Jakarta a ‘Key Partner’ for France: Fabius
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday on a three-day trip meant to build on a strategic bilateral partnership as Paris records increased interests in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
In an e-mail interview with the Jakarta Globe’s Bhimanto Suwastoyo, Fabius praised Indonesia’s dynamic civil society, stressed the importance of ending protectionist trade measures and outlined the need for boosting education ties.
Q: How does France regard Indonesia, in terms of national sovereignty, regional power and international profile?
A: Today, Indonesia stands for a powerful emerging country as well as a prosperous democracy. I am more than pleased to witness [Indonesia’s] growing and constructive commitment on regional and international scenes. As a major contributor to peace-building operations, an active member of the G20, a country strongly involved in the fight against climate change, an influential Muslim[-majority] country advocating moderation, Indonesia does meet its numerous international responsibilities [and] is a key partner for France.
What, if any, hurdles stand in the way of the implementation of the France-Indonesia strategic partnership signed in mid-2011. How can both countries speed up cooperation?
[The partnership was] the first to be concluded between France and a country in Southeast Asia, hence highlighting our common will for a substantial increase in our bilateral relations. The time has come to implement such a partnership, especially in the political, economic and cultural fields through concrete and valuable projects. This is the main purpose of my visit.
What does the partnership mean for Indonesia-EU relations and France-Asean relations?
France and Indonesia are founding countries of the EU and the Asean. Together, we are both able to play a major role in speeding EU-Asean relations forward. France supports negotiations aiming to establish an agreement for an economic partnership that is ambitious and based on reciprocity. This agreement will allow us to strengthen our exchanges and fight protectionism.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has proposed doubling bilateral trade in five years. Is this possible? What issues would need to be addressed first?
Since 2010, a 25% increase has been observed [in bilateral trade]. This is nevertheless still far below our potential, as Indonesia is only the fourth Asean partner for France. There are major opportunities to be found in fields such as the aeronautics, health, agribusiness and sustainable development. To achieve this potential, it is of first importance to remove the barriers in accessing the Indonesian market.
The rapid growth of Indonesia’s middle class has not given rise to a strong civil society, which weakens the people’s ability to exert control on the governing institutions. How can France help Indonesia in this regard, especially in the context of the strategic partnership?
I am astonished by the dynamism of civil society in Indonesia. The youth, in particular, is very active in using Twitter and Facebook. A meeting with young and committed Indonesians is planned during my visit, to discuss further general social and environmental themes. Such a strengthening of the relationships between our two civil societies should be a priority.
There are concerns in Indonesia that EU economic concerns will affect French investments in Indonesia and Asia as a whole. Many see Carrefour’s decision to sell off assets in Asia as a harbinger of similar divestment throughout the region. Is this a trend? Is there any indication that efforts to draw French companies to the Indonesian market are stronger than concerns back home?
Carrefour’s decision is a particular case that does not reflect the general trend. On the contrary … French companies such as Total, Alstom and GDF-Suez have been present in Indonesia for more than half a century. During the last three years, the number of Indonesian employees working for French companies in the country has increased by more than 30 percent. There are now 150 [French] companies in Indonesia. These investments are long-term ones and are models in the fields of industrial strategy, environment protection and social responsibility.
Total E&P Indonesie, a French oil and gas company with significant investments here, will see its contract expire in 2017. What actions would France like to see in this case and what does France think will happen if those goals are not met?
Activities led by groups in Indonesia are an example of successful cooperation between the two countries. Total has been operating in Indonesia for more than 40 years, not only in the exploration-production aspect, but also more recently in the distribution market. As the first French investor in the country, Total produces a third of the national gas production from the Mahakam block. We fully understand the legitimate wish of the Indonesian government to increase the participation of national companies in gas production and we hope a solution ensuring the continuity of the exploitation operations can be found rapidly, putting together Total and its Japanese partner Inpex with Indonesian companies, to allow Indonesia to fully benefit from its natural resources.
Under the MP3EI (Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development), Indonesia is offering investment opportunities in 18 industrial sectors in six development corridors. What does France see as the risks and rewards of investing in Indonesia? Is the French government pushing for investment in Indonesian sectors under the MP3EI?
France is supporting infrastructure development projects through various public development aid mechanisms in the fields of railway transportation, electricity, urban planning and ports. The most recent cooperation project covers the funding of the Bandung urban railway renovation. We are encouraging French companies, especially those that are world leaders in infrastructures and very experienced in public-private partnerships, to participate in the financing of Indonesian infrastructure in the framework of the MP3EI.
Indonesia is the first Southeast Asian country to establish a comprehensive partnership with the EU and a strategic partnership with France, but Indonesian nationals still face restrictions in traveling to the EU, especially Schengen countries. What can France do to help ease some of these restrictions?
Developing human exchanges is a priority for [me]. We therefore adopted some measures aiming to accelerate the process of visa application: reinforcement of the visa section, increase in the number of multiple-entry visas issued, and so on. More needs to be done. I have asked the French ambassador to identify existing obstacles in order to order to ease short- and long-term mobility between our nations. Indonesians should feel at home in France.
What are the priorities in developing bilateral cooperation in the culture, science and technology sectors?
The main priority is to promote higher education through partnerships between universities. Four fields are favored: environment, health, engineering sciences, and social sciences and humanities. Research is our second focus. French research centers in Indonesia work collaboratively with their Indonesian counterparts in numerous areas (sustainable energies, agriculture, fish breeding, management of natural disasters, archaeology, literature). In order to facilitate such exchanges, we support teaching French language, currently learned by more than 60,000 Indonesians. Finally, our cooperation in the arts and culture is highly dynamic thanks to more than 300 events performed or organized all around the country. Our partnership with Indonesia really is a priority for France.