By Heidi Bootle, Director, South-East Asia Development Strategies Section
As one of the 13 members of Sesparlu Batch 18 — the Indonesian foreign ministry’s diplomatic training program — I had the privilege to be part of the program’s tenth anniversary intake with other diplomats from the Indo-Pacific. This international program is a small part of an extensive training program for senior Indonesian diplomats. International participants were from Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Laos, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea.
This is an important training initiative of the Indonesian government, which is effective for many reasons. For Indonesia, it’s an opportunity to display its diplomacy, both to other diplomatic services and domestically, through active outreach to communities, universities, schools and training centres, and the broader public and media.
Secondly, it’s a great opportunity to exchange views, experience and knowledge with senior diplomats from the Indo-Pacific region, and with Indonesian officials, leaders, academics, students, community and media. It is an excellent official relationship building opportunity – a great asset for diplomats who work to build partnerships based on mutual understanding and trust. For me, spending full, long days, for two weeks with Indonesian and regional diplomats was a valuable opportunity to get to know diplomatic partners very well.
The rich program of speakers in our first week, at Atmajaya Catholic University, focused on governance in a Sino-US centric world. A diverse range of speakers from government, former government, academics, community groups and youth, led discussion on the role diplomats play in helping to find solutions to the serious challenges currently facing our world. Participants from across the Indo-Pacific brought forward many shared perspectives on the future of ASEAN and the region: the prevailing regional order, its permanent state of change; and how this challenges diplomacy. Diplomats need to give sense to disorder, build trust and convey messages that build peace and prosperity. Today, the diplomatic profession is more important than ever, and plays a key role in preventing military responses to disagreements.
Gender balance is important in Indonesia’s diplomacy, as it is in Australia. We heard from an Indonesian Ambassador about the role of women in diplomacy, from her own rich experiences. Women bring important perspectives to their diplomatic roles including in innovative and peaceful problem solving and leadership. Women are half of the population and the diplomatic service should reflect the composition of our community.
Diplomacy is not just about government-to-government relations, and so our program also took us into the community. We participated in a cooking competition at the Trisakti School of Tourism. Sadly, my team did not win, but was awarded a certificate for effort. Australia’s tourism and services linkages with Indonesia are significant, and bring many benefits to our economy.
Our regional outreach took us to Labuan Bajo, in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara region, to meet local government, communities, schools, civil society, and to see many tourism and business initiatives. The area has good eco-tourism and agriculture connections with Australia, and we visited an Australian-Indonesian joint venture – Atlas pearl farm. The Regent of Manggarai Barat highlighted to us the region’s desire to become one of Indonesians top 10 tourism destinations. It welcomes around 300,000 visitors annually, including its third most populous clientele; Australians, who come to visit, among other things, the protected, Komodo dragon.
Training programs of this nature not only increase individual knowledge and skills, but more importantly, build diplomatic relations and networks. This was one opportunity for Australia to deepen diplomatic linkages in South-East Asia.
Heidi Bootle is the Director of DFAT’s South-East Asia Development Strategies Section.