Posted by Phillip Poole on 2008-06-25

Indonesia and the United States can be strong economic partners, according to Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, Indonesia's Ambassador to the U.S., because the two countries share some of the same interests and challenges.

Speaking June 25 to about 125 business and community leaders in Birmingham, Parnohadiningrat touched on a wide range of topics from economic to political to social in discussing his country's efforts to become a strong economic force in Asia and worldwide.

The event was the first in the new Brock International Business Speakers Series sponsored by Samford's Brock School of Business.

His country has rebounded from the Asian economic crisis of the mid 1990s and is being "transformed into a world class democracy," the ambassador said.

"We are located in a place where we have importance," he noted, with about 70,000 vessels passing through the Strait of Malacca, a major shipping route between Indonesia and Malaysia. "We worked with the U.S. to negotiate safe passage through the strait."

Indonesia is part of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has goals to form an ASEAN community by 2020. "Indonesia is introducing the concepts of democracy and human rights" to that process, Parnohadiningrat said. "We are very proud of our leadership in building ASEAN as a democratic community."

That is especially important, he noted, because more than 200 million Muslims live in Indonesia. "Part of our democratic movement is that we can offer the opportunity to freely practice religion, and focusing on international peace is one of the distinctives of Indonesia."

The oil and gas industry is one of the most important economic factors in Indonesia, the ambassador said, but the country is a net importer of oil. "We are facing some economic hardships because of the increases in oil prices, and food prices also are increasing. The future of our economy will be on growing our agricultural industry."

The country has projected about a 6.5 percent growth this year and hopes to achieve a 7 percent economic growth goal next year.

Indonesia has completed about 95 percent of its recovery from the December 2005 tsunami, largely because of assistance from the U.S. and other countries. "The help we received from the U.S. government, non-government organizations and the military is something we will never forget," Parnohadiningrat said.

During a lively question-and-answer dialog, the ambassador also addressed tourism, religion, capital goods, education and consumerism.

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