Briefing on Trip to Indonesia

Special Briefing
Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Washington, DC
May 24, 2010

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. We brought reinforcements today from Iraq. We have a group of young Iraqi diplomats here for meetings at the State Department and as part of their visit they are observing how we do press relations here at the Department of State. So welcome to the briefing.

First we have Under Secretary María Otero for Democracy and Global Affairs. She just completed a trip to Indonesia and thought – give you some – a little bit of insight into that country as we continue to prepare for the President’s trip to Indonesia next month. And María was saying earlier that more than roughly half of the Indonesian population is on Facebook – a remarkable statistic that shows the dynamism of Indonesia as we look forward to the President’s trip next month.

So we’ll start with María for just a quick insight into what’s happening there and then we’ll conduct the rest of the briefing.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you, P.J., and my welcome also to the Iraqi diplomats that are here visiting us.

As P.J. said, in anticipation and preparation of the President’s trip on June 14th, I was in Indonesia mostly to meet with senior government officials but also to meet with nonprofit organizations, nongovernment organizations, and civil society, to discuss global issues that the United States and Indonesia can partner together on.

One of the key goals of the trip was to engage with government officials on how our democracies can cooperate to support and strengthen the democratic institutions in the region. And this would all be part of the U.S.-Indonesian comprehensive partnership that we are entering in and that the President will be launching.

I met with the Indonesian vice foreign minister and other senior officials, most of them involved in planning the policy as we move forward and in the public diplomacy that they will be carrying out.

As I said earlier, one of the additional priorities of the trip was to gather with stakeholders, with groups and organizations that are working in the broad area of civil society and to help advance some of the policies that we are working on and also the issues that are of interest to the Indonesians.

One of the areas that Secretary Clinton is particularly interested in, which is the issue of addressing water from a global perspective, was one of the areas that we touched on. I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bank Rakyat Indonesian, BRI, which is a bank that is perhaps the most successful microfinance bank in the world. And they are now developing lending products in order to be able to allow poor households to bring in water into their homes as one sanitation element.

I met also with government officials and representatives of local international nonprofit organizations who are working on the issue of trafficking in persons in Indonesia. The biggest way in which trafficking is manifested in Indonesia is by domestic servants who travel overseas to work in other home – in homes in foreign countries who are mistreated or are not paid or whose passports are taken away from them and they really become enslaved as they work. So this is an issue in which we are working closely with the Indonesian Government to move that forward.

In the area of sustainable development, particular climate change, I traveled to Pekanbaru -- I always say everything with a Spanish accent, but I think it is Pekanbaru -- in Indonesia, which is really in the island of Sumatra. I went with Ambassador Hume and our job was to survey the destruction of the peat lands in that area, which is the top source of Indonesian greenhouse gas emissions. I met with local family farmers, with villagers that are affected in – that live in fairly distant and isolated areas to address questions about deforestation of the mangroves, which is really what peat lands are, and how that’s affecting their economic livelihood and to understand better the role that the government is playing in addressing these issues.

I met with a climate – the National Climate Change Council, again, to address questions related to how it is that they are moving this forward.

I also met with the Indonesian-U.S. as part of the Indonesian-U.S. interfaith dialogue. I met with the Inter-Religious Council. This is all related also to the vision that President Obama provided in his Cairo speech, and my discussion in Jakarta with this council was to address the question of interfaith cooperation in confronting today’s challenges, in confronting issues that have to do with poverty, with climate change, with limited economic opportunities, with corruption, and with different faiths living together. In Indonesia, six faiths are considered the recognized faiths and the country has a great deal of pride in the degree of tolerance, religious tolerance, that exists and the degree to which different religions work together in order to move things forward.

I also engage with a group of Muslim youth, probably about 75 or 100 of them, who are members of the PMNU, which is the country’s largest Muslim organization. This was an opportunity to have a discussion with the youth, to listen to their questions, and to engage in an open discussion on a broad range of areas. They were – it was enormously interesting.

When I learned that there were 1 million bloggers in Indonesia, I decided to meet with some of the leading local bloggers and some of the digital media developers. We discussed internet freedom in particular, and the effects that social media is having in bolstering individual freedom of expression and in mobilizing different groups of society as part of a democratic model. The conversation really underscored the importance of the partnership with the government, with media business, with consumers, to ensure freedom of expression through the internet. And this is one piece that’s of particular interest in Indonesia because of the role that social media is already playing.

Finally, I also held a meeting with a human rights forum which was hosted by the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia. We discussed important human rights issues in Indonesia as well as ways in which Indonesia and the United States can cooperate to promote human rights worldwide. These were some of the issues that we – that I discussed and some of the organizations that I met with while I was there.

