JAKARTA: Indonesia has launched an international aid agency to strengthen its diplomatic relations in the region, but played down the role of Papua-related diplomacy in the fund.
The establishment of the Indonesian Agency for International Development (AID) last Friday (Oct 18) came amid international criticism towards Jakartas approach in the restive Papua region, which has seen widespread violence since August.
Government watchdogs have said the fund could be useful to win over countries sympathetic towards West Papuan independence.
However, Mr Cecep Herawan, the ministry's director-general for information and public diplomacy, denied that the agency was introduced to dampen international criticism against Indonesias rule over Papua.
“The agency has nothing to do with Papua,” he said in a presser on Monday (Oct 21).
The idea to form a dedicated agency to provide aid to other countries was first conceived in 2016, Mr Herawan said, long before the widespread unrest this year sparked renewed calls for independence in Papua.
The protests were ignited by a video showing civilians and military officers taunting Papuan students with racist remarks in Java in August.
Indigenous Melanesians are the predominant inhabitants of Papua, which Indonesia officially annexed as it's easternmost province in 1969.
Jakartas crackdown on the pro-independence protesters have prompted several Pacific nations to call for investigations into allegations of violence by security forces in Papua during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York last month.
On Monday, Mr Herawan confirmed that Pacific countries will be given priority over other countries in terms of distribution of AID funds, but stressed that the decision has no connection to Papua.
It is part of Indonesias strategy to bring countries in the Indo-Pacific region closer together, he explained.
"A PRECIOUS TOOL FOR INDONESIAN DIPLOMACY"
Speaking to reporters during Indonesian AIDs launching ceremony on Friday, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the agency “is a very precious tool for Indonesian diplomacy (that we can use) to strengthen our presence on the international stage.”
On Monday, Mr Herawan stressed that one of the agencys main objectives is to beef up Indonesias clout in the international diplomatic circle.
“With the formation of this agency, we want all of our donations and assistance to other countries to be in line with our foreign policies and politics. Im sure it is the same case with all countries,” he said.
Indonesian ministries and agencies have been giving grants and technical assistance to their foreign counterparts independently.
Beginning next year – when the agency begins managing the 4 trillion rupiah (US$283 million) endowment fund the central government currently sets aside – all foreign aid projects, technical cooperation and disaster relief programmes will be under the control of the Foreign Ministry.
“All will be centralised. The Foreign Ministry will have a bigger role in determining where aid should be distributed to. So everything will have synergy and thus Indonesias diplomatic posture will be further strengthened,” Mr Herawan said.
Indonesia hopes to set aside 10 trillion rupiah in endowment fund for Indonesia AID to manage and distribute at least US$42 million to needy nations every year.
Mr Herawan said the formation of the agency reflects Indonesias projections that it could be the worlds fifth largest economy by 2030.
But Indonesia still has 9.8 per cent of its 270 million population living below the US$1.90 per day poverty line set by the World Bank.
Indonesia itself still receives hundreds of millions of dollars in development assistance from countries like Japan, China, the United States and Singapore as well as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
MORE THAN JUST BOOSTING INDONESIA'S CLOUT: ACADEMIC
Since 2015, Indonesia has been giving aid and grants to Pacific countries when the pro-Papuan independence group, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), applied for membership with inter-governmental organisations Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Islands Forum.
This year, Indonesia has pledged aid to seven countries, five of which were Pacific countries – Nauru, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Fiji.
Given the timing of the aid agency's formation and its focus on Pacific countries, Mr Andreas Harsono, a senior researcher at Human RighRead More – Source