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President Obama in Jakarta: "Indonesia’s Example To the World"
10:44 AM EDT
The President's trip to Asia has been largely focused on America's economy back home, promoting the exports of things we make. But his speech in Jakarta, Indonesia was meaningful for a lot of reasons. It was a follow-up to his speech in Cairo last year attempting to soothe historic tensions between America and Muslim communities around the world; it was a look at a country that has led by example in forging through the often turbulent waters of democracy, despite prejudices that a predominantly Muslim country could not do so and arguments that economic growth required the totalitarian order; and as the President explained in his opening, it was a return for him to one of his childhood homes: "I first came to this country when my mother married an Indonesian named Lolo Soetoro. And as a young boy I was -- as a young boy I was coming to a different world. But the people of Indonesia quickly made me feel at home."
And we lived in a small house. We had a mango tree out front. And I learned to love Indonesia while flying kites and running along the paddy fields and catching dragonflies, buying satay and baso from the street vendors. (Applause.) I still remember the call of the vendors. Satay! (Laughter.) I remember that. Baso! (Laughter.) But most of all, I remember the people -- the old men and women who welcomed us with smiles; the children who made a foreign child feel like a neighbor and a friend; and the teachers who helped me learn about this country.
After a few minutes reflecting on his four years there, he spoke on the trajectory Indonesia has seen since then:
In the years since then, Indonesia has charted its own course through an extraordinary democratic transformation -- from the rule of an iron fist to the rule of the people. In recent years, the world has watched with hope and admiration as Indonesians embraced the peaceful transfer of power and the direct election of leaders. And just as your democracy is symbolized by your elected President and legislature, your democracy is sustained and fortified by its checks and balances: a dynamic civil society; political parties and unions; a vibrant media and engaged citizens who have ensured that -- in Indonesia -- there will be no turning back from democracy.
But even as this land of my youth has changed in so many ways, those things that I learned to love about Indonesia -- that spirit of tolerance that is written into your Constitution; symbolized in mosques and churches and temples standing alongside each other; that spirit that’s embodied in your people -- that still lives on. (Applause.) Bhinneka Tunggal Ika -- unity in diversity. (Applause.) This is the foundation of Indonesia’s example to the world, and this is why Indonesia will play such an important part in the 21st century.
He also spoke to why even a land that seems so remote to most Americans is of import in today's world -- as exemplified in the initiatives the two governments are working on together -- touching on the focus of his broader trip to Asia:
When I moved to Indonesia, it would have been hard to imagine a future in which the prosperity of families in Chicago and Jakarta would be connected. But our economies are now global, and Indonesians have experienced both the promise and the perils of globalization: from the shock of the Asian financial crisis in the ‘90s, to the millions lifted out of poverty because of increased trade and commerce. What that means -- and what we learned in the recent economic crisis -- is that we have a stake in each other’s success.
America has a stake in Indonesia growing and developing, with prosperity that is broadly shared among the Indonesian people -- because a rising middle class here in Indonesia means new markets for our goods, just as America is a market for goods coming from Indonesia. So we are investing more in Indonesia, and our exports have grown by nearly 50 percent, and we are opening doors for Americans and Indonesians to do business with one another.
This integration of a predominantly Muslim country into the world's markets, and its persistence in sticking to democratic ideals -- including human rights -- has made Indonesia a shining example to the rest of the world. As the President said, "Prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty":
These are the issues that really matter in our daily lives. Development, after all, is not simply about growth rates and numbers on a balance sheet. It’s about whether a child can learn the skills they need to make it in a changing world. It’s about whether a good idea is allowed to grow into a business, and not suffocated by corruption. It’s about whether those forces that have transformed the Jakarta I once knew -- technology and trade and the flow of people and goods -- can translate into a better life for all Indonesians, for all human beings, a life marked by dignity and opportunity.
Now, this kind of development is inseparable from the role of democracy.
Today, we sometimes hear that democracy stands in the way of economic progress. This is not a new argument. Particularly in times of change and economic uncertainty, some will say that it is easier to take a shortcut to development by trading away the right of human beings for the power of the state. But that’s not what I saw on my trip to India, and that is not what I see here in Indonesia. Your achievements demonstrate that democracy and development reinforce one another.
The President used the last portion of his speech to address his ongoing priority of repairing American relations with the world's Muslim communities, touching on his hopes for and progress toward peaceful resoutions in Israel and Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan after making his broader point:
I said then, and I will repeat now, that no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust. But I believed then, and I believe today, that we do have a choice. We can choose to be defined by our differences, and give in to a future of suspicion and mistrust. Or we can choose to do the hard work of forging common ground, and commit ourselves to the steady pursuit of progress. And I can promise you -- no matter what setbacks may come, the United States is committed to human progress. That is who we are. That is what we’ve done. And that is what we will do. (Applause.)
Now, we know well the issues that have caused tensions for many years -- and these are issues that I addressed in Cairo. In the 17 months that have passed since that speech, we have made some progress, but we have much more work to do.
Innocent civilians in America, in Indonesia and across the world are still targeted by violent extremism. I made clear that America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. Instead, all of us must work together to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion –-- certainly not a great, world religion like Islam. But those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy. And this is not a task for America alone. Indeed, here in Indonesia, you’ve made progress in rooting out extremists and combating such violence.
That spark of the divine lives within each of us. We cannot give in to doubt or cynicism or despair. The stories of Indonesia and America should make us optimistic, because it tells us that history is on the side of human progress; that unity is more powerful than division; and that the people of this world can live together in peace. May our two nations, working together, with faith and determination, share these truths with all mankind.