Ambassador Siti Nugraha Mauludiah. Photo: Courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Warsaw

Siti Nugraha Mauludiah is Indonesia’s ambassador to Poland. She gave Asia Times an exclusive interview on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. This is the first part of the interview.

Adriel Kasonta: How do you assess political and economic relations between Poland and Indonesia after 65 years of their contact?

Ambassador Siti Nugraha Mauludiah: I observe that bilateral relations in the political and economic spheres between Poland and Indonesia continuously developed and strengthened over the years. The bilateral cooperation has been conducted not only between the executive branches, but also between the legislative and [judicial] branches. Furthermore, people-to-people contact and socio-cultural cooperation have also been growing in recent years.

There have been a number of state visits and and working visits by heads of state and heads of government of both countries. From the Indonesian side, the visits of president Sukarno in 1959, followed by president Megawati Soekarnoputri in 2003 and president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2013.

Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi and her Polish counterpart FM Jacek Czaputowicz in September 2019. Photo: Courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Warsaw

From Poland, I recall the visits by president Aleksander Zawadski (1961), president Aleksander Kwasniewski (2004) and prime minister Marek Belka (2005). I was informed that there was a plan of a Polish presidential visit to Indonesia in the past few years. We are hoping, after the pandemic Covid-19 is settled, this visit could materialize.

Politically, Poland and Indonesia share common concerns in numerous global issues and have been cooperating in a number of multilateral fora. The two countries were sitting as the non-permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations last year. Now, the two countries are also in the Human Right Council. Indonesia and Poland have common positions on the issues of global warming and climate change, as well as just and fair transition of development, to name a few.

In the economic sphere, Indonesia and Poland enjoy mutually beneficial cooperation in various sectors such as energy, agriculture, tourism, health and pharmacy, defense, and transportation.

Total bilateral trade annually is around US$600 million to $700 million, and if we include trade through a third country, the total bilateral trade reached $1 billion. Meanwhile, investment from Poland to Indonesia has always been in an increase trend over the years. The latest one was an investment in energy sector, amounting to $100 million.

I believe the economic relations between the two countries will be expanded in the near future, as both Indonesia and Poland are now key actors in their respective regional organizations: Indonesia in ASEAN and Poland in the European Union. Furthermore, the ongoing negotiation of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Indonesia, when concluded, will undoubtedly elevate bilateral trade and investment.

AK: How do you assess the interest in Poland in your country and Indonesia’s in Poland? Does the current educational and cultural exchange provide enough opportunities for the two nations to get to know each other properly? Do you see room for improvement in this area?

SNM: I can say that the interest of each country is dynamic. It grows as the country expands its influence in domestic developments or regional positioning. In the short [term], I would like to say Indonesian national interest is developing and so is Poland’s. The challenge is how to communicate those national interests to explore opportunities and challenges in promoting bilateral relations.

One of the effective ways to better understand [each other] is through educational and cultural exchanges among countries. In my opinion, many businessmen and investors, either from Indonesia or Poland, do not know much about their counterpart countries. 

There are many reasons behind this: They are already too [comfortable] with their domestic market; some literature does not yet describe the latest developments in the two countries; and the fact that [each] country has its traditional partners. So, in this case, the businessmen still consider the traditional partners as the main priority for bilateral ties. 

To face and to overcome this psychological barrier, there should be more exchange of information and country visits. Cultural exchange and educational cooperation are the most effective way, as I said before. 

I am very happy to see the progress of bilateral cooperation in this sector. In the last two years, there have been more Indonesian students in Poland, with the total number now close to 300 students. As from Poland, more Polish students are studying or doing research in Indonesia, either thanks to the scholarship schemes of the Indonesian government or special grants from European philanthropist institutions. 

I still see room for improvement in the educational field. The cooperation at the governmental level should be followed by collaboration between educational institutions from both countries. Some of them already have letters of intent for cooperation, but only a few have translated into concrete [action].

But I think it is a matter of time. Information and communication technologies have made communication easier nowadays and give more chances to all stakeholders to get advantages from their contacts. 

AK: Looking from the Southeast Asian perspective, what do you think is the greatest economic asset of Poland?

