Our Big Chance

US President Barack Obama’s expected arrival in Bali next week will be another boost to this surging island. The visit has already set off a chain of heady optimism for the future of the important relationship between both nations.

However, forces in Indonesia seek to inflict harm on this country by driving a wedge between the two partners and portray Indonesians as Obama-haters and, by extension, enemies of the United States. They are wrong, and the majority of moderate Indonesians have no time for the inflammatory tones of hardline groups. We wholeheartedly agree with Muslim leaders this week when they said there must be an end to anti-Obama demonstrations in cities across the country.

For one thing, Indonesia has enormous untapped trade potential with the United States, including what are increasingly sought-after environmentally friendly products. This includes Bali’s exports.

US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said this week, ahead of Obama’s trip: “Indonesia is going to be a vast, steady market for green technologies. Ensuring that American companies play a lead role in this energy transformation is a priority for President Obama and his entire administration.”

Across-the-board reforms are required, however, before this flow of goods and services can be optimised. This is a priority that Locke noted. Bilateral trade topped US$21.4 billion in 2008.

If this country and its many provinces are to move forward and become a force not only in Southeast Asia but further afield – and there is no reason why this cannot happen, given Indonesia’s massive physical size and population – such crippling issues as corruption, lack of transparency in investment matters and legal uncertainty, among others, need to be adequately, and urgently, addressed.

President Obama will be seeking reassurances from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will only be able to point to cursory measures and intermittent triumphs. Mostly, the blocks to progress remain firmly entrenched.

This is the priority for the Yudhoyono government. In the meantime we welcome President Obama to our fair island.

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