OPINION: The evolving geopolitics of the Indian Ocean Rim demand that Indonesia and South Africa, as key players in Africa and South East Asia respectively, work in a way that advances mutual prosperity, writes Ambassador Salman Al Farisi.
Today marks 76 years of Indonesian independence. Like in SA, Indonesian freedom came as a result of fierce resistance to Dutch colonialism. This year also marks 27 years of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Indonesia.
Both our countries are linked for many reasons; but in large part the solidarity is cemented by a gallant unified struggle against Dutch imperialist expansion.
There is no doubt that Indonesia’s anniversary celebrations are marred by the close to 4 million Covid infections and 100 000 deaths so far, making it Asia’s new covid epicentre. Infections in South Africa, I know, also remain high in parts of the country, despite an accelerated vaccine roll-out programme.
So, this moment marks an opportune time for our two countries to implement steps around co-operation in the health sector in order to find ways to work together in mitigating the devastating impact of the pandemic.
In Indonesia, despite the slow start with the first 23 million vaccines rolled out in 100 days; the most recent 23 million vaccines were delivered in 25 days. Promisingly, our Health Ministry has indicated that it has the capacity to roll out 5 million vaccines a day. This acceleration offers some hope for Indonesia, especially when the dreaded
Delta variant is wreaking havoc in many parts of Asia. We have already 125 million doses secured in stock, but still more doses are needed to have 70% of our population fully vaccinated.
Like South Africa, Indonesia is a victim of vaccine nationalism where wealthy countries easily gain the upper hand in our disturbingly unequal world. Now is the time for South Africa and Indonesia to co-operate and advance the agenda of equal vaccine distribution.
Indonesia remains at the forefront in terms of supporting a proposal by South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waiver specific Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) obligations related to the manufacturing of vaccines.
We were encouraged by President Ramaphosa when he said, “We want to manufacture vaccines locally against the pandemic. It is for this reason that South Africa and India proposed the Trips waiver at the World Trade Organisation to enable the manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries.”
Indonesia remains ready and able to share technology and skills to boost the capabilities of South Africa to produce safe and efficacious vaccines during the time frame of the waiver and beyond. We also see the importance of bringing in potential partners such as India and China to collaborate on vaccine manufacturing.
Related to this, Indonesia is keen to explore initiatives focused on the development of mRNA vaccines as well as the development of raw materials for vaccines. We have always maintained that there are great complementarities in our economies, and we remain keen to share scientific expertise that contribute to South Africa’s development.
Bearing in mind that South Africa is Indonesia’s largest trading partner in Africa, it may also be an opportune time to explore the development of a joint supply hub on vaccine and drugs manufacturing for the SADC region, and for South East Asia.
Despite South Africa’s challenges, having Ramaphosa at the helm offers great hope. No doubt he has done well to pledge to raise $100 billion (R1.4 trillion) in investment over the next five years to give the struggling South African economy a shot in the arm and create millions of desperately needed jobs, especially among young people.
Ramaphosa has concentrated his efforts on North America, Western Europe, the Middle East and South Africa, of course. But, bearing in mind our formidable, shared histories, we are hopeful that South Africa will look increasingly to the east, to countries like Indonesia.
In the spirit of Bandung, which focused on South-South partnership and trade, we are keen for our economic relationship and co-operation to grow. Bilateral relations have existed for a long time, but economic and trade co-operation relations between our countries remain low, when compared to other Asian countries.
As members of the G20 and Iora (The Indian Ocean Rim Association), we are confident that out trade relations will improve as we navigate an unprecedented global context. The evolving geopolitics of the Indian Ocean Rim; demand that our two countries, as key players in Africa and South East Asia respectively, work in a way that advances mutual prosperity.
Ample opportunities also present themselves in the context of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) between the Southern Africa Customs Union (Sacu) and Indonesia. Urgent attention needs to be paid to this in order to advance the economic prosperity of both our countries.
As we celebrate 76 years of independence, and forge ahead to 100 years, we hope to cement our political, trade and people-to-people diplomacy and strengthen our formidable, shared history.
* Salman Al Farisi is the Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the Republic of South Africa in Pretoria. He is also accredited to the Republic of Botswana, Kingdom of Lesotho, and Kingdom of Eswatini. This article is his personal view and does not necessarily reflect the policy of the Indonesian government.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.