SNM: The greatest economic asset of Poland is its strategic location. Situated between Western and Eastern Europe, with access to Baltic Sea, Poland has not only become a gate for products from Eastern Europe, but also products from other countries outside Europe to enter the European Union market.

At the same time, Poland has become the capital of manufacturing of Europe with its competitive advantage of relatively lower production costs derived from competitive labor costs, as well as incentives offered in its special economic zones.

Another great asset of Poland is its human resources. Its education system has provided the country with abundant skilled human resources, which cater to even specific or niche enterprises’ needs. With its strong 38 million populations, Poland is attractive both as a market as well as a production base.

Twenty years of becoming the economic power of Europe, enjoying over 4% growth continuously, provided a cushion to the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic to its economy. While other European countries will have double-digit [negative] growth, the IMF has projected that Poland will only experience single-digit [negative] growth in the coming year and will bounce back in no time.

Enterprises in information technology [and] business service centers that are not affected or even growing amid [the Covid-19 pandemic] are some of the key elements of the country’s resilience.

AK: Indonesia is the fourth-most-populous country in the world. Jakarta alone, which is the country’s capital, has more than 30 million inhabitants. The size, ethnic diversity and geographical location (17,000 islands, three time zones) show the enormous economic potential of your country. Unfortunately, of all the countries in Asia and the Pacific, Poland still exports the least to Indonesia. What do you think is the cause of this, and what should be done in this regard so that the present situation could change?

SNM: The key is information. Not many Poles know about Indonesia, and vice versa. I think, even for Poles who know about Indonesia, they know only about Bali, or about the richness of our nature and tradition.

But they do not know that Indonesia has a population fo 265 million, or is the fourth-most-populous country in the world; that its GDP (PPP, 2020) ranks seventh globally, or ranks 16th (nominal, 2019), which put Indonesia in the G20; that its title as one of Asian economic tigers owes to its steady economic growth for the past 10 years of a minimum 5% annually. 

Furthermore, not many Poles know that Indonesia is rich with natural resources. It is the largest exporter of coal and refined tin. It’s also a leading exporter of gold, bauxite, lead, zinc and copper. It has the largest nickel reserves in the world. Indonesia also has geothermal energy, oil and gas. Its potential for renewable energy is also huge.

In a nutshell, Indonesia is not only a potential partner for trade, but also [for] investment. Oh, and don’t forget that its huge population with a [growing] middle class is also a huge market for foreign products. In addition, Indonesia’s membership in ASEAN (with its envisioned single market and production base) makes the country a potential gate for a bigger market of approximately 600 million people.

Had Poles (especially businessmen) realized this potential, they would undoubtedly consider Indonesia more as the market for their products or investment destination.

Meanwhile, not many Indonesians know about Poland. That it has the largest population in Central Europe. That its GDP (nominal, 2019) is the 21st-largest globally, and has had solid economic growth for the past 30 years. That it has become the most sought investment destination in Europe. That its population with their growing incomes is ready to spend their money in exotic tourist destinations.

Many Indonesian businesses know Poland as a country which was under a Communist regime, that it lies somewhere in Eastern Europe and is not very accessible.

There has been a serious lack of information about each other on both sides.

What the embassy is doing in addressing this information discrepancy is to have more exposure in Polish media with its message about Indonesia. We organize promotion events, not only about our culture, but also our products, tourism, as well as investment destinations. We facilitate both Indonesian as well as Polish businesses contacts and interactions.

We promote visits by dignitaries from the government and parliament, as well as the private sector. Furthermore, we encourage the exchange of students, scholars and researchers.

With more Poles visiting Indonesia and vice versa, knowledge about the two countries will increase and eventually will push economic cooperation further.

And this interview of yours will undoubtedly spread the information about Indonesia in the Poland wider.

This is the first installment of a two-part interview with the Indonesian ambassador to Poland. To read Part 2, click here.

Adriel Kasonta is a London-based political risk consultant and lawyer. He is former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at the oldest conservative think tank in the UK, Bow Group. His work has been published in Forbes, CapX, National Review, the National Interest, The American Conservative, and, to name a few. Kasonta is a graduate of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). You can follow him on Twitter @Adriel_Kasonta.