Wednesday, May 6, 2009

M.Bakri Musa : Environmental, Regional, and Global Challenges

M.Bakri Musa :

Chapter 14: Environmental, Regional, and Global Challenges

Another Giant Neighbor—Indonesia

One potential countervailing force would be Indonesia. Presently Indonesia could hardly keep itself intact; it is in danger of imploding with ethnic and religious strife. I do not see a would-be Indonesian Deng Xiapong who could change the nation’s direction. The recent election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) was promising. Who would have thought that after the long years of Suharto, and before that the even more dictatorial and disastrous rule of Sukarno, that Indonesia would today have three democratic and largely honest elections? If SBY could combine his economic talent and military discipline, that wretched republic may yet have a chance.

Malaysia would be the direct beneficiary were Indonesia to thrive; at the same time Malaysia would suffer the most, apart from Indonesia itself, were it to disintegrate. It is never good when your neighbor (or anyone else for that matter) falls upon hard times. If Indonesia were successful, some of it may spill over into Malaysia. Johore is prosperous because it enjoys the spillover of Singapore’s success.

If Indonesia fails, rest assured its problems would swamp Malaysia. There is no way Malaysia could control the inevitable flood of hungry and desperate people. Geo-strategically, an economically robust and militarily strong Indonesia is the best countervailing force against China. On the cultural aside, a thriving and vibrant Indonesia is the only way to make the Malay culture and language preeminent, but more on this in Chapter 17.

Malaysia should not be an idle bystander; it must be proactive to ensure Indonesia’s survival and stability, as that would be in Malaysia’s best self-interest. Malaysia must use its influence to help that country settle its internal squabbles with the Acehnese separatist movement. Similarly, Malaysian Christians especially the Dayaks must be examples to Indonesian Christians on how to coexist and actively collaborate with the Muslim majority for mutual benefits.

Malaysian leaders feel that Malaysia’s population and thus domestic market is small, hence its 70 million people strategy. There is one quick and dirty way to effectively expand this domestic market, and that is to have a common market with Indonesia (and also Brunei—the IMB concept I will pursue in Chapter 17). Suddenly we would have a combined domestic market of nearly 250 million—a quarter of a billion—people, and a combined GDP of nearly half a trillion US dollars.

A market of this size that is open, committed to free enterprise, and free of corruption would attract investors from all over. It would provide a viable alternative to lumbering India and tightly-controlled China.

Another attractive feature to this market is that even though it is geographically widespread, being an archipelago the whole area is readily assessable by water. With containerization and shallow-draft vessels, goods could be easily and cheaply transported from one end of the archipelago to the other. By launching satellites, telecommunications could be realized cheaply through wireless technology, obviating the need for expensive undersea cables.

There will have to be greater integration before this common market could operate smoothly. Integrating the two markets would be a good time to consider a common currency based on gold and silver, akin to the ancient Muslim dinar and durham. That would really be a trailblazer, quite apart from disciplining the leaders from printing useless paper money. It would also give the currency immediate credibility internationally. Right now no one trusts the Indonesian rupiah, while the Malaysian ringgit is only slightly more respectable.

Integrating markets of different stages of development is not impossible. America with its First World economy has a successful free market arrangement (NAFTA) with Third World Mexico. Both benefit from this arrangement. A similar integration of the Indonesian and Malaysian markets would do likewise. Trade between the two countries would blossom, and with it, prosperity for both. With common marketing, the region could rival the Caribbean as a tourist haven.

If Indonesia and Malaysia (preferably with Brunei) were to start the ball rolling with their own integration, the chances of success would be great. Socio-culturally, the two markets are alike. Developmentally, Indonesia is still Third World and commodity-driven rather than manufacturing, while Malaysia is further ahead and on the threshold of the K-economy. The different stages of development would make integration that much easier. If Germany and Hungary can be part of a common market, so could Indonesia and Malaysia.

A common market would also enhance the visibility and usage of Malay language. Malay books and periodicals would have an expanded market, thus ensuring their viability. If Malay and Indonesian language were to be unified, it would be the fifth most widely spoken.

At the June 2005 Islamic Development Bank and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Abdullah Badawi called for establishing a common market and free trade agreement among Islamic nations. That is premature and overly ambitious. I suggest developing a common market with Indonesia first and work out the inevitable kinks before expanding.

Even without a common market (that will take decades to develop) there are many ventures both countries could undertake to encourage greater integration, like adopting common standards and terminology in emerging fields like ICT and biotechnology.

Standardization of the two languages would accelerate the integration. They are essentially the same language. In the 1950s there was a concerted effort at this but was derailed by the konfrontasi of the 1960s, and the momentum was lost. Today Malay and Bahasa Indonesia continue on their separate paths. I find it increasingly difficult to read or comprehend Indonesian writings.

Malaysia should encourage Indonesian students to study in Malaysia and offer scholarships to bright young Indonesians. Citizens between the two countries should be encouraged to travel by eliminating unnecessary paper work and visas. Citizens of both countries should not need a passport to visit each other’s country; any document with a personal picture (identity card, driver’s license) should suffice. Americans and Canadians do not need a passport to visit one another’s country. That may however change because of 9-11.

Greater economic integration and increased trading between the two countries would bring greater prosperity to both, as well as facilitate relationships in other areas. Peace would be greatly enhanced when both countries are prosperous and dependent on one another. That would also be the best and most powerful countervailing force against China.

Next: ASEAN Follies

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