting human rights. Steps were already being taken to improve relations, she said, announcing at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda that Peace Corps operations were expected to resume here after a long absence. Peace Corps volunteers last served in Indonesia from 1963 until 1965. They were expelled after leftists accused them of being spies. Clinton also indicated that more development aid was on the way. Indonesia, often held up as a beacon of Islamic democracy and modernity, has personal ties for President Barack Obama, who spent four years here as a child. Among those who turned out at the airport to welcome Clinton were 44 children from his former elementary school, singing traditional folk songs and waving Indonesian and U.S. flags. Clinton smiled and swayed to the music. "I bring greetings from President Obama, who has himself said and written about the importance of his time here as a young boy," Clinton said. "It gave him an insight into not only this diverse and vibrant culture, but also the capacity for people with different backgrounds to live harmoniously together." Wirajuda agreed, saying, "We have proven here democracy, Islam and modernity can go hand in hand." Read more.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to visit Indonesia on Wednesday and Thursday during her first overseas trip in her new position. In a written reply to questions during her Senate confirmation hearing last month, Clinton said she wanted to restart the Peace Corps program here. Clinton may think that sending aid workers to Indonesian villages is a good use of "smart power" that would include "the full range of tools at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural," as she told the senators. But she must be careful not to stir up resentments by pushing a mainly symbolic move, said Theodore Friend, an American expert on Indonesia. "I think there is a slight to medium risk of inferred condescension," Friend said by telephone from Pennsylvania, where he is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank. The reaction, he said, might be, "You still think of us as backward, developmentally retarded or something," because Indonesian officials would prefer to talk about matters such as the global financial crisis. Many Indonesians hope Clinton will lay the groundwork for a visit by Obama, who lived in Jakarta from 1967 to 1971. Read more.
Because of Obama’s popularity and the departure of president Bush, there is a window of opportunity to improve relations between the US and the rest of the world, particularly the Muslim world. He even plans to deliver a major address in an Islamic capital as part of his global outreach, which would target the Muslim world. This is where the perspective on Indonesia enters the picture. Although Indonesia is not a Muslim country, an effective and productive US approach to the Muslim world calls for a much wider and deeper interaction with Indonesia, a Muslim majority. The Obama administration might have learned from the fact that Indonesia and the US have, in the past ten years or so, been unable to avoid irritants in their bilateral ties. Maybe they do not understand each other well enough. Perhaps this can also be a major test for Obama’s public diplomacy, to win the hearts of the Muslim world. Now that Obama is highly praised by the public here and with the presidential and parliamentary elections coming up in Indonesia, there is certainly a window of opportunity for Obama’s administration to improve US relations with Indonesia at a time when the latter seems to be constantly moving toward a “full-fledged democratic” country. Read more.