By: Kishore Mahbubani

Indonesia Has Played a Heroic Role in the Transformation of Asia

“I have no doubts that Indonesia will be part of this great transformation of Asia. Indeed, Indonesia has already played a heroic role in the transformation of Asia. lt has successfully made one of the most difficult transitions any society has to make: the transition to full democracy. This is a remarkable story which has not been fully understood by the world.

To describe how remarkable this transformation is, let me tell you what I actually said when I spoke at a forum organized by Asia Society in San Francisco on 2l February 2008. One of my fellow panelists was Larry Diamond, the world-famous expert on democracy. This is what I told them. The world’s beacon of freedom and democracy is the United States of America. But in the last seven years, America has been walking backwards in this area. If someone had told me ten years a go that the first modern developed society to reintroduce torture would be America. I would have said “Impossible”. But the impossible has happen. Ms Irene Khan, the Head of Amnesty International, has described Guantanamos as “a Gulag of our times”. She is right. In addition, in a story that has not been fully told, America, the bastion of civil liberties, has also been quietly retreating in this area. Many of my American friends are also shocked but they say to me “Kishore, you must understand, We were massively attacked on 9/11″. It is true that America was attacked. But the fact that the beacon of freedom and democracy could retreat in many areas of human rights after one attack showed how fragile America’s commitment is to some key human rights principles.

By contrast, the second country to be attacked after 9/1 1was Indonesia. lt took place one year later on 12 October 2002 in Bali. Despite this, Indonesia did not retreat. Indeed, even though Indonesia had gone through a wrenching financial crisis in 1998 and 1999 which caused the economy to shrink significantly, and even though it had experienced a lot of social and political turmoil as a result of this financial crisis, Indonesia went steadily a head in its advance toward democracy. Remarkably, less than 10 years after this huge financial crisis, Freedom House declared in a global survey entitled ‘Freedom In the World” in 2005 that Indonesia’s status has moved from “partly free” to “free”.”

Excerpt from a lecture at the Presidential Palace, Jakarta, 31st July 2008.

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