And certainly, if there’s any questions, I’d be happy to entertain them. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Raghubir Goyal. My question is that as you laid the foundation for the presidential visit to Indonesia and President had a very clear message when he visited, as you said, in Cairo and also Turkey and also here in Washington – had a very clear message for the Muslim community, Muslim youths. How much problem do you see in Indonesia as far as terrorism problem or the problem with the youths there or madrasas? And what do you think President will have a clear now another final message for those who are misled?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: This organization that I met with, which is the country’s largest Muslim organization, is an organization that believes very strongly that violent extremism is not the way to proceed, and states very clearly that there are other ways in which we can resolve issues and problems around the world.

So in Indonesia, there’s a great deal of emphasis given to the importance of developing democratic systems and of engaging civil society in this effort. The questions that were posed by the Muslim youth were insightful, intelligent, important questions that they are asking themselves as they look at the role that they will play in their own countries – in their own country.

I think the President’s message as it was stated in Cairo can be restated as he visits Indonesia and I think it will be very well received by the largest Muslim population in the world.

QUESTION: So this could be a model for the rest of the Muslim world around the globe – Indonesia? And the President --

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: It’s a very interesting model and certainly one that could have a lot of lessons, yes.


QUESTION: Hi, I’m Lachlan Carmichael from AFP news agency.


QUESTION: What about trends towards – attitudes towards Americans in Indonesia? How does it, say, compare with Pakistan? Is it more favorable?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Indonesia right now has a very favorable attitude, approach towards the United States – very favorable. It’s – of course, we must remember as well that even though their attitude toward the United States was positive, the fact that Barack Obama is the President of the United States and lived in Indonesia for three to four years, it does make him, from the perspective of Indonesians, a particularly important person for them. So that contributes to a very positive approach towards both – towards the U.S. – towards America and towards working directly in a partnership with America.

QUESTION: Can there be any lessons learned there and applied to, say, Pakistan? Or could the Indonesians even help you? You mentioned partnering with you on global issues.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: The Indonesians themselves are playing a role in doing – in taking their lessons out to the region. They have created what is called the Bali Democracy Forum, which meets periodically. That forum was started, I think, three years ago, if not two years ago. I can’t remember exactly. But it is a way in which they are taking their message, taking their lessons, taking their approach, to the rest of the region, because they certainly do believe that the degree of religious tolerance, of individual freedom, of freedom of expression that exists in that society is an important one to be able to communicate to the region.

QUESTION: Sorry. Rest of the region – you mean including Pakistan and Muslim region or –

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: I think the Muslim region overall, yeah.


QUESTION: Did you meet the press people there in –


QUESTION: And the –

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: They were very nice.

QUESTION: Which was – no, no. How do you feel the freedom of press there in Indonesia?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: My sense is that there is freedom of the press and that lack of freedom of the press is not an issue that came up at all. And certainly, the range of questions that they asked me demonstrated that they have a degree of freedom of expression that would be reflected in an open society.

QUESTION: Elise Labott from CNN. Nice to see you again. I was wondering – I know that the message of President Obama’s Cairo speech has been well received, but I was wondering if you were pressed at all about implementation and whether Indonesians felt that he was making good on his pledge or needed to do more or --

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: There’s several things that have been done under the Cairo – following the Cairo speech that perhaps we don’t hear about so much. In fact, the – one of the science envoys that was part of that Cairo speech had been in Indonesia the week before I was there and had met with many people in government, had met with scientists, had given talks in a variety of different places, again, as one demonstration of some of the things that are being done.

Clearly, the President will be launching several initiatives that are also related to the Cairo speech specifically for Indonesia and specifically related to the issues that they face and the challenges that they encounter. So overall, I think people see that the – everyone wants more movement faster, but I think they do see that there is movement and that there will be more with, certainly, the President’s arrival. And of course, everybody wants to meet with the President.


QUESTION: My name Said Arikat. You raised an issue on domestic servants and the way they are treated in some of the Arab countries. Is that something that the Indonesians raised with you directly? How will you do next, because I’ve traveled extensively through the region and I can tell you that they are treated despicably? Their passports are confiscated. Sometimes, they’re – you know, they have no regular work hours. They work a whole week, a full week. How – what will you do next on this issue?


QUESTION: Is this part of a larger human rights issue?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: One of my meetings was with the organizations in Indonesia that are working on human trafficking. I held this mission – this meeting with probably over 20 people at the meeting, many of them recounting some of the work that they’re doing and highlighting what it is that’s needed in order to be able to advance it. There were in the meeting also a couple of gentlemen from Canada – I think Canada and the UK – who are sponsoring concerts for young people in which they are addressing the issue of human trafficking. The question of public awareness of this issue is one of the problems that has to be overcome. So we are looking at ways to help them develop this.

This is also all done as part of the work that the State Department does in trafficking of persons, which is to issue a report on the status of trafficking in persons in each country. And that report this year will be launched on June 14th here. Secretary Clinton will launch that and so we will be able to develop a plan of action with the Indonesian Government to take specific steps to move forward on this.

MR. CROWLEY: María, thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you very much.

PRN: 2010/671